House-Senate conferees completed work late Thursday night on a $447 billion fiscal 2005 defense authorization bill that would permit the Army and Marines to increase their troop strength and authorize the design of a second next-generation Navy destroyer and the acquisition of two dozen F/A-22 Raptor fighters for the Air Force.
The conference agreement is expected to come to a vote in both chambers before Congress recesses for the election.
Under the final conference report, the Army would be permitted to increase its troop strength by 20,000 soldiers and the Marines by 3,000 in fiscal 2005, with further increases through fiscal 2009.
The bill also eliminates a decade-old ceiling on military housing privatization programs that would have been reached before the end of the new fiscal year. It provides a new healthcare benefit for reservists by authorizing TRICARE coverage for Reserve members who served on extended active duty, and authorizes the immediate concurrent payment of retirement pay and veterans’ disability compensation for military retirees who are rated as 100 percent disabled.
The bill authorizes an additional $572 million to buy more armored Humvees and $100 million for ballistic bolt-on armor for wheeled vehicles, both with continued military action in Iraq and Afghanistan in mind.
In the wake of disclosures about abuse of prisoners held by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan, the bill requires Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to ensure the humane treatment of prisoners detained in armed conflict and to make a report to Congress. Conferees also agreed to authorize a 3.5 percent pay raise for military personnel.
Among significant weapons procurement decisions, conferees agreed to authorize $1.492 billion for the Navy’s DD(X) next-generation destroyer program, including $84.4 million to begin detailed design of the second ship of the class. That had been included in the Senate version of the bill, but the House had reduced construction funding by $221 million over its skepticism about the ship’s advanced technology systems.
Conferees agreed to authorize $50 million to modernize the existing DDG-51 class of AEGIS destroyers, about half the amount the House had wanted. They also authorized $4 billion in funding for 24 Air Force F/A-22 Raptor fighters. Conferees added $30 million to accelerate the development of a new bomber for the Air Force, something the administration did not request and the House bill authorized at $100 million.
Conferees earlier resolved more controversial disagreements, including a decision to nullify the Air Force’s plan to lease Boeing KC-767 planes to serve as refueling tankers and require the service to buy up to 100 aircraft through the normal procurement process. That approach was supported by both Senate Armed Services Chairman John Warner, R-Va., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., a critic of the Boeing lease plan.
There still appeared to be some disagreement between House and Senate conferees about whether the language would require full and open competition for any new tanker contract.
Another compromise would allow the planned 2005 round of military base closings to move ahead — the House had wanted to delay them for two years — but requires the Base Realignment and Closure Commission to muster a supermajority to add any military facility to the list recommended by the Defense secretary. It also amends the Pentagon’s base selection criteria to ensure that the Defense secretary considers the ability of military infrastructure to accommodate surge requirements.