WASHINGTON — The Pentagon has said how it hopes to spend the billions and billions it is getting in new money this year and next. Next we will hear how Congress thinks they should spend at least some of it.
On Thursday the various subcommittees of the House Armed Services Committee start going through their parts of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. The process will continue over the next few weeks, until the final version of their bill — known as the chairman’s mark — is finalized.
However, the preliminary work by the subcommittees is crucial — and often final — in setting priorities. Sometimes the subcommittees jettison programs or initiatives the Pentagon or White House is seeking but are soured upon by House members responding to more localized metrics.
The full committee is scheduled to act on May 9.
Defense Secretary James Mattis, Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller) David Norquist and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. are testifying on the new budget before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday. On Wednesday, the trio testified behind closed doors before the House Armed Services Committee.
The subcommittee members parse the billion of dollars to back favorite projects or constituent interests. Sometimes they also strike what used to be known as a compromise as well.
For example, one subcommittee identified funds to buy three littoral combat ships, as opposed to the Navy’s announced goal of one of those ships for the next year, according to documents released to the media. Littoral ships are small surface vessels designed for near-shore operations and they operate with quickness and agility — the far end of the combat-ship spectrum from more armed and heavier pocket battleships.
Some key elements were released to the media Wednesday night in advance of Thursday’s more formal actions.
One of the biggest actions was designating funds to create a U.S. Space Command as a new sub-unified command within U.S. Strategic Command. For the moment, it would reside within the Air Force and subcommittee members ordered the Air Force to establish a stand-alone number designation for its operations, according to documents released to the media. Last year the subcommittee voted to create a separate Space Corps.
The Air Force has fiercely resisted and lobbied against creating a new branch of the service for outer space, which President Donald Trump has said, on occasion, that he may want. Last week, Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told defend reporters the Pentagon will have an interim assessment by June 1 of how a space force could be feasible.
To address physiological episodes that have been hitting military pilots in all branches during flight — known as hypoxia —one subcommittee designated funds to require modifications to some aircraft as well as require more robust and frequent reporting on progress to resolving the threat, according to documents released to the media.
The House members also designated funds to create a Pentagon artificial intelligence and machine learning oversight council to pull together and boost disparate entities now dipping into the new technologies and threat capabilities in the rapidly emerging and changing area, according to documents released to the media.
Pentagon officials privately grouse about congressional micro-managing and word of such designations as placing a 10-year cap on how long a Navy ship can be deployed overseas — one of the actions already specified — causes officials to bristle.
Too offset such ire, subcommittees also designated funds to purchase 13 new ships and include a fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, which was unexpected by the Pentagon, according to documents released to the media.
Something that did make the Pentagon happy: a 2.6 percent pay raise for personnel. That will be the biggest salary boost in nine years, according to the documents.