WLOX-TV Biloxi

Dept. of Defense calls on Navy to build less warships, according to report

By Brad Kessie and Lindsay Knowles

BILOXI, Miss. (WLOX) - Details are emerging about a Pentagon push that just might reduce the number of warships built in Pascagoula.

DefenseNews.com reports that starting in 2021, the Department of Defense wants the Navy to build fewer Arleigh Burke class destroyers. In fact, the DoD is calling for 40 percent fewer destroyers to be built.

In total, the proposal would cut five of the 12 DDGs planned, which would result in cuts of about $9.4 billion, or 8 percent, of the total shipbuilding budget, according to a memo from the White House’s Office of Management and Budget to the Defense Department obtained by Defense News.

The memo also outlined plans to accelerate the decommissioning cruisers, cutting the total number of Ticonderoga-class cruisers in the fleet down to nine by 2025, from a planned 13 in last year’s budget.

The Pentagon’s plan would actually shrink the size of the fleet from 293 ships today to only 287 ships, the memo said, which stands in contrast to the Navy’s goal of 355 ships. That 355 ship goal was made national policy in the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

The Arleigh Burke is a shipbuilding contract awarded to Ingalls. In other words, any cuts in destroyer construction would impact the Pascagoula shipyard. However, any proposal from the Navy to adjust shipbuilding goals is far from final and would require the President’s approval and support from Congress.

Congressman Steven Palazzo said he is against decreasing the number of destroyers built and is doubtful that Congress would approve a plan like that. His office released a statement Tuesday about the Pentagon proposal.

“I’d remind the Pentagon that through the authorization and appropriations processes, Congress will ultimately decide the sizes of our manned and unmanned fleets,” Rep. Palazzo said. “As the representative for the fourth district of Mississippi, I will never stop working to ensure that the greatest shipbuilders in the world, right here on the Gulf Coast, continue to build the greatest ships for our Navy and Marine Corps. Now more than ever we need these multi-mission ships to fight against the real threats from countries like Russia and China. I find it doubtful that Congress would buy into this plan to limit construction of destroyers while we are actively working to rebuild our military.”

The DefenseNews.com article noted the proposed cuts in destroyer construction would be from 2021 to 2025. The article said a Navy spokesman declined to comment on the report, saying it was linked to a budget that was still in the early development stages.

WLOX also heard from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith’s office. Through an email, the senator said she believes “the just-completed FY2020 appropriations cycle responsibly invests in defense shipbuilding, which will rely strongly on Mississippi shipbuilders.”

Her spokesman noted, “Senator Hyde-Smith, as a Senate appropriator, will keep these facts in the forefront as the committee begins work on the Navy’s FY2021 budget requests.”

Sen. Roger Wicker, who is the author of legislation that made the Navy’s goal of 355 ships the law of the land, said he has also been tracking this report very carefully.

“The Navy’s goal of 355 ships is the law of the land, and I am committed to working with President Trump to ensure our shipbuilders on the Mississippi Gulf Coast have the resources they need to remain the premier supplier of Navy ships," said Sen. Wicker in a statement. "Destroyers have been the backbone of our Navy’s fleet for decades, and I do not see that changing any time soon.”

George Freeland, executive director of the Jackson County Economic Development Foundation, told WLOX his organization will continue to work with delegation on what is a very preliminary circumstance concerning what we don’t know.

“This is the beginning of a process that we in Jackson County and the Foundation will continue, as we have always done, to work with our federal delegation to ensure that Ingalls Shipbuilding, VT Halter Marine, Rolls Royce Naval Marine and Northrop Grumman have opportunities to provide employment and invest in our county and region. President Trump signed the FY20 appropriations bill on December 20, 2019, that included funding for long lead time materials on a 12th National Security Cutter, US Navy Procurement funds for LHA-9 amphibious assault ship, LPD amphibious warship, Arleigh Burke Class DDG-51 ships- all of which are built in Mississippi and will continue to provide employment in Jackson County.”

FY2019 has a been a tremendous year for the defense contracting sector in Jackson County due in large part to the capabilities for work force, support from local officials, and leadership of our federal delegation.

The Arleigh Burke class destroyers are the US Navy’s most powerful destroyer fleet. These highly-capable, multi-mission ships conduct a variety of operations, from peacetime presence to national security.

The Arleigh Burke class destroyers are built in shipyards in Pascagoula and Bath, Maine.