WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a version of the $716 billion defense policy bill Thursday that emphasizes investment in future warfare — with provisions on cyber, hypersonic weapons and artificial intelligence.
Its National Defense Authorization Act would sprinkle $600 million more than the Trump administration budget requests into science, technology and testing programs, to include hypersonics, space constellation technologies, rocket propulsion, directed energy and quantum information science — the “key to advancing warfighting capabilities,” according to a summary of the bill released Thursday.
The panel approved the massive bill after meeting behind closed doors this week, but the text of the bill itself is not expected for about another week. The panel was steered by its No. 2 Republican, Sen. Jim Inhofe, of Oklahoma, as its chairman, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was battling brain cancer at home in Arizona.
The NDAA is several steps from becoming law. The House passed its version of the legislation earlier Thursday, and the Senate must pass its version of the bill before the two versions are reconciled over the summer into a final bill for both chambers to pass.
The Senate Armed Services Committee broke with the administration by authorizing fewer troops than the president’s budget request, fewer jets and fewer ships.
The panel touted its version as aligning with the National Defense Strategy, which emphasizes great power competition with Russia and China and de-emphasizes the counterterror fight.
In a clear nod at Russia, the bill would establish a policy that the U.S. should “employ all instruments of national power, including the use of offensive cyber capabilities, to deter if possible, and respond when necessary, to cyber attacks that target U.S. interests with the intent to cause casualties, significantly disrupt the normal functioning of our democratic society or government, threaten the Armed Forces or the critical infrastructure they rely upon, achieve an effect comparable to an armed attack, or imperil a U.S. vital interest.”
As far as information technology goes, the bill would encourage the Pentagon to “realign more than a dozen high priority software-intensive command and control and business systems and adopt commercial agile methods to deliver capabilities to users more frequently, keep pace with innovation, and avoid fielding capability that is already vulnerable and years behind.”
The Pentagon would have to form a list of critical militarily technology to inform technology protection, export control and research investment decisions.
The $600 million for innovation includes an added:
- $75 million for university research.
- $150 million for hypersonics.
- $110 million for space constellation efforts.
- $100 million for test infrastructure and workforce, including for cybersecurity, directed energy and hypersonics.
- $50 million for rocket propulsion.
- $40 million for directed energy.
- $20 million for quantum information sciences.
- $15 million for microelectronics research and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Electronics Resurgence Initiative.
To boot, the NDAA boosts funding for “promising new technologies and concepts, such as distributed, low-cost, autonomous, and attritable systems ... on land, in the air, on and under the sea, and in space and cyberspace.”
Aside from cash, the bill tweaks the Pentagon’s organization in several ways, establishing — for one — a senior, designated official and an associated cross-functional team to update the 2017 electronic warfare strategy and submit it, along with a road map of the referenced requirements and plans, to Congress.
It would also give the new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering directive authority for priority emerging technologies for one year.
Michael Griffin, the Pentagon’s new undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, led NASA from 2005 to 2009. He said in recent months that development of hypersonic capabilities is his “highest technical priority.”
With an authorization of $150 million, the undersecretary would be required to develop interaction between the Defense Department and the commercial technology industry and academia — “potentially by establishing a non-profit entity.” The idea is to encourage private investment in specific hardware technologies of interest to future defense technology needs with unique national security applications.
The bill, according to the summary, also:
- Directs a review of the defense research and engineering enterprise by the undersecretary “to maximize innovation.”
- Establishes coordinated defense research efforts in artificial intelligence and quantum information science.
- Supports the Defense Department’s access to innovative, high-tech, small businesses by continuing to streamline procurement practices and permanently authorizing the successful Small Business Innovation Research program.
Joe Gould was the senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry. He had previously served as Congress reporter.