The Navy and Marine Corps policies and priorities for next year passed an important hurdle Thursday when the House of Representatives approved the fiscal year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act.
The bill authorizes spending on various programs intended to counteract what’s considered increasingly aggressive actions taken by both China and Russia.
“This conference report takes a major step toward rebuilding our military, reforming the Pentagon, and better preparing this nation for the national security challenges of today and tomorrow,” Rep. Mac Thornberry, (R-Texas), said in a statement. “The bill takes actions directly related to the aggressive behavior of Russia and China.”
Among the many programs included in the NDAA, the bill authorizes 13 battle force ships for the Navy that include: two Virginia-class submarines, three Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, three Littoral Combat Ships, two oilers, and one expeditionary sea base and one towing, salvage and rescue ship.
Looking to the future, the bill requires the Block-V Virginia-class submarine contract, currently being negotiated by the Navy and General Dynamics Electric Boat, to include price options that would add two submarines to the Pentagon’s planned purchase of 10 subs. The bill also authorizes $3.2 billion to pay for development and design work of the Columbia-class submarine and authorizes for an additional Ford-class aircraft carrier, allowing the Navy to make a two-carrier buy.
Adding submarines to the NDAA was championed by Rep. Joe Courtney, (D-Conn.), ranking member of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee. Electric Boat is based inside his district.
“Over the last year, my committee has heard the relentless drumbeat of anxiety and concern about the looming shortfall in our attack submarine fleet. Without timely action by Congress, the Trump administration, and the Navy, the fleet will fall to just 42 submarines within the next decade,” Courtney said in a statement. “At that reduced capacity, our military commanders will be left without the undersea capabilities they have made clear that they desperately need. While the president’s budget request this year only planned on building ten submarines in the next contract, Navy officials have made it clear that the capacity exists to build more than that over the next five years.
In terms of policy, the NDAA includes several reforms to the Navy’s surface warfare community, in the wake of last summer’s two deadly collisions involving guided-missile destroyers and commercial shipping vessels at sea. Crew training and limiting the length of time ships can remain forward deployed are among the reforms the NDAA directs the Navy to institute.
The NDAA, named for ailing Sen. John S. McCain (R-Ariz.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, had recently emerged from a conference committee where differences between House and Senate versions of the bill were ironed out. Senate approval is still pending, and if passed, the NDAA needs the President’s signature before the policies and priorities become law.
However, even if fully approved by the President and both chambers of Congress, the Pentagon will still need another bill to pass to fully implement the NDAA’s authorizations. A separate spending bill still needs to be passed, something Thornberry addressed in his statement applauding House approval of the NDAA.
“Much of the advantage that these measures give our military will be lost, however, if Congress fails to follow the NDAA with an appropriations bill that is both adequate and on time,” Thornberry’s statement said. “This is the earliest the House has acted on an NDAA in many years. There is no reason that Congress should not be able to take up and pass the defense spending bill before the end of the fiscal year so that Congress can keep faith with our troops and fully fund the military when we return in September.”