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To Protect and Project
Column by Sen. Trent Lott     2/17/06   GCN

    In recent years Iíve expressed concern about our nationís lukewarm shipbuilding budget, not just regarding vessels to be built at Mississippiís Northrop Grumman Ingalls shipyard, but for our entire naval shipbuilding plan.  Thatís because, time and time again, history has proven that it is nations with an ability to project power and protect interests which endure.  This has benefited America since President Thomas Jefferson dispatched our young Navy to Libya in 1801 and defeated pirates who were threatening our merchant ships.  Itís still true today as we fight terrorists who threaten us all.  Thankfully, some in Washington seem to be reaffirming that seaborne tradition.

The last few months have brought us a new Secretary of the Navy and a new Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), and Iím pleased to report that this shuffle seems to have given this administration a new appreciation of our shipbuilding budget and priorities.  In fact, the Presidentís budget for fiscal year 2007 contains $8.2 billion to build seven ships.  Thatís well up from the fiscal year 2006 budget which funded only four ships.

A lot of this re-emphasis on the shipbuilding budget is coming from the new CNO Admiral Mike Mullen.  I met with Admiral Mullen just last week about the Navyís shipbuilding plan.  Of those seven new ships he outlined to me, five of them have ties to Northrop Grumman Ingalls.             

The Presidentís shipbuilding budget includes partial funding for the groundbreaking DD(X) destroyer Ė a project that will help keep steady employment at Mississippiís largest private employer for years to come.  From my meetings with him, I believe Admiral Mullen is a genuine champion of this ship which will be to shipbuilding what stealth technology was to aircraft.  DD(X) has the potential to revolutionize naval ship construction as we know it, and it will ensure that America retains our supremacy at sea for decades to come.

In fact, though we in Pascagoula are quite used to competing with other shipbuilding yards like our old rival Bath Iron Works, in Maine, the Congressional shipbuilding caucus has joined together to insist that the DD(X) program move forward with both Bath and Ingalls building these ships together.  We feel our nation is best served by this partnership because DD(X) will keep our few remaining shipyards on the frontlines of our nationís defense.  Without DD(X) it was quite possible either Bath or Ingalls could have exited the surface combatant business, leaving thousands of skilled shipbuilders without jobs and likely out of a job forever, since shipyards canít just close for a while and reopen at a later date.

Congress rejected the idea of making these two yards re-compete the DD(X) contract because a majority understand that this is not really an economic, budgetary or regional issue, but a matter of national security.  Most Americans understand that having one or more of our shipyards go out of business could result in Americaís having to contract with foreign shipyards and foreign shipbuilders to construct Americaís future fleet.  Thatís clearly repugnant to everyone with an appreciation for Americaís long and storied maritime tradition and our position as a naval power.

Weíve still got some work to do.  As Admiral Mullen and others would probably tell you, Congress will need to appropriate more than $13 billion a year in the coming years, just to maintain a strength of 300-plus ships.  Thatís far short of the 600-ship navy which President Ronald Reagan and Senator John Stennis championed at the height of the Cold War.  However, it is significantly higher than the shipbuilding budgets we were facing just a few years ago, when we barely expected to field 100 ships. 

America is again reasserting our maritime tradition.  That is good news for the 11,000 Mississippians at Northrop Grumman Ingalls, and for every American whose lives these ships and crews will protect, and whose national interest they will project.

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. 

Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (Attn: Press Office) or Email: senatorlott@lott.senate.gov

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