A bill that would approve $50.6 million in construction projects at Jacksonville military bases was approved Tuesday night by the U.S. House of Representatives and now moves to the Senate.
The money will help ensure that three of the Navy’s newest platforms, the P-8A Poseidon aircraft, the MH-60R helicopter and the littoral combat ship, will all stay here.
The bill, which funds military training and housing services, base infrastructure maintenance and veterans’ benefits and programs, includes $71.5 billion in spending. That’s $1.8 billion less than last year’s expenditures.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Florida, who supported the bill, said Jacksonville’s bases were the only ones in the state to receive project funding in the bill.
“Naval Station Mayport and Naval Air Station Jacksonville are central to our national security,” Crenshaw said in a written statement. “With my strong support, Congress underscored that point one more time today.”
Perhaps the most important of the three projects is the construction of a littoral combat ship operational training facility at Mayport Naval Station. Mayport has been designated to become the East Coast hub for what was expected to be the Navy’s choice replacement for the older frigates now being decommissioned.
Mayport is scheduled to receive 14 of the ships, a significant sea power and personnel boost for the base. However, that number may change after Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced in February a plan to cut the order for ships from 52 to 32.
With the money included in the bill to construct the training facility, Mayport's designation of the ship’s East Coast Hub appears secure.
Also in the bill was money to improve the runway and taxiways at Jacksonville Naval Air Station for the P-8A Poseidon. The base won high recognition as the home for the first operational P-8A squadron, the VP-16 War Eagles.
The squadron of new reconnaissance planes won national attention in the past month for their role in the search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370.
The final project for the First Coast included in the bill was money for expansion of the parking apron for the new MH-60R helicopters also at Jacksonville Naval Air Station.
The “Romeos,” as their crews call them, are the Navy’s newest and most advanced helicopters. One of the biggest advancements the Romeo offers is its “dipping” sonar. Used to detect objects underwater, especially submarines, the sonar is lowered into the water from a cable on the helicopter and can reach up to four times farther than existing sonar.
The programs “are critical to keeping our Navy forces strong and ready to serve whenever they are called to duty,” Crenshaw said.