Senator Wicker Led Armed Services Republicans in Navy, Marine Corps Hearing

Miss. Senator takes opportunity to express how integral Mississippi’s contributions are to the Navy’s future and our national security

May 16, 2024

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the highest-ranking Republican on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, led his colleagues in a hearing examining the state of the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps and their shipbuilding programs.

The hearing was one of the few opportunities Americans had to hear senior Navy and Marine Corps leaders’ assessments of U.S. national security challenges.

Secretary of the Navy Hon. Carlos Del Toro, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Lisa M. Franchetti, USN, and Commandant of the Marine Corps General Eric M. Smith, USMC testified before the committee.

In his opening remarks, Senator Wicker spoke to several key themes, to include:

  • Ongoing challenges to the Navy’s force structure, which Senator Wicker stated is too small and old to service the National Defense Strategy.
  • The need for the Navy to rebuild by focusing on several of its key programs such as the Constellation-class frigate, amphibious ships, and Landing Ship Medium – a difficult task under current fiscal constraints.
  • Declining recruitment numbers for the Navy. 2024 risks a 15 percent shortfall in Navy recruitment goals, which could prove extremely detrimental to the service.

During the hearing, Senator Wicker also expressed to the senior leaders how integral Mississippi's contributions are to the Navy’s future and our national security, most notably:

  • Block-buys for amphibious warships, which are produced at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
  • Continued advancement of the stable and effective procurement of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which are also produced at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
  • Acceleration of research & development within the Navy, especially for the submarine industrial base, in which Seemann Composites in Gulfport, Mississippi plays an integral role.
  • Ensuring dominance in next-generation technologies such as unmanned systems and sensing, which Mississippi companies such as Camgian Microsystems, Hyperion, Skydweller, OceanAero, Integer Technologies, and multiple educational institutions are refining.


Read Senator Wicker’s opening statement as delivered below or watch it here.

Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. I’m grateful to our witnesses for appearing today, and like you, Mr. Chairman, I want to extend an especially warm welcome to General Smith.

General Smith, I think this is, without question, your first visit to this committee since your heart operation. My colleagues and I are very grateful for your recovery.

I was interested to see the special report on one of the news programs just a few days ago. My hat is off to the Good Samaritan, Tim LaLonde – a CPR-trained bystander – who happened along, highly trained, and was willing and capable of keeping you alive, helping you in your time of need.

I’m grateful, and this nation is grateful to this young man. And I know this experience has given you renewed appreciation for your loved ones and for the Marines you’re leading. So, glad to see you looking so good.

I want to join all of you in expressing our gratitude to the men and women serving in our Marine Corps and our Navy. In the Red Sea and elsewhere, they execute missions of which there are no other naval forces capable. For one example, our Navy has been the first to shoot down an anti-ship ballistic missile fired in conflict. They are accomplishing feats like this so routinely that our nation could easily forget what an astounding accomplishment that was, and what astounding abilities we have.

Destroyers, like the USS Gravely, which was built in my home state of Mississippi, are protecting maritime commerce, our allies, and our own forces. For months on end, they operate persistently within range of enemy weapons.

Their skill and bravery are evident, but these missions come at a cost. Putting our young men and women on extended deployments places sailor welfare, materiel readiness, and weapons inventory at risk.

This committee has a lot of work to do. And we have a quantum leap that we need to make. And we need to do it soon.

The truth is that our naval fleet is too small and too old to meet the demands of our combatant commanders and our National Defense Strategy, particularly in the years going forward.

The urgent need to rebuild the Navy is not lost on this committee. The pertinent question becomes, “How should we rebuild?”

It’s clear we will not be able to do so with the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2025 budget request, which contains cuts to naval personnel, shipbuilding, weapons, and military construction. We will not be able to meet the needs of our nation with that request. We’re going to have to address this by working across the aisle, and I’m glad to be sitting next to a chairman who has shown a willingness to do this over time.

Here are the facts: compared to Fiscal Year 2023, President Biden has asked the Navy to take a three percent cut when accounting for inflation. These cuts impact the capacity of our force. The Navy is asking to retire 19 battle force ships and procure only six. It’s just a fact.

This is completely unacceptable. As I’ve done in the past, I want to work with my colleagues in Congress, as I say, across the aisle and in the other body, to fix the Navy’s budget.

The Navy has work to do internally while my colleagues and I work on the budget. The Secretary’s 45-day shipbuilding review found delays across the entire portfolio. For example, the Constellation-class frigate will be three years late and will take nearly ten years to deliver the lead ship. This is largely because the Navy cannot keep its requirements steady. Almost 70 percent of the requirements have changed since the Navy signed a contract.

So, the outcome that we see today is no surprise. This is not an example of the industry underperforming. This is senior officials unable to manage a program. This is acquisition malpractice and a terrible waste of time and resources.

I want to understand what urgent steps the Secretary will take to improve the Navy as a customer, regulator, and technical authority.

The upcoming Landing Ship Medium program presents an opportunity for the Navy to avoid heading down the same disappointing path as the frigate. The Congressional Budget Office estimates a cost two-to-three times greater than the Navy had budgeted. This new program can apply lessons learned to ensure that the Marines get a ship at the capacity and schedule they need for campaigning in the Pacific.

I appreciate the efforts of the submarine industrial base community over the past five years. And I do appreciate the Chair’s kind words about our efforts and our success recently in getting over $3 billion for the industrial base.

The industrial base community is dealing in a holistic fashion with structural workforce and supply chain problems. That’s why I insisted last year, as a condition for the AUKUS agreement, that the administration make a significant down payment on the submarine industrial base. This resulted in the $3.4 billion that was included in the national security supplemental appropriation.

However, I remain concerned that this approach has not been taken for other ship classes.

Finally, I want to touch on the continuing recruiting crisis facing our military. Every service has struggled in recent years, but the Navy has been unique in its response. Other services have invested in reforms and new programs without sacrificing quality, but the Navy has lowered standards. That approach does not appear to be working. Recent reports indicate that the Navy could miss its recruiting mission by nearly 15 percent this year. We need to know if that’s true.

The Army and Air Force are now optimistic about their ability to achieve their respective recruiting goals. It’s time for the Navy to learn from every other service and re-emphasize quality. I hope our witnesses will explain to this committee how they plan to fix the Navy’s recruiting crisis without sacrificing basic standards.

And that’s just the beginning of what I would like to say. We’ll follow up more on some questions. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.