Earlier this month the Pentagon submitted to the Congress its views on open issues in the Defense Authorization legislation. When Congress returns for its “lame duck” session, one of the many major pieces of legislation still to be resolved is this Pentagon policy bill.
LITTORAL COMBAT SHIP (LCS):
The Pentagon objects to the $450 million reduction by the House to LCS, which the SECDEF noted should be truncated from an original buy of 52 ships to 32 in his budget brief earlier this year. House would spend that money on additional EA-18G “Growlers” which the Pentagon reclamas as having “no validated requirement” but which we at TCS note are an obvious alternative to the hugely expensive F-35.
Also, DoD objects to the House provision restricting use of FY15 funds for additional mission modules for the LCS until certain goals are met. The SECDEF opened the door for this skepticism when he said at this first FY14 budget brief to the press that alternatives to the LCS should be pursued.
BASE REALIGNMENT AND CLOSURE (BRAC):
The Pentagon urges both the House and Senate to back off their prohibitions on another round of BRAC. “Without authorization for a new round of BRAC, DoD will not be able to properly align the military’s infrastructure with the needs of the evolving force structure, which is critical to ensuring that limited resources are available for the highest priorities of the warfighter and national security.” At TCS we couldn’t agree more.
The Pentagon objects to the House provision that would deny the Navy the flexibility to do “Phased Modernization” of some of its cruisers and dock landing ships. In fact, the House directs the Navy to begin modernization with FY15 funds. The Pentagon reclama points out that this does not give the Navy enough time to procure long lead time materials and that the Navy would have to continue to expend funds on manpower and O&M if not allowed to take the ships offline prior to modernization.
REFUELING AND COMPLEX OVERHAUL (RCOH) OF USS GEORGE WASHINGTON:
The Pentagon objects to a requirement to immediately commence the RCOH of the aircraft carrier George Washington. This carrier entered into service in 1990 with an expected service life of roughly 50 years. And half way through that service life the Navy needs to refuel the nuclear reactor as well as take a series of maintenance and repair actions, called a “complex overhaul” to update the warfighting capability of the ship.
This became a debate this year because the Navy’s budget submission deferred the beginning of the refueling process by one year, until FY16. Shipbuilding advocates, fearing an assault on their touchstone of an 11 carrier fleet, want to force the Navy to begin the process in FY15. The Pentagon argues that forcing them to begin the RCOH prior to their current plans would lead the Department to underfund higher priority needs. We agree.
For the most part, the House of Representatives gave the Pentagon none of the flexibility it asked for in military compensation. Instead, the House would force an automatic 1.8 percent increase in pay, and would disallow reforms to the Basic Allowance for Housing (BAH) and commissary system.
As the Pentagon reclama notes, “Overall, military pay is healthy and exceeds the 70th percentile of wages for comparable civilians by age and education. Junior enlisted personnel are now paid at about the 90th percentile. In terms of real earnings, the average junior enlisted member, typically with just a high school diploma, earns approximately $46,000 per year compared to the median of $24,200 for 16-24 year olds…”
As we have written recently, compensation reform needs to take place for the Pentagon to be able to live within its means in the coming years.
TRICARE CONSOLIDATION AND SIMPLIFICATION:
As in compensation, reform to the hugely expensive TRICARE program is necessary to allow the Pentagon to spend more of its appropriations on core DOD missions as opposed to the steadily increasing costs of healthcare. The House and Senate rejected most of the Pentagon’s provisions. In its reclama the Department says, “DOD needs these savings to balance and maintain investments for key defense priorities, especially amidst significant fiscal challenges posed by statutory spending caps.”
RETENTION OF MISSILE SILOS:
The House authorization bill would require the Secretary of Defense to maintain each intercontinental ballistic missile silo that currently contains a deployed missile in a “warm” status. We strongly agree with the Pentagon when it states the provision would, “…impinge on the President’s authority to determine the appropriate force structure to meet nuclear deterrence requirements…”