The Senate late Monday passed a $716 billion defense bill that included $116 million expansion of the National Air and Space Intelligence Center - one of the largest projects in Wright-Patterson’s recent history.
By a vote of 85-10, the Senate passed its version of the defense bill, which authorizes defense programs for the 2019 federal spending year that begins in October. Both Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, voted in support of the bill.
The House version of the defense bill, which passed last month, authorized $182 million for the full NASIC project, but it would be paid out or appropriated over a number of years starting with $61 million in the first year.
The differences between the two versions will have to be worked out in a conference committee before a final appropriations bill is passed.
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U.S. Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, whose district includes Wright-Patterson, had pushed for authorization of the entire construction cost.
The Air Force had asked for $116 million in its initial budget request and was expected to ask for the remainder in future years, according to a spokeswoman for Portman. Portman’s office had initially indicated the senator would pursue additional funding, but the Air Force had requested the additional amounts in 2020-2023, a spokeswoman said.
The expansion is expected to relieve overcrowding at the secretive intelligence center, where some employees share desks and work in shifts. NASIC has added about 100 people a year between 2000 and 2015, spokeswoman Michelle Martz said.
Loren B. Thompson, a Virginia-based senior defense analyst with the Lexington Institute and a defense industry consultant, said with the return of great power competition with Russia and China, NASIC’s intelligence analysis will be in growing and greater demand and bring “total job security.”
“Making China and Russia the focus of our military strategy increases the importance of what NASIC does. After all, terrorists and insurgents like the Taliban don’t have air forces or space programs, whereas China and Russia do,” he said in an email.
He added that NASIC “is central to understanding the state of aerospace technology from missile defenses to stealthy aircraft in the countries that will likely remain America’s key competitors through mid-century.
“China and Russia are the only two countries in the world that have the ability to destroy the U.S. economy, and perhaps our democracy, with their nuclear arsenals,” he said. “So working at NASIC in the years ahead is likely to offer the closest thing to total job security that you can find in modern-day America.”
Saves jobs at Research Lab
Separately, the defense bill also blocked the transfer of a manufacturing technology office with 55 jobs from the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson to the Pentagon.
The Pentagon had planned to move the office, which had been at Wright-Patterson since 1987, last Oct. 1, archives show. But Brown sponsored a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act to keep the jobs at Wright-Patt.
Brown and three of his congressional colleagues had sent a letter last August to Secretary of Defense James Mattis warning the move could lead to “disorganized and haphazard development” of future programs and put at risk dozens of active projects.
Brown praised the inclusion of the provision in the defense bill Monday.
“The workers at the Lab have the deep institutional knowledge and experience we need to continue making these defense manufacturing investments, and to oversee the program to ensure current projects are successful and cost-effective,” he said.
Charlie Ward, chief of the AFRL manufacturing and technologies division, said in a statement there were no plans to move the manufacturing and industrial technologies division to Washington.