Thornberry Pushes for Higher Topline in Defense Authorization Bill

fighter pilot inside the canopy of a jet sitting on tarmac

A U.S. Navy F-35C arrives at Hill Air Force Base for depot modifications. Image – U.S. Air Force/R. Nial Bradshaw

The U.S. House Armed Services Committee began its markup of the FY20 defense authorization bill Wednesday morning, and ranking member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) is trying to reverse cuts contained in Chairman Adam Smith’s (D-WA) proposed bill.

The Chairman’s Mark, which is used as a starting point for crafting the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act, recommends a national security budget of $733 billion.  That topline figure matches what the Trump administration originally planned for FY20 before the president increased the national security request to $750 billion.

Thornberry has proposed an amendment that would add $17 billion to the defense bill in order to reach that $750 billion level.  It should be noted that these topline figures include the Department of Defense, as well as nuclear programs in the Department of Energy, and defense-related programs in agencies outside of the DoD.

Thornberry’s amendment includes:

  • $748.8 million for six F-35s – two B models and four C models.  The Chairman’s Mark did not change F-35B or F-35C quantities, so these aircraft would represent an increase for the program overall.  The Chairman’s Mark does, however, add 12 F-35As.
  • $400 million for the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance program.  The Chairman’s Mark cut $500 million from the $1 billion requested for NGAD development.
  • $395 million for Ford class aircraft carrier construction.  The Chairman’s Mark cut this amount, citing cost growth.
  • $211 million for USS Stennis (CVN 74) overhaul.  This funding was cut in the Chairman’s Mark.
  • $447 million for a fleet oiler.  The Chairman’s Mark cut $447 million for one of the two TAO 205 oilers requested.
  • $155.3 million for Littoral Combat Ship mission modules.. This funding was cut in the Chairman’s Mark.
  • $62 million for 38 Naval Strike Missiles (also referred to as the Littoral Combat Ship Over-the-Horizon missile).  The request contained 18 NSMs, which were fully funded in the Chairman’s Mark.
  • $329.3 million for various ammunition programs, including AMRAAM missiles, Joint Direct Attack Munitions, general-purpose bombs, conventional ammunition, HELLFIRE missiles, Guided Multiple Launch Rockets, and Army Tactical Missiles.
  • $246.3 million for the unmanned surface vessel program.  The request included $507 million for large and medium unmanned surface vessel development.  The Chairman’s Mark reduced this funding to $312.2 million, and the cuts include one of two planned large unmanned surface vessels.    
  • $261 million for 5G, artificial intelligence, and other “critical technology.”
  • $250 million for the Rapid Innovation Fund.  This program is not contained in the Pentagon’s annual budget request, and is historically added to the defense bill by congressional appropriators.  Including this program in the defense authorization bill represents a change in tradition.  In recent years, this program has been funded at $250 million. 
  • $75 million for Defense Innovation Unit Commercialization and Investment Activities.
  • $604.2 million for other unfunded requirements.  The major services traditionally deliver to Congress a list of unfunded requirements that were not able to make it into the annual budget request.  This funding would address some of these programs. 
  • $120 million for nuclear modernization, including the Minuteman III ballistic missile replacement.
  • $707 million for National Nuclear Security Administration activities.
  • $441.2 million for ballistic missile defense.  The Chairman’s Mark includes cuts to a number of line items that fund ballistic missile defense efforts, the largest of which is a $196 million reduction for the midcourse defense segment.
  • $147 million for hypersonic investments.  The Chairman’s Mark cut $40 million from the Air Force’s Hypersonics Prototyping program, $76 million for the Defense-Wide prompt global strike program, and $80 million from the Navy’s precision strike weapons development program.  The bulk of the Defense-Wide prompt global strike program was transferred to the Navy’s precision strike program in FY20, but a small amount of funding remained in the Defense-Wide account in the FY20 request.    
  • The amendment takes issue with a provision in the Chairman’s Mark that would prohibit funding for the deployment of the W76-2 low-yield ballistic missile warhead.
  • The amendment also includes additional funding for personnel, maintenance, and military construction, including $3.6 billion to replenish military construction accounts diverted for border walls.  Thornberry also takes issue with the fact that the Chairman’s Mark does not contain language establishing a Space Force.

Thornberry’s massive amendment is largely a symbolic gesture, but the multitude of programs and issues outlined in the catch-all proposal can still be addressed separately through the amendment process.   Some of the items contained within the amendment may therefore make it into the final defense bill.

However, it is important to remember that the Pentagon’s ability to obligate funding for contracts is entirely dependent on the Congressional appropriations process.  Any funding authorized by the Armed Services Committees will mean nothing without a corresponding agreement from the appropriations committees.

UPDATE (June 13, 2019): Chairman Adam Smith posted a response to Thornberry’s amendment on June 13, 2019.

About Shaun McDougall

As editor of International Military Markets, North America, Shaun has cultivated a deep understanding of the vast defense markets in the United States and Canada. Shaun's perspective on defense procurement and budget issues has been cited in a variety of defense periodicals, including Defense News and National Defense Magazine. Further, Shaun played an integral role in the development of Forecast International's U.S. Defense Budget Forecast product, which offers an unprecedented level of insight into the Pentagon's acquisition budget. In addition to providing original analytical content for the U.S. Defense Budget Forecast, Shaun oversees an internal defense budget forecasting process involving Forecast International's team of skilled systems analysts following release of the DoD's annual budget request. Shaun is also in charge of managing Forecast International's Weapons Inventory database.

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