Wicker Champions Shipbuilding, Nat’l Guard Priorities in Defense Bill

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, successfully included a number of provisions in this year’s “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). This legislation authorizes defense spending and sets the policy and priorities for our military, including authorization for Navy shipbuilding on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. The measure awaits consideration by the full Senate.

“This year, we have assembled a bipartisan reform bill to help ensure that our military remains the best-trained, best-equipped, and most professional fighting force in the world,” Wicker said. “In the Seapower Subcommittee, Senator Hirono and I have focused on taking tangible steps to ensure the Navy’s acquisition and procurement strategies provide the best value to both the taxpayer and the warfighter.”

The bill, which passed the committee by a vote of 22-4, authorizes $612 billion in funding for the Department of Defense (DOD) and the national security programs of the Department of Energy.

Equipping U.S. Naval Forces with New Amphibious Ships

“I am pleased to announce that the bill includes a provision to authorize $199 million in advance procurement for an additional America-class amphibious assault ship, as well as $80 million in research and development funding for the next generation of amphibious ships,” Wicker said. “Amphibious warships send a powerful signal to our adversaries and allies that America’s military remains strong. This effort would help guarantee that our sailors and Marines have dependable and modern equipment when defending America in dangerous and hostile parts of the world.”

The nation’s current amphibious fleet of 30 ships falls short of Global Combatant Commander requirements, which call for over 50 amphibious ships. Earlier this year, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert told the Senate Armed Services Committee that, “Amphibious forces play a very important part in what we call the new normal: the ability to respond quickly to counterterrorism, to piracy, and to support our forces and defend Americans abroad, especially in our embassies.”

Ensuring the Vitality of the National Guard

The committee included provisions supported by Wicker to maintain National Guard personnel levels and prevent additional Apache helicopters from being transferred away from the Army National Guard.

“The National Guard is the ready reserve force of the Army,” Wicker said. “I am pleased the committee continues to resist the Obama Administration’s efforts to reduce Army personnel and reorganize its aviation program pending the findings of an independent commission assessment of the Army’s needs.”

Last year’s “National Defense Authorization Act” included a provision authorized by Senator Wicker and Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., that created a commission to study the future of the Army. This independent commission is required to make a recommendation on size and force structure to Congress by February 2016.

Modernizing the Army’s Air Fleet

Wicker succeeded in securing a provision to authorize $187.2 million in procurement for 28 UH-72A Light Utility Helicopters (LUH). These helicopters would be used to replace the Army’s legacy aviation training aircraft. Last year, the Secretary of Defense directed the Army to procure additional LUH for training rather than transfer aircraft away from the National Guard.

Preventing Military Suicide

The committee included provisions based on the “Military and Veterans Mental Health Provider Assessment Act of 2015” coauthored by Senator Wicker and Senator Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., requiring the Secretary of Defense to ensure that all primary care and mental health care providers of the Department of Defense receive evidence-based training on the recognition, assessment, and management of individuals at risk for suicide.

Ensuring Religious Freedom in the Military

The committee included a provision supported by Senator Wicker that encourages the Department of Defense to continue supporting service members’ rights to express sincerely held religious beliefs. This provision communicates to the Department of Defense that it should honor a provision in public law authored by Senator Wicker in 2013, stating that “Unless it could have an adverse impact on military readiness, unit cohesion, and good order and discipline, the Armed Services shall accommodate individual expressions of belief.”