SHIPS Act: Larger Navy critical to protecting national security

Published 7:00 am Thursday, June 29, 2017

By U.S. Senator Roger Wicker

The Navy’s new requirement for a 355-ship battle fleet has earned the attention of Congress.  As chairmen of the congressional subcommittees that oversee seapower issues, Rep. Rob Wittman and I are joining forces to pass legislation that seeks to restore our naval strength. 

Within 24 hours, my Senate legislation had received the support of 16 of my colleagues, including the entire Seapower Subcommittee, and the House companion bill had earned eight cosponsors.

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The “SHIPS Act” stands for “Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas,” and it would do just that: create a national policy for meeting our military’s naval requirement of 355 ships. 

The current fleet of 276 ships is too small.  Because ships and submarines take years to build, it is imperative to lay the groundwork now to ensure our military’s future readiness.

As chairman of the Senate’s Seapower Subcommittee, I have led a number of discussions with military leaders and industry experts to explore the prospect of a 355-ship Navy. 

The production capacity is there, with shipyards like Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula completing ships on time and within budget.  But other options should also be on the table, including better maintenance of current ships and the reactivation of retired ships from the Ready Reserve fleet.

U.S. Maritime leadership on the Line

Time is of the essence.  The U.S. Navy faces more missions and more competition in today’s evolving maritime environment.   

China and Russia are rapidly building up their naval resources and coverage around the world.  Rogue states like North Korea and Iran have similarly sought to expand their influence with investments in naval power. 

Our own fleet should not wane while those of our adversaries strengthen.

Listening to our naval commanders reinforces this imperative, and they tell us they do not have the ships or submarines they need.  Only about 100 of our 276 ships are deployed right now.  The other ships are undergoing maintenance, routine sustainment, or training for deployment. These limitations in fleet size could have consequences when it comes to protecting our national security interests, safeguarding global commerce, projecting power, and reassuring our allies around the world. 

Signs of widespread support

The “SHIPS Act” is a clarion for restoring the capacity of our military, given the many challenges and operational demands it faces.  The Navy serves as a sentinel for maritime traffic and an agent for stability when aggression peaks.  Ensuring the Navy’s preparedness by meeting its fleet requirement should be a national priority that spans Congresses and Administrations.

Our country has the most advanced, most capable fighting forces in the world.  We can continue to have the most advanced, most capable fighting forces if we commit now to achieve a 355-ship fleet in the 2020s. 

I am encouraged by President Trump’s promise last year for a bigger fleet. 

Passage of the “SHIPS Act” would be a good first step, and I am encouraged by the support it has already received by members of both political parties in both houses of Congress.