Senate Panel Advances $858 Billion Bill That Supports Ukraine, Taiwan, and Requires Women Register for Draft

FIRST DRAFT OF SENATE NDAA: The Senate Armed Services Committee, on a strong, bipartisan 23-3 vote, has sent to the full Senate its version of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that sets policy for the Department of Defense.

The bill calls for $857.6 billion in defense spending, a $45 billion plus-up, over the budget requested by the Biden administration, largely to cover the effects of inflation, to address the need to replace munitions sent to Ukraine, and provide additional resources for the unfunded priorities of U.S. combatant commanders.

“The committee held a robust debate and came together to support a bill that will help safeguard the nation against a range of evolving threats while supporting our troops both on and off the battlefield,” said Committee Chairman Sen. Jack Reed, D- R.I., who said he was proud to have named the bill for retiring ranking member and Former Chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla, who was known for his bipartisanship.

“This markup was bittersweet, because it’s my last after 27 years as a member of this committee. As this committee has always done for as long as I can remember, we came together in a bipartisan way to build a strong bill, said Inhofe. “I am especially proud that for the second year in a row, the committee almost unanimously voted to approve my amendment with the chairman that would boost the defense budget — this year by $45 billion.”

BY THE NUMBERS: Here’s the breakdown of the NDAA for the fiscal year that starts in October:

  • Department of Defense: $817.33 billion 
  • Department of Energy: $29.67  billion
  • NDAA topline: $847.04 billion 
  • Defense-related activities outside NDAA jurisdiction: $10.6  billion 
  • Total “topline” defense spending: $857.64 billion

TROOP STRENGTH: Here are the authorized active-duty end strengths by service

  • Army: 473,000
  • Navy: 354,000
  • Marine Corps: 177,000
  • Air Force: 325,344
  • Space Force: 8,600

UKRAINE: The bill extends and modifies the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative, which is the program that allows the Pentagon to buy new weapons and ammunition to supply to Ukraine as opposed to drawing from the current U.S. military inventory.

In the last $1 billion in military assistance to Ukraine announced this week, $650 million came from the USAI program. The committee bill authorizes $800 million in fiscal year 2023, while also requiring the Government Accountability Office to review Pentagon efforts to monitor and ensure accountability for how Ukraine uses the weapons provided by the U.S.

The bill also authorizes more than $2.7 billion for the U.S. to ramp up munitions production and expand the for future production to replenish the tens of thousands of artillery rounds, rockets, and missiles supplied to Ukraine.

It also contains a “sense of the Senate” provision stating that “the United States stands with the people of Ukraine as they defend their freedom, sovereignty, and pursuit of further Euro-Atlantic integration.”

TAIWAN: The bill would make it the official policy of the United States to maintain the ability of the U.S. armed forces “to deny a fait accompli” against Taiwan. This would mandate that the U.S. develop and maintain the military capability in the Indo-Pacific sufficient to deter China from “using military force to unilaterally change the status quo with Taiwan.”

It also seeks to bolster Taiwanese defenses by requiring Taipei to “develop and implement a multi-year plan to provide for the acquisition of appropriate defensive capabilities,” as well as for the U.S. military to engage in a series of combined planning and training exercises with Taiwan.

WOMEN AND THE DRAFT: One of the more controversial provisions would amend the Military Selective Service Act to require women to register for the draft. Republicans succeeded in striking the proposal in last year’s NDAA, but it made it through the committee over the objections of three members, Sens. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Roger Wicker, R-Miss.

Hawley was joined by fellow Senate Republicans Marco Rubio, Fla.; James Lankford, Okla.; Roger Marshall, Kan.; Cindy Hyde-Smith, Miss.; John Boozman, Ark.; Steve Daines, Mont.; Mike Lee, Utah; Ted Cruz, Texas; and Jim Risch, Idaho, in urging Chairman Jack Reed in “the strongest possible terms” not to “force America’s women to register for the military draft.”

In a letter to Reed before the vote, the senators wrote, “Reviving these efforts would be a grave mistake and would needlessly inject divisive social policies into important debates over our national security.”

“Women have served in and alongside the Armed Forces since our nation’s founding. Time and again, they have answered the call of duty and served honorably – often heroically – when our nation needed them. But they have done so of their own will. While American men are required to register for the military draft and fight if needed, these requirements have never been applied to American women. Where they have fought, they have done so freely.”

THE A-10 UNDER FIRE, AGAIN: It’s a perennial battle that the venerable warbird, the A-10 “Warthog,” almost always wins. For years now, the Air Force had proposed retiring the beloved 1970s ground attack plane known for its legendary ability to withstand ground fire and shred tanks with its 30 mm cannon firing depleted uranium shells.

But the Senate Armed Services Committee version of the 2023 NDAA supports the Air Force plan to phase out the A-10s over the next six years and assign its close air support mission to F-16s.

The plan, which would retire 21 A-10s from the Air National Guard over the next year, still has to get by the A-10 lobby in Congress.

NOT SO FAST WITH F-22s: The committee’s NDAA put the brakes on the Air Force plan to retire 33 older “block 20” F-22 Raptors, considered by many to be the world’s best air-to-air fighter.

The bill “prohibits the retirement of F-22 Block 20 aircraft until submission of a detailed written plan for training F-22 aircrew while avoiding any degradation in readiness or reduction in combat capability.”

The Air Force says the older jets are primarily used for training and are expensive to maintain.

MORE F-35s: The Biden Pentagon budget included 33 new F-35As for the Air Force, but the committee added seven more based on the Air Force’s “unfunded priorities list.”

The bill also authorizes funding for 13 F-35C aircraft for the Navy and 15 F-35Bs for the Marines.

OTHER NDAA PROVISIONS: 

  • Authorizes a 4.6% pay raise for both the military and the DOD civilian workforce.
  • Requires a naval combat force structure to include a minimum of 31 amphibious warfare ships, of which no fewer than 10 shall be amphibious assault ships.
  • Authorizes the procurement of eight battle force ships: two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers; two Virginia-class submarines; one Constellation-class frigate; one San Antonio-class amphibious ship; one John Lewis-class oiler; and one Navajo-class towing, salvage, and rescue ship.
  • Authorizes multiyear or block buy contracts for the procurement of up to 15 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, 10 ship to shore connectors, eight Lewis-class oilers, and CH-53K helicopters.
  • Continues research and development of the nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, which the Biden administration proposed eliminating.
  • Authorizes the procurement of the Iron Dome short-range rocket defense system, David’s Sling Weapon System, and Arrow 3 Upper Tier Interceptor Program.
  • Authorizes $140.8 million for additional female/small stature body armor and cold weather gear.
  • Requires quarterly briefings on the DOD southwest border support mission and the security situation along that border.
  • Requires an independent assessment of DOD efforts to train, advise, assist, and equip the military forces of Somalia.
  • Authorizes the closure of the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii, requires a plan for the cleanup, monitoring, and maintenance of the facility following closure, and requires an independent assessment on the optimal post-closure care of Red Hill.

Reporting by The Washington Examiner.