A Ships Act to secure America’s naval power

By Dave McCormick
Washington Times
June 5, 2024

Eighty years ago today, on D-Day, the United States and its allies assembled one of the greatest armadas in history to liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

Now, as global tensions rise, America’s naval power is woefully unprepared to confront the threats of our time, most notably a rising, ambitious and aggressive China. The combined navies of the United States and its NATO and Pacific allies are but a fraction of the ships assembled in 1944. Meanwhile, China’s navy has the most ships in the world and is growing rapidly, with one of China’s 13 shipyards having more capacity than all U.S. shipyards combined.

We need a new “Ships Act” to rebuild our domestic shipbuilding industry, deter our adversaries, and secure our economic future.

Pennsylvania is uniquely equipped to meet this call to service. Since our nation’s founding, the Keystone State has been central to U.S. naval power. Philadelphia was the birthplace of the U.S. Navy, and for 200 years, Philly built and repaired warships to defend our nation.

After the Cold War, however, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission closed the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and three others. While today’s Philly Shipyard still produces merchant ships, the remaining public and private shipyards cannot keep up with the needs of the Navy. This is reflected in the dire state of U.S. shipping capacity — the U.S. has only 60 military sealift ships and 177 U.S.-flagged merchant ships.

On President Biden and Sen. Bob Casey’s watch, these problems have become more dire. The Pentagon recently announced that workforce shortages and supply chain problems have delayed many of the Navy’s major projects by one to three years, including aircraft carriers and Virginia and Columbia class submarines that are critical for deterring a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. The Biden administration’s new defense budget proposes shrinking the Navy, retiring more ships than it buys. The administration has done nothing to address the crisis in U.S. sealift capacity.

These failures are inexcusable, given China’s massive military buildup. China produces more than half of the world’s shipping capacity and would have significant room to expand military production in wartime, much as the U.S. did during World War II. In addition, technology is changing the nature of naval warfare with autonomous systems, robotics and naval drones.

Therefore, the Navy needs to expand both traditional shipbuilding capacity and the production of smaller naval platforms integrated with technology hubs. The U.S. must adapt quickly and dramatically or risk losing its edge over China, Iran and Russia in a future conflict.

We need a Ships Act that makes historic investments in American shipbuilding, technology, and the workers who make it happen. This legislation would help rebuild, retool and expand our shipyards — with Philadelphia at the top of the list — to meet the needs of the  Navy and Merchant Marine.

It would establish partnerships between the government, shipyards, and leading research universities such as the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon and Drexel to develop and build the next generation of naval and commercial ships. It would also develop stronger pipelines from vocational and engineering schools to shipyards and suppliers. Combined with specialized apprenticeship programs, these investments in workforce development would create jobs and treat our shipbuilding workforce as a strategic asset, not a dying trade.

This is not just about defense. In the energy sector, a stronger U.S. shipbuilding industry can help transport liquefied natural gas from energy-producing regions such as western Pennsylvania to the rest of the country and expand LNG export capacity to send Pennsylvania energy to our allies and partners.

Naval power and ocean trade have been critical to America’s national and economic security for centuries. Given the threats we face, the dire state of our shipbuilding industry cannot continue.

Mr. Casey has been in Washington for 18 years. On his watch, Pennsylvania has missed countless opportunities to reclaim our shipbuilding heritage and create thousands of good-paying jobs for Pennsylvania workers. The Biden administration wants to shrink the Navy.

As Pennsylvania’s next senator, I will work to make Pennsylvania and the nation a shipbuilding powerhouse. Through a Ships Act, we can secure America’s future and live up to the legacy of those brave men who crossed the sea in defense of freedom on D-Day.