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Senator Wicker at a Shipyard

Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Adm. Mike Gilday and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) Russ Smith visit Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) in Pascagoula with Senator Roger Wicker and Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith. U.S. Navy photo by Cmdr. Nathan Christensen/Released

Senator Wicker Advocates For US Shipyard Act

John Konrad
Total Views: 8039
May 4, 2023

by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) Yesterday on the floor of Congress, Roger Wicker, the senior United States senator from Mississippi, addressed his fellow lawmakers about an issue that has been gnawing at the very fabric of our nation’s security: the shrinking size of the US Navy in the face of a growing Chinese naval force. With the weight of history on his shoulders, Wicker asked the Senate to pass the US Shipyard Act, a bold move to revitalize maritime infrastructure and regain the nation’s footing in the world’s waters.

Wicker paints a stark picture of the current state of the US Navy, contrasting it with China’s rapid growth. He cites an alarming report predicting that by the end of this decade, China will have a fleet of 440 warships while the US will have only 290. The Chinese fleet’s expansion poses a direct threat not only to the United States but also to our allies in the region, including Japan, the Philippines, and Taiwan.

It’s a sobering reminder that the nation’s security has always been closely tied to naval power. Victories in the American Revolution, a rise to global prominence in the 19th century, and triumphs in two World Wars all hinged on the US Navy’s ability to command the seas. The stakes are high, and the pressure on the US Navy to fix longstanding shipbuilding issues is immense.

In April 2021 he, along with colleagues, introduced an act to designate $21 billion for the Navy’s four public shipyards in Virginia, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington, $2 billion for major Navy private new construction shipyards, and $2 billion for Navy private repair shipyards.

Senator Wicker does not shy away from pointing out the failures of the current administration in meeting Congress’s requirements for a 355-ship fleet. He decries the “strategic pause” that has left our sailors ill-equipped and our ships in disrepair. Technicians cannibalize parts from other destroyers to keep the fleet afloat, while the once-mighty USS Connecticut and USS Boise languish in drydock for years on end.

But Senator Wicker believes there is hope. His US Shipyard Act proposed a $25 billion investment in maritime infrastructure, empowering our shipyards to build the future of the US Navy fleet. He calls for increased funding for submarine production, the addition of a second shipyard for Constellation-class frigate construction, and the acceleration of purchases of unmanned platforms and long-range munitions.

While details of the Shipyard Act have yet to fully emerge there are systemic issues with shipbuilding that have, so far, gone unaddressed by this bill. First and foremost is the fact that money spent via the US Navy often gets lost in NAVSEA program offices as they conduct studies and change requirements leading to cost overruns and delays. In what gCaptain has termed The Badger Problem, resources are squandered by well-meaning civil servants working at cross purposes. Not mentioned is the fact the only large government shipbuilding project near budget and schedule is the National Security Multi-Mission Vessels (NSMV) shipbuilding program run by the US Maritime Administration.

These new NSMV ships are close to meeting targets because the Navy stepped aside from the project, outsourcing a significant portion of the oversight and planning to a corporate entity, Tote Services, who in turn outsourced much of the project to Korean firms that have imported many supplies from overseas manufacturers.

Senator Wicker does not mention other critical Navy shortages like US Navy working ships and the 100+ ship shortage in oil tankers and sealift capacity. A shortage that is even more relevant today with the vulnerability of pipelines (as seen with the Nord Stream explosions) and the closure of Red Hill, the world’s largest underground fuel and ship bunker storage facility.

Also not addressed in this speech are the financial incentives. Under the current system, most shipbuilding subsidies flow do not flow through the US Navy (they are the customer) but through the US Maritime Administration – an organization run by the so-called Ghost Admiral and known for secrecy and failure. This organization is currently sitting on multiple LNG terminal permits that are critically needed to boost energy exports. Many banks and Wall Street funds refuse to lend to shipyards that accept MARAD money because of the lack of transparency – MARAD has not completed a basic shipyard survey required by many banks since 2004 – and paperwork delays.

If the money gets distributed to the US Navy directly you run into another problem, US Navy admirals do not understand Wall Street and are hesitant to learn about new financial engineering tools used by most large infrastructure funds today. This lack of knowledge leads shipyard to junk bond financing while more favorable lending terms flood overseas to China. At a recent navy conference, gCaptain interviewed several top leaders about the fire-sale of VT Halter Marine – a shipyard with billions in government contracts (including critical icebreakers) that had invested hundreds of millions in upgrades – for just $15 million.

These are just a few of the problems with throwing money at shipyards expecting results. That said the first step in recovery is admitting you have a problem. In his speech, Senator Wicker takes this brave first step, which stands in stark contrast to the Navy’s official position highlighted in the recent 60 minutes interview with the top US Navy Admiral Mike Gilday who said the US Navy is ready to meet any threat posed by China.

A Truman Committee For Shipbuilding

The Truman Committee of 1941 could provide the template for Seantor Wicker. Officially known as the Senate Special Committee to Investigate the National Defense Program, was a distinguished bipartisan United States Congressional investigative body led by Senator Harry S. Truman. Established in March 1941, the committee’s primary objective was to identify and rectify issues in US war production, such as waste, inefficiency, and war profiteering.

Regarded as one of the most successful government-led investigative endeavors in US history, the Truman Committee utilized an initial budget of $15,000, which was expanded to $360,000 over three years. Through its diligent efforts, the committee achieved remarkable results, saving an estimated $10-15 billion in military spending and, more importantly, the lives of thousands of American servicemen.

Conclusion

The urgency of this moment in history cannot be overstated. As Wicker reminds the nation, we are in our most dangerous national security moment since World War Two. He invokes the words of Winston Churchill, who once wrote that “the foundation of all our hopes and dreams was the immense shipbuilding program of the United States.” Today, the peace and security of the free world depend on our Navy once more.

In a world where the waves of change are relentless, the US Shipyard Act hopes to ensure America does not merely ride the waves but commands them. The seas may be vast and unforgiving, but with a revitalized Navy, the United States will sail on a rising tide, ready to face the challenges of the 21st century. But a check alone might not be enough to fix this problem.

Video Of Senator Wicker’s Shipyard Act Announcement

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