Meeting the needs of our military is the basic mission of the defense authorization bill that Congress passes every year. Those needs include building additional ships – a priority supported by the Navy’s most recent Force Structure Assessment and the “SHIPS Act,” which I introduced with Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) earlier this year. Our “SHIPS” proposal for building a stronger Navy is included in the defense bill now being considered by the Senate.
Our military leaders tell us that the Navy’s current fleet size of 276 ships is insufficient in the face of today’s security challenges and modernization demands. We need only look to the reckless actions of rogue nations like North Korea to see the real danger. Many of my Republican and Democratic colleagues in the Senate have expressed support for rebuilding our naval power. So has President Trump, who pledged a larger Navy during the campaign. The defense bill would make achieving a 355-ship fleet the official policy of the United States.
What would 355 ships mean for the future of American seapower? Simply put, more ships would produce a fleet better prepared for the growing demands of global commerce, supporting our allies, deterring aggressive behavior by adversaries, and responding swiftly to crises. Right now, only about a third of our Navy’s ships are deployed, leaving coverage gaps around the world – gaps our adversaries want to exploit. Recent tragedies involving the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain underscore the dangers that our sailors face even during routine operations. More ships would help mitigate stress on the fleet when a vessel needs maintenance.
Warships are not built overnight, making the authorization of multiyear and advanced procurement for ships in this year’s defense bill vital to our overall success. This sustained support from Congress would give our defense industrial base the green light for ramping up production lines and hiring a larger skilled workforce. Mississippi’s shipbuilders are up to the task, with Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula already tapped by the Navy to repair the USS Fitzgerald.
Some of the most important provisions in the defense bill are for our service members and their families. These include a 2.1 percent pay raise for active-duty military personnel and a provision I championed to allow our National Guardsmen, Reservists, and their dependents to have TRICARE before and after their deployments. The bill would also support collaborative training opportunities for pilots at Columbus Air Force Base and seek answers to the in-flight oxygen issues experienced by Navy and Marine Corps pilots at installations like Naval Air Station Meridian.
Our volunteer troops should have the equipment, care, and compensation they need. They should also know that a commitment to national security and military readiness exists across the political spectrum. After years of defense cuts, this year’s bill is a testament to that commitment. I look forward to sending it to President Trump’s desk for his signature to become law.