Senate Panel Proposes 8.7 Percent Bump to Pentagon Budget

The Pentagon budget seems poised for an increase in 2023 over the $773 billion requested by President Joe Biden. The question now is how large that increase will be.

The leaders of the Senate Appropriations committee released their markup of the defense funding bill July 28, with $792 billion going to the Department of Defense. Such a total would mark a hefty 8.7 percent increase over the total enacted for fiscal 2022, excluding emergency funding. It would also substantially surpass the amount proposed by the House Appropriations committee in June, which was largely in line with the Biden administration’s request.

But while the House Appropriations bill left the top line request untouched, there appears to be a growing bipartisan consensus for adding more spending, mainly focused on two factors: the impact of historic inflation, and concerns about the threats posed by Russia and China. 

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), chairmen of the full committee and defense subcommittee, respectively, credited both in statements accompanying the release of the bill. 

“This legislation will keep America safe by giving our troops a well-earned pay raise, ensuring our servicemen and women are well-trained and well-equipped with the most up-to- date technology, and shifting resources toward programs that’ll maintain our fighting edge over adversaries like China and Russia,” Tester said.

Leahy and Tester also noted that their topline figure is largely similar to the one authorized by the House as part of the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act.

However, while the NDAA sets policy and authorizes funds, it does not appropriate the money the Defense Department spends. That’s a process led by the Appropriations committee, and Republicans on the panel have already said they think the new chairman’s mark doesn’t go far enough.

In a press release, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), the vice chairman of the committee, indicated that the top line should be increased by $10 billion to match the level authorized by the Senate Armed Services Committee in its version of the NDAA.

Still, the chairman’s mark will form the starting point of considerations as the defense subcommittee starts a process that will need to finish before Oct. 1 if Congress is to avoid relying on a continuing resolution to keep the Pentagon funded.

As part of the proposed increase to the top line, Leahy and Tester list four areas in particular to prioritize: countering inflation, space, infrastructure, and the defense industrial base and acquisition. 

For inflation, that means $5 billion extra to pay for fuel, $1.5 billion to help acquisition programs affected by rising prices, and another $1.45 billion to supplement basic allowances for housing and subsistence, as well as other special pay.

For space, the bill includes $2.2 billion to accelerate development of a resilient space architecture, which has been a repeated theme for Space Force leaders and other space agencies as of late. 

Included in that $2.2 billion is $300 million to build up a medium-Earth-orbit missile warning and tracking constellation, $250 million for the Space Force’s operational test and training infrastructure, $250 million for on-board defense measures for certain high value satellites, and $216 million for two more launches for the Space Development Agency’s Tracking Layer constellation.

On top of that, the bill would require the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Space Operations to provide a report to Congress detailing all of the department’s missile tracking and warning programs.

For the Air Force, the bill would include extra funding to buy 16 C-130Js for the Air National Guard, 10 more HH-60 Pave Hawks, and four EC-37B Compass Calls, one of the service’s top unfunded priorities.

However, the committee leaders added a section to the bill registering their concern that programs such as the F-15EX and HH-60W “have been truncated across the Future Years Defense Program [FYDP] well below their stated acquisition objectives.”

“While the Committee understands that trade-offs occur to support force modernization, truncating programs that only recently transitioned into production and were hailed as supporting critical Air Force missions, such as personnel recovery and future tactical air, calls into question the strategic underpinning of these and other acquisition decisions,” the section reads.

As a result, the bill would also require the Air Force to provide a report to Congress of all the programs they plan to cut procurement for by 2027, along with an analysis of the impacts of doing so.

Committee leaders also took aim at the F-35 joint program office over the recently announced Lot 15-17 contract with Lockheed Martin, noting that the prices appear to be “significantly higher” than was previously budgeted for procurement, creating a gap of some $1.4 billion across fiscal years 2021 to 2023.

“The Committee believes that resources exist in prior years that are available for reallocation to partially address this aircraft pricing issue,” the bill’s summary language states. “… Therefore, the Committee directs the Program Executive Officer, F–35 Joint Program Office, within 30 days of the contract award of lots 15 through 17, to submit to the congressional defense committees a detailed accounting of all fiscal year 2021 and fiscal year 2022 unobligated balances, by activity that can be reallocated to address the pricing shortfall.”