WASHINGTON — Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said he plans to block cuts to the U.S. Army’s heavy brigades as part of a broader effort to roll back defense cuts mandated by the Budget Control Act.
“We absolutely must preserve those teams, “McKeon said during an April 25 speech to the Hamilton Society in Washington. “That means mitigating end-strength reductions, and also preserving the critical industrial base that keeps the teams equipped.”
To do so, McKeon plans to add funding to the Pentagon’s 2013 budget request to sustain production of the Bradley fighting vehicle and the Abrams tank. The Army has said it does not need more tanks and would rather invest in higher priority items.
McKeon’s speech came the night before the mark up process begins for the 2013 defense authorization bill. Formal markup hearings are scheduled to take place April 26 and 27.
While Pentagon officials have testified that they made budget cuts to stay within the spending caps mandated by the Budget Control Act, McKeon places the blame squarely on the White House.
“We were presented a budget from the administration that takes a knife to the defense budget, while growing the size and scope of the federal government,” he said to the room of young conservatives.
In August, lawmakers, including McKeon, passed the Budget Control Act that raised America’s borrowing limit on condition that $2.1 trillion be cut from the nation’s deficit. To do so, the law placed caps on discretionary spending over the next decade, including $487 billion from the Pentagon over the 10-year period.
McKeon said the defense cuts included in the law need to be rolled back.
His speech and recently released draft legislation for the 2013 defense authorization bill reveal where he intends to increase spending.
McKeon said he plans to introduce language that would slow the proposed troop drawdown.
In addition to more money for combat vehicles, McKeon would like to increase funding for missile defense, calling the White House’s request “woefully inadequate.”
The Missile Defense Agency’s 2013 budget request was $7.8 billion, which doesn’t include missile defense funding included in the military services’ budgets.
The House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces released its markup of the defense authorization bill April 25. The panel recommends an additional $170 million for the procurement of an additional missile defense AN/TPY-2 radar in 2013. The Pentagon had only requested funding for one.
The subcommittee would authorize $1.3 billion for the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system and notes this funding should be used to upgrade missile silos and accelerate testing.
The subcommittee also recommends the Defense Department be prohibited from spending any 2013 funding on the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a tri-national program with Italy and Germany.
The Defense Department has announced its decision not to buy any MEADS systems, but has said it is more expensive to unilaterally drop out of the program than it is to finish work under the current agreement.
The subcommittee also wants to limit funding for the European Phased Adaptive Approach missile defense systems until it has more information on how NATO partners will contribute to the costs.
On nuclear weapons, the subcommittee would like greater access to the government’s plans and strategies for its nuclear weapons stockpile.
The subcommittee recommends reducing the staff in the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of the Administrator (NNSA) to 800 in 2014. However, the subcommittee recommends increasing the authorized number of scientific, engineering, and technical positions in the NNSA from 300 to 450.
The draft language marks the beginning of the legislative process used to write and pass a defense authorization bill for 2013. The Senate Armed Services Committee does not plan to start writing its version of the bill until late May.
While congressional appropriators have the final say on actual spending amounts, the defense authorization bill can place restrictions on how that money is spent, in addition to creating broader defense policy.
For example, the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee included a provision that would require a minimum of 12 U.S. ballistic missile submarines to remain in service for the foreseeable future, despite Navy plans to drop below that number beginning in 2029.
Although 14 Ohio-class “boomers” are now in service, the fleet is scheduled to begin shrinking in 2027 as the oldest units are retired.
Current Navy plans show the force dropping to 11 ships in 2029 and reaching 10 ships in 2032, where the level holds for a decade before starting to rise again as new replacement submarines come on line.
The subcommittee also approves the Navy’s request for multiyear procurement contracts for the Virginia SSN 774-class attack submarine and 10 Arleigh Burke DDG 51-class destroyers.
The military personnel subcommittee says it is willing to support a 1.7 percent military pay raise, but objects to the Obama administration’s plans to create an independent panel to recommend an overhaul of military retired pay.
The subcommittee on emerging threats and capabilities says it would like to be briefed quarterly on military cyberspace operations.
The subcommittees on readiness and tactical air and land forces are scheduled to release their draft language April 26.
Christopher P. Cavas and Rick Maze contributed to this report.