Wicker notes positive defense news for Mississippi

Published 7:00 am Thursday, January 25, 2018

By Roger Wicker

State Remains Trusted Partner for Armed Services, Defense Industry

Mississippi is no stranger to excellence in supporting our national defense, having earned a strong reputation for our National Guard and vibrant industrial base. 

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Several recent announcements underscore the confidence that our defense leaders have in our National Guard citizen-warriors and our defense workforce. 

The first is the decision by the U.S. Army to keep the AH-64 Apache helicopters in Tupelo, putting a resounding end to the Obama Administration’s effort to take these helicopters from the Mississippi National Guard.  Since 2014, our state’s congressional delegation has fought to protect the Tupelo-based 1st Battalion-185th Aviation Regiment from this plan to restructure the Army.  After the Obama Administration rolled out an ill-conceived plan to move all National Guard Apaches to the active-duty Army, I worked with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to establish a National Commission on the Future of the Army in the 2015 defense authorization bill.  The independent commission’s review concluded that the Army should retain the Apache helicopters in Tupelo. 

In the Mississippi National Guard and elsewhere, these helicopters – and the talented Guardsmen who fly and maintain them – are critical to our military readiness.   Mississippians are also good at building helicopters, such as the versatile, light-utility Lakota helicopters built by Airbus in Columbus.

During an Armed Services Committee hearing last year, I urged then-nominee for Army Secretary, Dr. Mark Esper, to resolve the issues surrounding the Army’s purchase of more Lakotas, as Congress directed. 

I am glad to report that the Army has issued a solicitation to buy the Lakota helicopters that Congress has funded. 

This is a positive first step toward addressing the Army’s shortage of training helicopters. 

Lakotas are a smart use of taxpayer dollars as the military’s most cost-efficient, non-combat helicopter.  Moreover, the Airbus facility in Columbus – where U.S. veterans make up 40 percent of the facility’s workers – has an impeccable record of producing Lakotas on time and on budget.

Other positive news for Mississippi’s defense industrial base is this month’s announcement that the Air Force awarded a contract to the Boeing-owned Aurora Flight Sciences in Columbus.  It goes without saying that the Golden Triangle and Mississippi State University are at the cutting edge of unmanned aerial systems development. 

This $48 million contract for Aurora will only strengthen our state’s pioneering work by funding further development of Orion. 

The Orion prototype of an ultra-long endurance unmanned aerial system set the world record in 2014 by staying aloft for 80 hours. 

The flight endurance capability of this unmanned aircraft will bring a powerful and persistent information-gathering tool to our military commanders and troops in the field.

Last but not least, the Trump Administration is not only turning to Mississippians to help equip our military but also looking to our state to fill critical defense leadership roles. 

President Trump recently nominated Phyllis Bayer to serve as the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Installations, Energy, and the Environment.  If confirmed, the Perry County native and Southern Miss graduate would play an instrumental role in overseeing the construction and maintenance of Navy installations worldwide and ensuring the safety of the men and women who serve there.  Ms. Bayer has had an extensive public service career and multiple leadership roles that make her a well-qualified candidate for the job, including her position as chief of staff to the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Readiness.

I look forward to Ms. Bayer’s confirmation in the Senate and our state’s continued leadership in equipping our men and women in uniform for success.  As these announcements reaffirm, Mississippi is ready to play an integral role in President Trump’s plan to rebuild the military.