The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) approved the defense policy bill that plans to allocate nearly $ 6 billion to the Pentagon during the fiscal years of 2021 and 2022.
Although the document has yet to be approved in the Senate itself and combined with a version prepared by the Armed Services Commission of the US House of Representatives, some details of its content may already be known thanks to the country’s press.
A high-tech ‘threat’
In this legislative bill, US politicians are concerned about the deployment of 5G technology by Chinese technology companies such as Huawei and ZTE. Therefore, they recommend in their document that the Pentagon improve its own 5G capabilities in order to keep up with the technology that its competitors are developing.
Once approved, this initiative will require the Pentagon to submit to the SASC a report on the risk that Chinese technology presents to personnel and equipment of the US Department of Defense, as well as operations carried out in countries that are allies of Washington. Furthermore, this report will have to propose a series of measures that the Pentagon could take to reduce the respective risk.
Members of the Senate Armed Services Committee fear that the Chinese government may create a back door to seize sensitive information if Washington allows Huawei to deploy 5G networks in countries that maintain strong relations and exchange intelligence data with the United States. It should be noted that China has repeatedly denied these allegations.
Concerns about Huawei’s alleged spying are not the only issue related to the Asian country addressing the document. With its focus on China, the bill also encourages the US Air Force to deploy its F-35A fighters in the Indo-Pacific region and prioritize the protection of airbases that could be at risk of cruise missile and hypersonic missile attacks developed, especially by China.
“The best way to protect the security and prosperity of the United States in Asia is to maintain a credible balance of its military might, but, after years of underfunding, this capacity is in jeopardy,” the initiative’s summary states.
In addition, the project advocates improving the design of a joint force deployed in the region by changing its large, centralized, and inflexible infrastructure to one that is smaller but dispersed, resilient, and adaptive. Lawmakers also propose to increase the capabilities of US airfields and expeditionary ports, advance positioning of reserves of fuel, ammunition, equipment and war materiel in this region, and improve logistics and maintenance under persistent attack.
More changes in cybersecurity
Concerning Chinese technology companies, the US Senate Armed Services Committee also proposes to give the Pentagon Chief Cyber Advisor new responsibilities. This reorganization is part of an effort to ensure that American cyber forces can meet new challenges.
The bill also includes two provisions aimed at improving the way the Department of Defense purchases cyber equipment, the programs of which are overseen by the US Congress. First, the document proposes authorizing increased funds for the operation and maintenance of the Air Force and Army and providing additional resources to forces conducting cyber missions. Second, the project enables Defense leaders to use the respective funds to quickly create, test, and distribute their capabilities to respond to cyber threats.
The SASC requires the Pentagon to launch pilot programs in several areas, including cybersecurity capability metrics based on the speed and evaluations of the Defense Department’s performance and efficiency, interoperability, and automated orchestration of cybersecurity systems, addressing the integration of user activity tracking teams, among other cyber problems.
A response to the threat of hypersonic weapons
Lately, Congress has become increasingly concerned with the threat posed by hypersonic weapons that China and Russia are developing. This weapons arsenal renders a large part of the current system deployed by the United States to detect missile attacks obsolete since it was designed with the objective of countering ballistic missiles.
To counter this threat, the Defense Department has proposed a solution: a constellation of satellites that will be deployed in low Earth orbit. Once a hypersonic threat is detected, this army of space teams will track it as the weapon follows its flight path.
The Hypersonic and Ballistic Tracking Space Sensor, or HBTSS, will be part of the new national defense space architecture. The US Space Development Agency is already overseeing this proposal and plans to begin placing its first satellites in Earth orbit in the fiscal year of 2022.
Any news in the Army and Air Force?
In its draft budget submitted for the fiscal year 2021, the US Air Force proposed withdrawing from service a number of its B-1 bombers, A-10 Warthog attack aircraft and RQ-4 Global Hawk reconnaissance drones, among other flying aircraft. The U.S. military is shuffling to take this action to free up the resources needed to make key investments in the technologies of the future, including space.
In turn, the Senate Armed Services Committee wants to limit the cuts proposed by the Air Force. Specifically, the bill blocks the withdrawal of three A-10 Warthog squadrons from service, limits reducing investment in the F-15C fighter program, and delays the withdrawal of KC-10 and KC-135 tankers until the Technical challenges with the KC-46 that should be purchased to replace older KC-135E.
The summary of the bill makes it clear that SASC is concerned about the Air Force’s plan to swap existing aircraft for future capabilities, which could worsen their readiness to respond to a threat in the short term. For this reason, the initiative establishes a minimum number of aircraft for each main mission to be carried out in a certain area. It also prohibits cutting investment in aircraft until the minimums that guarantee that the US Air Force can comply with the National Defense Strategy are not reached.
The authors of the new bill recommend increasing funds to help develop by 2030 a long-range assault aircraft under the FLRAA program and purchase additional drones. It is expected that to implement this initiative, resources that exceed 5 million dollars will be assigned to those requested by the Pentagon.
Once this proposal is approved, 2020 will be the second consecutive year in which Congress increases the funds for the respective program above what was requested, after the investment of 76 million dollars made in the previous fiscal period in order to accelerate delivery of this long-range aircraft.
The Senate also plans to add $165 million to buy the Army more MQ-1 drones.