WASHINGTON ― Congress today passed its $874.2 billion defense policy bill, sending it to the White House for President Biden’s signature.
Thursday’s 310-118 vote in the Republican-held House on the compromise National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2024 came after the Democratic-held Senate did the same in an 87-13 vote on Wednesday.
“Enacting the NDAA has never been more vital than today,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Ala., said ahead of the vote. “America and our allies face unprecedented and rapidly evolving threats from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea and terrorist organizations throughout the world.”
The bill hews closely to Biden’s proposed budget request after Republican hawks agreed to cap defense spending as part of the May debt ceiling agreement. However, Congress must still pass full spending bills for FY24 to fund the Defense Department and other agencies. Funding for military construction ends on Jan. 19, and funds for the rest of the Defense Department expire on Feb. 2.
The Defense Department is currently operating under a stopgap funding bill, which means it can’t start most new initiatives or move forward with many acquisitions authorized in the NDAA absent a full spending bill. But the FY24 NDAA authorizes $100 million for the Air Force to begin a limited number of new programs until lawmakers pass a full defense spending bill.
The legislation also allows the Air Force to retire some F-15 Eagle fighters and A-10 Warthogs, but it blocks the retirement of 32 older F-22 Raptors.
Meanwhile, the bill expands the list of munitions eligible for emergency and multiyear procurement authorities. It adds Israel and Taiwan to the list in a program started last year to expedite the delivery and replenishment of munitions to Ukraine. This provision exempts munitions for the three countries from cost and pricing data as well as other contracting requirements.
The six new munitions eligible for multiyear buys – a procurement method more often reserved for big-ticket items like aircraft and ships – are Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, Precision Strike Missiles, Mark 48 Torpedoes, Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, Rolling Air Frame Missiles and Small Diameter Bombs. Still, these multiyear purchases are contingent on funding from congressional appropriators. Congress still hasn’t passed full appropriations legislation to fund multiyear purchase of munitions already authorized in last year’s NDAA.
The NDAA also authorizes $1 billion to finish buying a San Antonio-class amphibious ship per the Marines’ unfunded priorities list. The Navy’s plans to do a “strategic pause” with the program and reevaluate the ship’s design ran into fierce resistance from Congress.
Additionally, the bill institutionalizes the sea-launched nuclear cruise missile program over the objections of the Biden administration for Virginia-class attack submarines, allocating $196 million for the Pentagon to continue research on the endeavor and another $70 million for the National Nuclear Security Administration to modernize its warhead stockpile.
Pacific, Europe — and Space Command
The bill also contains four key authorizations needed to implement the trilateral AUKUS agreement with Australia and Britain, including a provision allowing the transfer of three Virginia-class submarines to Canberra.
As with AUKUS, the bill looks to counter China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific with a provision that would require the Defense Department to “establish a comprehensive training, advising and institutional capacity building program for the military forces of Taiwan.”
Taiwanese officials have said they plan to send up to two battalions of troops to the U.S. to train on new weapon systems and military tactics.
Another provision in the bill requires the Defense Department to help Taiwan enhance its cybersecurity.
For Europe, the final NDAA maintains a provision that would require the Senate to agree to any U.S. withdrawal from NATO. Former President Donald Trump, the frontrunner in the Republican presidential primary, has repeatedly threatened to withdraw from the transatlantic alliance.
It also authorizes $300 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative in both FY24 and FY25. But that’s a small fraction of the aid the Biden administration assessed Ukraine will need to continue fighting Russia next year, with its $61 billion Ukraine assistance request stalled amid Republican demands for immigration policy changes in the supplemental spending legislation.
The bill also makes Pentagon Inspector General Robert Storch, currently the lead watchdog for Ukraine aid, a special inspector general to oversee assistance to the country.
Finally, the NDAA delays construction of the Space Command headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colorado, until July so that two watchdog agencies can complete reports evaluating the decision. Rogers is from Alabama and strongly opposed Biden’s decision to reverse course and place the headquarters in Colorado instead of Huntsville, Alabama, after years of delay.
Bryant Harris is the Congress reporter for Defense News. He has covered U.S. foreign policy, national security, international affairs and politics in Washington since 2014. He has also written for Foreign Policy, Al-Monitor, Al Jazeera English and IPS News.