Wicker Delivers Floor Speech on Navy, China, Deterrence
Miss. Senator: “The Peace and Security of the Free World Depends on Our Navy”
May 4, 2023
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee took to the Senate floor yesterday to address the growing naval threat posed by China in the Western Pacific, as well as measures the U.S. should take to revitalize its naval fleet.
In his remarks, Wicker observed that as American shipbuilding has declined significantly in the decades following the Cold War, China has moved to build the world’s largest fleet of warships. He added that naval power has been decisive in America’s role as a world power and that a strong Navy would serve as a critical deterrent against Chinese aggression against Taiwan.
“Beijing knows a great navy is a necessary step in their march for regional dominance,” Wicker said. “And so, while our own shipyards closed and our shipbuilding budgets shrank, China went to sea.”
The Mississippi senator also warned that time is limited for the United States Navy to rebuild its fleet, as China may consider military action against Taiwan within this decade. China’s increased military capability is coming at the same time that the Department of Defense is retiring U.S. warships at an accelerated rate, causing a scenario where Chinese military power grows while American naval strength does not.
“Time is not on our side. We have promising new military technology set to come online in a decade or more, but China will likely reach its strongest position against us well before that new technology of ours is operational,” Wicker said. “That, combined with the retirement of ships built in the 1980s, has led some to dub the coming decade the “terrible 20s.” Our Navy struggles to meet basic requirements while Xi Jinping visits Chinese military installations and tells his sailors to prepare for war.”
Among other solutions, Wicker suggested massive investments in American shipyards, fielding technically advanced capabilities for the Navy, and boosting successful deterrence efforts like Marine Corps exercises with coalition partners as means to ensure China does not gain the upper hand.
Read the full speech as delivered below, or watch here. Read more about Wicker’s recent work on national defense here.
I come before the Senate today to discuss the United States Navy’s ability to deter conflict in the Pacific. As China’s navy has grown, ours has shrunk – and we are running out of time to tilt the balance of power back toward the United States and to ensure that deterrence does not fail in the Western Pacific.
For centuries, American naval power has proven the decisive factor in our security and prosperity. The U.S. Navy secured our victory in the American Revolution during the 18th century. It enabled our transformation into a world power in the 19th century. It defeated adversaries in two world wars in the 20th century. And it will decide our success or failure in this century, too.
China’s rising strength on the seas is a direct threat to international peace and security. Their ability to control the major sea lanes strikes at the heart of free and market based economies in Asia and across the globe. For a few minutes today, I will outline that threat, our lack of preparedness, and what it will take for us to deter China from acting irresponsibly.
The Chinese Communist Party understands a truth 19th century American captain Alfred Thayer Mahan summarized when he said, “Whoever rules the waves rules the world.” Beijing knows a great navy is a necessary step in their march for regional dominance.
And so, while our own shipyards closed and our shipbuilding budgets shrank, China went to sea.
According to the Secretary of the Navy, China has more shipbuilding capacity in one shipyard than we have in our entire industrial base. By the end of this decade, China is expected to have a fleet of 440 warships. If the Navy’s latest 30-year shipbuilding plan is a guide, we would have only 290. Of course, the statutory requirement enacted by Congress and signed by the President is 355 ships.
A Chinese navy of the size that I mentioned and strength relative to our own directly endangers our partners in Taiwan, our allies in Japan and the Philippines, and our military bases in the Pacific. More Chinese ships means more sea-based Chinese vertical launch cells – missile delivery systems which are the primary offensive tool of any navy. A recent analysis found Beijing has more vertical launch cells than the U.S. and our allies combined. Those cells, in addition to China’s extensive sensing capabilities on the ground and in space, increase their advantage in the Western Pacific as our Navy plays an “away game,” far from home.
These troubling facts demand a decisive response, and yet our Navy has failed to keep up. The Department of Defense recently delivered another 30-year shipbuilding plan that fails to meet Congress’s requirement. Their plan contained three shipbuilding options, only one of which would grow the fleet to the legally required battle force size of 355 ships. Even then, it would take two decades to get there.
This is not a blueprint for long-term American command of the sea. Instead, the administration is ceding control of the western Pacific to the dictator, Xi Jinping, and his communist fleet.
In fact, we are still living off the remains of the Reagan-era defense buildup, retiring ships we built at the end of the Cold War without replacing them. Our shipbuilding pace has slowed. At the peak of the 1980s production surge, we constructed four Los Angeles-class attack submarines every year. Today, we struggle to build just two advanced submarines annually.
Some put a positive spin on this policy, labeling it a “strategic pause,” or saying this is a deliberate strategy of “divest to invest.” Whatever the catchphrase, it is dangerous, Madame President. We are shrinking our fleet and leaving our sailors to fight a war without the tools to win.
In some cases, technicians are forced to repair destroyers by taking parts off of other destroyers just to meet deployment requirements. One of our most vital submarines in the Indo-Pacific – the USS Connecticut – sustained damage two years ago, and will likely not be repaired for another five years. Another five years. Congress has already appropriated $50 million to repair the Connecticut, and we will probably need to set aside more funds. The USS Boise, one of our fast-attack nuclear submarines, has spent eight years in dry dock – eight years – to receive rudimentary maintenance. This is absolutely unacceptable. It will cost over $350 million to repair the Boise, on top of the costs associated with keeping it in port for nearly a decade.
A diminished fleet size is not just about numbers. It has other cascading negative effects, particularly on our sailors. When we have fewer assets and yet ask our Navy to perform the same mission, we make sailors take longer deployments. That means a lower quality of life and higher stress on our ships and our sailors, both of which impede our readiness efforts, and our recruitment and retention, I might add.
This diminished naval strength leaves us in a dangerous near-term situation with China, whose ambitions to dominate Asia loom large over the next decade.
And time is not on our side. We have promising new military technology set to come online in a decade or more, but China will likely reach its strongest position against us well before that new technology of ours is operational. That, combined with the retirement of ships built in the 1980s, has led some to dub the coming decade the “terrible 20s.”
Our Navy struggles to meet basic requirements while Xi Jinping visits Chinese military installations and tells his sailors to prepare for war. This discrepancy led Director of Naval Intelligence Rear Admiral Mike Studeman to say that we have “China blindness.” It is no small thing for a one-star to tell us we are blind to the capabilities and urgency of our chief adversary’s military.
We are short on time, but we are not out of time. We do not want a conflict with China. The United States and China can prosper and coexist. But the best way to achieve peace is deterrence. To deter China in the short-term and restore our long-term maritime dominance, I propose three concrete steps we can take right now:
First, we need to make a monumental investment in maritime infrastructure. Our shipbuilders are ready to build more, but they need the investments in machine tooling, workforce, and materials. As our Chief of Naval Operations recently testified, our Navy should get a second shipyard for Constellation-class frigate construction. And we should increase investments in our submarine industrial base if we have any hope of implementing the AUKUS deal. AUKUS is a 2022 agreement in which we promised to sell nuclear submarines to Australia as fast as we can build them.
Congress can spark a renaissance of shipbuilding by offering a demand signal for a major maritime buildup. Alongside a bipartisan group of representatives and senators, I have introduced the SHIPYARD Act to offer just such a demand signal. The Act authorizes $25 billion of investment in our shipbuilding efforts. It empowers our shipyards to build the future of the U.S. Navy fleet and could be immediately implemented into this year’s defense funding measures.
Increased funding could push the Department of the Navy’s Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program to new levels of efficacy. This would add to the success we are already seeing, and there is no time to waste.
Second, we must immediately give the Navy the capabilities they need to deter a conflict in the next five years. This means taking technologies and concepts that are already on the shelf and integrating them into our Western Pacific posture. We should be forging ahead with purchases of sea mines, unmanned platforms, and long-range munitions, which would all be relevant and capable in the near-term. We also need to accelerate our efforts to field Maritime Target Cells to ensure our fleet is properly able to coordinate and target adversarial assets far from our shores.
Third, we should continue to boost the programs within the Navy that are already making major strides toward deterring China. Commandant of the Marine Corps David Berger’s Force Design 2030 has transformed the Marine Corps into the cutting edge of our deterrent posture in the Pacific. And General Berger needs a fleet of amphibious warships to complete the job. Congress should step up and add funding for amphibious ships in the next NDAA. Multi-year block buys would also signal demand to the shipbuilding industry.
These programs will be difficult and will, of course, also cost money. But failing to complete them will facilitate China’s advance and be much more difficult and expensive in the long run. We are in our most dangerous national security moment since World War II.
Yes, we are in our most dangerous security moment since World War II, Madame President, and we must urgently restore our naval deterrent to meet the moment.
Others have recognized this throughout our history. Reflecting on the dark days of World War II in early 1942, the great Winston Churchill wrote that, “the foundation of all of our hopes and dreams was the immense shipbuilding program of the United States.” Once again, the peace and security of the free world depends on our Navy. We need to rebuild it with haste.