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J C Menon

The US Senate Armed Services Committee, in its FY 2021 National Defence Authorisation Act (NDAA), has proposed purchasing 95 F35s, an additional 14 aircraft above the administration’s request, enabling the forces to modernise and equip themselves with the fifth-generation aircraft. This breaks down as US$5.5bn for 60 F-35A conventional-takeoff-and-landing aircraft, US$1.2 bn for 12 F-35B short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing jets, and US$2.4bn to buy 23 F-35C carrier variants, a summary of the draft bill revealed, which also proposed additional funding for missile defence, including for hypersonic weapons.

This annual legislation enables funding for U.S. military and other critical defence priorities and on 10th June 2020, the Senate Armed Services Committee voted by 25-2 to advance the NDAA of Fiscal Year 2021 to the Senate floor. Once approved by the full Senate, its version of the NDAA will need to be reconciled with that crafted by the House of Representatives which is likely to be made public later this month. If signed into law by President Trump, the NDAA would be a big win for the F-35, MQ-9, X-58 and the U.S. Army’s UH-60 replacement programmes as it would allow the U.S. Air Force to use, modify and operate the six Turkish F-35s that were accepted but never delivered because Turkey was suspended from the programme.

The bill would also authorise US$5m over the President’s budget request for the Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft to support ongoing development of future vertical-lift capabilities, according to the executive summary. The draft bill adds: “US$165m for the purchase of an additional MQ-1 aircraft for the Army to meet stated requirements for unmanned fixed wing ISR, increases MQ-9 procurement by a total of US$170.6m to prevent termination without a replacement, supports Air Force pilot training to protect pilots and reduce the pilot shortage,” it said.

The bill proposes to delay divestment of the KC-10 and KC-135 refueling tanker aircraft until KC-46 remote vision system fixes are implemented while the bill would limit the divestment of F-15C aircraft deployed in theatre and require the Air Force to have no fewer than 386 available operational squadrons or equivalent units.

For the Navy

The draft authorises US$21.3bn for shipbuilding — US$1.4bn above the request with multi-ship contract authority for up to two COLUMBIA class submarines, three SAN ANTONIO class amphibious ships and one AMERICA class amphibious ship. It also authorises US$500m for LPD-32 and LPD-33 long lead time material and provides for an increase of US$472m for VIRGINIA class submarine advance procurement to preserve the option to procure 10 of these vessels from FY 2019 to 2023, besides authorising US$260m for long lead time material for ARLEIGH BURKE class destroyers. The bill would also accelerate construction of the LHA-9 amphibious assault ship with US$250m above the request and authorises US$350m to improve submarine and surface ship supplier stability. For munitions, the bill would authorize an increase of US$35m for an additional 10 Long-Range Anti Ship Missiles (LRASM) to address threats from China and shift US$75m from Joint Air-to-Surface-Stand-Off Missile production for additional LRASMs for the Air Force. It would add US$59.6m for 36 Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missiles and provide US$26m for ten additional TOMAHAWK missiles.

Pacific Deterrence Initiative (PDI)

To sent a strong signal to the Chinese Communist Party, the bill would authorise US$1.4bn for PDI in FY21, including US$188.6m above the budget request for Indo- Pacific requirements, such as missile defence, enhancing forward posture, and improving interoperability with allies and partners. The bill also would give a PDI topline of US$5.5bn for FY22, and direct the Secretary of Defence to create a spend plan for these resources.

Army Modernisation

Recognising the future of warfare will require all services to present an overwhelming, united array of capabilities against our enemies, the FY21 NDAA prioritises the development of joint capabilities to improve situational awareness, decision-making, and the ability to direct forces across multiple domains. The bill would assess the integrated air and missile defence capabilities and capacity to address existing and emerging air, missile, and other indirect fire threats to combat increasingly sophisticated and widely used threats, especially those emerging from China and Russia. The bill would provide an additional US$83m to accelerate Ground Air Task Oriented Radar integration with the Cooperative Engagement Capability and Standard Missile 6 while increasing investments in Future Long-Range Assault Aircraft, a top Army modernisation priority (US$5m above the request), and support ongoing development of future vertical lift capabilities.