The Tools of Peace
Senator Trent Lott

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Not long before the terrorist attacks of September 11, and well before Hurricane Katrina, some in the national media criticized me for helping fund the construction of a new helicopter carrier for the U.S. Marine Corps ? one that would be built in Pascagoula by workers at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems. I proudly helped christen that ship on August 19 because America needs this equipment now more than ever.

LHD-8, as its name suggests, is the eighth and final of a series of amphibious ships built specifically to land Marines wherever they’re needed ? whether it be fighting a war against terrorists or bringing humanitarian relief to victims of natural disasters like hurricanes.

These ships are like flat-decked aircraft carriers, but they’re a bit smaller and designed to quickly transport Marine personnel, equipment and aircraft anywhere in the world, at a moment’s notice. That’s what Marines do. And it doesn’t take a general or a rear admiral to understand how important this capability is right now as America fights terrorists.

It’s a good thing Congress ignored the critics and committed to funding this ship, on the advice of the Marine Corps Commandant and others who were supportive of robust shipbuilding, even in what was then a time of peace. Even before the War on Terror, many military and political leaders in Washington saw that the 21st century battlefield might be an even more unconventional one, requiring more mobility and capability that Marines and their light carriers provide.

Shipbuilding in Mississippi and Louisiana is a 300-year tradition, and today more than half the Navy’s surface combat fleet is built along the Gulf Coast. What’s more, Gulf Coast shipbuilders will build all the Coast Guard’s new state-of-the-art “Deepwater Fleet.”

Mississippi’s shipyard workers in particular build some of the world’s most advanced ships, and our state and the entire nation would do well to better recognize shipbuilding as a core competency, a critical industry of America’s industrial skill set and one that must be nurtured to constantly evolve.

For example, LHD-8 is the first amphibious carrier to feature gas-turbine engines, all electric systems, and no steam ? not even in the ship’s galley. Though a ship may be one of a single class, each ship we build is very different from the last, an improvement over its predecessor that helps maintain America’s edge at sea and adds to the skills of our shipyard workers who depend on steady work.

History has shown time and again that nations with the ability to build and support their own Navy ? to project force whenever and wherever needed ? are the nations that endure and prosper. Our fleet gives us the ability to meet challenges abroad, before they reach our shores.

We haven’t heard much lately from LHD-8’s critics, particularly since America began fighting terrorists around the globe. The fact is, in the current global security environment, America can’t afford to keep her shipyards and skilled shipyard workers sitting idle in war, or in peace. We need carriers. We need destroyers. We need new Coast Guard vessels, and we need to consistently replace all of them when they become obsolete. Constant evolution of our weapons is what gives our military men and women an advantage against the world’s worst characters and circumstances.

I’m glad we built LHD-8, which will be called the USS Makin Island, honoring one of our Navy and Marine Corps’ famous World War II Pacific battles. And I hope that when it comes to the tools of war, America always heeds the advice of those who will build the next ship, tank or plane, over those content to wait until our enemies’ technology challenges ours. For the reality is, the better our tools of war, the quicker we find peace. (8/18/06)

Senator Lott welcomes any questions or comments about this column. Write to: U.S. Senator Trent Lott, 487 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510 (attn: Press Office)