Wicker introduces Navy shipbuilding bill urging quicker path to 355-ship fleet

By Justin Katz / February 6, 2020 at 1:48 PM

Days before the Pentagon is expected to unveil its fiscal year 2021 budget request, Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) introduced a standalone bill designed to expedite the Navy's path to a 355-ship fleet.

The Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Implementation Act is an expansion of a similar bill the senator introduced in 2017. The 2017 bill led Congress to codify the requirement the Navy reach 355 ships as soon as practical.

Wicker's bill would make it a "sense of Congress" that the Navy utilize the National Sea Based Deterrence Fund, a supplementary account established to help procure Columbia-class submarines.

A sense of Congress is not a legally binding requirement.

The legislation also suggests specific shipbuilding procurement numbers for the next budget request. The Navy’s FY-21 budget isn't expected to be made public until next week.

However, compared to the Navy's future-year plans in the FY-20 budget request, Wicker's proposal urges the service to increase the production cadence of its future frigate. The legislation also makes it a "sense of Congress" that the Navy buy the optional 10th Virginia-class submarine in the contract it recently negotiated.

Wicker's bill also aims to stabilize the shipbuilding industrial base by requiring certain production cadences for various ship classes and give the service authority to more widely use multiyear and block buy contracting.

Congress does not usually pass standalone defense legislation, but rather includes provisions from relevant bills into the annual National Defense Authorization Act.

Wicker, whose state is home to shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries, was previously chairman of the Senate Armed Services seapower subcommittee. He stepped down from that post last year to lead the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

Patrick Cassidy, a spokesman for Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), chairman of the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee, said the Connecticut congressman is supportive of the goals in Wicker's bill, but stopped short of committing to introduce similar legislation in the lower chamber.

Courtney "utilizes his role as chairman of the [subcommittee] to address these kinds of issues in the annual defense authorization bill, which he will write and lead," Cassidy said.