The Secretary of the U.S. Navy wants more shipyard infrastructure, including the construction of new dry docks and major investments in U.S. facilities to move quickly toward its ambitious, yet realistic goal of reaching a 500-ship fleet. The good news is that it looks like Congress wants to help.
A new legislative initiative, led by Representatives Rob Wittman (R-VA) and Mike Gallagher (R-WI), seeks to add as much as $25 billion in new funding for shipyards.
“The legislation would help to address a backlog of identified modernization, maintenance, and expansion projects at public shipyards and provide the Navy needed flexibility to support capital improvement projects and other investments at yards critical to maintaining and growing the fleet,” a statement from Wittman’s office reads.
The proposal, which includes backing from prominent Democrats such as Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, is called America’s Repair Docks (SHIPYARD) Act of 2021. The proposed legislation not only calls for the rebuilding of existing shipyards but specifically designates $21 billion for the Navy’s four public shipyards in Virginia, Maine, Hawaii, and Washington, $2 billion for major new construction of private shipyards, and $2 billion to repair the Navy’s private shipyards.
“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,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS), one of the lawmakers supporting the proposed legislation, said in a statement.
Several major U.S. shipbuilders, such as Littoral Combat Ship Independence variant builder Austal USA, are making decided efforts to invest in and anticipate the Navy’s current need for new warships. Austal has, for instance, undertaken a move to migrate as much as one half of its aluminum production to steel ship construction materials. Austal USA’s initiative, which incorporates a $100 million investment, seems to seek alignment with the proposed Congressional aims as well as with the Navy’s Distributed Maritime Operations (DMO) strategy, an emerging maritime warfare a concept based upon the informed and realistic premise that a modern, great-power threat environment will require a much more heavily armed surface fleet.
Distributed Maritime Operations can be seen as part of an ongoing multi-year strategic trajectory which began years ago with the arrival of Distributed Lethality, a concept intended to help the Navy transition from more than a decade of counterinsurgency, counterterrorism, anti-piracy and stability operations toward full-scale preparation for massive blue-water warfare on the open ocean. While perhaps owing some of its inspiration to the arrival of Distributed Lethality Concepts of Operations years ago, DMO evolves the approach to envision greater levels of manned-unmanned teaming, newer longer-range heavier weapons and an entirely new dimension of layered ship defenses. Building new ships with steel appears to be a clear method of supporting this thinking.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.