Roger Wicker, a U.S. Senator from Mississippi, urged Acting Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Lisa M. Franchetti to focus on shipbuilding and the expansion of the nation’s naval forces.
Wicker, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Thursday led a full committee hearing examining the nomination of Franchetti to become the next Chief of Naval Operations.
In his remarks, Wicker observed that China’s naval buildup and the United States’ shrinking Navy leave our national defense as unprepared as it was in 1941.
“A recent memo from the Office of Naval Intelligence office suggests that China’s shipbuilding capacity is more than 230 times larger than our own – I can hardly believe I’m speaking these words – 230 times larger in shipbuilding capacity,” Wicker said.
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“While China builds its maritime strength, American command of the sea is increasingly at risk …This crisis is nothing short of historic,” he continued. “We are as unprepared for a strategic surprise from China as our Pacific fleet was for a Japanese attack on the eve of Pearl Harbor in 1941. We need to act.”
Specifically, Wicker—whose state Mississippi is home to shipbuilders such as HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding and Bollinger Mississippi Shipbuilding—outlined the need for substantial investment in the defense industrial base, and reemphasized the statutory goal of a 355-ship Navy.
Wicker has been a strong advocate for improving submarine construction and maintenance availabilities, especially in light of the Australia-United Kingdom-U.S. (AUKUS) agreement to share U.S. submarine technology. Wicker also raised ongoing challenges with surface ship repairs and amphibious warship procurement.
“We should be producing somewhere between 2.3 to 2.5 attack submarines a year to fulfill our own requirements as we implement AUKUS,” Wicker said. “Instead, we are down to building 1.2 attack submarines per year, as compared to the required 2.3 to 2.5. The path back toward two per year is based on hopes and wishes.”
In his exchange with Admiral Franchetti, Wicker discussed the need to meet the Navy’s submarine requirements while also fulfilling prospective AUKUS obligations. The Admiral agreed that the Navy is currently far from meeting minimum submarine requirements.
Wicker also pressed the nominee for a commitment to advocate for block-buys of amphibious warships, an acquisition strategy that would save considerable amounts of taxpayer money, which she failed to provide.