The Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved its mark of the fiscal year 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) May 22 with a budget topline of $750 billion. But the bill faces challenges ahead as the committee’s House counterparts plan their own markup next month.

While SASC members approved the same topline number as requested in the FY ’20 Presidential Budget unveiled in March, they opted to shift over $97 billion in proposed Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funds to the base, leading to a more realistic budget, said SASC Ranking Member Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) in a media briefing May 23.

Aerial of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, near Washington DC, with I-395 freeway on the left, and the Air Force Memorial up middle.

The committee agreed that $750 billion was the bare minimum needed to achieve the readiness and modernization levels required in the National Defense Strategy, he added, echoing results from a 2018 study conducted by the National Defense Strategy Commission, a congressionally mandated panel.

Among procurement efforts, the draft NDAA authorizes $10 billion to procure 94 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, 16 more aircraft than were included in the FY ’20 request. That breaks down to 60 F-35As for the Air Force for $5.4 billion, 12 F-35Bs for the Marine Corps for $1.3 billion and 22 F-35Cs for the Navy for $2.5 billion. It also authorizes advanced procurement to ensure the Air Force can purchase sufficient aircraft to meet the requirements of the NDS “in a timely fashion,” per the executive summary.

SASC members also encourage the Pentagon to develop a specific plan to find cost savings for the Lockheed Martin [LMT]- built F-35, to include procuring material and equipment in economic order quantities to support plans for multi-year procurement and block buys. Lawmakers want to see progress reports on achievements for specific targets,

For Air Force fixed-wing aircraft, SASC members have authorized $948 million for eight F-15EX aircraft to be built by Boeing [BA], the same number requested by the Air Force but for $162 million less than the administration’s budget to reflect excess nonrecurring costs.

A senior committee aide told reporters Thursday that SASC wants to stick to the current procurement plan for the F-35, “but we have to do something in the interim” to ensure air superiority.

The NDAA adds three additional Boeing-built KC-46A aerial refuelers over the request, raising the total up to 15 for $2.8 billion. It fully funds the administration’s $871 million request for eight MC-130J Super Hercules aircraft, built by Lockheed Martin.

SASC members also emphasize ongoing modernization of the A-10 Thunderbolt attack aircraft and urge the Air Force to expedite procurement of its new nuclear site helicopter, Boeing and Leonardo’s MH-139.

The NDAA directs the Air Force to finalize “an optimum bomber and fighter force” based on various studies that have been conducted inside and outside government.

On the Navy aviation side, the NDAA draft bill authorizes the procurement of 105 aircraft total, to include the F-35s. Other aircraft include 24 F/A-18 Super Hornets fighters and six P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft, made by Boeing, along with three Lockheed Martin-made KC-130J Hercules tankers. The Navy would also get new Northrop Grumman [NOC] aircraft including four E-2D Advanced Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft, two MQ-4 Triton unmanned aerial systems, and procure aircraft built by Sikorsky – a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin – to include six VH-92A presidential helicopters and six CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift cargo aircraft. The Navy would receive 10 MV-22 Ospreys, built by Bell [TXT] and Boeing.

For shipbuilding, lawmakers authorized $24 billion to fund 12 new construction ships, to include three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in development by Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Ingalls Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Bath Iron Works [GD]. The bill invests $4.7 billion to improve two Virginia-class submarines, built by General Dynamics and HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding industry. The bill directs the Navy to update its Virginia-class submarine acquisition strategy.

Advanced procurement funds are included for the Virginia-class submarine as well as more Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, Columbia-class submarines and ship-to-shore connectors.

On Army weapons and combat vehicles, the bill buys 65 Armored Multi-Purpose vehicles built by BAE Systems, along with 53 Paladin Integrated Management sets. Lawmakers included over $393 million for the service’s Interim Armored Vehicle Stryker program, and added funding above the administration’s request for the 30mm cannon upgrade of the vehicle, per the executive summary. General Dynamics Land Systems builds the Stryker.

SASC provided more than $1.4 billion above the administration’s request for department-wide research, development, test and evaluation (RDT&E) efforts, and targets capabilities including cybersecurity infrastructure buildup, hypersonic weapons systems and a space-based sensor layer for missile defense purposes. Lawmakers authorize increases in artificial intelligence systems development and emphasize the importance of establishing secure 5G network technologies for the warfighter, and provide funding to begin that effort at two Air Force bases.

The bill also supports strategies to improve situational awareness, information-sharing and connectivity, to include $50 million above the request for light attack armed reconnaissance squadrons, and $49 million more than requested for the Air Force’s advanced battle management system (ABMS), meant to replace the current Northrop Grumman-developed Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System platforms.

The SASC-passed bill places a strong emphasis on supporting alliances, to include NATO partners and coalition troops in areas such as South Korea. It unilaterally prohibits the sale of F-35As to Turkey, a NATO ally, until cabinet officials certify that Ankara will not receive the Russian-made S-400 weapon system. Lawmakers in both chambers have introduced bills to ban Turkey, an F-35 manufacturing partner, from receiving the F-35 until it agrees not to procure the surface-to-air weapon system, which Pentagon and NATO officials have deemed incompatible with the Joint Strike Fighter (Defense Daily, May 3).

The draft NDAA stands in contrast with the recently passed House Appropriations Committee’s defense bill, which provides just over $690 billion to national defense, including $622 billion in base funding and $68 billion in OCO funds (Defense Daily, May 21).

Congress will have to reconcile SASC’s authorization of $3.6 billion in reprogramming funds for border barrier construction and infrastructure with the House Appropriations Committee’s rejection of any border wall funding in its FY ’20 defense bill, which passed out of committee May 21. The draft NDAA will also require a new two-year spending bill be passed to surpass the caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act, which otherwise regain their full effect this year.