WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., today announced that his bicameral, bipartisan “Securing the Homeland by Increasing our Power on the Seas (SHIPS) Act” was signed into law by President Donald J. Trump as part of the FY2018 “National Defense Authorization Act” (NDAA). Wicker’s proposal makes it the official policy of the United States to achieve the Navy’s minimum requirement for a 355-ship fleet. Currently, only 279 ships are in the battle fleet. Wicker is Chairman of the Senate Seapower Subcommittee.
“With his signature, President Trump has confirmed the United States’ resolve to meet the growing needs of our U.S. Navy,” Wicker said. “Building up our nation’s fleet is essential to protecting our national security and projecting American power around the globe. We are asking too few ships to do too many things, and today the President took a major step toward rectifying that problem. In the coming weeks, I look forward to working with my colleagues to put together a budget that fully supports our American military personnel and keeps us focused on our goal to achieve a full 355-ship fleet.”
The defense bill authorizes nearly $700 billion in funding for America’s service members, military installations, and industrial base. The bill includes a nearly $5 billion increase for shipbuilding above President Trump’s budget request, and gives active-duty military personnel a 2.4 percent pay raise.
The bill also makes permanent the Special Survivor Indemnity Allowance payments to surviving military spouses. The more than 60,000 Americans whose spouses died either on active duty or during retirement will continue to receive $310 per month plus cost-of-living-adjustment indefinitely.
Additional provisions added by Wicker to the defense bill that could impact Mississippi include:
- Encouraging the Navy to continue developing cutting-edge electronic jammer technology. Jammers prevent enemy air defenses from detecting and shooting down American fighter and bomber planes.
- Directing the Air Force to study opportunities to increase use of civilian airports to support pilot training, which could inform how Columbus Air Force Base makes cooperative agreements with nearby airports; and
- Mandating that the Pentagon reviews its protected vehicle inventory, including Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles.
- Authorizing multiyear procurement contract authority to allow the Navy to buy up to 15 DDG-51 Flight III Destroyers;
- Authorizing $1.75 billion funding for an additional Arleigh Burke-class Flight III destroyer (DDG-51) plus $250 million to buy long-lead items;
- Authorizing $1.5 billion in funding for an additional Marine Corps amphibious transport ship (LPD-30);
- Encouraging the Navy to accelerate procurement of 9th Amphibious Assault Ship (LHA-9); and
- Requiring the Navy to evaluate expanding its test and training range locations for unmanned maritime systems.
Wicker also added a provision to the defense bill to help military officials identify the cause of recent physiological episodes (PE) experienced by Navy and Marine Corps pilots at NAS Meridian and other training facilities. The plan would authorize the Secretary of Defense to offer a $10 million prize – similar to the XPrize – to incentivize the brightest minds in academia and industry to help find the root cause or causes of PE.
The defense bill also includes a proposal spearheaded by Wicker and Sen. Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.Va., to allow National Guardsmen, Reservists, and their dependents to sign up for TRICARE 90 days prior to deployment and keep TRICARE for 90 days after they return. Currently, Guardsmen and Reservists have no lead time to switch their families to TRICARE and no grace period when they come home.
Another Wicker-sponsored provision would require the TRICARE pharmacy contractor to update its prescription drug-pricing standard regularly, something that Medicare Part D sponsors already do. This would result in greater drug price transparency for beneficiaries and community pharmacists, as well as lead to more access to cost-effective generic drugs.
Finally, Wicker and Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., were successful in adding their proposal to improve the nation’s cybersecurity workforce pipeline by expanding and enhancing an existing federal scholarship program for students pursuing degrees in cybersecurity fields. The “Cyber Scholarship Opportunities Act” would expand and improve the National Science Foundation’s (NSF) CyberCorps: Scholarship-for-Service program, which provides ROTC-style scholarships to students pursuing degrees in cybersecurity, helps colleges and universities develop cybersecurity programs, and sponsors cyber boot camps for K-12 students to increase cyber literacy among America’s youth.