Shipyards could prosper under proposed funding plan

Sun HeraldJuly 17, 2014 

WASHINGTON -- Pascagoula's shipyards will prosper if the Senate Appropriations Committee's 2015 Pentagon funding plan, which the panel approved Thursday, holds up in the final stages of Congress' annual wrangling over military spending.

The $549 billion Senate committee bill includes funding for two vessels that are built in Pascagoula, including $800 million for an amphibious ship Republican Sen. Thad Cochran secured this week, although President Barack Obama's budget zeroed it out.

Cochran also won inclusion of nearly a quarter-billion dollars in other procurements, not included in Obama's budget request, that benefit Mississippi, such as $110 million to acquire MQ-8C Fire Scouts, unmanned aircraft manufactured in Moss Point. That was $70 million more than Obama requested.

Cochran said the U.S. Marine Corps and the Navy consider it a priority to obtain a 12th LPD class amphibious warship, which can transport and land about 700 members of an expeditionary force. However, a Pentagon official who was not authorized to speak for the record said, given this year's budget constraints, senior Navy officers had preferred limiting their commitment to maintaining fleets of 11 ships for each of three types of amphibious vessels.

The LPD, which did not receive funding in a House-passed defense spending bill, is built at Ingalls' Pascagoula yard.

"I am confident that the Senate and House will resolve this difference in a manner that best suits our security interests," said Cochran, the ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee's defense subcommittee.

"The Senate bill recognizes the Marine Corps' need for another LPD vessel, as well as the budgetary benefits of continuing the active production line as the Navy and Defense Department develop a plan for a new generation of naval vessels to meet the changing threats facing our security interests."

The bill also provides $2.67 billion for the procurement of two DDG-51 Arleigh Burke class destroyers, one of which would be largely built at Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding.

The bill also funds 55 Lakota light-utility helicopters, which are produced for the Army in Columbus. That represents a big increase from the procurement of 20 of the choppers in 2014. Cochran said he is also supporting an Army request to reprogram money to allow for the purchase of an additional 21 Lakotas this fiscal year.

Cochran said he also secured:

n $220 million, $40 million above Obama's request, to support high-performance computing at the Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg.

n $130 million to enhance National Guard counter-drug activities at the Regional Counterdrug Training Academy at the Meridian Naval Air Station, which received no funding under Obama's request.

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