Congress Passes 2014 Defense Authorization Bill

 - January 3, 2014, 10:25 AM
An F-35B drops a GBU-32 guided munition during a live-fire weapons delivery test at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The U.S. Congress authorized defense spending of $625 billion in Fiscal Year 2014, but calls for an independent review of the software being developed for the Pentagon’s largest weapons program, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. A separate, two-year budget law the Congress passed reduces the more than $100 billion in automatic “sequestration” budget cuts the Pentagon faced over the next two years by about one third.

The 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama signed on December 26, includes $526.8 billion for base Department of Defense (DOD) programs, $80.7 billion for overseas contingency operations and $17.6 billion for Department of Energy nuclear weapons programs, amounts similar to those the administration proposed in April.

The NDAA calls on the under secretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics to form an “independent team” of subject-matter experts to review the progress of the F-35 software development effort in meeting current program milestones, and report back to Congress by March 3. Air Force Lt. Gen. Christopher Bogdan, the F-35 program executive officer, has said that software remains the program’s largest risk. Within 180 days of the law’s enactment, the under secretary and the F-35 Joint Program Office must also report on plans for sustainment of the F-35 autonomous logistics information system, which receives health and maintenance information from the jets in flight.

The legislation authorizes $133.6 million in research, development, test and evaluation of the Navy’s unmanned carrier launched airborne surveillance and strike (Uclass) system. The Pentagon may acquire no more than six Uclass air vehicles before receiving Milestone B approval to begin the engineering and manufacturing development (EMD) phase. The act requires the Secretary of the Navy to make quarterly cost reports to Congress beginning with Milestone A, which initiates technology development, until EMD.

The NDAA states that “none of the funds authorized…may be obligated or expended to…retire, prepare to retire, or place in storage” the RQ-4 Block 30 Global Hawk unmanned aircraft or the A-10 Warthog, except those A-10s the Air Force planned to retire as of April. The Pentagon sought to cancel the Block 30 Global Hawk program in its Fiscal Year 2013 budget submission.

According to a House summary, the NDAA supports multi-year procurement of the E-2D Hawkeye and C-130J Super Hercules, modernization of the C-130H for the National Guard and Reserve and advance procurement of the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. It contains a “sense of Congress” resolution that the Air Force “should continue to prioritize development and acquisition of the long-range strike bomber program” to overcome advances in air-to-air and surface-to-air weapons.