A bipartisan group of legislators on Wednesday introduced a new bill to provide $25 billion in funds to help recapitalize public and private shipyards supporting the Navy.
The Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards, and America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act of 2021 would provide $21 billion for the Navy’s four public shipyards, $2 billion for major private new construction shipyards, and $2 billion for capital equipment improvements to Navy private repair shipyard repair and modernization facilities.
The proponents of the new bill are Sens. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Angus King (I-Maine) along with Reps. Rob Wittman (R-Va.) and Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.). The senators represent states with public or private shipyards while the representatives have districts around the Norfolk Naval Shipyard as well as several private shipyards and the Fincantieri Marinette Marine private shipyard in Wisconsin, respectively.
Gallagher and Wittman are the vice ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) and ranking member of the HASC Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee respectively.
In a statement, Wicker tied this effort to President Joe Biden’s push for a new large national infrastructure bill.
“As lawmakers consider ways to improve our nation’s infrastructure, the facilities that support our Navy fleet should be a part of the conversation. Congress has already taken the important step of committing to a larger Navy, but our shipyards are having trouble servicing today’s 296-ship fleet and are clearly insufficient to maintain the 355-ship or larger fleet we need to counter China, Russia, and other adversaries.”
“Now is the time to provide our Navy leaders the support they need to grow and preserve our fleet for generations to come,” Wicker added.
The Navy is currently working through it’s 20-year Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan (SIOP) that aims to mitigate deficiencies and overall improve infrastructure at the four public yards that service nuclear-powered vessels. It is expected to cost about $21 billion over two decades and covers improving dry docks, production pieces, capital equipment and increase general efficiencies.
According to a congressional summary of the new bill, this new funding would fully fund the SIOP so the Navy “can accelerate needed improvements to our four public shipyards rather than delay upgrades over a 20-year timeline. Any delay will exacerbate existing maintenance shortfalls, negatively impacts current Navy warfighting readiness and limit the ability to support a larger Navy.”
The summary also said the $2 billion investment in commercial shipyards that build new ships would help subsidize upgrades and modernization projects “that will ensure these shipyards can continue to meet the shipbuilding demands of today and the future demands to compete with China.”
“In addition to the Nation’s public shipyards, the United States continues to rely on the capacity and capabilities of private new construction and repair shipyards to meet the strategic maritime needs of the United States Navy, the United States Coast Guard, and the Nation’s maritime industry,” the bill text reads. “Such shipyards, located on every coast of the United States, also require substantial recapitalization and reconfiguration in order to meet the construction and sustainment requirements of our maritime Nation. This Act recognizes the vital role such private shipyards play in the United States and accordingly authorizes and appropriates funds to ensure they are able to continue to provide those strategic capabilities in the future.”
Commercial repair shipyard funding aims to help in infrastructure improvement projects to support fleet maintenance requirements, given that private yards conduct a large majority of the Navy’s depot-level maintenance.
Moreover, the bill would “ leverage Defense Production Act (DPA) funding authority to expedite and expand the U.S. industrial base needed to promote national defense. DPA Title III authorities are available to support protection or restoration of critical infrastructure, among other purposes. The bill allows a 20-year period to obligate funds to align with SIOP, but all funds will be available upon enactment to give the Navy flexibility and the ability to accelerate improvements.”
The bill defines private new construction shipyards as any shipyard in which one or more combatant or support vessels are included in the latest 30-year shipbuilding plan. A private repair shipyard is defined as any yard that is planned to perform maintenance or modernization work on a combatant or support vessel in the 30-year plan.
“Virginia’s public and private shipyards are crucial to strengthening our national security. This legislation would ensure that our sailors, shipbuilders, and ship repairers have the most up-to-date tools, equipment, and facilities to ensure our Navy remains ready to protect our nation,” Kaine said in a statement.
“Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works play critical roles in both our nation’s national defense and Maine’s economy,” King said. His state has both the Navy’s Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the General Dynamics [GD] Bath Iron Works private yard.
He noted as the Navy aims to grow the fleet towards 355 ships maintenance requirements will expand, requiring shipyard improvements.
“It is absolutely essential that we provide these shipyards with the modern tools and technologies they need to meet growing demand. This bipartisan legislation will make much-needed investments in a critical part of our national security infrastructure – including adaptations to prepare for the potential impacts of climate change – ensuring that these storied yards will be able to continue to fulfill their important duties for decades to come,” King added.
Wittman also argued for the importance in addressing maintenance issues.