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Alabama Takes Center Stage in New Defense Law

By Stephen Boyd and Jake Proctor

In a year defined by disfunction and discord, Congress defied the odds just prior to Christmas when it passed one of its top priorities: the annual National Defense Authorization Act. 

The legislation, now enacted into law for 63 consecutive years, positions the US military to adapt to rapidly changing security challenges around the globe. Passage of the bill marks a legislative high-water mark in a Congress that has struggled to build consensus around even the most basic aspects of governing. 

Though sometimes incorrectly termed a defense “budget,” the NDAA shapes defense policy and legally authorizes spending for the Department of Defense (DoD). Typically, congressional appropriators later sweep through to actually fund programs, though that process is in jeopardy for Fiscal Year 2024 with a major deadline looming in February.  But, if fully appropriated, the NDAA will account for $866 billion in defense-related activities, an eight percent increase over last year.

Nationally, the law provides a 5.2 percent pay raise for DoD personnel; strengthens the military relationship between the US, Australia, and the UK; provides for new ships, combat vehicles, armored vehicles, and weapon systems; and approves construction projects on military facilities around the country.  

And it’ll have a big impact here in Alabama, too.   

That makes sense given Alabama’s outsized role in supporting the US military. According to a study commissioned by the Alabama Military Stability Foundation, the economic impact of military-related spending in Alabama topped $50 billion in Fiscal Year 2019—the best data available given the COVID-19 emergency. The defense and aerospace sectors account for more than 260,000 jobs in the state and make up more than $19 billion in payroll annually. Alabama ranks as the 11th highest state in defense contract spending at more than $12.7 billion annually. 

Another factor working in Alabama’s favor: Mike Rogers. The 10th-term representative from East Alabama took the reins of the House Committee on Armed Services this year, and results followed. 

Credit Rogers for keeping the NDAA focused on strengthening military capability despite proposals – sought by some Republicans but vehemently opposed by most Democrats – on controversial social issues. On Capitol Hill, “voting math” is what really matters, and the votes needed to include those measures in the final bill simply didn’t exist in an era of divided government. Intransience would have threatened the bill and, ultimately, hurt our military. Rogers’ leadership should be commended as savvy lawmakers make the best of the situation as it is, not as they wish it might be. 

Alabama’s congressional delegation—eight of Alabama’s nine members of Congress supported the final bill—have rightly highlighted specific legislative wins benefiting Alabama and the nation’s overall national security posture. These include historic efforts to modernize the US military amid peaking tensions with China, the largest land war in Europe since World War II, and a barrage of Iran-linked attacks on US forces in the Middle East in the wake of Israel’s ongoing war against the HAMAS terror organization. These modernization efforts center on expanding missile defense and hypersonic weapons programs, bolstering of US munition stockpiles, reinvigorating shipbuilding capacity, improving infrastructure at military installations, and providing the necessary resources to attack long-standing recruiting and retention shortfalls. 

But a few provisions tucked into the new law are especially noteworthy for state leaders looking to grow Alabama’s military footprint while also attracting new defense and tech jobs to the state. 

North Alabama

The NDAA breathes new life into Huntsville’s continued efforts to become the home of US Space Command Headquarters. 

Despite the Biden Administration’s decision to unilaterally reverse the Air Force’s original selection of Redstone Arsenal in favor of Colorado Springs, the NDAA places a six-month freeze on construction of Space Command facilities in Colorado. The bill makes any further construction contingent on additional investigations of the highly politicized basing process by the Comptroller General of the US and the Department of Defense Inspector General. 

Also, in a boon for the expansive defense community in North Alabama, the NDAA authorizes $318 million in military construction projects at Redstone Arsenal and another $290 million for local research and development, procurement, and sustainment programs. 

These wins are the fruits of machine-like coordination on the armed services committees between Chairman Rogers, Rep. Dale Strong, and Senator Tommy Tuberville—and their key legislative staffers. New this Congress, Strong—who now represents the Huntsville-centric fifth congressional district—pushed hard for a seat at the armed services table and is already punching well above his weight.

Central Alabama

The new law provides authorizations for Anniston Army Depot’s mission to provide maintenance of Army tracked vehicles, including a modernized vehicle rebuild shop, paint facilities, and enhanced security at the depot. The Anniston Army Depot is the nation’s linchpin capability for the maintenance of US and allied-nation ground combat capabilities with operations in support of every major combatant command.

In Birmingham, the NDAA authorizes the construction of a new Army Reserve Center and prevents the transfer of refueling aircraft away from the Sumpter Smith National Guard Base. The bill also includes a requirement that the Air Force provide Congress with plans to modernize the base’s aging facilities. The 117th Air Refueling Wing, based at Sumpter Smith, is a highly utilized Air National Guard unit providing in-flight refueling and logistics support for military missions across the globe.

Finally, at Montgomery’s Maxwell Air Force Base and Dannelly Field, the NDAA authorizes $57 million for construction of new military family housing on the base, which serves as the Air Force’s primary education, training, and doctrine development center. The bill provides $7 million to improve infrastructure for the 187th Fighter Wing’s new F-35 aircraft, as well as a plus-up for the MH-139 Grey Wolf helicopter program. Pilots for the MH-139, which will replace the UH-1N Huey that provides support for nuclear missile field operations, will soon be trained at Maxwell. 

Rep. Terry Sewell, Alabama’s only Democrat representative who now represents large portions of the Maxwell area, joined the House Committee on Armed Services this Congress. She has been heralded by Rogers and others for her bipartisan support for military programs across the state. Rep. Gary Palmer, who represents the greater Birmingham area and whose newly drawn district encompasses Maxwell-adjacent Autauga County and Elmore County, also supported final passage of the NDAA.

South Alabama

The NDAA provides critical resources for the state’s expansive rotary wing training operations and missile production in the Wiregrass, as well as its shipbuilding communities on the Gulf Coast.  

At Fort Novosel (formerly Fort Rucker) near Ozark and Enterprise, the bill authorizes construction of much-needed barracks to support the Army’s premier aviation training facility. The bill also accelerates and increases procurement of Lakota helicopters, which are used for the early stages of Army aviator training. 

Also important to the Wiregrass, the NDAA includes more than $130 million for the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and nearly $200 million for Javelin anti-tank missiles, each of which undergo final assembly at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Troy.

Finally, the NDAA recognizes the Gulf Coast’s storied history as a provider of naval force projection, fully funding shipbuilding programs planned and underway in Mobile, while authorizing $6 billion for the Columbia submarine program, solidifying Austal as a key player in the Navy’s most advanced under sea platform. The law also creates a grant program to improve shipyard infrastructure in the region.  

Taken in sum, the NDAA authorizes strategic investments in Alabama benefiting the nation’s military posture at a decisive juncture in our modernization efforts. Now, Senator Katie Britt and Reps. Robert Aderholt and Jerry Carl—each already influential in the NDAA process—are well positioned on the powerful appropriations committees to help fund these initiatives. 

Enactment of the NDAA is an important milestone in the 118th Congress, both in the nation’s Capital and in Alabama. In Washington, congressional leaders now have a template for how Congress, even in a hyper-polarized political climate, can accomplish a great deal for the nation through bi-cameral, bi-partisan cooperation. Closer to home, the law presents numerous opportunities for state leaders seeking to leverage billions of dollars in authorized defense spending to catalyze economic growth, innovation, and job creation across the state. 


Stephen Boyd is a Partner at Horizons Global Solutions, a Huntsville-based government relations consulting firm. He was a senior Executive Branch official and a Chief of Staff in Congress. Jake Proctor is a former Alabama congressional staffer, leads government affairs for Parry Labs, and is the executive director of the Alabama Military Stability Foundation.

Jake Proctor is the executive director of the Alabama Military Stabilization Commission.

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