This story has been updated to note that the $440 million in the NDAA may be spent on one of two ship designs.
The final version of next year’s defense budget bill allocates extra money to the Navy for procurement of a new warship, but it also demands the service produce reports on a controversial ship acquisition program and several much-discussed changes to the female dress uniform.
Overall, the service would get a modest end strength bump from 322,900 to 323,900 under the plan and see a relatively small increase in shipbuilding funds from what was recommended in the president’s fiscal 2017 budget request.
The National Defense Authorization Act increases the number by nearly $526.7 million to roughly $18.88 billion, with most of that increase going to a $440 million down payment on another landing platform dock (LPD 29) amphibious ship, or an L(X)R, the planned amphibious ship replacement.
That money will allow procurement of the LPD 29 or L(X)R to begin in 2017, instead of 2018 as had been planned.
Tucked inside the NDAA, however, are several stern accountability measures. The bill requires the secretary of defense to submit a report on the littoral combat ship‘s mission package for every fiscal year from 2017 to 2022, including plans for development, projected unit costs, and projected development costs, as well as problems encountered during the year and test milestones accomplished.
The embattled LCS was the subject of a fiery Senate Armed Services Committee hearing this week, as lawmakers expressed outrage that the ship, which has more than doubled in unit cost from $220 million to $478 million, is falling short of planned capability goals and may not be survivable in combat.
The bill also prohibits the secretary of defense from completing a downselect to one contractor for the LCS before an improved frigate design has “reached sufficient maturity” and completed a design review to minimize the possibility of future contracting disappointments.
The NDAA also requires a report from the secretary of the Navy on the minehunting capabilities of the LCS, laying out the requirements for the minehunting mission package and key milestones, to be submitted no later than April 2018.
The mine countermeasures package of the LCS has also come under scrutiny and has so far failed to live up to the promise of the initial design, according to a report released this week from the Pentagon’s director of Operational Test and Evaluation.
The defense budget bill would retroactively change the date that female sailors are required to wear the new alternate or unisex combination cover from Oct. 31 of this year to Oct. 31, 2018. The dress cover, designed to look like the men’s, replaces the women’s “bucket hat” cover in a move initiated by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to make uniforms more gender-neutral.
The move earned criticism among lawmakers, who said Mabus did not follow proper uniform procedures, and among some women who complained about having to purchase a new, expensive uniform item.
The NDAA also requires a report from the secretary of the Navy by Feb. 1, 2017, including an evaluation of the Navy’s female service dress uniforms, including feedback from female officers and enlisted sailors. The report must explain the operational need behind the unisex uniform items, an assessment of cost to service members as a percentage of their monthly pay, costs to the Navy, and opinions from active-duty female sailors on the change, the bill states.
The defense budget bill still must be approved by the president for all these provisions to become law.