SASC Version of NDAA Released, Contains $10 Million to Solve F-35 Hypoxia-like Problems

The Senate Armed Services Committee's markup of the Fiscal 2018 defense authorization bill seeks to identify a cause of hypoxia-like symptoms in Air Force and Marine Corps F-35A pilots, as well as Navy Hornet, Super Hornet, Growler, and Goshawk pilots. Here, ?Maj. Brian Bann, an F-35 pilot, shuts down a Norwegian F-35 Lightning II before exiting the aircraft, June 29, 2017, at Luke AFB, Ariz. Air Force photo by SSgt. Jensen Stidham.

The full version of the Senate Armed Services Committee’s markup of the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has been released, offering a first indication of new military policies the Senate may want to enact in 2018.

The markup includes a $10 million authorization for a “prize competition” that would “determine the root cause of physiological episodes” on Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force aircraft. The Navy has struggled with hypoxia-like episodes in aircrews of F/A–18 Hornet and Super Hornet, EA–18G Growler, and T–45 Goshawk aircraft. The Marine Corps and the Air Force have each grounded some F-35s recently over similar episodes. The Air Force in late June resumed F-35 operations at Luke AFB, Ariz., under new safety precautions but but has yet to identify a root cause.

SASC also wants to limit the appropriation of funds for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter follow-on modernization program until the Secretary of Defense delivers a final report on “the cost, schedule, and performance progress” of the program that was required by the 2017 NDAA. Committee chairman Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) has been a sharp, consistent critic of the F-35 program’s acquisition strategy.

The markup also requires three independent studies of “alternative aircraft inventories through 2030” for the Air Force. SASC wants the studies to include “a force-sizing construct for the Air Force that connects national security strategy to aircraft inventories.”

The SASC version of the NDAA does not contain a provision to create a separate Space Corps, as the House has proposed. It would, however, extend the term of appointment of the Commander of Air Force Space Command to six years in order to provide greater continuity for National Security Space operations. The Senate has also included a statement classifying space as a combat domain.

In concert with another House proposal, SASC’s markup commits the US to working to bring Russia back into compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, including “the establishment of a research and development program for a dual-capable, road-mobile, ground-launched missile system with a maximum range of 5,500 kilometers.” The House version originally contained nearly identical language but was moderated by a later amendment.

Another SASC provision calls for US Strategic Command and US Cyber Command to conduct an annual joint review of the cyber resiliency of US nuclear command and control systems.

The markup also stipulates that “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize an additional Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round.” HASC’s mark contains an identical provision, though lawmakers have introduced an amendment, which will be debated before the full House this week, to add BRAC to the law.