Wrapup: HASC Passes FY2017 Defense Bill With Reagan-Era Spending Levels

April 29, 2016 1:53 PM
USS George Washington (CVN-73) and its strike group in 2013. The House voted to refuel the carrier rather than decommission the ship. US Navy Photo
USS George Washington (CVN-73) and its strike group in 2013. The House voted to refuel the carrier rather than decommission the ship. US Navy Photo

The House Armed Services Committee this week passed a bill that gave the Navy and Marine Corps virtually everything they wanted in their procurement accounts – plus an additional $5.9 billion in a separate account – creating a Reagan-era defense bill for their Senate counterparts to accept or reject.

HASC left the Navy and Marines’ procurement requests almost entirely in tact, only taking money away from the Remote Multimission Vehicle (RMMV) program due to an upcoming restructure, deeming MH-60R production line shutdown costs “early to need” and trimming a paltry – by Pentagon standards – $9.5 million from a ship missile support equipment program.

In a separate section called Procurement For Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) For Base Requirements, though, the committee added $1.4 billion for 14 Boeing F/A-18E-F Super Hornets; $540 million for four carrier-variant F-35C Joint Strike Fighters, two each for the Navy and the Marine Corps; $254 million for two Marine-variant F-35Bs; $150 million for two MV-22 Ospreys; $415 million for four C-40A transport planes, two each for the Navy and Marine Corps; and more, for a total of $3.2 billion in aircraft procurement spending outside of the base budget. The OCO-for-Base account also includes $2.3 billion in incremental and advance procurement funding in the shipbuilding account which, along with weapons and other spending, totals $5.9 billion in Navy and Marine Corps spending in this account.

The section uses OCO money, which is not subject to the defense spending caps set in the Bipartisan Budget Act, and therefore gets the military around the low congressionally mandated spending levels that officials have for years said is hurting military readiness.

“Platforms deployed well beyond their intended useful life, inadequate supplies of high demand assets, outdated technology, and equipment that is too expensive to maintain all exacerbate the readiness crisis. The Chairman’s Mark makes key investments to accelerate the transition to new, more effective, and more reliable platforms, and provides additional high-demand assets to reduce the stress on the force,” HASC Chairman Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) wrote in a summary of the bill, noting the importance of restoring readiness to the force this year.
“Delivery of new equipment is essential, but Congress must make vital maintenance investments not included in the President’s budget to ensure that next-to-deploy units are mission capable. In addition to funding maintenance accounts, the Chairman’s Mark grants direct hire authority to depots in order to alleviate their critical manpower shortages. The Chairman’s Proposal increases Navy Ship and Aircraft depot maintenance and afloat readiness by $530 million and Air Force depot maintenance by $430 million, while also including $160 million for Navy Cruiser modernization and $67 million for Marine Corps logistics. Each of these investments was identified as a critical requirement by the military services; none of them were fully funded in the President’s Budget Request.”

HASC seapower and projection forces subcommittee chairman Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) said in a statement ahead of the bill markup that “this mark increases shipbuilding to $20.6 billion, $2.3 billion more than the President’s budget, and the highest level of shipbuilding funding since the Reagan-Lehman era, adjusting for inflation. It also rejects the administration’s plan to layup 11 cruisers once more, and prevents the disestablishment of one of 10 carrier air wings. With this legislation, we are rejecting further budget cuts, bending the curve lines, and making a down payment on the 350-ship Navy we need for national defense.”

As generous as the procurement section of the bill is, though, the personnel and the operations and maintenance sections are funded only through April 30, 2017. Thornberry said in remarks before the bill markup that “there will be a new president, who undoubtedly will review the operational activities proposed by President Obama as well as the funding levels for them. And the new president and the new Congress will have the opportunity to make adjustments.” Thornberry noted that this happened in FY 2009, when a “bridge fund” was passed to pay for operations in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early part of the year and another supplemental funding package was passed once the Obama administration was in place.

Overall, the committee allows for $610.5 billion in spending despite a $574-billion limit in the House Budget Committee’s FY 2017 plan through balancing spending between the base and OCO accounts. The full House of Representatives will have to vote to pass the bill, and the Senate Armed Services Committee will go through the same process to pass its own bill later this spring. The House and Senate will have to merge their two versions and the president will have to sign the legislation before these spending items become law.

The defense bill, in addition to laying out spending authority, also sets policy – this year’s bill is chock full of reforms on defense acquisition, Pentagon organization and military personnel benefits – and also indicates future potential actions through a section of “directive report language.”

Among the items the committee ordered the Navy and Pentagon to report back on are:

  • A provision in the bill noting the upcoming loss of land attack strike capability with the retirement of the SSGN guided missile submarines and the “potential for some of our amphibious force assets to accommodate additional capabilities in terms of space, weight, and machinery capacity,” and directs the Navy to report back on the possibility of inserting the MK 41 Vertical Launch System into the LPD hull design.
  • A provision in the bill noting the committee’s concerns regarding a curtailed Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate program, and directing the Comptroller General of the United States to submit a report detailing “Plans to develop and mature the frigate design prior to starting production; The strategy for acquiring the frigate; Realism of frigate cost estimates; and Planned capability of the frigate and the degree to which it will meet the Navy’s small surface combatant needs.”
  • An amendment proposed by Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Ala.) preventing any funds from being used to downselect to a single shipbuilder for the LCS/frigate program until the Secretary of the Navy reports back with additional information on program requirements.
  • A provision in the bill noting the Navy’s one-a-year planned build rate for the new John Lewis-class fleet oiler program, and requesting information on industrial base capacity to build two a year.
  • A provision in the bill notes the flexibility of the Expeditionary Mobile Base (formerly called the Afloat Forward Staging Base) and requests more information on “how the procurement of additional ships of this class would provide multiple mission requirements around the globe including (Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response) and special operations. The committee specifically requests additional analysis as to how this capability is integrated into the overall Navy force structure assessment.”
  • An amendment proposed by Rep. Richard Nugent (R-Fla.) noting that U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF) will lose an undersea mobility asset when the Navy’s SSGN guided missile submarines retire in the 2020s, and asking the Navy to report back on a plan to support clandestine SOF undersea mobility requirements through multiple means going forward.
  • An amendment proposed by Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) requesting a briefing from the Secretary of Defense on U.S. ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), including the benefits and disadvantages of signing the treaty.
  • An amendment proposed by Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) inquiring about the Navy’s advanced flight control software called Maritime Augmented Guidance with Integrated Controls for Carrier Approach and Recovery Precision Enabling Techniques (MAGIC CARPET), and asking for a briefing on how the software that helps pilots land on a carrier would affect workload, training requirements and cost.
  • A provision in the bill asking about F-35B integration on amphibious ships and requesting a report detailing “the F-35B deployment schedule, the proposed amphibious ship modernization plan, and the proposed integrated communications architecture that is being developed to support F-35B.”
  • A provision in the bill notes interest in the Navy’s Advanced Low Cost Munition Ordnance (ALaMO), a 57mm guided projectile that could be used on the LCS, and requests information on what it would take to achieve initial operational capability by 2019.
  • A provision in the bill requiring the Defense Secretary to evaluate various missile systems that could be used with an anti-air warfare capability at each Aegis Ashore site – the Aegis Combat System has an anti-air capability but the Aegis Ashore sites are not currently configured to make use of that. The secretary would also have to report on the ballistic missile and air threat against the homeland and against Guam and the efficacy of deploying Aegis Ashore in those locations, and the ability to turn the Aegis Ashore test site at the Pacific Missile Range Facility into an operational site.

Among the items the committee ordered the Navy or Defense Department to take action on are:

  • An amendment by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) directs the Pentagon to designate a senior official who will oversee all development and demonstration of directed energy weapons for DoD.
  • An amendment by Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.) directs the establishment of a joint Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) program, with the Navy as the executive agent that will coordinate and integrate research, development and procurement efforts across the DoD.
  • An amendment by Forbes that prohibits the Navy from performing any ship overhaul, repair or maintenance work that lasts more than six months at a foreign yard.
Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein

Megan Eckstein is the former deputy editor for USNI News.

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