What to Watch: National Defense Authorization Bill

By Greg Terryn

Preserving Treaty Obligations: Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty

The 1987 INF treaty prohibits Russia and the United States from having land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500-5500 kilometers. The United States has accused Russia of testing a cruise missile that would violate this range, although there is no evidence that they have deployed these cruise missiles. In response, the House Armed Services Committee is requiring the Pentagon to research and develop potential “counterforce capabilities” including its own intermediate range missiles to be deployed within two years in response to the Russian violations. The House committee authorized $25 million in unrequested funding for this effort.

• The Pentagon has no plans to develop land-based intermediate range forces, which would be expensive to produce and require funding from a defense budget that is already struggling with affordability concerns.

• It is unclear which countries in Europe, if any, would be willing to host these weapons, which would need to be forward deployed to be within range of potential targets.

• The United States has an ample supply of weapons, both nuclear and conventional, for any targets, so new land-based intermediate range missiles would not add to U.S. security. Instead, violating the treaty in response to Russian violations will almost surely lead to the end of the INF treaty, a step that would directly benefit Russia, for whom new intermediate-range missiles are more important to their security strategy.

Preserving Treaty Obligations: New START Treaty

Entering into force in February 2011, the New START treaty between Russia and the United States established limits on the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads and the number of launchers that could send these weapons to their target. The treaty also establishes verification and transparency measures, including data exchanges and 18 annual on-site inspections, to monitor that both parties are fulfilling their commitments. Some legislators have called for the United States to withdraw from New START as punishment for Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.

• Withdrawal brings no security benefits to the United States, which has more than enough nuclear weapons to fulfill its security requirements. In fact, the Pentagon has reported that it could further reduce its deployed nuclear forces by as much as one-third while still maintaining a credible deterrent.

• Russia and the United States are both on trajectory to meet the treaties obligations by the 2018 deadline. Withdrawing from New START could reverse that trajectory and lead to the start of a new, expensive arms race.

• Withdrawal from the New START treaty would eliminate some of the transparency measures currently in place, losing important mechanisms for inspecting and verifying the status of Russia’s deployed nuclear forces.

Managing Missile Defense: East Coast Missile Defense Site

The House Armed Services Committee’s Defense Authorization bill provides $30 million for planning an East Coast missile defense site that is estimated to cost $3 billion or more. The Pentagon, which is in the process of conducting environmental impact studies of four potential sites in New York, Maine, Ohio and Michigan, has repeatedly said it doesn’t need and cannot afford a third anti-missile battery on American territory. Missile Defense Agency’s director, Vice Adm. James Syring, has testified that the agency places a higher priority on developing better tools to identify incoming missiles and address shortcomings in the current missile defense system rather than spend billions on a third site (in addition to sites in Alaska and California).

• An East Coast missile defense site would take defense funding away from other priorities to develop a capability that the Pentagon has made clear it doesn’t need.

• The Missile Defense Agency says that the missile defense systems in Alaska and California can protect us from both a North Korean and Iranian missile.

• “There is no validated military requirement to deploy an East Coast missile defense site,”- Navy Vice Adm. J.D. Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency.”

• “As far as the East Coast missile site, if I had one more dollar to do ballistic missile defense, I wouldn’t put it against the East Coast missile site; I’d put it against those technologies that allow us to get to the correct side of the cost curve in the ballistic missile defense.” -Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of the U.S. Northern Command.

Managing Missile Defense: Boost Phase Missile Defense

The House Armed Services Committee’s Defense Authorization bill requires the Secretary of Defense to prioritize technology to develop and field a boost phase missile defense system by FY 2022. Development of this capability, which targets missiles in their launch phase, was cancelled by Defense Secretary Gates in 2009 due to its expensive nature and technological complexities, after spending several billion dollars in research.

• Boost Phase Missile Defense would require considerable allocation of funding to develop systems the Pentagon has already deemed infeasible.

•To be within effective range, a Boost Phase Missile Defense system must be deployed close to ballistic missile threats. This makes these systems vulnerable to attack and difficult to deploy.

• In 2012, the National Research Council of the National Academies, tasked with assessing the feasibility, practicality, and affordability of U.S. boost-phase missile defense, recommended that the United States end its pursuit of boost phase systems.

• “[The system] has significant affordability and technology problems, and the program’s proposed operational role is highly questionable.” Defense Secretary Gates, in reference to the Airborne Laser Missile Defense System intended to provide boost phase missile defense capabilities.

Managing Missile Defense: Space-Based Missile Defense

The House Armed Services Committee’s Defense Authorization bill tasks the Missile Defense Agency with concept development for a space-based missile defense program. This system, which would rely on hundreds, if not thousands of orbiting interceptors to destroy enemy rockets in their boost phase, would be expensive to deploy and very difficult to defend.

• It will be incredibly costly to develop and deploy the hundreds or thousands of orbiting interceptors necessary to have sufficient coverage of space.

• Even with thousands of interceptors deployed, only a few would be within range to target an incoming missile. As a result, the system could be overwhelmed by the launch of several missiles from one location.

• These orbiting interceptors are incredibly vulnerable to missile strikes and the destruction of just a few interceptors could create a “blind spot” for the entire system.

• “Because of the costs to launch, maintain, operate, and replenish such a constellation, even a limited system geared to longer burning liquid fueled threats would cost about $200 billion to acquire and have a $300 billion 20- year life cycle cost — at least ten times any other defense approach.” – National Research Council of the National Academies 2012 Report

Defense Spending: Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal

The Pentagon and Department of Energy have launched an ambitious program to modernize all three legs of our nuclear weapons forces, land-based, sea-based and air, as well as our nuclear weapons stockpile. Estimates from the Congressionally-appointed National Defense Panel, which included former Secretary of Defense William Perry, retired four star General John Abizaid and former Senator Jim Talent, and independent analysts at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, have both indicated the United States could spend up to $1 trillion over the next 30 years on modernizing and maintaining its nuclear arsenal. These plans have beendeemed unaffordable by Frank Kendall, the Pentagon’s Under Secretary of Acquisitions, who indicated the modernization plans would fail unless the Defense Department received an additional $10 to $12 billion annually by 2021.

• “Recapitalization of all three legs of the nuclear Triad with associated weapons could cost between $600 billion and $1 trillion over a thirty year period, the costs of which would likely come at the expense of needed improvements in conventional forces.” – National Defense Panel, which included former Secretary of Defense William Perry, retired four star General John Abizaid and former Senator Jim Talent.

• Current modernization plans create a “modernization mountain” in which peak spending for several systems will all be occurring at the same time.

• “The challenge here is that we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad] and we don’t have the money to do it.” – General James Cartwright, former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Defense Spending: Sea-Based Deterrence Fund

According to a 2015 Congressional Research Services report, the new ballistic missile submarine program is expected to cost $139 billion. The Navy is concerned that this program will syphon funds from other shipbuilding priorities. In an attempt to alleviate the budgetary pressure, the National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund was created to transfer the costs of the nuclear submarine program from the Navy budget to a defense-wide account. The HASC Defense Bill authorizes the transfer of $1.4 billion into this account.

Under Secretary of Acquisitions, Frank Kendall has expressed concern that this special fund is ineffective in making the program more affordable, as the Pentagon still needs to pay for the new system and “changing the accounting system doesn’t really change that fundamental requirement.” The Sea-Based Deterrence Fund does not fix the affordability problem of the nuclear submarines, it only adjusts the accounting.

• This fund in no way reduces the cost of very valuable but very expensive nuclear submarines.

• This fund sets a dangerous precedent for this irresponsible budgetary practice; the Air Force has expressed interest in a similar fund for its nuclear assets.

Defense Spending: Overseas Contingency Operations Fund

The Overseas Contingency Operations Account (OCO) was established under President Obama in 2009 to replace the emergency supplemental appropriations that had previously been used to fund the wars. OCO was intended to institutionalize this war funding and force the Pentagon to be more transparent about what was actually being funded by the war request. In recent years, however, OCO has been treated more as a slush fund for projects sometimes unrelated to overseas operations. OCO is not subject to the caps established by the Budget Control Act of 2011. HASC authorized $89.2 billion for OCO.

• The Obama administration is scaling back military engagement in Afghanistan, and has vowed not to put American boots on the ground in the fight against ISIL. Yet the House version of NDAA would fund the war account $38 billion more than the President’s request.

• If $89.2 billion were ever to be appropriated for OCO, that spending would be equal to the second largest federal agency – second only to the Department of Defense base request.

• OCO funds projects that cannot be funded out of the base budget because of the budget caps. To take an example from budget expert Gordon Adams, “OCO is spending $200- to $300 million on fixing propellers on nuclear submarines. That couldn’t possibly be related to Afghanistan. The last I saw, it was a landlocked country.”