US FY 2019 Defense Budget Becomes Law

Alex Gorka — Strategic Review Aug 15, 2018

US President Donald Trump signed a $716 billion defense policy bill into law on Aug. 13. The United States allocates as much on its defense as the next eight nations combined. It outspends China by a factor of more than three-to-one.

The NDAA includes $616.9 billion for the base budget and $69 billion for overseas contingency operations. The sum of $21.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs goes to the Energy Department. Section 3111 authorizes the Secretary of Energy to develop low-yield nuclear weapons capable of more tactical use as the Nuclear Posture Report calls for.

The B-21 Raider. Click to enlarge

The B-21 Raider. Click to enlarge

Section 1663 seeks to accelerate programs to develop both a ground-based strategic deterrent and long-range standoff weapons. To preserve global footprint the military is working on next-generation aircraft, including and a sixth-generation fighter. The new US Air Force’s new long-range stealth B-21 Raider bomber is to be fully funded. New aircraft carriers (the fourth Ford-class flattop) to preserve 10 strike groups, new surface ships (three LCS and three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers), attack (two Virginia-class submarines) and ballistic-missile submarines (a Columbia class boomer) are coming.

Non-MDAP (major defense acquisition programs), including hypervelocity drones, got a large share of the R&D funds to make the military a future-oriented force.

Active duty manpower is to grow by 24,100. The funds allocated for six icebreakers demonstrate the intent to boost military capabilities in the Arctic. The law adds $140 million to the Missile Defense Agency (MDA) for hypersonic defense capabilities and development of critical directed energy and space sensing projects. Funds are allocated for integrating Patriot and Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems. The agency is authorized to work on space-based boost-phase intercept systems. It means the arms race goes to space. If the technology is mature, live fire intercept capability is expected in FY22. The MDA will continue to work toward putting a laser on a UAV to strike missile at the initial phase of the trajectory. It’s not all. Congress is still to pass a spending bill to fund specific priorities with the military.

According to the NDAA, Russia, China, Iran and North Korea are adversaries to be countered. The National Defense Authorization Act 2019 strengthens the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which is responsible for reviewing proposed foreign investments to weigh whether they threaten national security. This measure is obviously targeted at China.

The law delays the delivery of stealth warplanes to Ankara. The Secretary of Defense is directed to study whether Turkey’s planned deployment of the Russian-made S-400 missile defense system will risk the security of US-made F-35 fighter jets.

The NDAA does not authorize the use of military force against Iran but focuses on the policy to destabilize it, including identifying the countries, which cooperate with Tehran. The law does not say it openly but the countries to be affected are Russia, China and, probably, Turkey.

The NDAA pays much attention to strengthening defence and security ties with Taiwan, including military sales, to anger China. Defense assistance to Taiwan is to increase. Chinese investments are blunted as the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States is to be strengthened.

The document includes tough language on Russia. It says the funding goes to “cyber warfare and influence operations to counter Russian aggression, cyber, and information warfare threats.” The Open Skies Treaty (OST) is actually suspended (Section 1242). The Air Force cannot use certain funds intended to bring the United States into compliance with the OST. The NDAA (Section 3122) specifically prohibits any use of funds to enter into a contract with or provide assistance to Russia relating to atomic energy defense activities. This restriction may be waivered if the secretaries of State, Defense and Energy determine such action would be in the US national security interest. Using funds for any activity that recognizes the sovereignty of the Russian Federation over Crimea is forbidden.

The president is required (Section 1243) to provide relevant congressional committees with a determination as to whether Russia is in material breach of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and, as a result, whether related treaty provisions remain binding on the United States. The law says (Section 1244) Russia’s “violations” of the INF Treaty entitle the United States to suspend its operation. The president is required to inform Congress whether he has implemented certain sanctions and related measures authorized by the 2018 NDAA against individuals and entities who have contributed to Russia’s treaty violations by Nov. 1, 2018.

The president is to report on whether he raised the issue with Russia on including its new weapon systems (alleged “strategic offensive arms”) into the New START Treaty count and “whether their position impacts the viability of that treaty or requires additional US responses.” Obviously, the systems in question include the Sarmat ICBM, the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, the Kh-101 air-to-surface long-range cruise missile, the Poseidon underwater drone and the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle.

A total of $6.3 billion goes to European Deterrence Initiative to “deter” Russia. The provocative military presence near Russia’s borders will be strengthened.

Georgia is present in the document. The NDAA includes “robust security sector assistance” for Georgia, including defensive lethal assistance, to improve its interoperability with NATO forces. Military assistance, originally provided to Ukraine in the 2016 NDAA, will continue. The $250 million in assistance goes to Kiev, of which $50 million is designated specifically for delivery of lethal weapons.

In a nutshell, the new law restricts presidential foreign policy prerogatives to complicate the negotiation process with Russia. It does not emphasize the importance of maintaining the existing arms control agreements in force and puts into doubt the need to comply with them. The document uses tough language to paint Russia as a hostile state and forbids military-to-military contacts, which are needed so much, especially at a time the relationship is at a low ebb. The military should talk despite the political fluctuations.

The NDAA encourages space militarization and arms race in different domains. The break-up of INF Treaty in combination with boosting the EDI may lead to stationing intermediate range offensive forces in the Baltic States, Poland and Romania dangerously close to Russian borders. This is unacceptable for Russia but it’s hard to negotiate the controversial issues under the NDAA terms and in the environment it creates. This is a defense budget of confrontation giving preference to pressure instead of negotiations and diplomacy.

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