Defense bill protects nation, taxpayers and troops

The biggest job each year for the Senate Armed Services Committee, which I chair, is crafting the annual National Defense Authorization Act. The committee’s recent passage of the bill for the coming fiscal year was a strong bipartisan statement of support for our troops, and it means good things for our nation’s security and for Michigan.

The Defense Authorization Act is a huge piece of legislation, setting funding levels and establishing policies for all Defense Department and many other national security programs. It is the primary vehicle by which the committee carries out our chief responsibilities: to help ensure that our military is fully capable of defending our nation and its interests; to provide all the support our troops and their families need; and to be careful stewards of taxpayers’ dollars.

This year’s legislation, which now goes to the full Senate for consideration, fulfills those responsibilities. It also provides funding and policy support for many programs that tap into Michigan’s strengths in manufacturing and research and development, thereby making solid investments in our national security and the Michigan economy.

The bill provides strong support for our troops and their families. It includes a much deserved pay raise for service members and continues important health care programs for our troops and their families. By providing funding for adequate personnel strength and for replacing aging equipment and weapons, we give our men and women in uniform the battlefield support they deserve.

The bill will also make for a stronger national defense by authorizing major weapons programs; by enhancing important programs to combat violent extremist groups such as those in Afghanistan and Iraq; by increasing funding to counter nontraditional threats such as terrorism, cyber warfare, and nuclear proliferation; and by providing funding to restore the readiness of our armed forces, who have been stretched thin by a decade of combat.

I am pleased that we were able to support our troops and their families while finding savings of more than $6 billion without weakening our defense. For example, we eliminated unnecessary military construction funding; we cut $1.1 billion from costly service contracts; we cut $452 million from a poorly performing aerial reconnaissance program; and we cut $406 million from an over-budget air defense system. We also approved language to rein in worrisome cost overruns in the Joint Strike Fighter program, our biggest single weapons program, by requiring the contractor to absorb 100 percent of any cost overruns.

This year’s bill also ensures that Michigan companies and institutions will continue our state’s historic role in strengthening our security. Companies from Menominee to Charlotte and Muskegon to Detroit make valuable contributions to the vehicles, equipment, and weapons systems on which our military depends. Michigan provided the “arsenal of democracy” that defeated dictatorships in World War II, and I am proud that legacy continues today.

The bill also provides $200 million for the new Rapid Innovation Program, designed to fund innovative technologies, reduce weapons costs, and rapidly move new technologies from the lab to the battlefield. This program focuses on areas in which Michigan universities and companies excel, such as enhancing energy security, developing advanced materials, and improving manufacturing technology.

This program could provide significant opportunities for Michigan companies, universities, and other organizations to help advance the Defense Department’s research and development efforts that will ultimately maintain and advance the technological superiority of our nation’s military capabilities.

I am pleased that the committee was able to produce a strong bill that protects our country, does right by our troops, and protects taxpayers’ dollars – and was able to do so in a unanimous, bipartisan fashion.