The US Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday unveiled a draft $750 billion defense policy bill that would authorize more Lockheed Martin F-35 jets for the United States and effectively end Turkey’s partnership in the program if Ankara pursues a plan to buy a Russian missile defense system.
In March, President Donald Trump requested $750 billion for defense, a budget that included more money to build ships and buy jets.
In the coming weeks the US House of Representatives Armed Services Committee, controlled by Democrats, will release its own version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which must be reconciled with the version in the Republican-controlled Senate before it can be passed.
Because it sets policy for the Defense Department, the annual NDAA is one of the few bills that Congress passes every year.
This year, the Senate version of the bill would approve spending on eight F-15X fighter jets as the current aging fleet of about 234 jets is getting more expensive to operate. The defense arm of aircraft maker Boeing Co could potentially make 80 or more of them for the US Air Force.
The bill also includes several provisions for addressing what Congress sees as the threat from China, including stricter reporting in China’s “Belt and Road” international lending program. It also requires creation of a list of Chinese institutions and companies with any links to its military, to be used for screening visa applications for students and researchers.
F-35 The bill authorizes the Pentagon to buy 94 Lockheed Martin-made F-35 stealth fighter jets, comprising 60 of the F-35A conventional take-off and landing model; 12 of the F-35B short take-off/vertical landing version, and 22 of the F-35C, which are used aboard aircraft carriers.
Lockheed, the jet’s prime contractor, is developing and building the new warplanes for the US military and 10 other countries.
The NDAA would remove Turkey from the list of nations that have worked together to build the fifth generation F-35 fighter jet.
Like other NATO allies, Turkey is both a prospective buyer and a partner in production of the F-35. But US officials have said Turkey’s plan to buy the Russian S-400 air defense system would compromise the security of the F-35 jets.
The dispute has strained relations between Washington and Ankara. In protest to Ankara’s plan to buy the Russian system, the United States in April halted delivery of equipment related to F-35s to Turkey, in its first concrete step to block the delivery of the jet.
The legislation also authorizes the creation of a Space Force as a separately aligned service, but still part of the US Air Force.
Another provision of the bill would create a special US envoy to address the situation of former fighters and supporters of the Islamic State militant group now languishing in detention centers in Syria.
The annual bill, which offers broad policy ideas, would bar the Pentagon from reducing the number of US troops on South Korea below 28,500. It also authorizes a 3.1 percent pay raise for members of the US military.
The Senate version of the bill contains $3.6 billion that could replenish money used to fund construction of a wall on the Mexican border, but did not authorize additional funds requested by the White House, senior committee staff told the media.
The bill would allow the transfer of prisoners from Guantanamo Bay in Cuba to the United States for medical treatment. [Reuters]