WASHINGTON — Lawmakers have reduced the 2016 defense policy bill by $5 billion to comply with the budget deal between Congress and the president, including $2.6 billion in “adjustments” to acquisition programs, according to a document circulating online.
The reductions, levied across several dozen line items, amount to several billion dollars in “pain,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, R-Texas, said Monday. The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act’s (NDAA) top line dropped from $612 billion to $607 billion in the new budget deal announced last week.
The savings was found in negotiations between House and Senate authorizers, and defense appropriators, according to Thornberry. The list of cuts was presented to members of the House Armed Services Committee during a closed-door meeting Monday evening.
Defense watchers expect appropriators to conference and pass their spending bills before Dec. 11 to avoid a government shutdown, though it is unclear whether they will hew precisely to the $5 billion authorizers are advancing.
Todd Harrison, a budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted the NDAA is a policy bill: "This list is for the authorizers, so take this as a suggestion. It's for the appropriators to decide where to ultimately put the funding."
Outside of programs, the largest source of savings was roughly $1 billion from fuel costs that were lower than projected, part of a $1.6 billion category of “fact-of-life” adjustments, several of which were attributed to contract delays. Roughly $110 million in fuel savings would come from the Afghan Security Forces Fund.
Days after members of Congress from both sides of the aisle criticized President Obama’s plans to send special operations forces into the fight against the Islamic State in northern Syria, lawmakers cut $250 million from the Counterterrorism Partnership Fund and $125 million from the Syria train and equip program — which the Pentagon announced in October that it would abandon.
The NDAA also will increase by $453 million its planned reductions in spending on Defense Department headquarters across the services.
Among the services, the Navy appears to have endured the fewest number of cuts overall. The largest reduction for the Navy amounts to $150 million out of a $400 million increase to the DDG-51 destroyer program. The NDAA had authorized $3.5 billion for the program in 2016 before the cut.
The most significant cut to Air Force coffers is a $230 million decrease in funds for the Long Range Strike-Bomber due to repeated delays in the contract award. This is in addition to the $460 million cut lawmakers had already made to the program in FY-16. The Pentagon finally broke its silence on the next-generation bomber last week when Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James announced that Northrop Grumman beat out a joint Boeing-Lockheed Martin team for the contract. LRS-B is expected to cost about $100 billion overall.
The reduction prompted the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee chairman, Rep. J. Randy Forbes to release a statement emphasizing that the move owed to the award date, "and should not be interpreted as a lack of Congressional support for this program."
"I remain fully committed to providing the Air Force with the resources it needs to field this crucial power projection platform," said Forbes, R-Va.
Lawmakers also made a $20.5 million cut to the Long Range Standoff Weapon, planned to arm LRS-B and the rest of the Air Force’s bomber fleet. LRSO can be armed with a conventional or nuclear warhead, and will replace the Air-Launched Cruise Missile carried by the aging B-52 bombers.
The NDAA reduction also impacts a swath of aircraft programs across the service. Lawmakers slashed the unmanned MQ-9 Reaper by $80 million; C-130 modifications by $51 million; H-1 helicopter upgrades by $5 million; and F-15 modifications by $10 million.
The Army did not take many major hits to specific programs, but Congress is authorizing a $250 million cut to the service’s readiness account and $192.6 million to the Army National Guard’s readiness funding when both are already stretched paper thin.
The cuts came just as Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley said readiness — the number of soldiers trained for combat — was the Army’s “No. 1 priority,” as the Army’s shrinks in size.
“The numbers are only one calculation, what’s … more important is capability, readiness,” Milley said at a forum here on Monday. “We want to have a qualitative advantage, not just a quantitative advantage. It’s nice to have both, but in actual war, qualitative advantages are far more decisive and important.”
The original NDAA increased the National Guard and Reserve’s equipment account but now the plan is to authorize a $170 million cut. The sum still remains $250 million over the president’s budget request.
Lawmakers would also make deeper cuts to several communications and network accounts it had already planned to reduce in the 2016 NDAA. Lawmakers are authorizing an additional $10 million cut from the troubled Distributed Common Ground System-Army program, a $5 million cut from the Transportable Tactical Command Communications account and an $894,000 cut from the Mid-Tier Network Vehicular Radio program.
Lawmakers would also make deeper cuts to several communications and network accounts.
Army missile programs are also victims to new reductions in the NDAA. Lawmakers are slashing an account it increased in the original NDAA, electing to cut $100 million from the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhanced program. The new cuts in the NDAA would further reduce the Joint Air-to-Ground Missile program account by $8 million due to contract delays.
Lawmakers are also authorizing a new cut of $50 million to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. THAAD interceptor production fell behind in fiscal 2015 due to an issue with a new device on a mission computer memory card resulting in a seven-month lag, according to the Missile Defense Agency. Lockheed Martin was only able to deliver three of the 44 interceptors for the THAAD system. The company is trying to catch up after resuming deliveries in mid-May 2015 and the program should recover by September 2016.
Note: This story was updated to include Forbes' comments.