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US Congress sends US$700b defence bill for Trump's signature

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The US Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly authorised US$700 billion in national defence spending for next year, a substantial increase over Donald Trump's request, and sent the measure to the president for his signature.

[WASHINGTON] The US Congress on Thursday overwhelmingly authorised US$700 billion in national defence spending for next year, a substantial increase over Donald Trump's request, and sent the measure to the president for his signature.

The National Defence Authorisation Act of 2018 is a negotiated compromise between the two chambers of Congress. The Senate passed it Thursday on a unanimous voice vote, two days after it cleared the House on a vote of 356 to 70.

The bill is some US$26 billion above Mr Trump's initial military budget requests, and about 15 per cent higher than the authorisation in 2016, the last full year of Barack Obama's presidency.

It provides for US$626 billion in base budget requirements, US$66 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations, or warfighting, and an additional US$8 billion for other defence activities.

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Increased spending is allocated for new F-35 fighter jets, ships and M1 Abrams tanks, military pay is raised by 2.4 per cent and US$4.9 billion is reserved for Afghanistan security forces, including a program integrating women into the country's national defence.

It also authorises US$12.3 billion for the Missile Defence Agency to bolster homeland, regional, and space missile defences, including the expansion of ground-based interceptors and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system, which has been recently deployed in South Korea.

The figure is substantially more than Trump's baseline missile defense request, at a time of heightened tensions with North Korea over its testing of nuclear devices and ballistic missiles.

Lawmakers including Senator John McCain, a defence hawk who routinely berates administrations for not spending enough to improve defence readiness, praised the bill's passage as a sign Congress was eager to rebuild military strength.

Mr McCain said he hoped Mr Trump would sign the measure and "acknowledge that this is the level of defence spending necessary to meet current threats, prepare for the challenges of an increasingly dangerous world, and keep faith with our men and women in uniform."

AFP

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