Updated: December 1, 2016 2:16 PM

NDAA Supports $618.9 Billion for Defense, Beefs up Readiness

By RICHARD R. BURGESS, Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. — The fiscal 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) House and Senate conference report showed strong support for defense programs, particularly readiness, but also largely sustained the Navy’s Shipbuilding efforts.

The NDAA report, filed Nov. 30, which could be voted on by the House later this week, will fund the Defense Department (including $19.4 billion for Energy Department nuclear weapons work) at $618.9 billion, including $67.8 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, which is $18 billion more than the president’s request “in order to begin to restore readiness in the force,” the House report summary said.

Noting with alarm the shortfalls in readiness, with particular attention to the uptick in Marine Corps aviation mishaps, the bill emphasizes readiness, including manpower and maintenance, over new procurement for the Navy and Marine Corps. The bill authorizes $2.5 billion for additional training and flight hours, and adds $530 million for ship aircraft maintenance, bringing that total to $12.57 billion.

Marine Corps end strength will be increased by 3,000 to 185,000 Marines.

The NDAA conference report did not reverse the Navy’s decision to cut one of the Navy’s 10 carrier air wings in 2017. The wing has not been fully equipped with squadrons as it was. The Navy had planned to cut one F/A-18C strike fighter squadron, VFA-15, on Dec. 1, as part of cutting the air wing, but that has been delayed, said Mike Maus, a spokesman for Commander, Naval Air Force Atlantic. However, bill also requires the Navy to reactivate the air wing by Oct. 1, 2025, or earlier if the Navy’s carrier fleet is restored to 11 ships.

Submarine programs were fully supported by the conference committee. The bill will provide $1.5 billion to fully support the Ohio Replacement ballistic-missile submarine program, as well as provide $5 billion for two Virginia-class attack submarines and advance funding for future procurement of the class.

The NDAA conference report also supports $3.3 billion for two Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers. The procurement of the next-generation amphibious warfare ship, LX(R), was moved up and will begin in 2017, with $440 million in incremental funding authority. Funding of the next amphibious assault ship was authorized at $1.6 billion.

The conference report summary also noted limitations imposed on some controversial ship programs, including the Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier program “until the Navy establishes lower end cost targets of $11.0 billion and 12.0 billion for the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79) and USS Enterprise (CVN 80), respectively,” and “limits funds and enhances reporting requirements for the Advanced Arresting Gear (AAG) for the Ford-class aircraft carrier, a troubled program that has breached critical cost growth thresholds.”

The report locked in the current procurement strategy of the littoral combat ship (LCS), which “includes procurement of both LCS designs in 2017, a down-select to a single variant no later than 2019, and a reduction in the inventory objective to 40 ships,” the Senate summary said. It also “reduces authorization for the LCS by $28 million due to unjustified unit cost growth” and “cuts $76.8 million for LCS mission packages due to a program cancellation and delayed operational testing.”

The NDAA conference authorizes $10.5 billion for the F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter program, including $8.5 billion for procurement of 63 aircraft, including 16 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps and four F-35Cs for the Navy. Procurement of the Navy’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet strike fighter was limited to only two aircraft for $185 million. The buy of 11 P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft was authorized for $2 billion.

The defense subcommittees also seek to beef up stocks of weapons, authorizing $264 million for the Tomahawk cruise missile program to maintain production at the minimum sustaining rate. The bill also sustains the president’s request for the Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile, SM-6 Standard Missile and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile, and increases funding for the AIM-9X Sidewinder air-to-air missile.

The conference report also aims for more effectiveness and efficiency in Defense Department leadership.

The position of undersecretary of defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics will be disestablished by February 2018 and split into two positions, the new undersecretary of defense for Research and Engineering and an undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment. The move is aimed to “increase focus on technology and innovation and to better deliver superior capabilities for the Armed Forces,” the House report said.

The bill expands the advisory role of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) to that of offering independent advice on ongoing operations. The CJCS term also would increase to four years from two.

U.S. Cyber Command will be elevated to a unified command separate from U.S. Strategic Command. A study is ordered to explore separating U.S. Cyber Command from the National Security Agency.

The report also directs a reduction of 110 general and flag officers on active duty by no later than Dec. 31, 2022, with Navy flag and Marine Corps general officers capped at 151 and 62, respectively.

“This provision is necessary because the size of the general and flag officer corps has become increasingly out of balance with the size of the force it leads,” the Senate summary said. “Over the past 30 years, the end strength of the joint force has decreased 38 percent, but the ratio of four-star officers to the overall force has increased by 65 percent. Especially at a time of constrained defense budgets, the military services must right-size their officer corps and shift as many personnel as possible from staff functions to operational and other vital roles.”

The number of Senior Executive Service personnel also will be reduced commensurate with the reduction in flag officers. The National Security staff will be capped at 200 personnel over an 18-month period.

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