Virginia’s congressional delegation, led by Congressman Rob Wittman (R-Virginia-01), is warning the Navy not to forget the East Coast and Norfolk Naval Shipyard as international military and commercial dynamics draw attention to China and Russia.
“As we pivot towards the Indo-Pacific in our global force posture, it comes as no surprise that we’ve bolstered our presence on our Western Seaboard through increases in homeported ships. This increased presence is of such magnitude that San Diego has eclipsed Norfolk in the sheer number of homeported ships,” the delegation wrote in a letter to Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday.
The letter argues that although naval power might be more relevant in the Pacific, the U.S. needs to maintain ships in the Atlantic in case of a sudden need. Additionally, they note that it is quicker to deploy to the Persian Gulf from Norfolk than from San Diego.
But a key concern for Virginia politicians is the economic impact of the Navy.
“Moreover, the positioning of our fleet must not only consider the imminent and intermediate threats we face, but the long-term economic successes of the United States that rely on secure operations. The Port of Virginia remains a critical economic asset, and Norfolk-based ships protect both this and the Port of New York, among other economic entities. The security of these assets is imperative not only to our economic viability, but to the global economy,” the letter argues.
55 vessels have homeports at one of Virginia’s Hampton Roads naval facilities, according to data from the Naval Vessel Register, in addition to civilian-crewed ships. According to economic impact statements from the Navy, in 2019, 2018, and 2017 there were 54 Navy Ships homeported in the area. According to the 2019 report, released in December 2020, the Navy spent $15.4 billion in the Hampton Roads region, down $600 million from 2018, when several major construction projects were completed.
“This report shows the Navy continues to be a major economic driver in Hampton Roads that provides meaningful employment for uniformed personnel and civilians while also supporting private businesses throughout the region,” Navy Region Mid-Atlantic Commander Rear Admiral Charles Rock said in an accompanying press release in December.
Meanwhile, the 2019 San Diego Military Economic Impact Study shows the number of ships based in San Diego rising from 49 in 2015 to a projected 65 in 2020. The total economic impact of San Diego’s military community, including Department of Defense, Coast Guard, and Veterans Affairs, was $28.1 billion. The projected increase in number of ships in 2020 was also expected to add 7,500 employees. Not counting civilian-crewed ships, NVR data shows 58 ships with homeports in San Diego.
Wittman’s letter comes a month after he and Senator Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) announced the SHIPYARD Act that would provide $21 billion investment in the Navy’s four shipyards, including Norfolk Naval Shipyard. In the House Armed Services Committee last week committee Vice Chair Congresswoman Elaine Luria (D-Virginia-02) highlighted her support for revitalizing the maritime industry and commercial shipbuilding in the U.S.
“As the Navy shifts its attention to China and the Pacific, we cannot ignore the need to maintain a strong presence on the East Coast, especially at Norfolk Naval Shipyard,” Wittman said in a press release announcing the letter.
He said, “The naval presence here is critical not only to national security, but to Virginia’s economy. That’s especially true in the Hampton Roads region, where the Navy serves as our greatest economic driver. I want to thank the entire Virginia delegation for joining me in calling on the Navy to keep ships homeported at Norfolk Naval Shipyard.”
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