The week ahead: Spending bills to dominate defense agenda

House Armed Services Committee members will begin rolling out their drafts of the spending legislation beginning on Thursday. 

The panel's Military Personnel, Seapower and Projection Forces, Strategic Forces and Emerging Threats and Capabilities subcommittees are all scheduled to release their versions of the defense bill that day. 

The House committee's Tactical Air and Land Forces and Readiness subpanels will issue their drafts of the legislation on Friday. 

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The full Armed Services panel is slated to mark up the fiscal 2013 spending package on May 9. 

The draft bills are likely to address the $487 billion in defense cuts mandated by the August debt-ceiling deal. 

DOD has adopted roughly half of those cuts, totaling $250 billion, into its budget proposal for fiscal 2013. 

On the Senate side, defense lawmakers will hear testimony from top service and Pentagon leaders on issues ranging from the overall readiness of U.S. military forces to the future of the Navy's shipbuilding plan and the fate of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF). 

On Tuesday, Vice Adm. David Venlet, head of the JSF program, along with top brass from the Air Force’s and Navy's acquisition divisions, will brief members of the Senate Armed Services Committee's Airland subpanel on the status of the F-35 and other top fighter programs. 

The F-35 is the most expensive Pentagon acquisition program to date. 

Service vice chiefs from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force will appear before the Senate Defense Readiness and Management Support subcommittee on Wednesday to update Congress on the status of U.S. forces worldwide. 

The services and DOD are in the midst of carrying out a large-scale withdrawal of American forces from Afghanistan. 

Roughly 23,000 American soldiers are set to rotate back to the United States this summer as part of the White House's withdrawal strategy, and the 68,000 U.S. boots left on the ground in Afghanistan will leave by 2014. 

Navy acquisition chief Sean Stackley and Maj. Gen. Richard Mills, head of Marine Corps Combat Development Command, will brief members of the Senate Defense Seapower subcommittee on Thursday. 

Their testimony comes as the services are beginning to implement a new, five-year shipbuilding strategy that caps the Navy fleet at 300 ships. The Navy had previously pushed for a 313-ship minimum. 

Two top White House nominees for key DOD positions are also scheduled to appear before the Senate Armed Services Committee this week. 

Senate confirmation hearings for Kathleen Hicks, current deputy undersecretary of Defense for strategy, plans and forces, and the National Security Council's director for strategic planning, Derek Chollet, are set for Thursday. 

If confirmed, Hicks will replace James Miller as the Pentagon's principal deputy undersecretary of Defense for policy.

Chollet will take the reins of the Pentagon's international security affairs office from outgoing Assistant Secretary of Defense Alex Vershbow, pending Senate approval. 

Off Capitol Hill, 2nd Marine Division commander Maj. Gen. John Toolan will give his perspective on the Afghan war during a speech at the Atlantic Council on Monday. 

The two-star general is coming off a yearlong tour as the head of Regional Command-Southwest in Afghanistan. 

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) will weigh in on defense and national security priorities during a speech at the Alexander Hamilton Society on Wednesday.