US Congress Sends President 2013 Defense Authorization Bill

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The United States Congress finalized a defense authorization bill for 2013 and forwarded it to President Obama for signature following an 18 December House and Senate conference to hammer out differences.  The approved 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) provides the Department of Defense (DoD) with a spending threshold of $633 billion for 2013.

The White House has threatened a veto in response to included provisions related to the detention of terrorist suspects.  President Obama has expressed his displeasure with a budget provision that limits for one year the president’s authority to move terrorist suspects from the detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to other locations.  This provision mirrors existing law and has drawn strong opposition from the president.  With an overwhelming vote in favor of the bill in both houses, it is unknown if the president will exercise his veto power.

While the NDAA sets spending limits and authorizes spending for specific DoD programs, the bill does not appropriate the money needed to translate such authorization into reality.  Separate legislation must be passed by Congress to provide the actual dollars needed to execute provisions of the NDAA.

Should sequestration, automatic across-the-board government spending cuts, go into effect, domestic spending in 2013 would be reduced by 8.2 percent and military accounts would be slashed by 9.4 percent.  These budget reductions, with a few notable exceptions, would apply to all government programs.  Under the terms of sequestration, the DoD would be hit with cuts totaling $500 billion over the next decade and between $55 and $63 billion in 2013 alone, reductions US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has called devastating and a real danger to national security.

As of New Year’s Day, the US Senate approved a compromise bill that would delay sequestration for an additional two months.  The tentative agreement still requires concurrence from representatives of the House and does not remove the threat of sequestration becoming effective at the end of the two-month extension period.

The finalized bill sets the DoD’s base budget at $527.7 billion which is $1.7 billion more than the president requested, but represents a reduction of $29 billion from current spending levels.  Much of the $29 billion cut is related to the dwindling military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Included in the bill is $17 billion to fund nuclear and defense programs administered by the Department of Energy (DoE) and $88.5 billion to cover war costs related to the war in Afghanistan.

Secretary Panetta, in recent weeks, has been vocal in his opposition to some provisions of the bill.  Mr. Panetta has publicly complained that Congress included funding for projects the DoD no longer wished to continue, money he wanted to reprogram to other initiatives he considered vital.  Funding for some programs – tanks, armored vehicle upgrades, and the RQ-4 Global Hawk Block 30 unmanned aircraft – was not requested by the Pentagon and is not in line with defense planning.  Mr. Panetta claims that as much as $74 billion in funding was diverted to fund programs the military does not need, does not want, and previously scheduled for termination.

In response to recent events, the bill authorizes funding to train and deploy 1,000 additional US Marines to embassies and consulates around the world, provides $480 million of funding for joint US-Israeli missile defense projects including $211 million for the highly-successful Iron Dome system, and removes Congressional restrictions on the military’s spending on alternative fuels provided other government agencies concerned share in the funding.

Iran was not forgotten in the final version submitted for signature.  Provisions of the bill will strengthen sanctions against Iran and target Iranian shipbuilding, seaports, shipping operations, the energy industry, government-sponsored broadcasting, and provides for the imposition of severe penalties on those who engage in the trade of precious metals with Iran.

The spending bill authorizes the Pentagon to negotiate multiyear procurement contracts for several high-visibility weapon systems including CH-47 helicopters for the Army, DDG-51 destroyers for the Navy, and V-22 Osprey tiltrotor aircraft.  Under the compromise agreement, the number of Virginia-class submarines and DDG-51 destroyers authorized for purchase under multiyear contracts was increased from nine to ten for both programs.

Funding was also restored for three Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers the Navy previously slated for retirement as legislators determined each ship could continue to serve for another decade or longer.

In an effort to inject some civility into the Army-Air Force dispute over the DoD’s plan to discontinue operation of the Air Force’s fleet of Alenia C-27J medium-lift transport aircraft, Congress mandated that the Air Force will be required to maintain 32 additional medium-lift transports to satisfy Army lift requirements.  Wording in the proposed legislation leaves the final decision to the discretion of the Air Force to determine if the additional aircraft will be Alenia C-27Js or Lockheed Martin C-130Js.

Another provision included in the ADAA would stop the scheduled retirement of 26 Lockheed C-5A Galaxy heavy-lift transports until such time as the DoD completes a comprehensive assessment of air mobility needs.

Contrary to the wishes of President Obama and the Pentagon, the bill eliminated a final $400.9 million payment requested to complete development of the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), a joint venture with Germany and Italy that has long been hampered by cost increases and technical problems.  A Lockheed Martin project that has been in development for a decade and has so far cost $4 billion has had little success drumming up legislative support.

White House officials claim that termination costs are likely to exceed the cost of completing the system and that a premature termination of the project would create ill will among American allies.

The ADAA also eases some restrictions imposed on the export of satellites in older legislation in hopes of assisting US manufacturers compete more favorably in the global satellite market, a business sector once dominated by the United States that has declined precipitously in the past 15 years.

Additional wording in the bill related to the East China Sea island disputes between China and Japan and weapon’s sales to Taiwan has managed to draw severe criticism from the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  Non-binding sections of the bill were included as “sense of Congress” clauses as a means of expressing Congressional intent.

Section 1281 of the legislation states that Congress believes “the president should take steps to address Taiwan’s shortfall in fighter aircraft, whether through the sale of F-16 C/D aircraft or other aircraft of similar capability.”

Section 1286 voices the Congressional stance that while the United States should not adopt a formal position regarding the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, the government should acknowledge the fact that Japan does exercise administrative control over the islands.

As should be expected, these two non-binding sections of the bill incited the Chinese to issue loud protests that the United States was intervening in matters of concern only to those nations in the region.