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Congress Agrees to $631B Defense Bill for 2013

Dec. 18, 2012 - 06:44PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
The defense bill would require the Air Force to maintain an additional 32 C-27J to meet intra-theater lift Army needs, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters.
The defense bill would require the Air Force to maintain an additional 32 C-27J to meet intra-theater lift Army needs, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters. (Master Sgt. Jeffrey Allen / U.S. Air Force)
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House and Senate lawmakers have agreed on a final bill authorizing the Pentagon to spend $631 billion in 2013, while also limiting DoD’s ability to deploy military spies and enter the biofuels industry. The bill stops short of mandating a new U.S.-based missile shield, and green-lights new multiyear contracts

The legislation, which could be sent to the president this week, also stops short of allowing DoD to spend funds to construct a GOP-proposed East Coast missile shield. The compromise bill authorizes the Pentagon to enter into multiyear procurement deals on several programs, including for Army CH-47 helicopters, Navy DDG-51 destroyers and V-22 tiltrotor aircraft.

Leaders and members from the House and Senate Armed Services committees agreed Dec. 18 on a compromise version of the 2013 defense authorization act that clears the Pentagon to spend $552.2 billion in base budget monies and another $88.5 billion on ongoing global wars and other operations.

The total amount is $1.7 billion above the Obama administration’s 2013 Pentagon budget request, which arrived on Capitol Hill earlier this year.

But lawmakers dubbed the legislation “an incremental step to address the $46 billion decrease when considering where the president proposed national defense [spending] would be for fiscal year 2013 in last year’s budget,” according to a summary of the compromise bill released by the House Armed Services Committee.

The House could vote on the compromise legislation on Dec. 20, with the Senate likely to approve it by unanimous consent soon after.

The conference panel opted against including the complete House-passed language that would have gone further than the final language on the establishment of an East Coast missile shield that House Republicans support.

The missile shield has been one of the more controversial items in the authorization bill process, with many Democrats expressing opposition. The Senate included no language about the proposal in its version of the bill.

The compromise bill would require defense officials to study options for an East Coast missile shield — but it does not require nor clear the military to spend funds to begin erecting it, a congressional source told Defense News before the conference committee approved the legislation.

“What we have is good, compromise legislation that includes the studies,” the congressional source said.

What the final bill does include is language requiring the Pentagon to conduct several studies about the GOP proposal that were called for in the lower chamber’s bill.

Leaders of the two armed services committees told reporters the final language would allow the Pentagon to look at issues regarding three East Coast sites as potential hosts for the proposed missile shield. DoD would pick those sites, the lawmakers said.

“What this does is get them studying it,” the source said. “From there, we’ll have to kind of cajole them to spend money on it.”

Many congressional Democrats have expressed opposition to the idea of setting up an East Coast system that Republicans say is needed to knock down Iranian missiles.

Pentagon officials, so far, have mostly been lukewarm about the need for such a system.

The legislation also includes Senate-passed language that restricts the Pentagon’s ability to move forward with a controversial plan to expand the number of Defense Intelligence Agency covert military operatives to 1,600.

It is unclear how much of an increase that would be, since the current number of covert DIA operations is classified. As part of the proposal, these military clandestine operatives would conduct spycraft rather than just gather information to aid military operations.

Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters the conference committee kept the upper chamber’s provision because “any time they want to expand something … we need to look into it.”

Last week, several lawmakers told Defense News the department needs to provide Capitol Hill more information before they agree to allow the plan to move forward. The lawmakers cited operational and cost concerns, which McCain echoed during a brief interview.

On biofuels, the bill “limits the DOD’s ability to spend FY13 Defense Production Act funds on biofuel refinery construction until they receive matching funds from the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture,” according to the summary of the bill. Lawmakers said the conference committee merely refers back to the original tri-agency biofuels funding plan, which they called “one-third, one-third, one-third.”

Levin said until the Energy and Agriculture departments provide their thirds, the Pentagon should not.

On major programs, the final authorization bill “restores” funding for three Navy cruisers the service had pegged for retirement because lawmakers determined each has “at least a decade” of life remaining, states the summary.

It also increases the number of Navy Virginia-class submarines and DDG-51 destroyers the sea service could buy with multiyear procurement contracts.

The increase goes from nine to 10 for both, according to the summary.

In a big win for the Army and heavy combat vehicle manufacturers, the conferees authorized full funding for the ground service’s proposed next-generation vehicle plans.

The conferees opted to wade into the murky and sometimes-turbulent stream that has been an Air Force-Army struggle over the C-27J transport aircraft program.

The bill would require the Air Force to maintain an additional 32 aircraft to meet intra-theater lift Army needs, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., told reporters.

The conferees will allow the services to determine whether those aircraft are additional Alenia- made C-27Js or additional Lockheed Martin-made C-130s.

“Conferees held significant reservations with respect to the Air Force’s plans for maintaining and divesting important assets, specifically equipment and assets in the Air National Guard,” the summary stated. “Conferees found the Air Force’s [C-27J] analysis to be flawed.”

The Air Force has pushed to keep control over the Army’s intra-theater airlift needs with an Air Force commander, while the Army wants ground commanders to maintain control so aircraft can be tasked quickly as dictated by the situation on the ground.

Further, the legislation would prevents the retirement of 26 C-5As until DoD conducts a “comprehensive study of air mobility requirements,” states the summary.

Additionally, McCain and Levin told reporters the committees remain concerned about poor program management and major-program cost overruns.

“There are provisions in the [final] bill to change that,” McCain said, because with annual Pentagon budgets expected to shrink with or without the pending $500 billion, decade-long sequester cuts, “we and DoD will have to change.”

House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith, D-Wash., touted provisions aimed at lifting restrictions that have limited how much sensitive satellite technology U.S. firms can export. Smith and those firms say it significantly hinders the global competitiveness of American satellite-makers and their suppliers.

The conference committee again opted against authorizing the Pentagon from spending monies on the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a joint venture between the U.S., Germany and Italy. The system, designed to intercept medium-range ballistic missiles and cruise missiles, has been plagued by cost spikes and performance issues.

The Obama administration and the Pentagon wanted around $400 million to finish the joint venture, but lawmakers simply are too skeptical to approve that plan.

On cyber, Levin noted the Senate’s recent failures to pass a comprehensive cyber security bill. But, he said, the compromise NDAA “makes significant progress.” That’s because it would require the Pentagon to establish a system under which defense contractors would have to report to DoD when their systems have been attacked via cyberspace, Levin said.

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Zachary Fryer-Biggs contributed.

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