Senate subpanel advances $675B Pentagon spending bill

Senate subpanel advances $675B Pentagon spending bill
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The Senate Appropriations defense subcommittee on Tuesday advanced a $675 billion Pentagon spending bill for fiscal 2019.

“This bill before us today sustains U.S. force structure and improves military readiness,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyIn-space refueling vs heavy lift? NASA and SpaceX choose both Budget deal sparks scramble to prevent shutdown Trump border fight throws curveball into shutdown prospects MORE (R-Ala.), who also chairs the defense subpanel. “It also recommends investments in future technologies needed to defend our nation in an increasingly complex and competitive national security environment.”

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The bill would provide $607.1 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and $67.9 billion for a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operation (OCO) account, according to a summary of the bill. The text of the bill will be released Thursday when the full Appropriations Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill.

The funding level represents a $20.4 billion increase over the Pentagon’s fiscal 2018 enacted level.

The money would go toward giving troops at 2.6 percent pay raise. It would also boost active-duty and reserve force levels by 6,961 troops; the summary does not say how the additional troops would be divvied by service.

The bill would also provide $24 billion for Navy shipbuilding, funding the construction of 13 new ships. That includes two Virginia-class submarines, three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and two littoral combat ships.

The spending bill also has $42.2 billion for aviation procurement, including $1.2 billion for eight F-35Cs and four F-35Bs for the Navy and Marine Corps. Additionally, the bill would provide $120 million for Air Force F-35 advance procurement to increase planned procurements in fiscal 2020 and $200 million for Navy and Marine Corps aviation spares and repair parts to address maintenance and readiness issues.

The bill would also give $10.5 billion to the Missile Defense Agency, including $100 million for the development of a space-based Missile Defense Tracking System to detect conventional ballistic missiles and hypersonic glide vehicles.

The bill would allow investments in a number of advanced technologies, including $929 million for hypersonics, $308 million for artificial intelligence and $317 million for the directed energy.

Sen. Dick DurbinRichard (Dick) Joseph DurbinSenate Democrats push Trump to permanently shutter migrant detention facility House panel investigating decision to resume federal executions To combat domestic terrorism, Congress must equip law enforcement to fight rise in white supremacist attacks MORE (D-Ill.), the ranking member of the subcommittee, touted the research and development budget, saying the total $95 billion would be the largest in the Pentagon’s history.

“The reason we’re putting money into innovation and research is because our competitors are putting even more, particularly China,” he said. “And if we’re not serious about this, no matter how good and dedicated our men and women in uniform are, they’re not going to have the equipment and the resources to keep us safe in the years ahead.”

But he also expressed concern money is being wasted in the procurement process. 

“Time and again, we are told by those who come before us in the Department of Defense and from the contracting community that we’re just wasting too much money,” he said. “As one person said in the department at a recent closed hearing — I can say this, it’s not classified — he said, ‘people are afraid to be the last person to say yes, so they also want another layer of decision making to cover themselves. People are afraid in the area of innovation to try something that’s risky for fear they’ll be called before one of our committees and be embarrassed nationally.’

“So that kind of climate and environment is not conducive to the right decisions we need, and it’s not conducive to saving the taxpayers money.”