Happy Monday and welcome to Overnight Defense. I’m Rebecca Kheel, and here’s your nightly guide to the latest developments at the Pentagon, on Capitol Hill and beyond. CLICK HERE to subscribe to the newsletter.
THE TOPLINE: Happy budget day!
Monday marked the annual ritual of the administration delivering to Congress a budget proposal that lawmakers will almost immediately ignore.
Though budget requests don’t reflect what federal spending will actually be, they do provide insight into the administration’s policy priorities.
The defense budget adheres to the agreement, but there’s still plenty lawmakers will grumble at. The total defense budget would be about $740 billion, with the Pentagon getting a $704.5 billion slice of that pie.
Here are some highlights on the defense side of the fiscal 2021 budget:
Fewer ships: In what seems to be causing the most consternation among defense lawmakers, the Pentagon budget would cut shipbuilding.
Under the budget released Monday, the Navy would get $19.9 billion to buy eight new ships, a $4.1 billion cut from this fiscal year.
The shipbuilding budget would buy two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, one Columbia-class submarine, one Virginia-class submarine, one FFG(X) frigate, one LPD-17 amphibious transport dock and two towing and salvage ships.
But Democrats and Republicans knocked the proposal for what they described as a failure to support the Navy’s stated goal of getting to a 355-ship fleet.
“The president’s shipbuilding budget is not a 355-ship Navy budget,” Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) said in a statement. “As chair of the Seapower Subcommittee, I can say with complete certainty that, like so much of the rest of the president’s budget, it is dead on arrival. This weak, pathetic request for eight ships – of which two are tugboats – is not only fewer ships than 2020, but fewer ships than the Navy told us last year it planned for 2021.”
Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said in a statement that he was “concerned that the budget proposal released today does not provide adequate funding to the Navy for shipbuilding, which is necessary to reach our statutory national policy of 355 ships and ensure that our fleet remains unrivaled at sea.”
More nukes: The Pentagon budget would include $28.9 billion for nuclear weapons programs, including $17.7 billion to modernize nuclear delivery systems and support ongoing improvements to nuclear command, control and communications systems.
The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), the semi-autonomous agency within the Energy Department that is responsible for maintaining the safety of nuclear weapons, would also get a nearly 20 percent budget boost at $19.8 billion.
Of the NNSA budget, $15.6 billion would go toward nuclear weapons programs to “support the existing nuclear weapons stockpile, extend the life of our nuclear warheads, recapitalize facilities and maintain world leading science supporting the nuclear weapons stockpile,” according to a White House fact sheet.
Planes: The Pentagon budget proposed Monday would also provide $56.9 billion for aircraft, including $11.4 billion for 79 F-35 Joint Strike Fighters, $3 billion for 15 KC-46 Tanker replacements, $2.1 billion for 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornets and $1.6 billion for 12 F-15EX fighter jets.
The budget would also begin retiring several aircraft, including 24 RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance drones, 17 B-1 bombers and 44 A-10 attack planes. The proposed retirements could rankle lawmakers with vested interests in the aircraft, such as those who represent installations where the aircraft are based.
Space Force: The Pentagon is proposing a $15.4 billion fiscal 2021 budget for the Space Force, the newly minted sixth branch of the military.
The money, largely transferred from existing Air Force programs, would include $2.5 billion for operations and maintenance, $10.3 billion for research and development, $2.4 billion for procurement and $77 million from a war fund known as the Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account.
Budget documents from the Department of the Air Force, under which Space Force is housed, describe the initial $15.4 billion budget request as a “critical first step to combat emerging space threats and requirements and transitioning military space operations from combat support to warfighting.”
Air Force One: The Pentagon’s budget documents revealed paint job plans for the new Air Force One.
A picture included in the documents shows a red, white and blue style reminiscent of the planes in Trump’s former airline.
The Air Force One depiction in the document has a white top half, blue bottom third and red streak down the middle.
Trump’s former plane had a blue top half, white bottom third and a red streak down the middle.
The Air Force is requesting $800.9 million in fiscal 2021 for the “VC-25B Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program.” It is meant to replace the current Air Force One aircraft with two new, modified Boeing 747-8s, according to the Trump administration’s defense budget request.
The new aircraft “will provide the president, staff, and guests with safe and reliable air transportation at the same level of security and communications capability available in the White House,” according to the budget documents.
Trump since 2018 has said he hopes to change the paint job on the new Air Force Ones, departing from the light blue and white scheme designed by former President Kennedy and first lady Jacqueline Kennedy.
Chairman says: Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), a staunch Trump supporter, issued a statement Monday evening appearing to blame Democrats for any cuts the Pentagon is proposing.
“The topline stipulated by last year’s budget agreement was a compromise with the Democrats that unfortunately left us with less than the amount needed to fulfill the requirements of the National Defense Strategy Commission Report,” he said.
“An insufficient topline makes smart choices harder, but I commend [Defense] Secretary [Mark] Esper and President Trump for prioritizing nuclear modernization, creation of the Space Force, reforms to privatized housing and fundamental improvements to the department’s business operations,” Inhofe added.
SENATE COULD DEBATE WAR POWERS WEDNESDAY: After an impeachment-long delay, Senate Democrats are mulling forcing a debate as soon as Wednesday on Trump’s ability to take military action against Iran.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said floor action on his resolution could start on Wednesday, with a final vote potentially taking place this week.
The Senate is expected to leave on Thursday for a weeklong President’s Day recess.
Asked if the senators would finish before the break if debate started Wednesday, Kaine said “that’s the hope.”
“It’s conceivable that you could get on the bill and then save that for after” the recess, Kaine said. “But I would like to go ahead and get it done.”
Tracking Republican votes: Four GOP senators — Susan Collins (Maine), Mike Lee (Utah), Rand Paul (Ky.) and Todd Young (Ind.) — are expected to support the resolution, giving it the 51 votes needed to pass.
Kaine added that there were “dynamics” and “atmospherics” that could result in additional Republicans coming on board, saying he would have “at least” 51 votes.
“There’s some dynamics in play that might lead there to be more,” Kaine said, while stressing that he was not saying another Republican had told him they would support it.
INJURIES FROM IRAN ATTACK UP TO 109: More than 100 U.S. troops have now been diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries caused by Iran’s January missile strike on an Iraqi military base, the Pentagon said Monday.
The 109 diagnoses revealed Monday represent 45 more cases of TBI than the Pentagon’s last update on the issue.
The Pentagon has said the number could keep rising since symptoms from TBI sometimes take a while to present themselves.
“The Defense Department is steadfast in its efforts to deliver programs and services intended to lead to the best possible outcomes for our service members,” Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah said in a statement. “We are grateful to the efforts of our medical professionals who have worked diligently to ensure the appropriate level of care for our service members, which has enabled nearly 70 percent of those diagnosed to return to duty. We must continue to address physical and mental health together.”
In detail: Of the 109 troops who have been diagnosed with TBI, 76 have already returned to duty, according to the Pentagon’s Monday figures.
Of those 76, 75 service members were in Iraq and returned to duty, while one was taken to Germany for treatment but has since returned to duty in Iraq.
In total, 27 troops have been transported to Germany for further evaluation and treatment. Of those, 21 have since been sent to the United States and five are being further evaluated.
Another seven troops are en route from Iraq to Germany.
ON TAP FOR TOMORROW
The Senate Armed Services Committee will hold a hearing on strategy in Afghanistan with testimony from former officials at 9:30 a.m. at the Dirksen Senate Office Building, room G-50. https://bit.ly/2UGHnFt
The House Armed Services Committee has three hearings scheduled:
— A full committee hearing on “The Department of Defense’s Role in Long-Term Major State Competition” with testimony from outside experts at 10 a.m. at the Rayburn House Office Building, room 2118. https://bit.ly/2HaYGGz
— A subcommittee hearing on countering weapons of mass destruction for fiscal 2021 at 2 p.m. at Rayburn 2118. https://bit.ly/2OIBfsd
— A subcommittee hearing on white supremacy in the military with testimony from officials and outside experts at 2:30 p.m. at Rayburn 2212. https://bit.ly/37ht50x
— The Hill: Amazon requests Trump deposition amid Pentagon ‘war cloud’ fight
— The Hill: Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia
— The Hill: Opinion: If Trump renegotiates Iran’s nuclear deal, should it be a treaty this time?
— Army Times: Pentagon identifies two soldiers killed in Afghanistan attack
— The Washington Post: Afghanistan claims the Islamic State was ‘obliterated.’ But fighters who got away could stage a resurgence.
— Associated Press: Iraqi officials: US will grant vital Iran sanctions waiver