PASCAGOULA, Miss. (WLOX) - The latest budget from the Department of Defense shows that the U.S. Navy may have lower ship production than previously expected. The newest information from the DoD could have an impact on South Mississippi’s shipbuilding industry.
Sen. Roger Wicker released a statement this week raising concerns that the budget does not allocate enough funding to meet the goal for a 354-ship Navy fleet.
The senator’s statement says, in part:
“The Department of Defense budget request makes it clear that the current budget agreement is insufficient to ensure that our military can implement the National Defense Strategy and make the investments it needs to outpace our adversaries.”
“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.”
“Specifically, this budget proposes to procure 44 new warships in fiscal years 2021 through 2025, which is 10 ships fewer than planned over the same timeframe in last year’s request.”
For years, Wicker has developed the SHIPS Act, which was signed into law by President Trump in 2017 to boost national security on the seas.
The shipbuilding industry is the backbone of Jackson County’s economy.
“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,” said Paige Roberts, president and CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce.
Now, with some cuts possible, business leaders in the community keeping an eye on the DoD budget and contracts.
“The senator, I think, put it very well," said Roberts. “This proposed budget is ten ships short and that’s not something that we want to see here."
Roberts says Jackson County’s shipbuilding has grown stronger in the last year as Ingalls works to develop its east bank and VT Halter works on a multi-million dollar contract to build a new Polar marine cutter. She noted how a call for less production could put a kink in the momentum.
"It causes concern around here and it’s a ripple effect. There are suppliers who then are affected, even the restaurants and the schools and everything that makes the community go is directly related to the shipbuilding industry,” she said.
The Defense Department’s Budget is still it its early phases. Roberts explains that decisions made by the Department of Defense are no cause for alarm at this point.
“(It) is cause for some attention to be paid for it as people are making their projections for the future,” Roberts said. “Stakeholders in the growth of our communities are looking at it so that we won’t wake up one day and say, ‘What happened?’”
Wicker is now calling on Congress to allocate more money to the defense department. His statement continues:
“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. 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.”
Last week, Wicker introduced the Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Implementation Act. That legislation would build upon Wicker’s 2017 SHIPS Act, which was signed into law by President Trump, making it policy of the United States to reach a 355-ship Navy. The proposal would authorize the use of multiple cost-saving measures that increase industrial base stability. It would also call on the Navy to start construction on not fewer than 39 new combatant and logistics ships over the next five fiscal years.
The Navy’s 355-ship goal is the direct result of a Navy-wide “force structure assessment” from 2016 that solicited inputs from all regional commands about their current and projected needs. These projections included a recognition that the U.S. would need to significantly increase the size and capability of the Navy to counter growing threats from China and Russia.