More money for 5G, AI could make it into 2020 NDAA

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, wants to add $17 billion to the top-line defense budget with boosts to tech initiatives.

A showdown is brewing over the top-line defense budget.

Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-Texas), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, submitted an amendment June 11 to add $17 billion to the top-line defense budget to match the White House proposal of $750 billion. The amendment also proposes increasing funds for 5G testing, artificial intelligence and the Pentagon's fast acquisition arm, the Defense Innovation Unit.

"What I am doing with this amendment is to restore the funds to the level requested," Thornberry told reporters during a Defense Writers Group breakfast event June 11.

Much of the amendment's requested increase supports personnel and readiness efforts, chiefly a $1.2 billion increase for service member pay, retirement and housing, as well as $2.3 billion for disaster relief for military bases and replenishing construction funds "diverted for border barriers."

Thornberry said his proposal avoids controversial issues, such as the border wall funding that was included in the Defense Department's proposed budget, and instead focuses on "core military needs."

Those capabilities include 5G test locations, AI and other critical technology efforts ($261 million); the Rapid Innovation Fund, which targets small-business-developed tech ($250 million); unmanned surface vessels ($246.3 million); and Defense Innovation Unit investment activities ($75 million).

"One of the things I wanted to make really clear is that $750 [billion], which is right about 3% real growth, enables us to do very specific, concrete things that are important to national security," he said. Thornberry added that increasing the defense budget at least 3% was needed to stay competitive with Russia and China.

The amendment challenges the bill from the Democratic majority on the committee that proposed $733 billion for defense. HASC Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) told reporters on June 10 that he didn't want to authorize more money for DOD than it had planned to use.

But Democrats could be in for a dust-up. When asked whether he would vote against the bill if the increased funding weren't requested, Thornberry hedged, saying Republicans want to vote for the bill but won't support anything that sets back national security interests.

"If you say, no we're not going to fund these things, that's a big deal," he said, without saying whether or not he would vote the bill down without his amendment.

"Without question, all Republican members on the committee want to vote yes on this bill…. We are just not going to participate on moving us backwards."

A version of this article first appeared on FCW, a sibling publication of Defense Systems. 


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