By Shannon Bugos
U.S. lawmakers have authorized a $25 billion increase to the annual defense policy bill’s topline, bringing the total to $768 billion. The total reflects bipartisan views that President Joe Biden’s proposal was insufficient to deter China and Russia and keep pace with inflation.
The fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), approved by Congress in December, “makes great progress,” Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) said. “It addresses a broad range of pressing issues, from strategic competition with China and Russia; to disruptive technologies like hypersonics, [artificial intelligence,] and quantum computing; to modernizing our ships, aircraft, and vehicles.” The committee’s version of the NDAA, passed July 21, included the $25 billion increase to the administration’s NDAA request of $743 billion.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, said the NDAA “bolsters our national security” and “prepare[s] our military to face the ever-growing threat of China.” Rogers had introduced an amendment in the committee for the boost to the request, which the committee approved in its version of the NDAA on Sept. 2.
The House passed the NDAA on Sept. 23, but the Senate deadlocked over the legislation and failed to pass its own version. The leaders of the respective armed services committees then bypassed the usual conference committee, during which the chambers reconcile their respective versions of a bill, and negotiated a final compromise bill between themselves.
The House passed the compromise NDAA on Dec. 7 by a vote of 363–70, and the Senate followed with an 88–11 vote on Dec. 15. Biden signed the legislation into law on Dec. 27, marking the 61st consecutive year that an NDAA has been enacted.
“This bill represents compromise between both parties and chambers—as a result, every single member involved has something in it they like and something that didn’t get into the bill that they wish had,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) in a Dec. 7 statement. “Ultimately, our responsibility as a Congress to provide for the common defense supersedes these areas of disagreement, making the substance of this bill and its signature into law critical.”
But the NDAA only authorizes the funding. Congress has yet to pass the defense and energy and water appropriations bills, which appropriate actual spending, and is not expected to do so until at least mid-February, when the continuing resolution passed on Dec. 2 expires.
The legislation authorizes a total $5.1 billion for the construction and continued research and development of what ultimately will be a fleet of 12 Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines, an increase of $138 million from Biden’s budget request. (See ACT, July/August 2021.) The Senate summary of the legislation attributed part of the cost to the need for “industrial base development and expansion.”
The NDAA includes the $15.2 million requested by the Defense and Energy departments for the development of a new sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and its associated low-yield nuclear warhead. The House Appropriations Committee has zeroed out this funding in its version of the fiscal year 2022 appropriations bill, therefore leaving the possibility that this SLCM program ultimately may not receive any funding.
The Trump administration proposed this controversial SLCM program in its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). (See ACT, March 2018.) The NDAA would exert some oversight over the program by restricting travel by select Navy staff until the department releases the analysis of alternatives for the new capability and briefs Congress on it.
Congress authorized the Air Force’s $3 billion request for the B-21 Raider strategic bomber program, including $108 million for initial procurement. The legislation also approved the service’s $609 million request for the long-range standoff (LRSO) weapons program to replace the existing air-launched cruise missile (ALCM), a 58 percent increase from the fiscal year 2021 authorization.
Bloomberg reported in July that the projected total cost of the development and procurement phases of the LRSO program will fall between $14.2 billion and $16.2 billion, an increase of 30 to 50 percent from the Air Force’s 2016 estimate. (See ACT, September 2021.) In the 2022 NDAA, Congress prohibited the awarding of the LRSO procurement contract until the Pentagon conducts additional cost analysis and justifies the awarding of a sole-source contract for the program. The Air Force announced in April 2020 that Raytheon would be the sole contractor for the LRSO program and awarded the company a $2 billion development contract in July 2021. (See ACT, September 2021; May 2020.)
The legislation also provided $2.6 billion for continued R&D and initial missile procurement for the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) program, the same as the Biden budget request and $1.1 billion more than the previous year’s authorization. The GBSD missiles are slated to replace the fleet of 400 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) beginning in 2029.
The Pentagon requested in late 2021 a report by the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace by the end of January on potential options for the future of the land-based leg of the nuclear triad, but the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review is scheduled for release around the same time, casting doubt on how influential the Carnegie report could be.
Meanwhile, there has been significant pushback from Congress on downsizing or eliminating the ICBM leg, as evidenced by the NDAA provision that bars any 2022 funding from going toward reducing the number of deployed ICBMs below 400.
The Carnegie report will help “to make sure we surface the full range of viewpoints across the political spectrum, tension points, and key considerations, so that the Department can benefit from those insights during the NPR process,” Colin Kahl, undersecretary of defense for policy, wrote in a Nov. 8 letter to Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The senator had written Kahl in September following the abrupt departure of the department’s lead on the NPR process, Leonor Tomero, deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear and missile defense policy, from the Pentagon. (See ACT, December 2021.)
In addition to the NPR, which began in July, the Pentagon is working on two other complementary studies, the National Defense Strategy and the Missile Defense Review, which began in June. (See ACT, September and October 2021.) The White House is also working on the National Security Strategy, which helps to guide these three Pentagon documents. Kahl said on Dec. 8 that the National Security Strategy will be released “early in the new year,” to be followed by the National Defense Strategy.
Relatedly, the NDAA mandates the establishment of a congressional commission to examine and offer recommendations regarding the long-term U.S. strategic posture, including a strategic threat assessment and a review of nuclear weapons policy, strategy, and force structure.
In the 2022 legislation, Congress also authorized the Army’s request of $286 million for the development of a conventional, ground-launched, midrange missile capability. The service announced in 2020 its selection of the Navy’s Standard Missile-6 and Tomahawk cruise missile to serve as the bases for this capability. (See ACT, January/February 2021.) Both missiles likely would have been prohibited under the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, from which the United States withdrew in August 2019.
The overall national defense topline, including defense-related activities outside the scope of the armed services committees, is anticipated to be $778 billion for fiscal year 2022, a 3.4 percent increase from the administration’s request. In the coming years, the Pentagon is expected to face tough choices as the defense budget is projected to experience no growth beyond inflation adjustments.
The Energy Department’s semiautonomous National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), which maintains and modernizes the nuclear warhead stockpile, received a total of $16 billion for its nuclear weapons activities account, a $497 million increase from the Biden administration’s request. Congress gave the NNSA a mammoth 24 percent increase in its 2021 authorization compared to the previous year and set the agency on track to request and thus far receive a larger annual budget than projections had anticipated.
The NDAA will provide the requested funds for the B61-12 gravity bomb, the W87-1 ICBM warhead, and the W80-4 ALCM warhead upgrade at $772 million, $691 million, and $1.1 billion, respectively. Congress also authorized the requested $1.6 billion to increase the production rate of plutonium pits for nuclear warheads to at least 80 per year at two production sites.
In addition, U.S. lawmakers approved funding for other controversial NNSA programs proposed by the Trump administration and continued by the Biden administration. These include the new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead (W93), along with an associated aeroshell, for $134 million, and the megaton-class B83-1 gravity bomb for $98.5 million.
Meanwhile, Congress for the second year in a row slashed the Pentagon’s proposal for a layered homeland missile defense system. The Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has plans to adapt the Aegis missile defense and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, both designed to defeat short- and intermediate-range missiles, to intercept limited ICBM threats, which is currently the aim of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system based in Alaska and California.
Congress made an 87 percent reduction in the $99 million MDA request for adapting the Aegis system to supplement the GMD system due to “lack of requirement,” according to the budget documents. The law also zeroed out $65 million that was requested to demonstrate THAAD capabilities against longer-range threats, as the request was “unjustified” and “lacking [an] acquisition strategy.”
But lawmakers funded the $745 million R&D request for the GMD system, as well as $926 million for the development of the Next Generation Interceptor (NGI) missile. The Pentagon plans to supplement the existing 44 ground-based interceptors with 20 NGI missiles beginning not later than 2028, a timeline endorsed by the NDAA, so as to bring the fleet total to 64.
Congress once again boosted the Cooperative Threat Reduction program after receiving a greatly reduced budget request from previous appropriation levels. This program is aimed at reducing threats from weapons of mass destruction and related challenges, including the spread of dangerous pathogens such as the coronavirus.
The Trump administration aimed to cut the program in fiscal year 2021 by 36 percent from the previous year’s appropriation, but Congress thwarted the effort. (See ACT, April 2020.) For 2022, the Biden administration proposed a significant 33 percent cut from the 2021 appropriation of $360 million, but the NDAA boosted the $240 million request by 44 percent, to $345 million, specifically in support of the Biological Threat Reduction Program.