December 08, 2020

H.R.6395 – National Defense Authorization Act for FY2021, Conference Report


Background: The Senate and House Armed Services Committees released the conference report for H.R.6395, the William M. (Mac) Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 on Thursday, December 3. The Senate version of the bill, S.4049, passed on July 23 by a vote of 86-14. The Senate has passed the NDAA every year for the past 59 years.

Floor Situation: The Senate is expected to consider the report this week.

Executive Summary: The National Defense Authorization Act conference report authorizes funding for defense, military construction, and energy-related national security programs. The total funding authorized for national defense equals the president’s request of $740.5 billion. 


The National Defense Authorization Act conference report authorizes funding for defense, military construction, and energy-related national security programs. The total funding authorized for national defense in the bill equals the president’s request of $740.5 billion.

The conference report authorizes $635.5 billion for the base defense budget, including $26.6 billion for national security programs within the Department of the Energy, and $69 billion for “overseas contingency operations.”


The 2018 National Defense Strategy defines America’s top national security challenge as “the reemergence of long-term, strategic competition” with “revisionist powers” that oppose American values of freedom, democracy, and peace – namely China and Russia.

The 2021 NDAA conference report takes aim at the challenges presented by China, Russia, and international terrorists while not neglecting other national security challenges facing the U.S., including in the cyber realm.

The conference report establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to focus American and allied power and resources in the region. The conference report authorizes $2.2 billion to enhance our posture in the region, increase regional readiness, and strengthen cooperation and partnership with our allies in the region. This initiative is a signal to the Chinese government that America remains deeply committed to maintaining our interests in the region, including security and peace for our allies, human rights, and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea.

The conference report invests in the technologies necessary to prevent and win the wars of the future, including emerging technologies like 5G, artificial intelligence, next-generation aircraft and ships, hypersonic weapons, and cybersecurity technologies and personnel.

The conference report recognizes that the all-volunteer force is the strength of the United States military by prioritizing support for family readiness, including spouse employment opportunities and child care. The conference report builds on reforms in last year’s NDAA in the areas of privatized on-base housing and the military health system to ensure we take care of our service members and their families.

The conference report continues the prohibition on the use of DOD funds to transfer detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States or certain other nations, or to close, abandon, or relinquish control of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.


Pay Raise and End Strength

The conference report supports a base pay increase of 3% for all members of the armed forces that had been in the president’s request; reauthorizes more than 30 categories of bonuses; and authorizes the active-duty end strength of the military at the following levels:

  1. Army: 485,900 soldiers

  2. Navy: 347,800 sailors

  3. Air Force: 333,475 airmen

  4. Marine Corps: 181,200 Marines

Pacific Deterrence Initiative

The conference report authorizes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to send a strong signal to our allies, China, and other potential adversaries that the United States is committed to the defense of U.S. interests in the Indo-Pacific. PDI, for which the conference report authorizes $2.2 billion, will address the following issues:

  1. Enhanced presence of combat-credible forces west of the international date line

  2. Increased hardening and dispersing of bases in the Pacific

  3. Expanded training, exercises, and connectivity with partners and allies

Within the PDI, the conference report authorizes $135 million over the president’s budget for capabilities and programs that are critical to our continuing presence in the region.


The conference report includes many sections that aim to deter China’s behavior in the region and around the globe as well as ensure the United States is prepared for continuing strategic competition between the two nations and can protect U.S. assets and interests. The report includes language that:

  1. Protects defense-sensitive intellectual property, data, and technology from purchase by the Chinese

  2. Requires the president to create a strategy to deter Chinese industrial espionage

  3. Requires public reporting of Chinese military affiliated companies in the United States


The conference report includes numerous provisions intended to counter Russia and its destabilizing actions. These include:

  1. Restricts DOD use of funds for military cooperation with Russia and other activities that would recognize Russian sovereignty on the Crimea Peninsula

  2. Establishes and mandates sanctions on Turkey for purchasing the S-400 Russian surface-to-air missile system

  3. Authorizes $250 million for the Ukrainian Assistance Initiative, including for lethal aid


The conference report includes 27 provisions to address recommendations from the Cyberspace Solarium Commission, which Congress established in the 2019 NDAA, to “develop a consensus on a strategic approach to defending the United States in cyberspace against cyber-attacks of significant consequences.” These include:

  1. A review of National Guard response to cyberattacks

  2. Establish a national cyber director within the Executive Office of the President

  3. Add a force structure assessment in the quadrennial cyber posture review

The conference report also requires the secretary of defense to create a framework for cyber hunt forward operations.

Nuclear Weapons Modernization

The conference report ensures that Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration continue to support, maintain, and modernize all aspects of our Nation’s nuclear deterrent. It improves DOD and NNSA budget cooperation and prohibits the use of fiscal year 2021 funding to reduce the quantity or alert status of intercontinental ballistic missiles below 400.

Space Force

The conference report builds on the establishment of the Space Force as a separate military branch in last year’s NDAA. It establishes a Space Force reserve component and delays establishment of a space reserve force until the completion of a study on the issue.

It directs the DOD to implement National Security Space Launch program phase two, and requires the secretary of the Air Force to develop technologies and systems to enhance phase three NSSL requirements.

The conference report continues development of the space technology base and recognizes the maturity of reusable space launch capabilities.

5G, AI, Quantum Computing

Emerging technologies including 5G, artificial intelligence, biotechnology, and quantum computing will have a significant effect on the wars and battlefields of the future. The NDAA includes measures designed to ensure America leads the world in these technologies.

The conference report includes enhancements to the quantum information science research and development program, and it supports 5G development.

It also requires the secretary of defense to consider security risks posed by vendors like Huawei and ZTE when making overseas basing decisions.


The conference report authorizes $23.4 billion for shipbuilding — $3.5 billion above the administration’s request:

  1. Two Virginia class attack submarines

  2. Two DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers

  3. One FFG Constellation class frigate

  4. One Columbia class ballistic missile submarine

Authorizes multi-year procurement authority for:

  1.  Up to two Columbia class submarines

  2. Three amphibious ships

The conference report requires the Air Force to have no fewer than 386 available operational squadrons or equivalent organizational units and a total of 3,580 combat coded aircraft.

Authorizes the Air Force to utilize, modify, and operate six Turkish F-35s that were accepted but never delivered due to Turkey’s suspension from the program.

To ensure aerial superiority into the future, the report authorizes:

  1. $9.1 billion to procure 93 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, 14 above the administration’s request

  2. $1.73 billion to procure 24 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet aircraft

  3. $1.27 billion to procure 12 F-15X aircraft

  4. $692.1 million to procure 7 C-130J aircraft

  5. $611.1 million to procure 4 E-2D Advanced Hawkeye aircraft

  6. $345.1 million to procure 4 MC-130Js

The conference report provides authorization for continuing U.S. superiority on the ground and authorizes:

  1. $1.17 billion for Stryker combat vehicle upgrades

  2. $1.02 billion for the M1 Abrams upgrade program

  3. $792 million for 50 AH-64 Apache helicopters

  4. $725.3 million for 36 UH-60M helicopters

  5. $296.8 million for 11 CH-47 Chinook helicopters

Allies and Partners

The conference report seeks to strengthen America’s strategic alliances and support allies and democracies across the globe.

Among other measures, the conference report:

  1. Expresses commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act and supports deepened bilateral ties

  2. Expresses support for DOD’s continued presence in Germany and limits the department’s ability to reduce troops below 34,500 until further assessments are conducted

  3. Prohibits reduction of service members in South Korea below 28,500 unless specific certifications are made

  4. Requires interagency risk and impact assessment before using funds to conduct troop drawdown in Afghanistan

  5. Commemorates the 25th anniversary of U.S.-Vietnam diplomatic relations and encourages the U.S. and Vietnam to upgrade their relationship to a strategic partnership

  6. Authorizes $4 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund

  7. Revises the Bank Secrecy Act to provide clarity for financial institutions in conducting risk-based anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism programs. The conference report provides for increased coordination and communication between law enforcement, financial institutions, and regulators to improve identification of suspicious financial activity. It sets up a regulatory process for financial institutions to try new technologies for tracking and reporting suspicious activity.

  8. Requires corporations, limited liability companies, and similar entities formed in the U.S., or foreign entities registered to do business in the U.S., to report their beneficial owners to the Treasury Department in order to counter the use of shell companies for money laundering, terrorism financing, and other financial crimes. The information will be in a nonpublic database and may be made available to authorized government authorities for national security, intelligence, and law enforcement purposes. State, local, and tribal law enforcement must follow additional requirements to access it. The conference report provides for information security protections and reduced burdens for covered companies.

Spectrum Management

In April, the Federal Communications Commission unanimously approved an application from Ligado Networks to use a slice of spectrum known as the L-band for 5G and Internet of Things services. DOD contends Ligado’s transmissions over the L-band will interfere with GPS navigation signals.

The conference report prohibits the use of DOD funds to comply with the FCC order until the secretary of defense submits an estimate of the costs associated with any resulting GPS interference. The bill also directs DOD to contract with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine for an independent technical review of the order.

Military Construction, Family Housing, and Family Support

The conference report includes oversight measures intended to ensure previous reforms to the privatized housing program and to the military health system are implemented as Congress intended.

The NDAA authorizes $8.4 billion for military construction. The bill prohibits DOD from conducting an additional base realignment and closure round in fiscal year 2021.

The bill also authorizes $50 million of Impact Aid for local educational activities that support military children, including an additional $20 million for children with disabilities, and it includes funding to maintain the specific student-teacher ratios at DOD schools.

The bill establishes a commission to study, provide recommendations, and develop an implementation plan concerning the removal of names, symbols, and other items on DOD property that commemorate Confederate States of America.


The president has threatened to veto the legislation due to, among other things, the Confederate naming provision and the absence of language repealing Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. 

Chairman Inhofe released the following statement regarding the repeal of Section 230: 

“For the past four years, I’ve worked hand and hand with President Trump to rebuild our military, support our troops and defend American families. Under his leadership, we’ve made gains in our national security that would not have been possible under any other president and this year’s NDAA continues that work. The NDAA, or National Defense Authorization Act, has to be passed every year so the troops get what they need.

“The president knows that I agree with him 100 percent on the need for a full repeal of Section 230. I’ve made that clear publicly as well. It’s unfortunate that Members of Congress on both sides of the aisle disagree with the need for a full repeal – but, because of that, it is impossible to add a repeal of Section 230 to the defense authorization bill. The only other option would mean that for the first time in 60 years, we would not have an NDAA. Without an NDAA, our troops would not get flight pay. They wouldn’t get hazard pay or any other specialty pay that requires annual authorization for our service members overseas to get what they need.”


A Congressional Budget Office cost estimate is not yet available.