WASHINGTON — The Senate voted 83-11 on Friday to authorize an 8% defense budget increase over fiscal 2022 levels. The FY 2023 National Defense Authorization Act adds $45 billion to what the White House requested in its defense budget proposal.
The $858 billion NDAA — which includes roughly $817 billion in Defense Department spending — also includes a 4.6% pay raise for troops as well as billions of dollars in additional funding to help the Pentagon cope with inflation, expand capacity for the defense industrial base to produce major weapons systems and continue certain programs the Biden administration had sought to cancel.
“China is actively, actively trying to undercut American interests and partnerships everywhere from Asia itself to the Middle East, to Africa and beyond,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the floor ahead of the vote. “This NDAA will strengthen our hand. It prioritizes crucial partnerships in the Indo-Pacific.”
The House passed the NDAA 350-80 last week after Democrats lined up behind a Republican push to repeal the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. The White House and Pentagon have objected to the vaccine mandate repeal, though President Joe Biden has stopped short of issuing a veto threat. Regardless, lawmakers have passed the legislation with a veto-proof majority.
Schumer opted not to have the Senate pass its own version of the NDAA for the second year in a row. But the final bill nonetheless contains several House concessions to the Senate. The compromise legislation drops several provisions added by House lawmakers that would have restricted arms transfers over human rights concerns. The House passed the bill 329-101 in July.
Support for Taiwan and Ukraine
The exact details of how Congress will fund some programs authorized in the NDAA are still up in the air as Democrats and Republicans assemble a final omnibus appropriations package to fund the government for fiscal 2023, with the goal of passing that legislation next week.
For instance, lawmakers are currently debating whether to fund the $10 billion in Taiwan military aid authorized in the NDAA as grants or loans. Taiwan’s diplomatic office in Washington told Defense News it prefers to fund its incoming share of Foreign Military Financing, administered through the State Department, as grants.
The bill also includes measures intended to address the multibillion-dollar backlog of U.S. foreign military sales for the island nation.
Additionally, it authorizes $800 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, indicating Congress intends to continue supporting Kyiv against Russia’s invasion. Lawmakers have indicated they intend to attach the White House’s fourth Ukraine supplemental funding request to the omnibus spending bill next week. The Biden administration has asked Congress for $38 billion more in Ukraine supplemental funding, including $21.7 billion more in security assistance.
Additionally, the NDAA requires a report on the framework the inspectors general use to oversee Ukraine aid amid growing skepticism from the right flank of the Republican caucus.
Procurement and supply chains
The legislation allocates more than $8 billion to procure high-priority munitions while granting the Pentagon emergency procurement powers to bolster production and refill U.S. stockpiles sent to Ukraine.
That includes more than $2.7 billion in across-the-board munitions funding on top of $5.9 billion for the Navy to procure additional munitions and expand U.S. industrial base production capacity with an eye on deterring China from invading or blockading Taiwan.
Amid concerns over China’s naval modernization efforts, the bill authorizes $32.6 billion to increase the U.S. naval fleet, including for 11 battle force ships. For the Army, it authorizes funding increases for the CH-47 heavy-lift helicopter, the UH-60 Blackhawk medium-lift helicopter and the MQ-1 Gray Eagle drone.
The final bill includes a requirement for the U.S. Navy to maintain 31 operational amphibious ships, despite opposition from the White House.
The White House also opposes funding a third Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. But the final bill allocates $2.2 billion for the third Arleigh Burke ship.
Additionally, the bill sets aside $25 million to continue the sea-launched cruise missile nuclear development program, also known as SLCM-N, despite the Biden administration’s attempts to cancel it. It creates additional hurdles for the Biden administration’s plan to retire the B83 megaton gravity bomb, which is at least 80 times more powerful than the bomb the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, during World War II.
However, the bill does allow the Air Force to begin retiring the A-10 Warthog after previous congressional opposition. The bill also authorizes funding for five more F-35A aircraft as well as F-22 modernization.
Another provision requires the Pentagon — the world’s largest institutional fossil fuel consumer — to run its fleet of 170,000 non-tactical vehicles on electricity or alternative fuels by 2035. However, a provision introduced by Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, slow-walked that target with a separate provision that requires the Pentagon to first supply Congress with a report on how much the initiative would cost.
The report would have to provide an assessment of any supply chain shortfalls and fire-related security risks while identifying any components of the vehicles sourced from China.
The NDAA provides $1 billion to more than double the National Defense Stockpile — the U.S. strategic reserve of critical minerals — after years of depletion, highlighting congressional efforts to decrease Chinese influence in the U.S. defense supply chain.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.