The House of Representatives has passed the fiscal year 2018 National Defense Authorization Act by a margin of 344-81. The bill will significantly boost the Pentagon’s budget—authorizing more submarines and aircraft, particularly the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program. The bill will now go to the Senate, which will likely take up legislation later this month.
“This bill takes the necessary steps to begin to rebuild and reform our military, including billions in additional funds to begin to close the dangerous readiness gaps our troops are facing,” Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) said in a statement on July 14.
“In addition, it gives our troops their biggest pay raise in eight years, which they are entitled to under the law. It beefs up missile defense at a time when the threats continue to increase. It increases end strength to provide our services the personnel they need to complete the missions we send them on. The bill also makes major reforms in acquisition and services contracting. And it continues to support the DOD audit in FY 2018.”
The bill significantly boosts the U.S. Navy over the President’s budget request.
“While the stage was set for the 2018 to be a starting point on the path to a 355-ship navy, the budget we received fell far short,” Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02), ranking member of the Seapower and Projection Forces said in a statement emailed to The National Interest.
“I am proud to say that working in a bipartisan way, we produced a better budget than the one that came over from the White House. Among other things, the bill explicitly makes it the policy of our nation to achieve a 355-ship Navy and adds five new ships in 2018 to get us moving to the larger fleet that both the Obama and Trump administrations have signaled we need. This bill demonstrates if our defense leaders and the administration will not prioritize the national goal of growing the fleet, we will.”
The HASC paid particular attention to the Navy’s rapidly shrinking attack submarine fleet, which is projected to fall well below the required number of vessels by 2029.
“This bill continues that effort, and responds to years of strategic analysis by the Navy and Congress as well as a chorus of testimony from our top military commanders stationed overseas that we need more attack submarines, as fast as possible, to meet growing demands around the world,” Courtney said.
“Building on the current two a year production rate of Virginia class submarines, this measure helps the Navy to go even higher in the next block contract by authorizing up to 13 attack submarines between 2019 and 2023. We have laid out an aggressive but realistic plan to build as many as three submarines a year for the first time in decades, and I look forward to continuing to work with my committee colleagues, the shipyards and the Navy to make this a reality.”
Key Highlights of the bill:
Virginia Class Submarines – authorizes $6.2 billion for the Virginia class submarine program. Of the total, $3.3 billion supports two submarines in 2018, in line with the current block IV multi-year contract. The measure also includes multiyear procurement authority for 13 Virginia-class attack submarines for the next five years at a minimum rate of two submarines per year and a possible three submarine build rate in 2020, 2022, and 2023. To support this increased production rate, the mark authorizes $2.9 billion in advanced procurement funds, $943 million more than the budget request, to prepare for the increased work.
Columbia Class Submarine – fully supports the $1.9 billion requested for the development and design of Columbia class submarine, which will replace our fleet of Ohio-class SSBNs. Of the total, about $1 billion is authorized in research and development, $843 million in shipbuilding funds to support continued detailed design of the submarine, and other development efforts through the Office of Naval Reactors in the Department of Energy.
National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund – The measure continues Courtney’s ongoing efforts to support and expand the NSBDF to provide the Navy with a greater range of tools to manage the construction of the new submarine. Specifically, the bill expands “continuous production” authority providing in last years NDAA to include a greater range of components. The bill also authorizes nearly $90 million to utilize two authorities Courtney worked to include in NSBDF: continuous production of missile tubes and advanced construction activities on the first Columbia class boomer, SSBN-826.
Submarine Maintenance – the bill includes report language reflecting Courtney’s serious concerns with the Navy’s management of its ship and submarine maintenance workload. Congressman Courtney has raised these concerns in committee and in discussions with the Navy as it has seemingly moved away from the “one shipyard” policy in recent years. In particular, the language notes the impact on the USS Boise, a submarine that can no longer operate undersea due to an extended delay in its repair availability in the public shipyards, and the need to fully utilize private sector shipyard capacity to address submarine maintenance shortfalls. The language requires the Navy to develop a comprehensive plan to eliminate the maintenance backlog, including more fully utilizing capacity at private sector shipyards like Electric Boat.
Aircraft & Helicopter Development and Procurement
Joint Strike Fighter –authorizes 87 F-35 aircraft, 17 more than the budget request.
Long Range Strike Bomber – supports the continued development of the B-21 Long Range Strike Bomber, which will be powered by Pratt & Whitney engines.
Blackhawks – authorizes 53 UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters, five more than the budget request.
CH-53K – supports continued development of the new Marine heavy lift helicopter, as well as the procurement of four aircraft.
KC-46A Tanker – authorizes 17 KC-46A tanker aircraft, two more than the budget request.
However, while the bipartisan NDAA is an improvement over the President’s original request, it does not undo the damage caused by the 2011 Budget Control Act—also known as sequestration.
“Nothing in this bill, however, resolves the pressing need to resolve the looming threat of the budget control act,” Courtney said.
“We will make the investments that our nation needs in defense and domestic priorities if we do not find a bipartisan solution to this challenge. A great nation can and must do both, and it is time for this chamber to do its part.”
Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Davemajumdar.