Against the recommendation from our nation’s armed forces, some in Congress are once again trying to downscale the size and scope of the American military. Only this time, they are facing stiff resistance from perhaps their greatest political adversary: reality.
On August 1, 2019, the Department of Defense released a report on a variety of major defense acquisition programs—initiatives essential to the continued progress of America’s armed forces. The report found that a 5.26% across-the-board increase in funding is necessary to ensure America’s national security needs are met. According to the DoD, the U.S. military cannot afford extensive budget cuts.
But Members of the House of Representatives, it would seem, didn’t get that memo.
The House of Representatives has already passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA)—the bill responsible for funding America’s defense infrastructure. The legislation contains substantial cuts to several vital national security programs. In total, the House’s NDAA would slash the defense budget by an astounding $13 billion. It’s a policy decision that could have potentially devastating consequences for the nation as a whole. And yet, despite the evidence provided by the DoD report, House leadership is not backing down.
The president’s administration and the Senate have already expressed their disapproval of the House’s version of the NDAA. In fact, the president has threatened to veto the bill unless the defense cuts are removed. But, in truth, the president’s threat to veto provides little insight outside of the fact that party politics are alive and well in the United States. Much more important is the defense community’s reaction to House’s NDAA. The armed forces are in a unique position, as they alone hold the expertise and understanding needed to properly analyze the bill’s effectiveness.
It’s rather telling, then, that the defense community has scorned the legislation outright.
The Air Force has been particularly vocal about its opposition to the House-passed NDAA proposal. That makes sense, as the bill would gut several critical Air Force initiatives. For instance, the Next Generation Air Dominance effort—a program designed to maintain America’s airspace superiority—would face a $500 million cut. A reduction of that magnitude—half the program’s operational budget—would undoubtedly neuter the effort’s effectiveness. Indeed, the cut would “result in a three-year slip in advanced aircraft development timelines and the cancellation of critical new production technology programs.”
Perhaps most controversial, however, are the changes the NDAA makes to the Air Force’s flagship program, the National Security Space Launch. In its current iteration, the NSSL program will select two aerospace launch service providers to participate in a five-year deal for national security space launch contracts. The Air Force’s selection process ensures both competition and manageability, allowing the NSSL to choose among the strengths of multiple contractors while also retaining tight control over program operations.
The House’s version of the NDAA, however, would change that. If passed, the bill would force the Air Force to reopen competition for contracts after 29 missions. This effectively negates the program’s five-year contract between the Air Force and the two launch providers it would select. This seemingly innocent adjustment would hold severe repercussions for the program’s overall effectiveness.
The provision would disrupt the NSSL’s planning and execution, as program administrators would be unable to establish a roadmap for when launches would be completed. Col. Robert Bongiovi, the director of the Launch Systems Enterprise Directorate at the Space and Missile Systems Center, expressed his dismay at the potential changes: “Our manifest changes year to year. I don’t know where 29 is going to leave us. If we don’t have a fixed period, we can’t plan for the next transition.”
Without a long-term plan, the NSSL’s progress would be severely hampered. The Air Force has already warned that the proposed changes would derail the program’s timeline, forcing delays that could force the NSSL to violate its 2022 deadline. According to the administration, the bill would also increase the program’s costs while simultaneously cutting defense budgets, a dangerous combination to say the least.
While it’s unclear how the NSSL program would be able to adjust to the imposed changes, it’s obvious that the Air Force would be far worse off if the NDAA provision were enacted. Indeed, that seems to be the sentiment throughout the entirety of the Armed Forces. Rather than effectively providing for America’s common defense, the House’s NDAA appears more interested in altering successful programs and making deep, unnecessary defense cuts. These changes, however, run counter to reality. The United States must maintain its military advantage, and the current NDAA bill fails to do just that.
This column was originally published at RealClearDefense.
The views expressed in CCNS member articles are not necessarily the views or positions of the entire CCNS. They are the views of the authors, who are members of the CCNS.