The $741 billion final version of the next defense policy bill includes authorizing 14 additional F-35s, funding the build of two Virginia-class submarines and calling for billions to establish a new Pacific Deterrence Initiative, with lawmakers preparing for a potential veto override vote if the president refuses to sign the bill.

The conferenced fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act retains a directive for renaming bases named after Confederate leaders and does not include a provision for stripping a social media-related regulation, both of which have drawn veto threats from the president.

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Ranking Member Senator Jack Reed (D-R.I.) speak before the confirmation hearing for Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) / Chief Financial Officer David L. Norquist to be deputy secretary of defense, Washington, D.C, July 24, 2019. (DoD photo by Lisa Ferdinando)

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the House majority leader, said the NDAA will receive a vote on Tuesday.

“This is the bill that’s going to pass the House. I let the Senate speak for the Senate. Then the president will do what the president will do, and the leadership of the House and the Senate will decide how they’re going to react should the president do something other than sign the bill into law,” a Democratic committee aide told reporters on Thursday evening.

The final base renaming provision, which has drawn bipartisan support from both chambers, reflects the Senate’s original proposal and sets a three-year timeline for changing the names of installations.

The conference settles several key differences between the House and Senate versions including $9.1 billion in funding for 93 F-35 aircraft, 14 more than included in the president’s budget request.

The additional aircraft includes 12 F-35As and two F-35Cs, while the bill also allows the Air Force to use six F-35s that Turkey was to purchase before it was removed from the program.

Lawmakers also agreed to fund the build of a second Virginia-class submarine, part of a $23.4 billion authorization for the Navy to procure nine ships.

The House included an additional $2.6 billion for the second attack submarine in their bill, while the Senate originally only authorized procurement for one platform and $472 million in advance procurement funds.

The White House, which had initially requested only one Virginia-class submarine, reversed course earlier this week and sent a letter to Congress indicating support for the two-boat plan (Defense Daily, Nov. 30). 

For the new Pacific Deterrence Initiative, lawmakers authorized $2.2 billion for next fiscal year to build up a new plan “to reassure allies and partners of an enduring U.S. commitment to the region and to enhance congressional oversight of military activities in the [region].”

The plan, a compromise between House and Senate proposals, covers funds to assist the Army’s new Multi-Domain Task Force stationed in the region and infrastructure improvements to support increased activity.

“What you see is a compromised version that directs the department to carry out an initiative for Pacific/Indo-PACOM forward posture. What we did is identify a lot of activities that are already going on at DoD to the tune of about $2 billion that met our very strict requirements that are set up in the bill language. We also added about $135 million above [the budget request] which was mostly from the Indo-PACOM commanders’ unfunded requirements list,” a Republican committee aide told reporters. 

The NDAA also includes eliminating the Pentagon’s chief management officer, a provision originally included in the Senate’s version, as well as elevating the deputy under secretary of defense for industrial policy to a Senate-confirmed assistant secretary position.

For future nuclear testing, the final bill removes $10 million from the Senate’s version to prepare for potential future live nuclear tests, while not including a House provision that would barred any funding for that purpose. 

On troop levels, the NDAA would block the use of funds to reduce troop levels in Afghanistan until the Pentagon submits an assessment to Congress on the effects of potential drawdown.

For Europe, lawmakers agreed to prevent the reduction of forces in Germany below 34,500 until the Secretary of Defense briefs Congress on the implications for such a plan.

“Reducing the number of members of the United States Armed Forces in Germany during a time of growing threats in Europe would constitute a grave strategic mistake that would undermine United States national security interests and weaken NATO,” Lawmakers wrote in the bill.