Jun 11 2015

AL.com: Spending more than Obama requested, Senate committee approves funds for 2 Mobile-made ships

The Senate Appropriations Committee on Thursday approved funding for two Mobile-made military vessels as part of its fiscal year 2016 defense bill.

The 27-3 vote sends the $575.9 billion spending measure to the full Senate.

The bill would spend $1.3 billion on the littoral combat ship program – the same as the bill that passed a House committee last month – and boosts funding for the non-combat joint high speed vessel by $225 million over President Barack Obama's request. Mobile-based Austal USA builds both ships.

The programs are part of an overall $18.2 billion set aside for Navy shipbuilding. That is $1.6 billion more than the president requested and would pay for one additional ship over his proposal. It is in line with a budget deal worked out in December.

"It is imperative that Congress provide our military with proper funding for the programs and resources necessary to protect our nation," U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Tuscaloosa, said in a prepared statement. "I am pleased that this year's Department of Defense Appropriations bill supports our top defense priorities, including several of Alabama's national defense capabilities that will allow our state to continue to play a leading role in serving our Armed Forces."

The full House passed its version of the defense appropriations bill on Thursday. It does not include funding for an additional joint high speed vessel, but Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, indicated that he supports the program's inclusion in the Senate version.

"It is clear that support for the Austal-built littoral combat ship and Joint High Speed Vessel is continuing to build on Capitol Hill," Byrne said in an emailed response to questions. "These ships are vital to the success of our Navy around the globe, and more and more members of Congress are starting to realize why the Navy is so supportive of these programs."

Byrne said he would work to get funding for the JHSV included when the House and Senate reconcile differences in the spending bill before sending it to the president.

Shelby specifically highlighted the LCS program, a contract Austal shares with Wisconsin-based Marinette Marine. The light, fast ship designed for combat near the shore has come under criticism but survived a Pentagon review last year.

"The LCS is extremely important to our Navy's ability to respond to current and future threats," Shelby said in the statement. "It is critical to ensure that the capabilities of our naval fleet are the very best and that our Armed Forces receive the equipment they need in executing future operations."

Shelby called the joint high speed vessel "an incredibly flexible vessel" that can quickly transport troops, equipment and supplies.

"The funding approved by the Committee today provides an additional JHSV, which will support all branches of the military services, and signals that south Alabama will continue to play an important role in our national security," the senator stated.

Appropriations Committee Chairman Thad Cochran, R-Miss., praised the bipartisan vote.

"We have worked together, as Republicans and Democrats, to write a responsible bill that provides the resources that the President and our military leaders say they need to defend our country and its national security interests," he said in a prepared statement.