The U.S. Capitol is seen on July 6, 2022, in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Capitol is seen on July 6, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Carlos Bongioanni/Stars and Stripes)

WASHINGTON — The Senate Armed Services Committee on Friday said its members have agreed to authorize about $845 billion for the Pentagon for fiscal 2024 with funding to give troops a pay raise, more weapons to deter China and build a new amphibious ship.

The committee on Thursday passed its version of the 2024 National Defense Authorization Act, the annual bill that specifies the Defense Department’s budget and expenditures. The vote was 24-1.

“The United States faces a dangerous and growing set of national security challenges,” an executive summary of the committee’s bill states. “To deter and overcome these threats … Congress has a fundamental duty to take care of America’s men and women in uniform, their families, as well as the civilian workforce. The passage of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024 is an important step toward achieving these goals.”

The committee’s bill proposes a little more than $844 billion for the Pentagon and $42 billion for other defense programs. The $886 billion is in line with President Joe Biden’s defense funding request, and is the maximum that defense programs can receive next year under his deal with House Republicans to raise the debt limit.

Amphibious ships

The committee’s version of the NDAA would restore almost $2 billion in funding next year to build a San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship.

The Navy’s budget request in March did not include money next year for a new amphibious ship. The Navy is required under the 2023 NDAA to have a minimum of 31 amphibious ships, which are used to deliver Marines, weapons and equipment from the sea.

“What we have done in the bill is order them to give us a shipbuilding plan that shows how they get to 31 [amphibious ships],” Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., who is a member of the committee, told reporters Friday during a conference call. “Within 60 days of the passing of the act, they need to get us a shipbuilding plan — which means they have got to rewrite the current shipbuilding plan.”

The Senate bill also blocks the retirement of three of existing amphibious ships and the retirement of a cruiser.

Gen. David Berger, the Marine Corps commandant, has said the Navy needs at least 31 of the ships for optimal readiness, but Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro paused construction of the ships last year to study their impact on the force.

Abortion policy

The committee’s bill asks for clarification on the Pentagon’s recent policy that covers the cost of a service member traveling to another state, if necessary, to receive reproductive health care, including abortions.

The Defense Department enacted the policy last year after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down its landmark 1973 abortion ruling in Roe vs. Wade, which legalized the procedure nationwide. The Defense Department policy is one of many that Biden’s administration has enacted to protect reproductive health care. Many Republicans oppose the Pentagon policy and are demanding it be rescinded.

The committee’s NDAA “directs a report on the legality, oversight functions and processes” related to the Defense Department policy.

Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., a member of the committee, has been blocking hundreds military promotions for months in a bid to force the Pentagon to scrap the policy — a fight that he said he won’t give up, though multiple top military leaders have said his actions are compromising national security.

“My hold is not affecting readiness. And I will keep my hold until Democrats … change the law,” Tuberville said Wednesday.

The committee’s executive summary does not make clear exactly when the Pentagon report on its policy would be due.

“We need to enshrine a basic statutory protection for women’s reproductive freedom,” Kaine said during his conference call, noting he has introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate that seeks to establish basic reproductive protections.

Deterring China and Russia

The committee’s bill fully supports the Pentagon’s National Defense Strategy, which was issued last fall and identifies China as the top pacing challenge in the world for the U.S. military. One facet of the strategy is the Pacific Deterrence Initiative.

The 2024 budget request from the Pentagon in March included more than $9 billion for the initiative — the most ever requested and 40% more than the initiative received last year.

The Defense Department said it is necessary for “investing in advanced capabilities, new operational concepts and more resilient force posture in the Indo-Pacific region,” as well as enabling “groundbreaking posture initiatives” in other parts of the region such as the Philippines, Japan and Australia.

For example, the committee’s 2024 NDAA proposal establishes and fully funds a joint program between the Pentagon and the National Nuclear Security Administration to develop a nuclear-armed, sea-launched cruise missile to “address China’s nuclear breakout and Russia’s continued aggression.”

The bill also calls for more than $3 billion to fund the European Deterrence Initiative, which seeks to deter Russian aggression against NATO countries and partners on the Continent such as Ukraine. It also would extend the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative through 2027 — a program that has allowed the U.S. to send Ukraine billions of dollars in military equipment, including Abrams tanks.

Congressional lawmakers in the House and Senate must eventually reconcile their versions of the NDAA and send one final bill to the White House for Biden’s signature by the time fiscal 2023 ends on Sept. 30. The House Armed Services Committee passed its version of the NDAA on Wednesday by a vote of 38-1. It also seeks overall funding of $886 billion.

Some other items included in the Senate Armed Services Committee’s 2024 NDAA proposal:

•5.2% pay raise for military service members and DOD civilian workforce.

•Authorizes active-duty end strengths for the Army (452,000), Navy (342,000), Air Force (320,000), Marine Corps (172,300) and Space Force (9,400).

•Retires dozens of A-10 Thunderbolt II attack aircraft next year.

•Reduces the number of fighter aircraft that the Air Force is required to maintain.

•Gives $400 million in increased funding for military recruiting and advertising activities.

•Seeks a new community college program for services to recruit “high-quality talent.”

•Increases funding to improve performance of Black Hawk, Apache and Chinook helicopters.

•Increases funding for development of the LGM-35A Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile, which will replace the Minuteman III.

author picture
Doug G. Ware covers the Department of Defense at the Pentagon. He has many years of experience in journalism, digital media and broadcasting and holds a degree from the University of Utah. He is based in Washington, D.C.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now