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Proposed COVID-19 Relief Package Includes $2.2B for Shipbuilding, 4 Hospital Ships

Austal USA EPF medical concept. AUSTAL USA Image

Republican senators want to include $2.2 billion for Navy shipbuilding in the latest round of relief funds meant to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

According to the text of the bill, lawmakers would allot $1.45 billion of that money so the service could buy four “expeditionary medical ships.”

The proposed funds for medical vessels come after the Navy dispatched its two hospital ships, USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) and USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), earlier this year to aid in pandemic relief efforts. Austal USA, which builds the Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) vessels in Mobile, Ala., has evaluated the potential to use the EPF hull for missions like hospital ships.

The legislation also includes $250 million in funding for amphibious vessels, $260 million for a traditional EPF, and another $250 million for “the surface combatant supplier base program.”

The proposal features $153 million for the Navy’s operations and maintenance account that lawmakers would require the service to use for ship depot maintenance.

For the Navy’s aircraft procurement account, the proposal allots $1.068 billion for the service to buy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft. Boeing, which has been hit hard by the pandemic and suffered layoffs, builds the P-8.

The legislation also includes $41.4 billion for the Navy’s weapons account, specifically for the over-the-horizon Naval Strike Missile outfitted on Littoral Combat Ships, and $49.1 million for the service to buy sonobuoys using its other procurement account.

The draft includes a “Defense Industrial Base Resiliency Fund” for the Navy and Marine Corps that would get $4.7 billion under the proposal. According to the draft, the fund is meant to help the Navy secretary with the cost of altering contracts and moving funds between the service’s various accounts.

Over the last few months, the Navy has sought to stabilize the defense industrial base in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic by speeding up contract awards as a way to maintain the cash flow to companies. Navy acquisition executive James Geurts has repeatedly said his objective is to sustain industry by providing a steady amount of work so companies can weather the varying impacts of the pandemic. According to a summary of the defense portion of the relief package, lawmakers would appropriate approximately $8 billion “for procurement and acquisition efforts to support the defense industrial base.”

The Senate’s draft proposes $694 million for the “Navy Working Capital Fund,” which is meant
“to provide liquidity to position” the money to tackle the coronavirus crisis.

Lawmakers also included additional funds for operations and maintenance, with $135.5 that would go to the Marine Corps and $458.2 million to the Navy. Another $34.8 million is inserted for the Navy’s “other procurement” budget line. The proposal would allot $20 million in research and development funding for the Navy that the service must use for “unfunded requirements” that are part of the Marine Corps’ force design initiative.

Text of the legislation says the funding lawmakers would appropriate for the Navy are meant “to prevent, prepare for, and respond to coronavirus, domestically or internationally.”

Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), who chairs the upper chamber’s appropriations committee, yesterday unveiled the $306-billion coronavirus package. The bill would have to pass both the Senate and the Democrat-controlled House to become law. Democrats have criticized the bill and argued it does not appropriately address the pandemic. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) in a tweet yesterday called the package “a half-hearted, half-baked legislative proposal.”