$738bn budget, a Space Force and a Navy expansion: Inside the NDAA

Harry Lye 11 December 2019 (Last Updated June 4th, 2020 10:35)

The US Senate and House Armed Services Committees have completed a conference on the FY20 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that funds the Department of Defence (DoD), approving a colossal budget, the creation of a Space Force and expansion of the US Navy.

$738bn budget, a Space Force and a Navy expansion: Inside the NDAA
US Marines post security during a Tactical Recovery of Aircraft and Personnel Exercise at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Credits: US Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Miguel A. Rosales

On Monday, the US Senate’s Armed Services Committee announced that Congress and the Senate had agreed on the details of the sweeping NDAA bill that funds the DoD’s and other US government agencies’ national security programmes.

Explaining what’s inside the NDAA, the Senate Armed Services Committee said: “The Fiscal Year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act fulfils one of Congress’s most important constitutional duties: to provide for the common defence.

“This bipartisan, bicameral agreement puts our troops and America’s security first by continuing to rebuild our military, positioning our Armed Forces to meet the next wave of threats outlined in the National Defense Strategy, reforming the business side of the Pentagon, and most importantly, caring for our service members and their families.

The top-line budget comes in at roughly 3.6% of GDP and a $22bn increase on 2019. But what is in the new Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 NDAA?

Budget for upgrades, maintenance, and replenishment

The Senate’s Armed Services Committee said: “This conference report supports a discretionary top line of $738 billion consistent with the recent bipartisan budget agreement. This includes $71.5 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations funding.

“The report also authorises $5.3 billion in emergency disaster recovery to help military installations across the country from extreme weather and natural disasters.”

With a base budget of $658.4bn  plus extras, keeping the US well ahead of other nations in total military expenditure, the funds will be used for fleet expansion, sustainment of facilities, and force replenishment.

On the replenishment front, the bill brings with it funds for an array of aircraft, rotorcraft and vehicles including 73 UH-60M Blackhawks, 48 AH-64 Apaches, 9 MH-47G Chinooks, 6 CH-53K King Stallions, 12 HH-60W Combat Rescue Helicopters and 6 MQ-1 Gray Eagles. On top of this, the conference report adds that the NDAA “expands maritime patrol by adding three additional P-8 Poseidon and one E-2D Hawkeye aircraft.”

On the land front, the report explains that the US Army’s full budget request for 131 Armoured Multipurpose Vehicles, 152 Stryker Combat Vehicles, and 165 Abrams Tanks is supported, with the NDAA also setting aside additional funds for medium and heavy tactical trucks.

The Stryker is also set to receive more funding with the NDAA setting aside almost $250m for the Stryker combat vehicle medium calibre weapon system designed to increase the firepower of the vehicle.

The NDAA sets aside funds for the upgrade and expansion of the Stryker force. Credits: DoD.

Turkey problems and F-35s

On top of this, the US is also still dealing with the fallout of Turkey’s removal from the F-35 programme bringing extra costs to the DoD. The NDAA renews moves set to deter Russian aggression and continues to take a hard line on Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 air defence missile system.

The conference report says that the NDAA: “Prohibits the transfer of the F-35 to Turkey and expresses a sense of Congress that Turkey’s acquisition of the S-400 constitutes a significant transaction under the Countering Russian Influence in Europe and Eurasia Act (CAATSA) and the President should implement sanctions under that Act”

Along with pushing the US President to sanction Turkey, it also approves $30m to store six Turkish F-35s that were used to train Turkish pilots before the countries expulsion from Lockheed Martin’s Joint Strike Fighter Programme. The bill also sets aside $440m for the US to purchase additional F-35’s that were originally ordered by Turkey before its expulsion.

Keeping on the topic of the Joint Strike Fighter, the NDAA sets aside billions for F-35’s across the armed services.

An additional £1bn has been earmarked to purchase the US Air Force an additional 12 F-35 A variants along with support for budget requests from the US Marine Corps and US Navy to purchase an additional 10 F-35Bs and 20 F-35Cs.

The US has set aside $440m to purchase F-35’s originally destined for Turkey. Credits: DoD.

You’re gonna need a bigger fleet

The conference report reads: “The NDAA reaffirms that the United States must maintain a minimum of 11 aircraft carriers to protect our interests around the world and authorises the first year of appropriations for the midlife refuelling of USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75)” This will see the sustainment of existing carriers and support of new Gerald R. Ford-class carriers.

On top of this, the NDAA will lay the groundwork to “build a larger Navy”, by preserving the plan to build 10 Virginia-Class submarines supported by $1.5bn to plug the submarines’ construction deficit. The NDAA also supports the full funding of Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine development, which is slated to begin construction late next year.

In surface vessels, the Navy will also receive authorisation to procure three new Arleigh Burke-Class destroyers and one new frigate. The US Navy is currently undergoing the FFG(X) programme to acquire a class of 20 guided-missile frigates (FFGs), the first of which the Congressional Research Service says the navy aims to procure in 2020.

Moving into the space of amphibious operations, the report says the NDAA will authorise the construction one America-Class amphibious assault ship, and one San Antonio-Class amphibious transport dock.

Finally, in the section discussing the US fleet, there are plans to build one large unmanned surface vessel (LUSV) and two medium unmanned surface vessels (MUSV) to expand their unmanned operations.

US Navy Arleigh Burke-Class Destroyer. Credits: DoD.

Creating the Space Force

The report says: “The FY20 NDAA recognises space as a warfighting domain and establishes the US Space Force in Title 10 as the sixth Armed Service of the United States, under the US Air Force. In doing so, the NDAA provides the Secretary of the Air Force with the authority to transfer Air Force personnel to the newly established Space Force.

“To minimise cost and bureaucracy, the Space Force will require no additional billets and remains with the President’s budget request.”

Approving a long-held desire of the White House, and something that has been coming since the establishment of the US Space Command, the NDAA will authorise the creation of a new branch of the US Military.

Using existing assets, the Space Force will become the US sixth branch of the Armed Forces and exist within a structure similar to the Navy’s relationship with the Marine Corps. The Conference agreement agrees to the creation of the Chief of Space Operations (CSO) who will head the Space Force and report to the Secretary of the Air Force.

The agreement also will create a position of Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Space Acquisition and Integration whose role will be to lead the procurement of space assets. Coupled with this the conference report also would see the creation of a civilian Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy to provide oversight on space warfare.

The NDAA authorises the creation of the Space Force with personal and equipment to be drawn from existing forces. Credits: DoD.