The Senate Armed Services Committee has set aside billions for Alabama defense projects ranging from Huntsville-based missile defense programs to construction of Littoral Combat Ships in Mobile.
The Senate committee completed the mark-up of the annual defense bill today, the same day the House of Representatives approved its 2015 National Defense Authorization Act.
Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-AL, a senior member of the committee, said the "legislation preserves and builds on the vital role Alabama plays in our nation's defense."
Sessions said the committee's version of the bill – which faces Senate approval and reconciliation with the House version – takes into account existing budget limitations.
"We are living in a perilous time. All departments of government—including Defense—must tighten their belts. Everyone has a role to play in taming our dangerous debt. But it would be unwise, and ultimately very costly, if we fail to make the necessary investments in our Defense Department today that are necessary to protect us tomorrow," Sessions said. "This legislation attempts to meet this goal while living within the spending limits established by Congress.
Sessions provided an overview of the bill:
The president's budget requested nearly $496 billion for the Department of Defense and $18 billion for the Department of Energy. The Senate Armed Services Committee authorized funding of $514 billion for these purposes. These authorizations fall within the Budget Control Act's spending limits for 2015.
The legislation authorizes $135 billion for military personnel, including costs of pay, allowances, bonuses, death benefits, and permanent change of station moves. Also, the bill authorizes a 1 percent across-the-board pay raise for uniformed service members in pay grades below General Officer.
The legislation authorizes $31.8 billion for the Defense Health Program. The Committee did not include three controversial Defense Department pay and benefit proposals: to cut funding subsidies to military commissaries, establish enrollment fees for Tricare for Life, and restructure the different Tricare plans in a single Tricare plan. "The committee viewed these proposals as structural in nature, and, as such, they should be left for consideration until after the Military Compensation and Retirement Modernization Commission submits its report in February 2015," Sessions said.
The bill establishes a commission on the future of the Army that analyzes the size and force structure of the Army. This provision freezes the end strength of the Active Army at 490,000, the Army National Guard at 350,000, and the Army Reserve at 202,000 until the report is published on Feb. 1, 2016. It also limits the transfer of AH-64 Apache helicopters from the National Guard to Active Duty to only 48 helicopters until the commission report is complete.
The defense bill funds the UH-72 Light Utility Helicopter, or Lakota, at $612.6 million, $196 million above the Defense Department's budget request of $416.6 million. This additional money allows for procurement of 35 more Lakota aircraft in Fiscal Year 2015 and decreases the risk and cost to the Army in their divestiture of TH-67 training aircraft. This also prevents the Army from taking National Guard Lakotas to fill the gap.
The committee also directs the Army to provide a risk assessment of the impact of the product termination of the UH-72 industrial base.
The committee funds UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at $1.38 billion, $145 million above the Defense Department's budget request. This additional funding covers new National Guard Blackhawks.
The committee also directs the Air Force to provide a report on how it will correct the funding shortfall for the Combat Rescue Helicopter in the Future Years Defense Program.
The Committee funded M1 Abrams tank modifications at $261 million, $24 million above the Department of Defense's budget request. This additional funding is for reduction in risk to the armored vehicle industrial base, Sessions said.
Army Land Forces Depot maintenance was funded at $1.186 billion nationwide, $185.6 million above the DOD's request.
The committee strongly urged the Army to adhere to its statutory minimum depot capital investment requirements. Current law requires each branch to reinvest 6 percent of total depot funding into depot infrastructure and capital assets, but the Army currently plans to invest only 3.6 percent in Fiscal Year 2015. The committee included additional funding that would meet the 6 percent threshold.
The committee directed the Army and the Pentagon to conduct a business case analysis of the costs, benefits, risks, feasibility, and advisability of strategies to manage risk in the armored vehicle transmission industrial base. Anniston Army Depot provides work on the Army's fleet of armored vehicles.
The bill authorizes full funding for missile defense at the requested level of $8.7 billion with $7.5 billion is authorized for the Missile Defense Agency with an additional $30 million added in committee. The additional $1.138 billion is authorized for Army missile defense programs.
The bill requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a new Major Force Program for organizing, training, and equipping the Cyber Mission Forces assigned to U.S. Cyber Command in the budget request for fiscal year 2017. The bill also enhances funding for the Defense Information Systems Agency, or DISA, to develop the ability to analyze large amounts of data in an effort to improve situational awareness and threat reduction.
The committee requires the Secretary of Defense to provide a report on the status of the current and planned efforts to improve homeland ballistic missile defense capabilities. The bill directs the development of an acquisition plan for the re-designed kill vehicle for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system to improve effectiveness and eliminate mistakes.
The bill includes a provision that requires the Secretary of Defense to develop a program plan to competitively produce a medium lift liquid rocket engine for production no later than 2019. The bill includes $100 million to develop this alternative engine.
The bill adds $20 million to the Operationally Responsive Space program to continue progress on launching a low cost space situational awareness satellite while requiring competition in launching the satellite.
The committee included funding for three Littoral Combat Ships. The Littoral Combat Ship was funded at $1.4 billion. This is an increase from the House bill that proposed $977 million.
The committee included a provision to provide greater flexibility to the Navy for LCS maintenance abroad by allowing contractors and foreign personnel to conduct preventative and corrective maintenance.
Joint High Speed Vessel was funded at the FY 2015 President's Budget request of $4.59 million.
The committee included a provision that would enable the Secretary of the Navy to authorize shipbuilding or ship repair contractors that own U.S.-built dry docks to engage in limited shipbuilding or ship repair with the Department of the Navy. This provision assists the Navy with transporting and launching Littoral Combat Ships in Mobile, Sessions said.
The committee also authorized $25 million for C-130 aircraft avionics modernization program, or AMP, installation and $22.6 million for C-130 engine upgrades.
The committee's mark-up also restored $25 million in funding for the DOD STARBASE program.