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A look at what's in the defense spending bill before Congress

On June 23, 2017, crew members on the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson man the rails at it arrives at Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado, California. A military pay raise, more money for new submarines and millions of dollars for on-base construction projects highlight the 2019 defense spending blueprint now before Congress.

HOWARD LIPIN/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS

By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: July 26, 2018

NEWPORT, Va. (Tribune News Service) — A military pay raise, more money for new submarines and millions of dollars for on-base construction projects highlight the 2019 defense spending blueprint now before Congress.

This week, House and Senate negotiators released a compromise version of the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The massive bill spells out defense policy and authorizes spending.

The House could vote on the NDAA this week with Senate action to come later, according to news reports.

However, funding hasn’t yet been appropriated, so Congress must still pass complementary legislation to set aside the money. That process is expected to play out in the coming months.

The bill spells out troop levels and funding for weapons systems across the board. Among its broader provisions is a 2.6 percent pay raise for service members and a prohibition against another military base-closing round.

Several measures hit close to home in Hampton Roads.

Aircraft carriers

The legislation authorizes construction of a fourth Ford-class aircraft carrier, which would be built at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ Newport News shipyard.

The first-in-class Gerald R. Ford was delivered to the Navy a year ago. The John F. Kennedy is being constructed in dry dock, and advance work is well underway on the third ship of the class, the future USS Enterprise.

The Navy is considering a proposal from Huntington Ingalls Industries on ordering two aircraft carriers at once, which hasn’t been done since the defense buildup in the 1980s. That would involve Enterprise and the aforementioned fourth carrier.

The NDAA authorizes a two-carrier purchase, assuming the Navy decides to pursue it and can make a sound business case to Congress.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., called a two-carrier purchase “a smart acquisition strategy (that) has the potential to save taxpayers $2.5 billion.”

Another provision concerns the USS George Washington, now undergoing a midlife refueling and overhaul at the Newport News yard.

The legislation calls for the carrier to be outfitted to support MQ-25 combat drones, doing as much work as possible while the ship is in Newport News for its four-year overhaul.

The report indicates that GW could be on its way to Japan after completing work at Newport News. That move has already been reported by U.S. Naval Institute news but not formally confirmed by the Navy.

The NDAA directs the Navy to do enough outfitting to accommodate the MQ-25 while the ship is in Newport News so the job could be completed in a subsequent maintenance period.

However, if all the work can take place in Newport News without delaying the overhaul, so be it, they said.

The MQ-25 provides midair refueling for carrier-based planes, extending the reach of F/A-18 Super Hornets and other aircraft.

Overall, the NDAA authorizes 13 ships, three more than the Navy requested, which was one of Wittman’s priorities. In a news release, Wittman said the additional ships would help the Navy reach its goal of a 355-ship Navy.

Newport News Shipbuilding agreed.

“We are pleased with the conference agreement on the NDAA, which authorizes a number of critical programs for the Navy,” said spokesman Duane Bourne in a statement. “The authorization for the Navy to purchase 13 ships supports the shipbuilding industries’ hot production lines and helps maintain a strong industrial base across the country. This is a positive sign for the industry and will help the Navy achieve their goal of a 355-ship fleet.”

Submarines

The legislation authorized a boost in funding for the new Columbia-class submarines.

The lead contractor on the Columbia program is General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Conn. HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division plays a supporting role.

The original budget request was for $3 billion. The NDAA authorizes an additional $237 million, with an eye toward assisting the second- and third-level suppliers that make up the submarine industrial base.

The House-Senate conferees said in their report that expanding funding to these businesses, many of which operate on slimmer margins than giant defense contractors, would increase efficiency and lead to greater cost savings.

Military spouses

In a news release, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., said he was “especially proud” that lawmakers included nearly every provision of his Military Spouse Employment Act of 2018.

Between 12 percent and 25 percent of military spouses are jobless, and another 25 percent are underemployed, Kaine said. He’s characterized it as an overlooked military readiness issue because it affects so many military families.

The NDAA also includes a provision on child care from another Kaine-sponsored bill.

Among the provisions are those aimed at expanding hiring and career opportunities for military spouses, improving access to continuing education and finding affordable child care.

Construction

The legislation authorizes more than $266 million for 14 military construction projects throughout Virginia.

Included in the list is $89 million for an Army National Guard Aviation Support Facility in Sandston.

It also includes $10 million for a cyber operations facility at Joint Base Langley Eustis. Details on this project were not available at press time. However, in 2015 the Air Force announced that an Air National Guard cyber squadron would be created at the base.

©2018 Daily Press (Newport News, Va.)
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