McKeon to roll out last NDAA next week

Greg Nash

Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is preparing to unveil his last defense bill as chairman of the House Armed Services Committee next week, kicking off what is sure to be a contentious process as lawmakers decide what capabilities the Pentagon will keep during a time of defense budget cuts.

The Armed Services panel will release the subcommittee inputs for the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) — which authorizes spending on next year's defense programs — Tuesday, 24 hours before subcommittees start to discuss the plan.

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On Wednesday, four subcommittees will mark up the bill and consider amendments. The subcommittees are Intelligence, Emerging Threats and Capabilities; Strategic Forces; Seapower and Projection Forces; and Military Personnel.

On Thursday, the Tactical Air and Land Forces and Readiness subcommittees will conduct their markups.

The subcommittees' markups will then be incorporated into the full committee markup, which will take place on May 7 and is led by the chairman. The text of the full committee markup will be released three days beforehand.

Earlier this month, McKeon said his "must haves" for the bill were authorization for intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) assets; nuclear deterrence; and ready forces.

"I think ISR, intelligence, is very, very important. If you don't even know what someone else is doing, you don't know what your risks are," he said during an April 10 media roundtable.

McKeon also said maintaining the "triad" is important — the three legs of nuclear deterrence of land-based missiles, ballistic missile submarines or ships, and bomber aircraft.

"Deterrence is only as good as its ability to deter," he said. 

Maintaining combat-ready active duty forces is also another top priority for McKeon.

During the past two years of sudden and deep defense budget cuts, the Pentagon has had to cut training for nondeploying troops, rendering them less ready for combat.

McKeon had also expressed concern over the Navy's proposal to retire an aircraft carrier and the Air Force's decision to retire the A-10s. He said he preferred to wait until a commission on military benefits and retirement pay makes suggestions in February 2015 before making any cuts.

However, his spokesman emphasized that there was only so much the chairman can do, given the tight defense fiscal environment.

"Defense cuts do not give the chairman much room to maneuver," said his spokesman Claude Chafin. "He cannot change the top line, and there are a lot of competing priorities."