House members push double-buy of aircraft carriers
By HUGH LESSIG | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) | Published: December 28, 2017
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (Tribune News Service) — Congressional support continues to build for the purchase of two aircraft carriers in fiscal year 2019, a double-buy that would boost the fortunes of Newport News Shipbuilding and thousands of smaller contractors across the country.
Last week, 131 House members signed a letter to Defense Secretary James Mattis supporting the idea.
Rep. Rob Wittman, the Northern Neck Republican who is influential on Navy shipbuilding, released a copy of the letter in a news release. A two-carrier purchase, he said, would further the administration’s goal of a 355-ship Navy, which would include a 12-carrier fleet, up from the current 11.
The senate made a similar push earlier this month. Nine senators, including Virginia’s Tim Kaine and Mark R. Warner, backed a two-carrier purchase in a letter to Mattis.
A dual buy would save $2.5 billion when compared with a single-ship purchase, the House letter says. It would also signal the Pentagon’s commitment to the Newport News yard and some 3,000 suppliers that make up the carrier industrial base, allowing them to plan ahead and invest in their facilities.
All House members from Virginia signed the letter.
A double order would cover the construction contract for the future USS Enterprise, plus a carrier yet to be named. Enterprise is the third Gerald R. Ford-class ship and advance work is already under way at Newport News. Shipbuilders celebrated the first cut of steel earlier this year.
The $2.5 billion in estimated savings is based on an analysis by industry and the Department of the Navy, according to the letter. Besides cost savings, lawmakers cite the strain on the current carrier fleet, with three of 11 ships deployed and up to seven carriers under way in recent weeks.
Wittman, R-Westmoreland, chairs the armed services sea power and projection forces panel. He pushed for language on a two-carrier purchase in the 2018 defense authorization bill, but failed.
The Navy orders Virginia-class attack submarines in larger blocks, and that program is considered a success.
Two-carrier purchases happened twice during the Reagan defense buildup. The carriers Theodore Roosevelt and George Washington were purchased in fiscal year 1983; the John C. Stennis and Harry S. Truman carriers were ordered in 1988.
The Pentagon’s fiscal year 2019 budget request is due to Congress in the first part of 2018. Then comes debate over another authorization bill, followed by the defense budget itself.
The Newport News yard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, has pushed the idea as well, running ads in Beltway-area markets earlier this year to support bulk buying. The yard is the sole builder of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers for the Navy.
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