The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) has completed its consideration of the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The final report is not yet available and, while we prefer to wait until the official report has been released to make fulsome comments, it’s astounding, time is fleeting (madness takes its toll… “Time Warp” anyone?) and with the House Armed Services Committee poised to begin consideration of its version of the bill, we’ve analyzed the publicly available details.
The SASC adheres to the current budget agreement and holds spending on national security at the previously approved levels – a cool $740.5 billion for national security spending. This also tracks with the President’s Budget Request for FY21 which you can review with this handy TCS pie chart.
Now, to the details.
As has become the norm, every piece of Pentagon policy or spending legislation becomes an opportunity to lard up the F-35 inventory with more than the military services requested.
This TCS chart details the President’s request for F-35s in FY21. But that didn’t prevent the SASC from pressing increases on the services.
Air Force requested 48 airframes, the SASC would give them 60.
Marine Corps requested 10 airframes; the SASC would give them 12.
Navy requested 21 airframes; the SASC would give them 23.
And, yes, the Air Force and Navy requested more airframes on their so-called Unfunded Priorities Lists (if the Pentagon didn’t ask for it as part of $740 billion request – it ain’t a priority). But keep in mind the Commandant of the Marine Corps recently released his new strategy document which included this line, “The Marine Corps will reduce the Primary Aircraft Authorized per squadron of F-35B and C aircraft from 16 to 10.” And the Marine Corps UPL didn’t ask for more either.
So, even though the Commandant says he can do with fewer, the Senate Armed Services Committee disagrees and gives him a 20 percent boost. This is just one reason why Pentagon spending is out of control.
Micromanaging the Air Force
Building on recent success at blocking the decommissioning of A-10 “Warthog” aircraft squadrons, the Congressional defense committees seem eager to expand the tactic.
First, the SASC draft prohibits the Secretary of Defense from reducing spending on airbase “resiliency” (typically new construction or major maintenance) or reducing the number of aircraft shelters in Europe. The Secretary can only do so by certifying there is “…no need for a rotational military presence in the theater.” And, although President Trump is evidently planning to draw down forces in Europe, we’d be surprised if the Secretary of Defense would go so far as that certification.
Second, the draft bill establishes a minimum number of aircraft for each major mission area in the USAF and prohibits the divestment of aircraft below those minimum numbers. As before, no A-10s may be retired. No manned Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft operated by Special Operations Command may be divested. And there are limits on the divestment of F-15s in the European theater.
Finally, the Air Force must maintain 386 operational squadrons or “equivalent operational units.”
That’s a lot of highly directive language, prohibiting the type of operational decisions that should be left to the Pentagon authorities who set the strategy.
And, again, this type of meddling keeps the Pentagon topline over $700 billion. In a Pentagon that doesn’t do a lot of cost cutting, the Congress should get out of the way when Defense officials try to make operational decisions that may ultimately save money.
Pacific Deterrence Initiative
Leaving aside it’s bizarre name (is the country trying to deter the Pacific?) the SASC press release is short on details describing the establishment of a Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI). It does say the bill authorizes up to $1.4 billion for the program. This dollar figure is apparently the sum of the President’s FY21 Budget Request for all Indo/Pacific requirements, plus a little extra — $188.6 million.
The SASC also states they will authorize $5.5 billion for PDI in Fiscal Year 2022 and directs the Secretary of Defense to create a spending plan for it. This is bad precedent on a couple of levels: first, it ties the hands of a future Congress and, second, it attempts to mandate a portion of the FY22 President’s Budget Request.
Finally, we can’t tell how PDI will be funded, from base budget or the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account? The similarly inaptly named European Deterrence Initiative (EDI) is funded through OCO (it used to be a “reassurance” initiative until 2018). If the United States wants to convince our allies in the Indo/Pacific region we are serious about countering Chinese influence, a program funded through OCO sends the wrong signal. OCO is scheduled to drop from this year’s request of $69 billion to $10 billion in two years. New programs that aren’t in the base budget request will be at risk.
The Senate also seeks to continue an earlier prohibition on operational decisions to reduce the number of Minuteman Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs).
Under the guise of “support[ing] our nuclear triad”, the Senate prohibits the Air Force from reducing, “the quantity or alert status of intercontinental ballistic missiles below 400.” This is the latest in a series of moves to keep the Air Force from making operational decisions to manage its portions of the nuclear triad.
The bill does authorize, “…certain military construction projects to convert Minuteman III launch facilities to Ground Based Strategic Deterrence configurations…”
We’ll keep saying it, the Pentagon should not be a jobs program benefiting the states, lawmaker’s districts, and the defense contractors with the most powerful members representing them. Giving the military more F-35s than the asked for…prohibiting the divestment of other aircraft…freezing the number of ICBM missiles and silos…these are among the reasons the spending on national security is out of control. Madness is taking its toll on Capitol Hill.