Not Just an $858 Billion Bill on Capitol Hill: More Sailors, Pay Hike

December 8, 2022Carl Prine
An $858 billion defense spending bill released Tuesday promises to recruit more sailors and arm them with better weapons. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.

An $858 billion defense spending bill released Tuesday promises to recruit more sailors and arm them with better weapons. Coffee or Die Magazine composite.

A blockbuster $858 billion topline defense spending plan hammered out by House and Senate leaders will hire more sailors, build more ships and aircraft, field deadlier weapons, and erect new and better housing for military families worldwide.

“We are pleased to announce we’ve come to a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on this year’s National Defense Authorization Act,” said US Sens. Jack Reed and Jim Inhofe and Reps. Adam Smith and Mike Rogers in a joint statement released alongside the spending plan late Tuesday. “This year’s agreement continues the Armed Services Committees’ 62-year tradition of working together to support our troops and strengthen America’s national security. We urge Congress to pass the NDAA quickly and the President to sign it when it reaches his desk.”

The looming law meshes two bills from the House and Senate and comes in $45 billion above what the White House requested. The House version passed by a 329-101 vote on July 14. On June 16, the Senate Armed Services Committee greenlighted its proposed plan 23-3.

Winners in the new bipartisan accord include domestic shipyards, missile manufacturers, and a Marine Corps working to modernize its weapons and systems to fight future wars in Asia, but senior Pentagon leaders wonder if America’s industrial capacity can keep pace with the aggressive defense buildup.

As their Pentagon analysts continued to pore over the proposed spending plan, on Wednesday Department of Navy officials released a blanket statement to Coffee or Die Magazine: “We are aware that Congress has released the proposed FY23 NDAA and we will continue to monitor progress of this legislation. We look forward to passage of the FY23 defense bills.” 

more sailors

Sailors from the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer Paul Ignatius (DDG 117) heave an anchor chain as the warship moors to a buoy in Plymouth, United Kingdom, Nov. 16, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aaron Lau.

There's a 4.6% salary bump for sailors and Marines, and no more mandatory COVID-19 vaccine mandates, a sore subject for some service members wary of the jab.

But there are losers in the proposed budget, too. Representatives who tried to save California-based Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85 failed to shield the “Firehawks” from Senate cost-cutters.

Navy officials declined to comment on the looming loss of the MH-60S Seahawk squadron, which supports Naval Special Warfare operators.

And lawmakers who tried to prod the Pentagon to launch a pilot program offering plant-based meal options to sailors and Marines also lost out. So did those trying to retire the Navy’s bottlenose dolphins, sea lions, and other creatures in the Marine Mammal System trained to detect mines.

The creatures won’t come off the Navy’s books “until a replacement capability with equal or better capability has been deployed,” legislators wrote.

more sailors

A crew of "Firehawks" from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 85 take off from Australia's Rockhampton Airport on July 20, 2013, during the Talisman Saber exercise. US Navy photo by Aviation Electronics Technician 2nd Class Nicholas Taylor.

The budget deal projects an active-duty end strength for 348,220 sailors and 177,000 Marines.

That’s 1,300 more sailors than authorized in last year’s deal, and 1,500 fewer Marines. The Corps is prioritizing spending on new and better weapon systems and sensors and less on raw personnel numbers after an era of global counterinsurgency operations has ebbed.

With a $32.6 billion war chest, the Navy got the green light to build two more Virginia-class submarines, three DDG-51 destroyers, one guided-missile frigate, an amphibious transport dock, two expeditionary fast transport vessels, an oiler, a fleet ocean tug, five ship-to-shore connectors, and scores of other vessels.

It adds up to roughly $5 billion more than the Navy requested. That’s because Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday worries America lacks the industrial capacity to build more.

“You cannot throw much more money at the seven shipbuilders that build US warships in the United States of America right now,” Gilday said Dec. 3 at the Reagan National Defense Forum in Simi Valley, California, according to Seapower Magazine. “Their capacity is about at max, and Congress is helping us max them out. I would say the same thing for weapons production.” 

Amphibious Combat Vehicles

US Marines with Amphibious Vehicle Test Branch, Marine Corps Tactical Systems Support Activity, try out Amphibious Combat Vehicles along the beach during low-light surf transit testing at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, on Dec. 16, 2019. The ACV promises increased lethality, survivability and protected mobility to Marines compared to their aging fleet of Assault Amphibious Vehicles. US Marine Corps photo by Pfc. Seth G. Merz.

Congress wants to sluice $527 million to the Marines to buy 74 more Amphibious Combat Vehicles, which have struggled with surf conditions off California.

There’s additional funds for Marines to field increasing numbers of Tomahawk cruise missiles, Naval Strike Missiles, and Guided Multiple Rocket Launch Systems, plus high-tech radars and aerial drones.

Marines say they'll use the new weapons to strike at enemy warships, aircraft, and artillery, especially when operating from island chains across the Pacific Ocean.

And all the new tactical vehicles might come with data recording devices, similar to what Marine aircraft carry, thanks to a program mandated by Congress to hike safety across the Corps.

more sailors

Aviation Boatswain's Mate (Handling) 2nd Class Princes Rosit, from Kalihi, Hawaii, directs an F-35C Lightning II from the "Black Knights" of Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, on the flight deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln during the Rim of the Pacific exercise in the Pacific Ocean on July 14, 2022. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Javier Reyes.

The two sea services will get $756.9 million to buy eight F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet strike fighters, plus another $4 billion for 16 stealthy carrier-launched F-35C Joint Strike Fighters and 15 Marine F-35Bs.

There’s nearly $1.9 billion for 12 CH-53K King Stallion heavy-lift helicopters for the Marines, who also garnered $439.5 million to buy five KC-130J refueling tankers.

The Navy is authorized to buy seven E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft and will get more than $1.2 billion to develop a nuclear sea-launched cruise missile, craft new hypersonic anti-ship weapons, and introduce to the fleet a wide range of other innovative missiles and long-range fires to put enemy ships and planes in the high-tech crosshairs.

Congress also earmarked more than $5 billion for the Navy to upgrade its submarine-launched ballistic missiles and stock arsenals with more Tomahawks, AMRAAMs, Sidewinders, Standard Missiles, JASSMs, MK-54 Torpedoes, and hundreds of other bombs, mines, and missiles for future sea battles.

And there's more than $1.2 billion set aside for the Navy and Marine Corps to build, revamp, furnish, or lease new family housing, including major residential projects in Washington, DC, and Guam.

more sailors

The Los Angeles-class fast-attack submarine Key Westmoors at USNaval Base Guam following a regularly scheduled deployment, Nov. 18, 2022. US Navy photo by Lt. Eric Uhden.

But Congress also attached strings to the Department of the Navy’s spending.

Congress gave Big Navy six months to establish a Cyber Warfare Operations rating, carving out a new career field for enlisted sailors.

Lawmakers barred the Navy from scrapping its EA-18G Growler electronic warfare jet fleet through the end of 2027 and ordered the Pentagon to produce a report over the next six months on how the sea service and the Air Force “plan to continuously and effectively meet airborne electronic attacking training and combat employment.”

Congress blocked the Navy from retiring its fleet of E-6B Mercury doomsday planes — aircraft that are designed to function as flying communications relay stations and command posts during a nuclear attack — until a replacement emerges.

Both chambers also expressed concerns about the Navy’s moves to nix its Snakehead Large Displacement Unmanned Undersea Vehicle program next year.

“We understand significant advances in commercial technology have occurred since the start of the Snakehead LDUUV program and believe commercially available LDUUVs operated independently from submarines could be rapidly fielded to address current Department of Navy mission needs and capability gaps,” the negotiators wrote. “Therefore, we direct the Secretary of the Navy to conduct analysis and experimentation activities during fiscal year 2023, including through the full use of the authorities in this section, with the objective of identifying commercially available LDUUVs that could be fielded as rapidly as possible and deployed at scale as early as fiscal year 2024.” 

more sailors

An EA-18G Growler from the “Shadowhawks” of Electronic Attack Squadron 141 launches from the flight deck of the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan in the Philippine Sea on Dec. 4, 2022. The primary role of EA-18G Growlers is to disrupt the ability to communicate between units in combat through the use of electronic warfare. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Stanton.

Throughout the summer, a bipartisan consensus emerged to help the Navy’s overworked sailors in both chambers.

In the proposed deal, Congress urges the Navy to study complex overhaul pay for personnel assigned to warships and boats being revamped in yards. Lawmakers are growing increasingly concerned about rising sailor suicides sparked by rough working conditions and bad billets during maintenance periods.

Lawmakers also asked the Navy to consider hiking staffing levels for the ships in the yard to 75% of deployment manning, instead of skeleton crews.

Although House leaders tried to force the Navy to post two military behavioral health providers on each aircraft carrier by 2024, senators disagreed. Both sides settled on more nebulous language.

“We are aware that access to behavioral health services may be inadequate to serve the needs of sailors on certain naval platforms. We encourage the Secretary of the Navy to assign a sufficient number of behavioral health providers and technicians to provide access to mental health care services on aircraft carriers,” the negotiators wrote.

Read Next: US: Iran Tried To Blind Warship’s Bridge in Strait of Hormuz

Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

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