Last month, The Heritage Foundation compared the Senate and House versions of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) with Heritage’s policy positions on national security and defense. Now that the final version of the NDAA is available, it is possible to analyze which of Heritage’s national security and defense interests appeared in the law.
Sadly, the NDAA does not provide for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS). Despite the system’s successful test in November, Congress chose to eliminate the funding in fiscal year (FY) 2013. This is strategically and fiscally irresponsible. Strategically, it is irresponsible because MEADS was an important air defense program for U.S. allies Italy and Germany, and it was fiscally irresponsible because by now all three countries have invested billions of dollars in research and development funding.
On the positive side, the bill provides $211 million for the Israeli Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system.
The NDAA also mandates that the Director of the Missile Defense Agency select at least two East Coast locations most suitable for protecting the homeland from Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile threats. This is a first step in the right direction, since a missile defense site on the East Coast would contribute to restoring balance between regional missile defense and homeland missile defense.
The NDAA requires the President to submit any nuclear arms, missile defense, and long-range conventional strike systems agreement between the U.S. and the Russian Federation for the Senate’s advice and consent and limits the President’s ability to reduce U.S. Armed Forces operations in outer space without congressional authorization. It also requires the President to report on military assistance that Moscow is providing to Syria. Regrettably, the lawmakers did not preserve the language that would limit the availability of funds for any institution or organization established by the Law of the Sea Treaty.
The new long-range bomber could be more than 15 years old when undergoing certifications for nuclear missions, according to the Air Force’s plans. The NDAA changes this time frame to two years after the new bomber reaches the initial operational capability. This is a step in the right direction.
The NDAA affirms the Pentagon’s authority to conduct military activities in cyberspace, including clandestine operations. This affirmation correctly recognizes that “it is important to have a unified command structure in the Department of Defense to direct military operations in cyberspace.” It also requires defense contractors to report breaches of networks containing classified data. Such mandatory disclosures without any liability protection for contractors will undermine voluntary sharing programs.
The law requires the President to initiate a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) if he chooses to eliminate more than 25 percent of the U.S. nuclear stockpile. The Administration’s policy makes clear that the current leadership thinks that the U.S. already has more weapons than it needs. Congress and the American people will have to await the results of the next NPR to find out what levels of nuclear weapons the Administration considers desirable. The Heritage Foundation’s view, however, is that the U.S. should increase the number of its nuclear weapons to maintain 2,700 to 3,000 operationally deployed warheads to be better able to respond to uncertainties around the world.
While the language in the NDAA puts mild restrictions on the obligations of Department of Defense (DOD) funds for the construction of biofuel refinery use in the military, it does not go far enough. With biofuels costing at least fourfold what DOD pays for conventional petroleum-based fuel, now is not the time to put additional financial strain on the military. The armed forces do not yet fully understand the consequences of biofuel use for military operations. Funds to pay for this costly alternative fuel would be better served going to critical, underfunded modernization accounts such as revitalizing the naval fleet.
The NDAA permits the Air Force to reduce the strategic airlift from 301 to 275. The lawmakers chose not to address the total number of ships that the Navy should maintain but threw their support behind the need to operationally maintain 12 strategic submarines. The C-130 aviation modernization program was also preserved in the next fiscal year.
Congress chose to ignore dangers stemming from the rising costs of military compensation. While the law establishes the military compensation and retirement modernization commission, an urgent action to change the system is needed. The Heritage Foundation’s Baker Spring already proposed changes so that the compensation system provides the best array of options to men and women in uniform. These reforms are based on Heritage’s Saving the American Dream plan that fixes the debt and cuts spending.
Congress expresses the sense that “the President should take steps to address Taiwan’s shortfall in fighter aircraft, whether through the sale of F–16 C/D aircraft or other aircraft of similar capability, as may be necessary to enable Taiwan to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.” This is a step in the right direction, but Congress should realize that Taiwan desperately needs the new F-16C/D aircraft to replace its obsolete fighters.
The law fails to designate Boko Haram as a terrorist organization but allows the Secretary of Defense to provide counterterrorism assistance to certain African countries. It also “retroactively” authorizes additional Weapons of Mass Destruction Civil Support Teams for U.S. homeland defense and abandons the House’s requirement to withdraw two brigade combat teams from Europe. All of these are good steps.
Sadly, lawmakers also chose to reauthorize the ineffective FIRE Act grants.
Lastly, the law does not provide for the establishment of a bipartisan independent strategic review panel. Such a panel would provide Congress with the opportunity to independently examine the assumptions behind the Pentagon’s Quadrennial Defense Review report and allow the members to come to their own conclusions regarding the proper U.S. defense posture.
All of these—and many more—issues remain important for The Heritage Foundation in the coming year. After all, to “provide for the common defense” is one of the key constitutional responsibilities of the federal government.