DoD Buzz

House Republicans' alternate vision for defense

Build-down? Drawdown? Shrinking fleets? Mothballs? Not if House Republican lawmakers have anything to say about it.

Two key committees are putting bills on target this week that leaders want to take the Defense Department in a very different direction from the one it charted in its own budget submission earlier this year. The House Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee and the House Armed Services Committee both would spend billions more than the Pentagon requested and keep or expand some of the choice assets that DoD was willing to deal.

The Air Force would keep its C-27J Spartan airlifters, at least for now. The Navy would keep and modernize three of the seven cruisers it wants to mothball. The HASC would bar increases in Tricare fees and the establishment of new fees. It would mandate an environmental impact statement about a potential ballistic missile defense site on the East Coast. (To handle the potential threat if Iceland builds a ballistic missile arsenal.) And it would pile on the homework the Building owes the Hill every year -- whether or not it actually turns it in -- with the following, per the committee:

  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on areas of risk within the defense industrial base, potential single points of failure, and overreliance on foreign sourcing.
  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a national security strategy for the defense industrial base, clarifying that the base is must be capable of supplying, equipping, and supporting required force structure.
  • Establishes new goals for procurement contracts awarded to small business concerns.
Secretary Gates hated these report mandates so much he ordered that each new study include how much it had cost to prepare, but Congress  plainly does not care about money.

The Base Realignment And Closure process, of which DoD requested two rounds, is totally off the table. That is because the drawdown that would have necessitated it simply will not take place, Republicans say.

As for hardware, here's how HAC-D's announcement broke down what its appropriations bill would support, as compared to what DoD requested:

Research and Development – The bill contains $70 billion – $2.4 billion below last year’s level and $576 million above the President’s request – for research, development, testing, and evaluation of new defense technologies. This basic and applied research, system development, and testing will help to advance the safety and success of current and future military operations, and will help prepare our nation to meet a broad range of potential future security threats.

The bill funds continued research and development of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the KC-46A tanker program, the P8-A Poseidon, the new Air Force bomber program, the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, the Navy Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle, the Ohio class submarine replacement, the Army and Marine Corps Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, the Army Ground Combat Vehicle, the Israeli Cooperative Program, and other important development programs.

Equipment Procurement – The legislation provides a total of $102.5 billion – $2.1 billion below last year and $875 million above the President’s request – for equipment and upgrades. This funding is necessary to ensure our nation’s military readiness and provide the necessary platforms, weapons, and other equipment our forces need to train, maintain military force structure, and conduct successful operations.

For example, the bill includes $15.2 billion to procure 11 Navy ships, including three DDG-51 destroyers and advance procurement for two SSN-774 Attack Submarines in fiscal year 2014; $5.2 billion for 29 F-35 aircraft; $3.6 billion for 12 E/A-18G Growlers and 37 F/A-18E/F Hornet aircraft, including advance procurement for 15 additional E/A-18G Growlers; $2.5 billion for 69 UH-60 Blackhawk and 42 MH-60S/R helicopters; $2.0 billion for the National Guard and Reserve Equipment Account; $1.7 billion for four Evolved Expendable Launch Vehicles; $1.2 billion for 14 C-130J variants; and $677 million ($792 million bill-wide) to maintain and modernize three Navy cruisers slated for decommissioning.

Can it happen? Is it realistic? Hard to imagine Senate Democrats going along, but it may be too soon to know. And there was a third announcement from the HASC Republicans on Monday that could mean bad news for both its proposals and those of HAC-D. Here was the headline: "31 Military and Vets Groups Urge Congress to Take 'Immediate' Action on Sequester."

Few in Congress need urging from vets groups or anyone else to appreciate the dangers of the budgetary guillotine, and yet even an all-star alphabet soup of outside organizations, from the Air Force Association to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, probably will not be able to break the logjam. As long as the threat of some $500 billion in reduced defense budget growth looms over everyone's head, it will probably keep casting a shadow over everything else Congress proposes.

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