The Senate passed the annual defense policy bill in an 86 to 11 vote in the upper chamber on Thursday, authorizing the Navy to buy a total of 10 battleforce ships in the next fiscal year.
The Fiscal Year 2024 legislation authorizes the service to purchase one Columbia-class ballistic-missile submarine, two Flight III Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, two Virginia-class attack boats, two Constellation-class frigates, one San Antonio-class LPD-17 Flight II amphibious transport dock, one John Lewis-class fleet oiler, and one next-generation submarine tender replacement known as AS(X).
While the Navy’s original request only sought to buy nine battleforce ships, the Senate also authorized an LPD-17 Flight II amphibious transport dock – LPD-33, a ship the Navy did not ask to purchase due to an ongoing halt on buying amphibious ships but one the Marine Corps listed as its top unfunded priority – to the shipbuilding account.
The House in its amended version of the policy bill also authorized a total of 10 battleforce ships, giving the Navy incremental funding authority to buy LPD-33.
The upper chamber’s bill also requires the Navy, within two months of the NDAA becoming law, to send lawmakers a new shipbuilding plan showing how the service will achieve the legal requirement for a minimum of 31 amphibious warships.
The legislation also prevents the Navy from decommissioning one Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser and three Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships before they reach their expected service lives. The Navy’s FY 2024 budget sought to retire three Whidbey Island-class dock landing ships – USS Germantown (LSD-42), USS Gunston Hall (LSD-44) and USS Tortuga (LSD-46) – and three Ticonderoga-class cruisers early.
The Senate authorization bill authorizes a total of $886 billion for national defense, adhering to the Biden administration’s request under a deal between House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) and President Joe Biden over the debt ceiling limit.
“Although I would have preferred a topline defense spending number that better reflects the most dangerous threat environment that the United States has faced since World War II, I appreciate the hard work that the Senate has put into this year’s NDAA,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), the ranking members of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.
Senate Republicans are hoping to pursue a supplemental defense bill later this year that could potentially include a supplemental fund for the submarine industrial base to support the Biden administration’s AUKUS pact, USNI News reported this week. The agreement between the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia helps the Royal Australian Navy create an indigenous nuclear-powered submarine program, but would allow Canberra to buy Virginia-class attack boats from the U.S. in the interim.
The FY 2024 policy bill also approves a 5.2 percent raise for both the military and civilians working for the Pentagon.
“This year, I was proud to secure a much-deserved pay raise for servicemembers, improvements to mental health care access for servicemembers, necessary resources to protect our nation, and my bipartisan legislation to direct the Pentagon to develop a fentanyl-specific counter-drug strategy,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), who chairs the SASC seapower subcommittee, said in a statement.
The two chambers will next work out the differences between their respective bills in conference. The House and Senate versions of the bill diverged on issues related to abortion and transgender care, which will need to get worked out in the conference process.
In a departure from the typical bipartisan support for the NDAA, the House passed the bill along party lines, with most Democrats voting against the policy bill due to several Republican amendments, including one from Rep. Ronny Jackson (R-Texas) that prevents the Defense Department from reimbursing service members who travel out of state for abortions.