June 24, 2020

S.4049 – National Defense Authorization Act for FY21


Background: The Senate Armed Services Committee has filed S.4049, the fiscal year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act. The committee voted on June 11 to advance the bill to the Senate floor by a vote of 25-2. The Senate has passed the NDAA every year for the past 59 years.

Floor Situation: The Senate is expected to begin debate on the NDAA as soon as the week of June 29.

Executive Summary: The fiscal year 2021 NDAA authorizes $740.5 billion for defense spending within the jurisdiction of the Armed Services Committee: $636.4 billion for the base budget, including $8.15 billion for military construction; $25.9 billion for national security programs within the Department of the Energy; and $69 billion for “overseas contingency operations.” The bill authorizes a 3% pay raise for members of the armed forces; establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to counter China; and modernizes the military with investments in 5G and artificial intelligence. 


The National Defense Authorization Act authorizes funding for defense, military construction, and energy-related national security programs. Total funding equals the president’s request of $740.5 billion. The bill, as reported by the Senate Armed Services Committee, authorizes $636.4 billion for the base defense budget, including $8.15 billion for military construction; $25.9 billion for national security programs within the Department of the Energy; and $69 billion for “overseas contingency operations.”

The Department of Defense fiscal year 2021 budget request of $740.5 billion included $636.4 billion for the base defense budget, $35 billion for national security programs within the Department of the Energy and other agencies, and $69 billion for overseas contingency operations.


The 2018 National Defense Strategy defines our preeminent 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 Senate NDAA takes aim at the challenges presented by these anti-American and anti-democratic world powers, while not neglecting other national security challenges, including in the cyber realm and the ongoing threat of radical Islam.

The bill establishes the Pacific Deterrence Initiative to focus American and allied power and resources in the region. The nearly $7 billion initiative sends a signal to the communist 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 NDAA invests in the technologies necessary to prevent and win the wars of the future, including 5G, artificial intelligence, next-generation aircraft and ships, hypersonic weapons, and cybersecurity technologies and personnel.

The bill prioritizes support for military family readiness, including spouse employment opportunities and child care. It builds on reforms in last year’s NDAA in the areas of privatized on-base housing and the military health system to ensure service members and their families are properly taken care of.

The NDAA also continues long-standing provisions that prohibit the use of DOD funds to transfer detainees held in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States or certain nations, or to close, abandon, or relinquish control of U.S. Naval Station Guantanamo Bay.


Pay Raise and End Strength

The bill 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 different types of bonuses and special pay; and authorizes the active-duty end strength of the military at the following levels:

  • Army: 485,000 soldiers

  • Navy: 346,730 sailors

  • Air Force: 333,475 airmen

  • Marine Corps: 180,000 Marines

The levels are largely consistent with the administration’s request, but reflect a cautious approach due to the uncertainty around COVID-19 and its potential effect on recruitment and basic training capacity.  

Pacific Deterrence Initiative/China

The bill authorizes $1.4 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative in fiscal year 2021. The bill also authorizes a PDI topline of $5.5 billion for fiscal year 2022 and instructs the secretary of defense to create a plan for these resources. The PDI emphasizes logistical capabilities as well as support and cooperation with our allies in the region to ensure the U.S. can maintain an asymmetric military, logistical, and diplomatic advantage over China. The PDI’s specific aims include:

  • Increasing the “lethality” of U.S. and allied forces in the Indo-Pacific region by improving missile defenses for bases and other critical infrastructure

  • Enhancing the posture of forces in the region by transitioning from large, centralized, unhardened infrastructure, to smaller, dispersed, adaptive bases

  • Better pre-positioning of stocks of fuel, munitions, equipment, and other key supplies

The bill also ensures the United States is able to forward-deploy our forces, conveying a strong message of deterrence to potential adversaries.


The 2021 NDAA includes numerous provisions intended to counter Russia and its destabilizing actions. These include:

  • Extending the limitation on providing sensitive missile defense information to Russia

  • Fully funding the European Deterrence Initiative and increasing funding to support rotational forces in Europe

  • Requiring a report on Russian support for racially and ethnically motivated violent extremist groups and networks in Europe and the United States that “create or cause growing national security threats, information warfare, and increasing risks to societal stability and democratic institutions”

  • A sense of the Senate that long-term strategic competition with Russia is a top defense priority that requires sustained investment


The bill includes 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”:

  • A review of National Guard response to cyberattacks

  • Adding a force structure assessment in the quadrennial cyber posture review

  • A report on enabling cyber command authorities, direction, and control of cyber operations forces-related budgets

  • An evaluation of cyber reserve force options, which could provide surge capability and enable DOD to draw on talent in the private sector

  • Improving cyber resiliency of nuclear command and control systems

  • Fortifying the strategic cybersecurity program and further cyber vulnerability assessment of weapons systems

  • A Defense Industrial Base threat intelligence-sharing program to support companies’ ability to defend themselves

  • An assessment of the risk posed by quantum computing to national security systems

  • An extension of the Cyberspace Solarium Commission for tracking and facilitating the implementation of its recommendations for 16 months

  • An independent assessment on the feasibility and advisability of establishing a national cyber director

The bill also includes measures to improve cyber readiness by recruiting and retaining qualified cybersecurity professionals, including allowing for pay that is more competitive with the private sector.

Nuclear Weapons Modernization

The bill ensures that DOD supports, maintains, and continues to modernize all three legs of the nuclear triad. It prohibits the use of fiscal year 2021 funding to reduce the quantity or alert status of intercontinental ballistic missiles below 400.

Space Force

The bill 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 National Guard until the completion of a study on the issue.

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

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

5G, AI, Quantum Computing

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

The bill includes enhancements to the quantum information science research and development program and requires a demonstration of innovative 5G commercial technologies.

It encourages DOD to leverage commercially available technology where appropriate, particularly for artificial intelligence.

It also requires the secretary of defense to consider 5G and 6G security risks posed by vendors like Huawei and ZTE when making overseas basing decisions.

Modernization and Procurement

The bill expresses a sense of the Senate on actions necessary to implement the national policy of the United States to have available as soon as practicable not fewer than 355 battle force ships.

The bill authorizes $21.3 billion for shipbuilding — $1.4 billion above the administration’s request – including multi-ship contract authority for:

  • Up to two Columbia class submarines

  • Three San Antonio class amphibious ships and one America class amphibious ship

In addition, it authorizes:

  • An increase of $472 million for Virginia class submarine advance procurement to preserve the option to procure 10 Virginia class ships from fiscal years 2019 to 2023

  • $260 million for long lead time material for Arleigh Burke class destroyers

The bill requires the Air Force to have no fewer than 386 available operational squadrons or equivalent organizational units.

Requires the secretary of defense to recommend a minimum number of bomber aircraft to enable the Air Force to carry out its long-range penetrating strike mission.

Across all services, it authorizes:

  • $9.1 billion to procure 95 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft, 14 above the administration’s request

  • $5.5 billion to procure 60 F-35As

  • $1.2 billion to procure 12 F-35Bs

  • $2.4 billion to procure 23 F-35Cs

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

To speed up innovation and acquisition, the bill authorizes $200 million above the president’s request to develop prototypes for new critical subsystems for naval vessels, including unmanned vessels.

To ensure the Air Force can meet National Defense Strategy and combatant command requirements, the bill prohibits divestment of A-10 aircraft and delays divestment of KC-10s and KC-135 aircraft until KC-46 remote visual refueling system remedies are implemented.

The NDAA authorizes $3.7 billion for weapons procurement programs, $48.8 million above the administration’s request. This includes:

  • $26 million for 10 additional Tomahawk missiles, authorizing a total procurement of 165 missiles

  • $35 million for 10 additional Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles, for a total of 58 missiles

  • $59.6 million for 36 Ground-Based Anti-Ship Missiles

Allies and Partners

The 2021 NDAA seeks to build on and strengthen America’s strategic alliances, and support allies and democracies across the globe.

Among other measures, the bill:

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

  • 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

  • Provides $250 million in security assistance for Ukraine, requires a long-term plan for assistance to Ukraine, and supports NATO designation of Ukraine as an “enhanced opportunities partner”

  • Requires NATO partners’ munitions to be qualified on F-35s

  • Authorizes $4 billion for the Afghanistan Security Forces Fund

Research and Development

The bill aims to ensure the U.S. retains its historical technological and innovation advantage over our adversaries in key military technologies and weapons. New technologies include advanced and quantum computing, artificial intelligence, unmanned systems, directed energy, and hypersonic weapons.

The bill authorizes more than $300 million above the president’s request for DOD science and technology research and extends or adds authorities that accelerate research.

Hypersonic weapons can travel at speeds of at least Mach 5 but maintain the maneuverability of a traditional cruise missile. The bill increases funding to test materials that can withstand hypersonic speeds and for developing prototypes for testing.

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 NDAA 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.

The bill includes the text of S.3717, the Spectrum IT Modernization Act, which cleared the Commerce Committee on May 20 and encourages a whole-of-government solution to spectrum management.

COVID-19 Response

The bill authorizes $44 million for vaccine and biotechnology research supported by DOD.

Military Construction, Family Housing, and Family Support

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

The NDAA authorizes $8.15 billion for military construction — including $955 million for unfunded military construction requirements — and focuses funding on the facility sustainment backlog. The bill prohibits DOD from conducting an additional base realignment and closure round in fiscal year 2021; provides for land conveyances at Camp Navajo, Arizona, and Panama City, Florida; and extends the land withdrawals for the Fallon Range Training Complex and the Nevada Test and Training Range.

The bill includes $4 million to assist with the development of interstate compacts on licensed occupations for military spouses through a cooperative agreement with the Council of State Governments. It also authorizes funding to maintain the current student-teacher ratios at DOD schools.

The bill establishes a commission to study and provide recommendations concerning the removal of names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia on U.S. military bases that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America.


The president has not released a Statement of Administration Policy.


A Congressional Budget Office cost estimate is not yet available.