Having passed both chambers of Congress by wide margins, the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is now headed to the president. Though delayed through mis-prioritization of the legislative process, the final bill accomplishes its most important task: authorizing funding and providing a policy framework to strengthen the nation’s defenses.
While not perfect, the bill represents a clear win for those who support a strong U.S. military.
The bill’s foremost achievement is a higher top line for defense spending: $858 billion for military and national security programs. This corrects President Biden’s anemic request for only $813 billion, which did not begin to account for the full impact of inflation. This additional funding will be vital as the U.S. finally begins to counter the growing global threat of the Chinese Communist Party and as Russia continues its immoral war against Ukraine.
The bill contains numerous provisions that enhance military readiness. Among other things, it: prohibits the early retirement of combat platforms, such as the F-22 fighter; calls for the procurement of 11 Navy ships; restores funding for the sea-launched nuclear cruise missile; acquires a 12th Coast Guard national security cutter; and reforms the National Defense Stockpile.
The bill strengthens the munitions industrial base as well, not only by additional funding, but by authorizing the Pentagon to enter into multiyear, bulk-buy contracts.
Also included is a provision lifting the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for service members. With military recruiting falling well short of its targets, it is hard to argue the wisdom of separating service members or denying enlistment to volunteers for declining to take the vaccine. The recruiting crisis led the NDAA to shrink the Army’s end strength by 33,000 soldiers from its 2022 authorized level.
Earlier versions of the NDAA included several provisions requiring reports on personal characteristics unrelated to professional competence. The previous House version, for example, required corporations doing business with the Pentagon to report on the sexual preference, race, ethnicity and sex makeup of their boards. Most of these type provisions with no connection to defense were thankfully stripped from the final bill.
An ill-considered proposal to transfer control of the D.C. National Guard to the mayor was also removed. Given the multiple policing jurisdictions in the nation’s capital and the presence of so many federal entities, it would have been impractical for the mayor to control the Guard.
The final bill also dropped the Senate provision that would have required women to register for the draft.
One item added to the bill was the Taiwan Enhanced Resilience Act. This will serve to enhance U.S.–Taiwanese relations in the face of Chinese adventurism. It authorizes $10 billion over five years to strengthen security cooperation, makes Taiwan eligible for a regional contingency munition stockpile, combats Chinese coercive activities, advocates Taiwan’s participation in international organizations, and supports stronger economic and cultural ties. Appropriators must now fund the program, but this is a necessary first step.
Finally, the NDAA includes increased accountability for Ukraine aid. Prior U.S. aid packages to Ukraine had extensive accountability and reporting requirements, but the NDAA builds upon that by requiring the Defense Department, State Department, and the U.S. Agency for International Development to develop a framework—reviewable by Congress—for conducting comprehensive reviews and audits of all assistance they provide to Ukraine.
The bill is not perfect. Some provisions unrelated to national defense remain. But lawmakers should be congratulated on narrowing the bill to mostly focus on enhancing warfighting capabilities. The net result should be a stronger, more effective U.S. military.