Strategy and the Congressional National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023

U.S. national strategy documents normally do very little to meet the dictionary definition of strategy. Webster’s dictionary defines strategy as “the science and art of employing the political, economic, psychological, and military forces of a nation or group of nations to afford the maximum support to adopted policies in peace or war.” The Cambridge dictionary defines it as “a detailed plan for achieving success in situations such as war, politics, business, industry, or sports, or the skill of planning for such situations.”

All Goals, No Net Assessments, Plans, Programs, and Budgets, or Discussion of Cooperation with Strategic Partners

In practice, U.S. national strategy documents normally define broad goals and priorities without any efforts to provide a net assessment U.S. and partner capabilities relative to the threat nor explain a plan to achieve such goals, without any force plan or clear time schedule, and without any effort to describe the necessary level of resources and budgets.

The budget-request documents the Department of Defense issues each year make passing reference to strategy but are little more than the agreed shopping lists of each military service and defense agency with no ties to a strategy, major combatant command, or plan and budget. To the extent they provide something approaching a Five-Year Defense Plan (FYDP), they do little more than project current spending trends. 

A Mixed Performance by Congress

The Congress usually does a little better, while some reporting is highly partisan. Congress holds strategy hearings on key threats but tends to focus on issues that have significant domestic political impact. This year, for example, it focuses on vague (and endlessly repetitive) efforts to achieve “cost savings and reforms” that GAO audit warn are perennial exaggerations of success.

The Congress also reports on its changes to the President’s defense budget request along increasingly partisan lines. This year, the Republican side of the House Armed Services Committee circulated a summary report on the bipartisan agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2023 bill in December 2022.1 It emphasizes the fact that the agreed Authorization Act raises total national defense authorization spending from a Presidential request of $813 billion by $5 billion, and to a new total of $858 billion.

As might be expected, the Republican report refers to restoring “President Biden’s reckless cuts to our national security,” and “combating Biden’s inflation.” It states that the agreed FY2023 funding request adds $10 billion to meet the priorities of military commanders not included in the President’s budget request, and another 8% to the President’s request to meet the levels called for by President Trump, to deal with the escalation of the Chinese threat, and counter the impact of inflation on military families.

Presumably, the Democratic version of the report will take equal or more credit for the rise in spending and take credit for the improvement in cooperation with strategic partners, the President’s role in aiding the Ukraine, and for creating a more focused effort to counter China. Partisanship does, after all, reflect remarkably balanced bipartisan level of effort in attacking the other party, and one that almost never should be taken seriously.

No Serious Effort to Address Future Defense Spending Beyond FY2023

While one can never be sure, it seems likely that both the Republican and Democrat sides of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees will not address the future cost of defense and the decades long failure to address defense spend in terms of trends rather than on an annual basis. The President’s budget does include a “hollow” FYDP that is based largely on ongoing programs does not seem to reflect any real-world ability to predict future trends and ability to meet strategic needs. Effective strategic planning cannot be based on prophecy, and has to be adjusted annually, but should not fail to at least present a plan and look beyond the current year.

No Real National Security Plan or Budget

It should also be noted that neither the Congress, nor any other element of the U.S. government, seem to focus on a real integrated strategy that considers all aspects of national security spending. It is never quite clear which topline estimates of defense budgets include every aspect of the $21.4 billion request to fund nuclear weapons programs in the Department of Energy or the roughly $55 billion the U.S. plans to spend on defense-oriented intelligence agencies and activities.

What is clear is that the $858 billion total does not include Congressional action on the President’s $314 billion request for the Veteran’s Administration – a cost that has risen steadily with the need to fund an all-volunteer force and because of the political benefits to Congress in being seen as pro-military and pro-veteran.

It does not include $66 billion for State Department security assistance programs or civil aid that is tied to security goals, and it does not include the $97.2 billion request for Homeland Security that includes both key domestic security activities and the Coastguard. Seen from that perspective, the real national security budget is at least $1.34 trillion, and defense is only 64% of the total. It is also clear that the key components of that total are not formulated by Department and Agency, and without any clear effort to integrate many aspects of strategy.

A Minor Breakthrough in Tying Spending to Strategy

In fairness, however, the Congress has gone a bit further in addressing strategy in reaching its bipartisan agreement on the National Defense Authorization Act than is apparent from the unclassified national strategy documents and budget request issued by the Executive Branch.

The Republican side of the House Armed Services Act summary of the FY2023 bill agreed to by both parties and the Senate and House in December 2022 does still focus on spending by major category, and often has a partisan character, but does provide a joint summary of key aspects in military modernization and readiness for all the military services and addresses key issues like the problems in the defense industrial base, technological challenges, and critical minerals.

More importantly, it actually does tie strategy to spending in ways that are sadly missing in the near-intellectual vacuum provided by the budget request documents issued by the Department of Defense, as well as in the National Strategy documents issued by the Trump and Biden Administrations.

As is shown in the appendix that follows, these include brief summary sections on “Countering China,” “Countering Russia,” “Ukraine,” “Iran, “Afghanistan,” “Foreign Terrorist Organization,” and “North Korea.” They also address key issues – in more partisan ways – like the “Covid 19 Mandate,” “The Woke Agenda,” and “Border Security”

One can argue many details of the ways such programs are included and described, and the fact that are no substitute for a full program budget. They are, however, better than nothing – which is the level of coverage of most such issues in the President’s budget request, and especially in the Quadrennial Defense Reviews and National Strategies that the Executive Branch has issued since FY1997. Further, at least in some cases like nuclear forces, they do call for reports that would address strategic issues in depth.

Appendix A: Key Excerpts on FY2023 Defense Programs in the House Armed Service Committee Report on the Agreed FY2023 National Defense Authorization Act*

Military Modernization

The FY23 NDAA focuses investment on the research, development, and procurement of modernized capabilities needed to deter China and win the fight on future battlefields.

Shipbuilding

  • Reverses President Biden’s cuts to shipbuilding and authorizes the construction of 11 new battle force ships.
  • Puts the Navy back on track to building a 355 ship Navy.
  • Includes $1.03 billion to support expansion and modernization of the shipyard industrial base.

Aircraft, Ground, & Weapons Systems

  • Reverses President Biden’s dangerous cuts to the procurement of new aircraft, combat vehicles, autonomous systems, missiles, and ammunition.
  • Focuses investment in new and emerging weapon systems capable of penetrating denied operating environments such as China.

Research, Development, Test, & Evaluation

  • Includes unprecedented levels of investment in emerging technologies, including AI, biotechnology, quantum computing, and autonomous systems.
  • Expedites development of new battery technologies to needed to provide our warfighters with advanced weaponry.
  • Improves the test and evaluation enterprise to expedite the fielding of advanced capabilities.
  • Establishes a National Hypersonic Initiative, to accelerate the development of hypersonic missiles and catch-up to Chinese and Russian programs.
  • Invests nearly $400 million in the renovation and construction of DoD laboratories and testing facilities.

Missile Defense

  • Reverses President Biden’s cuts to missile defense.
  • Includes an additional $700 million to acquire 2 Patriot fire units to improve theater missile defense.
  • Fully funds the Guam Defense System to protect vital military assets and American citizens from Chinese and North Korean missile threats.
  • Moves forward planning for an East Coast Missile Defense Site.

Nuclear Deterrence

  • Accelerates funding for the modernization of our nuclear triad, providing an additional $500 million for infrastructure upgrades and plutonium pit and high explosives production.
  • Restores funding for nuclear sea-launched cruise missile (SLCM-N) canceled by President Biden. SLCM-N fills a critical deterrence gap in our nuclear triad by providing a low-yield, flexible option.
  • Prohibits any reduction in the number of intercontinental ballistic missiles or the retiring or reconverting of our low-yield nuclear warheads.
  • Prohibits the retirement of the B-83 Gravity Bomb until DoD submits a plan for its replacement.
  • Requires an assessment of nuclear strategy, policy, posture, and capabilities to ensure U.S. strategic deterrence in the near and long term.

Military & Industrial Base Readiness

The FY23 NDAA continues efforts to improve readiness and ensure our military is ready to fight.

Military Readiness

  • Prohibits the decommissioning of 12 battle force ships with decades of service life remaining.
  • Prohibits the divestment of certain strike fighter, electronic warfare, and intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft to ensure continued air superiority in the near-term.
  • Provides an additional $2.5 billion to cover the cost of record fuel prices left unbudgeted by the Biden administration.
  • Funds flying hours across all services at maximum executable levels.
  • Provides for the responsible defueling of Red Hill, while ensuring adequate bulk fuels stores in the Indo-Pacific.

Military Construction & Facility Improvements

  • Reverses President Biden’s cuts to military construction.
  • Authorizes $15.5 billion for military construction and military family housing projects throughout the United States and around the world.
  • Includes an additional $3.8 billion to cover the unbudgeted costs of inflation in ongoing military construction projects.
  • Includes historic levels of investment to accelerate depot and shipyard maintenance projects and expedite facility improvements across all services.

Industrial Base

  • Provides temporary acquisition flexibilities to support the Ukraine conflict and U.S. national security.
  • Increases DoD stocks of critical munitions, provides material and related services to allies and partners that have supported Ukraine, and provides materials and services to Ukraine.
  • Requires annual assessments of DoD’s ability to replenish critical munition inventories that address air superiority, interdiction, air, and missile defense, and hard and deeply buried target mission areas.
  • Includes historic levels of capital investment in organic depot, shipyard, and ammunition industrial base facilities.
  • Requires strategic assessments of gaps and competitiveness in the defense industrial base for production of small arms, additive manufacturing, microelectronics, biotechnology, critical minerals, space systems, hypersonics, and textiles.
  • Requires a demonstration exercise of industrial mobilization and supply chain management planning in support of operational or continency scenarios to help inform industrial base readiness solutions.
  • Codifies rapid acquisition authority to quickly procure and sustain technologies needed to meet urgent operational requirements. These technologies must be fielded within 2-24 months and not require substantial development.

Critical Minerals

  • Provides acquisition authority for strategic and critical minerals to address shortfalls.
  • Authorizes $1 billion for the acquisition of materials determined to be strategic and critical materials required to meet the defense, industrial, and essential civilian needs of the United States.

Countering China

The FY23 NDAA provides the overmatch we need to deter Chinese aggression.

Deterrence

  • Authorizes over $11 billion for the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, ensuring full funding of training and operations, expedited construction of defense infrastructure, and the timely deployment of weapons systems and logistics throughout Indo-Pacific to deter Chinese aggression.
  • Increases funding for new asymmetric warfare tools, enables forward deployments, strengthens our space capabilities, secures critical communications, and funds essential military construction in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Provides the Commandant of the Marine Corps the ships and resources needed to enable forcible entry options in the Indo-Pacific.
  • Requires a new look at our logistics and basing operations in the Pacific to ensure that U.S. forces are ready to fight and have the tools they need to win the fight.

Support for Taiwan and Pacific Allies

  • Reaffirms U.S. support to the defense of Taiwan.
  • Reaffirms Indo-Pacific Command’s authority to conduct joint exercises with Taiwan, no matter what the Chinese say.
  • Invites Taiwan to join the Rim of the Pacific Exercise in 2024 to improve the readiness of their forces and send a message to Beijing.
  • Fully funds military exercises with our allies and partners in the Pacific to counter China’s growing reach.

Supply Chain Security

  • Prohibits the procurement of goods produced in CCP-run concentration camps and factories in the XUAR.
  • Restricts the sale of certain Chinese products in U.S. military base exchanges or commissaries.
  • Prohibits DOD contractors from procuring Chinese made drones.
  • _Improves tracking of Chinese companies and universities working with the Chinese military to better protect American innovation.
  • Requires assessments of Chinese efforts to infiltrate our defense supply chain through acquisition of defense industrial base companies and sources of raw materials and critical minerals.
  • Requires contractors to disclose the provenance of certain critical components in weapons systems.

Countering Chinese Malign Influence

  • Prohibits the DoD from providing support to any film, television, or entertainment project where the sponsor seeks preapproval of content from the CCP.
  • Requires an assessment of Chinese acquisition of port infrastructure and other Chinese investments worldwide that impact U.S. national security.
  • Requires DoD to submit a plan for resources and authorities needed to counter Chinese influence operations in Africa.
  • Requires an assessment of China's efforts to expand its military presence and influence in Africa.
  • Requires DoD to provide Congress with a plan to improve defense cooperation with Caribbean nations to combat Chinese influence in the country.

Countering Russia

The FY23 NDAA continues our efforts to defend our nation and our allies from Russian aggression.

Deterrence

  • Fully funds the European Deterrence Initiative.
  • Fully funds EUCOM Combatant Commander priorities left unfunded by the Biden budget.
  • Authorizes $225 million for the Baltic Security Initiative.
  • Includes an additional $700 to acquire additional Patriot Fire Units to improve U.S. and allied missile defense in Europe.
  • Requires a strategy and resourcing plan to adapt U.S. force posture to support NATO allies.
  • Fully funds EUCOM military construction projects and includes an additional $50 million to plan new U.S. military facilities on NATO’s Eastern Front.
  • Requires U.S. bases in Europe to adopt installation energy plans to reduce reliance on Russian energy and sets a goal of eliminating the use of Russian energy entirely.
  • Expresses support for Norway and Sweden to join NATO.
  • Continues the prohibition on U.S. military cooperation with Russia.

Ukraine

  • Requires the DoD, State, and USAID Inspector Generals to regularly carry out comprehensive reviews and audits of assistance provided to Ukraine.
  • Authorizes $800 million for the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative.
  • Provides temporary acquisition flexibilities to support the Ukraine conflict and U.S. national security.
  • Requires quarterly briefings on efforts to replenish and revitalize stocks of tactical missiles provided to Ukraine.
  • Authorizes the acquisition of additional lethal UAVs for Ukraine.
  • Authorizes the replenishment of defense equipment provided by allies to Ukraine.
  • Requires publicly available reports on Russian aggression in Ukraine.
  • Continues prohibitions on expenditure of funds on any activities that recognize Russian sovereignty over Crimea.
  • Requires the DoD to provide Congress with all documents governing intelligence sharing with Ukraine.

Countering Other Adversaries

The FY23 NDAA remains focused on countering threats to national security from state sponsors of terror,
foreign terrorist organizations, and other adversaries.

Iran

  • Prohibits the use of DoD aircraft to transfer frozen currency reserves or other assets to Iran.
  • Requires an assessment of Iranian nuclear and missile capabilities and its export of such technology.
  • Improves oversight of Iran’s support for terrorist proxies.
  • Requires a publicly available report on the military capabilities and threats posed by the Iranian regime.
  • Requires an assessment of ties between Iranian linked groups and Russia and China.

Afghanistan

  • Prohibits the use of DoD aircraft to transfer frozen currency reserves or other items of value to the Taliban or the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.
  • Fully funds CENTCOM Combatant Commander’s priorities left unfunded in Biden’s budget.
  • Requires the Administration to define “over the horizon counterterrorism operations” and provide additional details to aid in oversight of the failed Afghanistan withdrawal.
  • Continues and improves regular reporting requirements on terrorist threats emanating from Afghanistan, the ability of the U.S. to conduct counterterrorism and hostage rescue operations, and cooperation between the Taliban and China, Russia, or Iran.

Foreign Terrorist Organizations

  • Extends the authority and fully funds DoD activities and partner support to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
  • Extend the prohibition on moving terrorists housed at Guantanamo Bay to prisons in the United States.
  • Prohibits the transfer of terrorists housed at Guantanamo Bay to Afghanistan or any country that is a state sponsor of terrorism.
  • Authorizes over $550 million in intelligence and Special Operations Command priorities left unfunded in Biden’s budget.
  • Requires an interagency plan to stem the flow of illegal narcotics that fund the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
  • Prohibits DoD from making any funds available to the Badr terrorist organization in Iraq.

North Korea

  • Fully funds U.S. Forces Korea and military construction projects in South Korea.
  • Expands existing annual assessments of North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities and its export
    of such technology.
  • Expands existing annual assessments of military capabilities and threats posed by the North Korean
    regime.

Other Defense Priorities

COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate

  • Rescinds the COVID-19 vaccination mandate on all active and reserve component servicemembers.
  • Ends servicemember separations for failure to take the COVID-19 vaccine.
  • Encourages the Secretary of Defense to use the authority Congress gave him to ensure all servicemembers discharged for refusing the COVID-19 vaccine receive full veterans benefits and to retroactively provide ineligible former servicemembers such benefits.
  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on efforts to standardize the religious and administrative vaccine exemption process across all services.
  • Requires the Secretary of Defense to report to Congress on the impact the COVID-19 vaccine mandate is having on recruiting and retention.
  • Requires a report to Congress on the prevalence of cardiac and kidney issues in servicemembers prior to and following the COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Combating the Woke Agenda

  • Ensures Army fitness standards for combat duty are the same for both genders.
  • Prohibits the Secretary from modifying the scope of medical care at military medical treatment facilities without first notifying Congress.
  • Reinforces the rights of parents of children attending DoD schools to review curriculum, instructional materials, and disciplinary policies.

Border Security

  • Fully funds the National Guard’s operation and maintenance account to support a border deployment.
  • Requires quarterly briefings to Congress on DOD support for DHS at the southwest border. a report on National Guard efforts to counter the flow of narcotics, human trafficking, and transnational criminal organizations at the Southwest Border.
  • Requires the President to submit a report to Congress on security and law enforcement cooperation with Mexico, multinational efforts to strengthen judicial processes against cartels, and an assessment of national security impacts of cartel-controlled areas and activities.

Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

© 2022 by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. All rights reserved
1Source: House Armed Services Committee, FY23 National Defense Authorization Act, December 5, 2022,https://republicansarmedservices.house.gov/sites/republicans.armedservices.house.gov/files/Final%20FY23%20NDAA%20Conf%20Highlights.pdf.