By Judy Bell – March 18, 2020
Legislation introduced on Feb. 6 has brought the U.S. Navy a step closer to reaching a 355-ship goal, underscoring a commitment to bring consistent business to shipbuilders throughout the country.
The bill, known as Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Implementation Act, was introduced by Sen. Roger F. Wicker (R-Miss) and builds on 2017 legislation that he sponsored with Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.), requiring the Navy to work toward a 355-ship fleet. Also known as S. 3258, within the bill proposed earlier this month, findings state that a “355-ship battle force is the level that balances an acceptable level of warfighting risk to Navy equipment and personnel against available resources and achieves a force size that can reasonably achieve success.”
The specific number comes from figures laid out by a 2016 Navy Force Structure Assessment (FSA). In a press release from that year, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus explained that the 355-ship estimate would serve to protect the country and defend strategic interests globally.
For example, information from the SHIPS Implementation Act points out that China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy has surpassed the U.S. naval fleet. By 2025, estimates suggest that China’s fleet may reach 400 ships.
“That is why, working with Congress and our partners in industry, we have successfully reversed the decline in shipbuilding that occurred from 2001-2009, putting 86 ships under contract over the last seven years,” Mabus said in the 2016 press release.
The SHIPS Implementation Act states that in the years from 2021 to 2025, the Navy should begin constructing:
- 12 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers
- 10 Virginia-class submarines
- 6 John Lewis-class fleet oilers
- 5 guided missile frigates
- 3 San Antonio-class amphibious ships
- 2 Columbia-class submarines
- 1 LHA-class amphibious ship
In addition, the 2020 bill suggests that when design and construction readiness permit, “new guided missile frigate construction should increase to a rate of between two and four ships per year.”
Strengthening the Budget
In Wicker’s weekly report on Feb. 10, he pointed out that the shipbuilding budget has come in $4 to $5 billion short over the last three years. The SHIPS Implementation Act would mitigate this and help the Navy reach the goal by suggesting the above vessels while also authorizing specific measures to save on costs.
Cost-savings plans, as suggested by the bill, include the use of incremental funding, multiyear procurement contracts, and condition for out-year contract payments.
“These steps would reassure our shipbuilders that the U.S. is committed to rebuilding the Navy,” Wicker stated in his Feb. 10 address. “Our shipyards in Mississippi, as well as those in New England, Wisconsin, and California, rely on a stable rate of production to hire, train, and invest in their employees. This legislation would provide them the certainty they need.
“The bill would also ensure that the Navy is devoting adequate time and resources to develop the cutting-edge technologies that our newest vessels will need at sea. All of these measures together would help to lower costs and free up more resources for shipbuilding within an already tight Navy budget.”
The proposed $705B DoD budget was released days after the SHIPS Implementation Act was introduced. That budget earmarks $21.5B for the Navy, which Wicker said is insufficient. “I am especially concerned that the budget proposal released today does not provide adequate funding to the Navy for shipbuilding, which is necessary to reach our statutory national policy of 355 ships and ensure that our fleet remains unrivaled at sea,” he said in a statement after the budget was released.
Across the country, shipyards that could be impacted by the SHIPS Implementation Act are looking at possible impacts of both the proposed bill and DoD budget.
For example, in South Mississippi, shipbuilding is critical to the region’s economy. Paige Roberts, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce, pointed out to local news station WLOX that the proposed Department of Defense (DoD) budget could cut ship production. “This proposed budget is ten ships short and that’s not something that we want to see here,” she said. “We build the best warships in the world and we want to keep being able to do that for our country and our patriotism extends to that as well.”
“Congress and the administration should come together to fund the defense department at a responsible level, which senior defense leaders have said is 3 to 5 percent above inflation annually,” Wicker said in his Feb. 10 reflection on the DoD budget. “As the defense appropriations process progresses, I will take every opportunity to ensure our military service members across the Armed Forces receive the tools, equipment, training, and innovation they need to keep us safe.”
Judy Bell has been with Ameri-Force since 2013 and currently serves as the Director of Gulf Coast Operations. Judy has a strong background in recruiting and human resources dating back to 2002. She has a reputation of building lasting relationships with candidates who know she will work tirelessly to keep them working.