Wicker Asks Army Secretary Nominee About Issues Facing Mississippi Defense Manufacturers

Miss. Senator Highlights Airbus in Columbus, Warmkraft in Stonewall

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., a senior member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today asked Dr. Mark Esper, President Trump’s choice to be the next Army Secretary, about two issues facing Mississippi defense manufacturing involving helicopters and uniforms. Wicker’s comments came during Dr. Esper’s nomination hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee.

In 2015, Airbus, which builds UH-72A Lakota helicopters in Columbus, Miss., was awarded a contract to build 16 Lakotas. A contract dispute ensued, and those particular helicopters are currently being held up because of the pending court case. These helicopters are the Army’s primary training aircraft. The Army National Guard also uses Lakotas for troop transport and security missions.

Then, in 2017, Congress directed the Army to purchase 28 new Lakotas and provided the funds to pay for them through the FY17 Omnibus Appropriations bill. The Army has not taken action to follow through on this congressional directive, arguing that these additional 28 Lakotas are “held up in the same protest.”

Wicker made the argument that the court case should have no bearing on language in the FY17 appropriations bill, asserting that they are two separate procurement actions. Wicker expressed concerns that this delay could have detrimental impacts on helicopter pilot training and the Lakota industrial base.

In his response, Dr. Esper committed to working with Wicker to resolve the issue and expedite the contracting actions required to issue a production contract for the new helicopters.

On the second matter, Wicker brought up an issue facing Mississippi workers in Stonewall who manufacture high-quality military uniforms. Currently, insecticides are applied to the uniforms after they have been cut and sewn so that workers are not ingesting loose fibers. However, the Department of Defense is trying to change the process, to one that adds the insecticide before the cut-and-sew process.

Wicker said, “I cannot fathom why the Army would want to change an efficient and proven process that leaves no environmental waste.”