The House Armed Services Committee (HASC) has released the chairman’s mark of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2016. Jeremy Herb of Politico’s Pro Defense (subscription required) this morning called HASC’s version of the bill a “clear win for defense contractors” given the increased funding it provides for weapons programs.
The authorization bill calls for $117 billion for the Pentagon’s procurement account, $3 billion more than the Obama administration included in its February budget submission. The HASC version authorizes $1 billion for six more F-35s, $1.5 billion for 12 additional F/A-18F Super Hornets, and $169 million above the Pentagon’s request for the Javelin missile system. While it defies fiscal responsibility, the authorization of additional F-35s and Super Hornets is not surprising given their presence on the Navy’s unfunded priority list (UPL) this year.
Still, HASC can at least point to the Navy’s UPL to justify the additional aircraft. The inclusion of $30 million for an East Coast missile defense site that the Department of Defense has repeatedly said it does not want is another story. It instead reflects a costly Republican obsession with a program whose benefits have proved illusory.
According to HASC’s fact sheet, “The Chairman’s proposal also authorizes $30 million for planning and design of an East Coast missile defense site to add to the defense of the United States.” (Bold in original). It also authorizes planning for the relocation of the Sea-based X-band (SBX) radar to the East Coast to “add to the missile defense of the United States from an Iranian intercontinental missile.” As previously discussed here, due to its narrow field of vision the SBX will do little if anything to provide protection against Iranian ballistic missiles. Moreover, an East Coast system is entirely superfluous. The ground-based midcourse defense (GMD) system, should it ever prove technically feasible, is meant to provide protection for most or all of North America. The interceptors themselves, as well as their enabling radar, are the problem, not the fact that they are located in California and Alaska.
The fact sheet acknowledges that the missile defense recommendations in the chairman’s mark include “input from the Strategic Forces draft by Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL).” Given that Alabama has a large number of missile defense jobs, it would be easy to say the missile defense boondoggle is further evidence of the hegemony of the military-industrial-congressional complex. However, HASC’s Strategic Forces Subcommittee has been making this request for years, including during Ohio congressman Mike Turner’s tenure as chairman.
That HASC continues to include this provision against Pentagon wishes speaks to an obsession with what conservatives see as Ronald Reagan’s legacy. Unfortunately, it is a costly obsession. While the $30 million included in the chairman’s mark does not amount to much, the Missile Defense Agency has received over $173.4 billion over the last three decades—nearly $6 billion a year—and yet continues to fail at delivering on Reagan’s vision of a workable national defense system. If Republicans get their way on the East Coast GMD system, they will ensure even more money is wasted.