Your Turn, NH: Sen. Jeanne Shaheen -- The shipyard is more vital than ever to our national security

April 06, 2019

Three weeks before Granite Staters and the nation went to the polls to elect the 45th President of the United States, then-candidate Donald Trump stood on stage just three miles from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and promised the crowd, “Mexico will pay for the wall – 100 percent.” As we all know, the President has since abandoned all pretense of our southern neighbor paying for the wall and has instead pursued a misguided plan that is not only unconstitutional, but could be detrimental to local jobs and our national security.

President Trump’s so-called “emergency” declaration to pay for the border wall potentially takes funding already signed into law for military construction projects. This is funding that Congress on a bipartisan basis fought hard to secure. When reports of the President’s declaration began circulating, there was a real uncertainty and fear that Shipyard projects could be on the chopping block. Those fears proved well founded after the Department of Defense, when pressed to disclose which projects could lose funding, produced a list that included projects totaling $224 million at the Shipyard. This includes a new dry dock super flood basin; a consolidated paint, blast and rubber facility; a new warehouse; and a crane rail – all projects that are critical to the Shipyard’s operations and our nation’s submarine fleet.

These proposed cuts would be an enormous setback to the Shipyard’s mission to keep our nation safe. Furthermore, the timing couldn’t be worse. The U.S. could potentially lose its submarine advantage to our adversaries as China and Russia pour money into large, advanced underwater fleets. Last week, Navy leadership testified before Congress that the U.S. has only half of the submarines needed in the Pacific region. As the aging Los Angeles-class attack submarines retire, the Navy is expected to have a total of 42 submarines in the fleet by 2026, while China is expected to have at least 70 submarines in service by the end of next year. And it’s not only the submarines that are aging – updates to the infrastructure needed to repair these submarines has a backlog of its own. At a recent Senate hearing, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition, James Guerts, testified that the average age of dry docks at our military shipyards is 60 years.

The Shipyard’s mission is indispensable to maintaining our submarine fleet and protecting our country. As the Chairman of the Seacoast Shipyard Association, John Joyal, has pointed out, “The shipyard actually needs more resources and more funding, more infrastructure upkeep.” Losing funding for these Shipyard projects will have a domino effect across the Navy’s aging submarine fleet, exacerbating existing deficiencies and extending the time it takes to make repairs. For example, the long-planned consolidation of the paint, blast and rubber facility would move nine work stations under one roof, improving the turnaround time for maintenance and repairs. Cancelling projects like this would extend the time submarines spend out of service at the Shipyard and serve as a boon to our adversaries, like Russia and China, who are working at a frantic pace to surpass America’s military supremacy.

Protecting the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard has always been a bipartisan effort in New Hampshire. Recently, a dozen Republican Senators – including Senator Collins of Maine – stood with me, Senator Hassan and Representatives Pappas and Kuster in telling the President that this misguided plan to divert funds is wrong.

The motto of the Shipyard is “Proud of our past… Ready for the future.” For good reason, Shipyard workers take great pride in their mission and are worried that it’s being threatened. I continue to look at all other means to block this declaration until the threat to the Shipyard is completely taken off the table.

Senator Jeanne Shaheen is a member of the Senate Armed Services and Foreign Relations committees.

By:  Senator Jeanne Shaheen
Source: Union Leader