H.R. 1960: House Version of 2014 NDAA

This week, the House passed their first-draft version of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act, which outlines how the Department of Defense is to spend its money. The bill still needs to be merged with the Senate’s version before it can be sent to the President.

*Details on this bill can be found in Congressional Dish podcast episode CD031*

Background

H.R. 1960 is the House of Representatives version of the 2014 authorization for the Department of Defense. There is very little chance that the bill will be signed into law in exactly this form because it still needs to merge with a Senate version. This means you have an opportunity to contact your Representative in the House and your two Senators to change anything in this bill that you don’t like.

Bill Highlights

(The best way to figure out the reasons and specifics behind the funding in appropriations bills is by reading the report that comes from the authoring committee. In this case, I read the report from the House Armed Services Committee. All page numbers cited are for the PDF pages – not the actual page numbers – for the report, which you can read for yourself here.)

Total Funding

The House wants to over-fund the Defense Department… again.

  • President’s budget request = $625.2 billion
  • House funding bill = $630.2 billion (most of the over-funding is for the War on Terror “Overseas Contingency Operations”) (page 397)

Classified Funding:

Chopped up into 27 different lines in 154 pages of charts were the numbers for the classified programs.

Total: $55,878,940,000

Throwing Cash at the “Industrial Base”

UH-72 Helicopters: The Army would like to stop buying UH-72 helicopters; they have decided to order 315 of them instead of 346. The House committee “is concerned that the Army’s decision may have an impact on the UH-72 LUH industrial base” so the committee gave the Army an extra $135.1 million to spend on these helicopters. What will they do with the extras? The committee told the Army to see if the National Guard wants some…even though they haven’t asked for any. (page 44)

Abrams Tanks: In episode number 8 – the episode about the 2013 NDAA – I talked about the Abrams tank, manufactured by General Dynamics – a generous campaign contributor – which are the tanks that the Army wants to completely redesign because the tanks’ flat bottom makes them deadly to our troops when they roll over an IED. The Army plans to stop buying these tanks while the re-design is in progress and start ordering the new, improved ones in 2019.

Well, just like last year, the House wants to spend money on these deadly tanks – $168 million to be exact – even though the military requested $0. Here’s the justification:

“While the committee understands that the Army assumes that Foreign Military Sales (FMS) alone are enough to keep the Abrams tank line “warm” until the 2019 time frame, based on current world events, the committee believes that reliance on Foreign Military Sales alone poses an unacceptable level of risk to our heavy vehicle industrial base, and thus our national security.” (page 47)

Later in the report, when indirectly addressing the issue of the flat bottoms of the Abrams tanks, the committee said, “The committee believes that there should be an emphasis on low-cost solution that reduce the possibility of a post-blast fire while minimizing engineering changes to the vehicle.” (page 76)

Their concern is for the manufacturers of tanks, not the troops.

The F-35 Fighter Jet: The F-35 fighter jet has been in development for a decade, has cost us $56 billion so far, is projected to cost us $12.6 billion a year through 2037, and is expected to add up to more than $1 TRILLION.

The F-35 doesn’t work yet. If they can ever get them to work, it will be kind of a magic jet that can evade radar, fly super fast, and hover like a helicopter. But like I said, after a decade, it still doesn’t work.

One of the reasons that this program is costing so much is because the Pentagon and Lockheed Martin – the defense contractor which legally bribed 425 out of the 535 members of Congress last year – made a deal that said Lockheed Martin could build and get paid for the F-35’s at the same time they’re being tested. This means that now that we are finding lots of problems, we need to send the all planes back to Lockheed to be fixed.

Does it get less efficient than that?

Learning nothing, the Air Force and Navy want $5.5 billion to buy 29 more even though testing is only 34% complete and not expected to be finished until 2018.

Some members of Congress want to scrap the whole thing. For example, John McCain has called the project a “scandal and a tragedy”.

So the House bill would do something creative to make this problem disappear, at least to the eyes of Congress. Section 145 of the bill eliminates the report that tells Congress how Lockheed Martin and the F-35 are performing.

Congress can’t get mad about problems they don’t know about.

Surveillance Drones: There’s a battle going on between the Air Force and the Congress when it comes to surveillance drones. The Air Force wants to cut the funding for the Global Hawk and Predator drones because they are so expensive but Congress doesn’t. For example, the 2013 NDAA forced the Air Force to buy 36 new Predators, which is 12 more than they wanted. In 2014, Congress expected the Air Force to request 24 new Predators but instead the Air Force only requested 12. The Armed Services committee is pissed.

“The committee believes that the Air Force must continue to aggressively invest in ISR (intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance) aircraft… it believes that the daily demand for both traditional ISR and strike missions in support of global counter-terrorism operations will not decline for many years.” (page 65)

Predator drones are not purely surveillance drones. They can do surveillance but they are known as the hunter-killer drones because these are the ones that blow people up.

And of course… “the committee seeks to sustain the industrial base for remotely piloted aircraft.”

So the House wants to over-fund drone purchases by $91 million.

Underwater drones: The committee also wants to over-fund the underwater drones by $22 million. Did you even know that was a thing?

National Guard Drones: The Air National Guard units are basically the Air Forces units for the individual states. While they can be nationalized and sent to our international wars, the National Guard is supposed to serve here at home.

Page 67 of the Armed Services Committee report said something very disturbing about their wishes for the Air National Guard; they want the Air National Guard to set up five operations centers for Predator drone “operations and targeting squadrons”.

The committee notes that the Air Force intends to eventually base some amount of the overall fleet of MQ-1 and MQ-9 RPAs (Predator drones) in the United States in the future, and that many of these aircraft will be operated by Air National Guard units with Title 32 (homeland defense) responsibilities. In addition, the committee notes that operations of any such aircraft will be significantly limited by domestic Federal Aviation Administration rules. Specifically, the committee undersands that absent any sense and avoid capability that MQ-1 and MQ-9 aircraft could be largely restricted to restricted military airspace which would greatly limit their potential use in support of domestic authorities in the event of a natural disaster or other domestic emergency. (page 98)

The Federal Aviation Administration authorization signed last year told the FAA to plan for drones in US airspace, a request that is repeated in this report. (page 100)

United States War Goals

“The committee considers it a national priority to maintain the capability to rapidly project military power in support of our national interests… A global response force that is ready to deploy at any time, to any location, by forcible entry, if required, is a critical element necessary to fulfill the U.S. national security objectives.” (page 231)

Contractors Staying in Afghanistan: President Obama has publicly announced that the military will withdraw and be finished in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

However, just like in Iraq, the Armed Service Committee report makes it clear that the United States will continue to pay thousands of private contractors to continue doing… whatever they are doing in Afghanistan.

“The draw-down of contractors in Afghanistan is likely to be more complex than that which the Department of Defense faced in Iraq due to continuing combat operations and the need to plan operational contract support for the post-2014 advise and assist mission.” (page 214)

The committee report orders a report from the Defense Department that lays out how the military plans to oversee the contractors and the Defense Department’s projections regarding what the contractors will need and how much they will cost.

One thing is certain, private contractors cost more than military soldiers. For fiscal year 2013, the limit on contractor pay was $763,209 (page 218). However, I need to point out that this bill aims to change the way that is calculated; I don’t know how the new calculation will work or if it will be better, but they do plan to try.

Syria: The report requires the Defense Secretary to make a list of things he needs in order to basically declare another undeclared war, this time in Syria (page 289). On the agenda:

  • Air strikes against runways and other infrastructure
  • Enforcing a no-fly zone over western Syria enforced from the sea
  • Arming the Free Syrian Army with “heavy military equipment”
  • “The President of the United States should fully consider all courses of action to remove President Bashar al-Assad from power” (page 306)

The Troops

Cost-sharing for troop tuition: The committee report said something that makes me nervous for people who sign up for the military because the military pays for education. It says that “cost-share methods” would be good idea to make sure service members “maintain a vested interest in their education.” The bill doesn’t legislate it but encourages the Defense Secretary to move in that direction. We need to know that is on the table and make sure that move doesn’t happen. (page 181)

Mental health assessments: Possibly learning from our mistakes for a change, Section 701 would require mandatory health assessments every six months during troop deployments.

Sexual assault penalties: This bill would put in place actual penalties, with little wiggle room, for military thugs who rape and sexually assault their brothers and sisters in war.

  • The Defense Secretary must take action when a sex crime is reported.
  • If the accused is in an authority position, they will be temporally removed from their position until the matter is resolved.
  • This bill would prevent a guilty finding during a court martial from being dismissed or reduced to a lessor charge.
  • There will be a mandatory minimum sentence for sex crimes which includes dishonorable discharge from the military.
  • The Defense Secretary must make sure the record of the victim is not tarnished.
  • The bill creates a Victims Counsel to act as the victims’ lawyer.
  • Regulations need to be issued that provide for the quick transfer of a victim to another unit.
  • The Inspector General needs to make a list of everyone who was dismissed from the military after reporting a sexual assault and report the results to Congress.

Prohibited relationships: The Defense Secretary will need to create rules to define prohibited “relationship, communication, conduct, and contact” and that won’t be allowed between recruiters and trainers and their entry-level recruits, even if those connections are consensual.

Guantanamo Bay Prison

The same provision from last year and the Military Construction and Veteran’s Affairs appropriations bill that prevent us from transferring people from Guantanamo to U.S. super-max prisons is in this bill BUT this bill lays the ground work for sending some of the prisoners back to their home countries. There’s a long list of things that need to be agreed to, mainly that the host country will keep the person locked up and prevent them from attacking us, but it’s not an insurmountable prohibition like we saw last year. Section 1037 even creates a position in the Defense Department for someone who will be responsible for coordinating the transfers.

Random Things I Learned From This Report

Apache helicopters: We’re spending $760 M on them Apache helicopters this year but we’ve got duel problems; one with their manufacturer and one our military. Boeing didn’t really have their act together and they delivered seven of our shiny new helicopters WITHOUT TRANSMISSIONS. The problem is that there’s no where else that we can get the transmissions because Boeing is the only company that makes them.

Worse, the Army handed over the cash and accepted the useless helicopters anyway. (page 43)

Distributed Common Ground System: I didn’t know this existed. The distributed common ground system is “a family of systems fielded across military departments and other partners to provide an integrated architecture for all intelligence systems.” (page 109)

Basically, cloud data is available to the military all over the world. Coral Reef software allows the military to examine relationships between individuals using their digital cloud data.

In an article published in July 2012 by the Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association, way at the bottom it explains that both the distributed common ground system and Coral Reef software get their data from the NSA.

As everyone is now well aware, the NSA is collecting and storing all of our digital information.

So, if you were wondering if the military has access to your information, we now know for sure that the answer is YES.

Exemption from clean fuels: Section 316 of this bill would exempt the Department of Defense from Section 526 of a current law which says that any Federal agency wanting to use a fuel other than conventional fuels can only use alternatives that have less greenhouse emissions than coal/oil – conventional sources.

The only fuel I can think of that is worse than conventional sources is tar sands. This would allow the Department of Defense to buy it and burn it, even though it’s the worst possible fuel source available. This is one provision I want to see stopped.

Climate change: The Republicans are still pretending the climate is fine, but the military apparently knows it’s changing:

“The Navy currently estates that between 2020 and 2030, the Arctic could be ice free for one month during the summer which may lead to an increase in trans-Arctic passage for vessels seeking to reduce transit distance by utilizing the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage.”

The report, written in large part by Republicans, orders the military to start planning for activities and costs that will be associated with policing the new traffic and access to oil “national interests” in the ice-free Arctic. (page 160)

Benghazi: In a change directly related to the September 11, 2012 attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, the military is working on establishing a program that would send marines to guard our embassies instead of private contractors, who are guarding the embassies now. In a fact little mentioned in the Benghazi hysteria, the consulate was being guarded at the time by a small British company because they were the lowest bidder. (page 143)

* For all these details and more, listen to Congressional Dish podcast episode CD031: First Draft of 2014 NDAA *

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