Senators call for $25bn revamp of America’s naval shipyards

A bipartisan group of US legislators has introduced a bill to invest $25bn on upgrading the country’s naval shipyards.

The SHIPYARD act (short for Supplying Help to Infrastructure in Ports, Yards and America’s Repair Docks) would spend $21bn on upgrading the US’ four public shipyards and $4bn on private yards.  

The bill was introduced to Congress earlier this month by Roger Wicker, a Republican senator from Mississippi, and sponsored by eight other senators, half from the Democratic party.

The initiative is intended to improve the American military’s ability to compete with China’s navy, which has been growing steadily over the past 20 years.

Senator Wicker’s website, which is promoting the bill, quotes Matthew Paxton, president of the Shipbuilders Council of America.

He said: "As China and Russia are aggressively building their commercial and naval fleets to directly compete with the US, bolstering America’s Naval defence capabilities is more vital now than ever to protect our national security.

"The SHIPYARD Act will provide much-needed investment into critical shipyard infrastructure and the US industrial base that builds, maintains and repairs our navy."

At present, the US has only four navy yards, all of which are more than a century old, and are becoming too small to maintain the US’ latest ships and submarines. These are in Norfolk, Virginia; Portsmouth, Maine; Puget Sound, Washington; and Pearl Harbour, Hawaii. These state-run yards maintain the navy’s nuclear-powered fleet, which includes aircraft carriers, attack submarines and ballistic missile submarines.

In 1995, the government operated nine yards, but five were closed as part of the "peace dividend" at the end of the Cold War. The navy has a $21bn plan already in place to upgrade the remaining yards over the next 20 years, and the SHIPYARD Act, if it passes, would expand this programme.

Last year, the Heritage Foundation released a report arguing that the existing plan will not be adequate to expand shipyard capacity to service the navy’s present fleet.

There are a total of 21 dry docks at the public shipyards. Only two, one on each coast, can service a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier. Neither have the size or equipment to maintain the next generation of Ford-class carriers.

The Nikkei Asia website notes that Chinese president Xi Jinping last month attended a commissioning ceremony for three naval vessels on the southern island of Hainan: the nuclear ballistic missile submarine Changzheng-18, the destroyer Dalian and the amphibious assault ship Hainan.

The Hainan, China’s largest amphibious assault ship, is able to transport the navy’s entire Marine Corps, along with tanks and helicopters.

In the weeks that followed, the Hudong-Zhonghua shipyard delivered an ultralarge containership for French shipping group CMA CGM, received orders for six new ships from that same company and began work on a liquefied natural gas carrier.

Image: The USS Gerald R Ford under way in 2017. The Ford-class carriers are to replace the Nimitz vessels (Ridge Leoni/Public Domain)

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