5G and Non-ionizing Radiation in House and Senate Proposals of National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020:
Before the House and Senate departed for August recess, both chambers passed their respective versions of this year’s National Defense Authorization Act(NDAA). The annual legislation updates policy for the Department of Defense and National Nuclear Security Administration and always includes numerous provisions bearing on R&D, the nuclear weapons complex, and other science-related matters.
When lawmakers return to Washington in September, a conference committee will convene to reconcile the bills into a final version. Traditionally, the committee reaches a bipartisan compromise, which has enabled the enactment of an NDAA for 57 years in a row. Congress moved unusually quickly last year, completing its work well in advance of the new fiscal year, which starts on Oct. 1. However, things are unlikely to go quite so smoothly this time around.
Democrats’ takeover of the House has empowered them to hold their ground on some of their highest priorities, which led them to pass the House NDAA bill without any Republican votes. Now, it will be up to conferees to work through a number of contentious issues, among them a proposal to block the Trump administration from deploying new low-yield nuclear weapons. There is, though, less dispute about creating a new space-oriented military service branch — President Trump’s widely publicized “Space Force” — which is set to begin its existence in a relatively modest form.
Another question is whether the final NDAA will incorporate legislation setting policy for U.S. intelligence agencies, which the Senate included in its bill but the House passed separately. The two versions of that legislation contain their own science-related provisions, which are included in this review.
Space Force. The House and Senate both propose creating an independent branch of the armed services for space operations within the Department of the Air Force, analogous to the position of the Marine Corps in the Navy Department. The Senate bill adopts President Trump’s “Space Force” nomenclature, whereas the House retains the “Space Corps” label it used when it proposed a similar idea two years ago. The objective of the move is to elevate and harmonize DOD’s various space programs. However, the new branch would not subsume certain space-oriented military and intelligence entities, including the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.
Weather satellites. The House proposes requiring NRO to procure a “pathfinder” satellite for launch by the beginning of 2023 to mitigate the risk of a potential gap in weather and cloud characterization data. The provision would also require the Air Force to procure an electro-optical/infrared weather satellite for launch by the end of September 2025. Frustrated over ongoing difficulties with DOD’s weather satellite programs, the House Armed Services Committee has previously moved toward transferring responsibility for them to NRO.
Space-based sensor architecture. DOD is currently authorized to develop a new space-based sensor architecture for detecting hostile missiles, pending the appropriation of funding. The Senate bill encourages DOD’s Missile Defense Agency to pursue the system “as soon as technically feasible,” with the goal of beginning testing in space by the end of 2021. The House bill would specifically authorize DOD to develop a “hypersonic and ballistic missile tracking sensor payload” for the architecture.