First look at Senate NDAA adds $35B to DoD, takes all nonmilitary crimes out of chain of command

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The Senate Armed Services Committee is stuffing an extra $35 billion into the Defense Department budget and recommending a monumental change to the way crimes are prosecuted in the military in its version of the 2022 defense authorization bill.

The Senate panel is increasing the Pentagon’s budget to $740 billion, compared to the Biden administration’s request of $715 billion, bringing total military spending for 2022 to nearly $778 billion.

“This bill [helps] safeguard the nation, counter a range of evolving threats, and support our troops both on and off the battlefield,” said Jack Reed (D-R.I.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This forward-looking legislation invests in people, platforms, and infrastructure. It authorizes funding levels and sets policies to equip, supply, and train U.S. forces now and in the future. It provides for military families while strengthening America’s industrial base and the workers who contribute to our national security.”

The additional money funds a variety of accounts, mostly ones that increase the capacity of the military by spending billions of dollars to procure more aircraft like the F-35 and build and restore ships for the Navy.

The bill also hampers DoD’s attempt to save $2.8 billion by divesting in some legacy systems. The legislation prohibits the Pentagon from reducing its A-10 or C-130 fleets.

The $35 billion increase does put money into building future weapons systems as well. It puts an extra $500 million into the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and an extra $268 million to bolster DoD’s cybersecurity efforts. There is a $1 billion increase to space programs, microelectronics and various research and development programs.

The legislation fully adopts Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bill to change the Uniform Code of Military Justice to take all nonmilitary crimes prosecutions out of the chain of command and create special victims units for sex crimes.

“I will say it’s a conceptual formulation that’s still going to need a little bit of sandpaper applied to it to make it just right, but we’ll likely do that between now and when the bill comes up on the floor,” Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) told reporters Thursday. “We are removing the cases from the chain of command because folks who have been victimized by sexual assault, men and women who’ve gone through that experience, they often don’t believe that the chain of command will protect them. Sometimes the perpetrators are in the chain of command, or sometimes the chain of command has coddled the perpetrator or been willing to turn a blind eye to offenses of the perpetrators.”

The bill got some pushback from DoD as it tried to find middle ground between the Congressional proposal and taking real action on sexual assault in the military. The Pentagon ended up backing a baby step forward that would pull sex crimes and sex-related crimes like stalking out of the chain of command, but leave other nonmilitary crimes in. That’s because top military officials feared taking all nonmilitary criminal prosecutions from commanders would erode good order and discipline.

The committee did not agree with DoD.

Other highlights to the bill include requiring women to sign up for the military draft, an issue that has been debated and studies extensively over the past few years.

The legislation funds a 2.7% increase in military pay, gives service members two weeks of paid bereavement leave after a death in the family and increases parental leave to 12 weeks.

The bill creates a basic needs allowance for service members after reports of service members and their families going hungry surfaced.

The legislation creates parity for special and incentive pays between reserve and active components as well, changing a longstanding mismatch between service members doing the same job.

In the cyber realm, the committee is requiring the development of a joint zero trust strategy and model architecture of the Department of Defense Information Network. It also wants a data management strategy.

The committee wants DoD to look into public-private partnerships with internet ecosystem companies to discover and disrupt malicious cyber actors and requires a report on the Cyber Maturity Model Certification program.

Within acquisition, the committee wants DoD to rank how its acquisition programs are performing and then create reports on how the lowest ranking can improve.

The bill would also repeal the preference for fixed-price contracts.

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