F-35 A Winner In Compromise Defense Policy Bill

U.S. Air Force F-35As at Al Dhafra Air Base in the UAE
Credit: U.S. Air Force

The House and Senate have reached an agreement on the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill that authorizes $732 billion for national defense, including $69 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, and includes a big win for F-35 procurement.

Specifically, the bill authorizes the procurement of 93 F-35s for $9.1 billion, an additional 14 aircraft above the budget request. This includes authorization for the U.S. to use six F-35 aircraft that were accepted by Turkey before the country was ousted from the F-35 program.

The measure cuts and redirects funding from the Ground Based Midcourse Defense System and the Next Generation Interceptor because of excessive cost growth and program delays. The funding reduction has nothing to do with the programs themselves but rather the fact that there is money the Pentagon can use from the previous year for execution, according to a House committee aide.

Another blow to the Pentagon in the conference agreement is that the bill would block Armed Overwatch procurement funding until U.S. Special Operations Command (Socom) submits a report to Congress. Socom is conducting an analysis and the conferees agreed not to authorize funding until lawmakers can review the results.

It is unknown if President Donald Trump will follow through with his threat to veto the fiscal 2021 defense authorization. For 59 years in a row the defense policy bill has passed. “This year we have toiled through almost 2,200 provision to reach compromise on important issues affecting our national security and our military,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) said in a Dec. 2. Statement.

Thornberry, who is retiring from his congressional seat, acknowledged it would be unfortunate if the measure is not signed into law. The 116th Congress ends Jan. 2, and Thornberry warns if the bill is not enacted before a new Congress is installed, the legislation may fall through the cracks. Republicans announced Dec. 3 that Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) will replace Thornberry as House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member in the 117th Congress.

“It takes weeks and weeks to formulate committees” and the presidential inauguration is Jan. 20. It is a real possibility the provisions from the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill “just die” and the new Congress decides to start from scratch, Thornberry said.

Trump’s objection to the bill is what he calls the “big tech” provision, which he describes it as a serious threat to national security and election integrity. The measure would protect online companies like Facebook and Twitter from facing lawsuits over content posted on their sites.

Lee Hudson

Based in Washington, Lee covers the Pentagon for Aviation Week. Prior to joining Aviation Week in June 2018, Lee was at Inside Defense where she was managing editor for Inside the Navy.