COVID and the Defense Budget

COVID-19 has impacted the military, as it has almost every other facet of life. U.S. armed forces have been used to provide crisis assistance across the globe. Now, the American people will be the beneficiaries of that expertise.

The House of Representatives has produced a defense budget (called the National Defense Authorization Act) in the face of deep challenges, some difficult because of the potential change in Administrations, and some wholly precedented due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two parties reached an agreement on over 2,200 individual provisions. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) and Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), issued a joint statement noting “The agreement we have reached includes important provisions affecting our national security. Among the provisions we are most proud of the authorization of hazardous duty pay for our service members in harm’s way, improvements to military housing and programs for military families with children with special needs, addressing the shortage in military child care, authorizing $8.4 billion in military construction projects to fortify critical infrastructure and base realignment and closure clean up , important new tools to deter China and Russia, reforms to make the Pentagon more efficient, innovative, and cost-effective, significant bipartisan provisions on artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, and provisions that strengthen our alliance with Israel. After the tragic loss of life in Pensacola last year, the NDAA also includes a prohibition on foreign student’s ability to possess firearms on military bases.”

COVID played a significant role in this year’s budget. The defense bill provides service members with the diagnostic equipment, testing capabilities and PPE they need, along with providing medical surge capacity in certain healthcare facilities; and it provides health benefits to members of the National Guard that supported the COVID-19 response.

The military’s role in COVID is more than just protecting its own.  The military will play a central role I distributing the vaccine, produced in record-breaking time thanks to the Trump Administration’s “Operation Warp Speed.” C. Todd Lopez, speaking for the Department of Defense, reports that the Pentagon has “the best logisticians in the world working in conjunction with the CDC, to guide every logistical detail you could possibly think of.” That effort involves things such as needles, syringes, swabs, adhesive bandages, dry ice and trucks, to name key examples. Operations centers, similar to those set up for hurricanes, will manage the effort.

Of course, the key focus will continue to be protecting the U.S. from the massive and growing threats from China and Russia.

The NDAA authorizes DoD nuclear weapons modernization programs and National Nuclear Security Administration infrastructure and weapons programs absolutely required to replace aging systems with diminishing reliability and survivability concerns that undermine the safety, security and effectiveness of the nation’s most important Defense capability – the Nuclear Deterrent. The bill also directs the production of an unclassified study of the nuclear weapons programs of Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, so that the American people can be informed about the threats to the United States.

It also establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative which includes $2.2 billion of investments and new programs to modernize and strengthen U.S. posture and capability in the Indo-Pacific region and assist U.S. allies and partners to deter against Chinese malign behavior. The NDAA supports U.S. efforts to help Taiwan develop capable, ready, and modern defense forces necessary for it to maintain a sufficient self-defense capability.

Closer to home, The legislation includes a requirement for a Presidential assessment on how to deter Chinese industrial espionage and large-scale cyber theft of intellectual property and personal information, and mandates that public reporting of Chinese military companies operating in the United States be published on the Federal Register.

Frank Vernuccio serves as editor-in-chief of the New York Analysis of Policy & Government

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