Hampton Roads gets a bigger voice on a key defense panel

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Dave Ress, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read
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Two Congressional neighbors from Hampton Roads — Rep. Elaine Luria, D-Norfolk, and Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland — are taking on new leadership roles in a key defense policy panel.

Luria was elected vice chair of the House Armed Services Committee this week, while Wittman is stepping up to serve as the Republicans’ No. 2 on the committee.

Both will continued to serve on the seapower and projection forces subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over Navy and Marine Corps acquisition programs, shipbuilding and Air Force bomber, tanker, and airlift aircraft programs.

Luria said expanding the base of industries that maintain Navy ships and supporting shipyard workers is a top priority, as is rooting out racism in the ranks.

She also wants to to refocus Congress’s and the Navy’s attention on what Navy ships can actually do, how they function and how deployable they are.

Luria and Wittman agree that the Navy needs more ships, and both said the Navy needs to do a better job with long-term planning for the pacing and financing of construction.

Luria has said she wants to hear more about how the Navy plans to operate the large increase in unmanned vessels called for in the shipbuilding plan released in the last days of the Trump administration.

Both want to step up the pace of the Navy’s 20-year plan to modernize public shipyards, including Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Wittman said he expects private shipyards will continue to take on some work that had traditionally be slated for the Navy’s own facilities, now that the Navy is trying to ease pressure on the public yards by such moves as assigning overhauls of some Virginia class submarines to Newport News Shipbuilding.

He and Luria agree that the Navy needs to do a better job working with the industries that build and maintain Navy ships.

“If you go along the Elizabeth River today, there’s a ship in every drydock and every slip; two years ago they were empty,” Wittman said. “The companies need consistency.”

The two members of Congress also want to take a look at improving the Navy’s Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which sets guidelines for how ships and sailors deploy, how they prepare for deployment and how and when ships are maintained.

Luria and Wittman also agree that the Navy needs to have a credible presence in the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, where China has stepped up its naval operations.

Luria said the nation’s main adversary is China and future conflicts are likely to be naval, which means a building and deploying the right mix of ships to confront that challenge should be a national priority.

Wittman said he’ll be pressing the Air Force to bring an F-35 squadron to Langley Air Force Base, in addition to the F-22s slated to move to Hampton from Florida.

He said he’d also like to see more tanker aircraft rotating through Langley.

Dave Ress, 757-247-4535, dress@dailypress.com