Last week, President Joe Biden signed into law the National Defense Authorization Act, an annual defense policy bill which gained final approval in Congress earlier this month. In a boon for South Alabama’s shipbuilding industry, the bill includes authorization for almost $600 million to procure two Expeditionary Fast Transport ships – known as the EPF – built by Austal USA in Mobile. The inclusion of two ships is welcome news for thousands of shipbuilders who rely on consistent workload – particularly given the Navy’s failure to include any EPFs in its budget request earlier this year.
At the helm of this effort is Representative Jerry Carl (AL-01) who represents Mobile and serves on the House Armed Services Committee and its subcommittee overseeing Navy programs. Carl likely received much needed support in this effort from Representative Mike Rogers (AL-03) who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee and wields considerable influence over military programs and policies.
Rogers is expected to take over as chair of the House Armed Services Committee if Republicans win back the House in upcoming midterm elections.
Carl, a former businessman and first term congressman, has made supporting workload for Alabama’s shipbuilders a top priority. After successfully securing a coveted seat on the Armed Services Committee, the inclusion of a second EPF in the $768 billion defense bill is likely a welcome indication of his hard work paying off.
Carl and Rogers also received support in the effort from several other Alabama representatives who serve on the Armed Services Committees, including Senator Tommy Tuberville (R-AL), who was able to secure authorization for one EPF in the Senate’s version of the defense bill. That insertion gave the conference committee – a group of members from the House and Senate charged with resolving differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill – the political cover needed to ensure two ships were included in the final authorization legislation.
Now that the funding for the ships has been authorized, Congress must now appropriate actual dollars to fund the military programs and activities. Thankfully for Alabama’s defense industry, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), who is set to retire after his current term, and Representative Robert Aderholt (AL-04) are both senior members of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees respectively. Their positions and tenure on the Appropriations Committees position them well to ensure the EPFs and other priority Alabama defense programs are fully funded. Debate and consideration of appropriations legislation will pick up in the new year as current funding for the entire government expires on February 18.
For background, the EPF is a non-combatant transport ship built by Austal USA for the Navy. In addition to its critical transportation role, the Navy is utilizing the ship to explore advanced technologies for the future naval force. These include a $44 million contract awarded to Austal USA in June to prototype autonomous vessel technology on the USNS Apalachicola (EPF 13).
In addition to the EPF, Austal USA also builds one variant of the Littoral Combat Ship, known as LCS, a small-surface combatant currently deployed in both the South China Sea and in Latin America. While Austal will continue to build the remainder of authorized and funded LCS vessels, the company was unsuccessful in its bid to build the next generation frigate, the follow-on program to the LCS.
That loss makes it even more critical that Alabama’s congressional delegation ensure a consistent workload for Alabama shipbuilders in this year’s NDAA. As the Senate and House consider appropriations legislation in the new year, you can be sure the Alabama delegation will have all hands on deck to bring the effort over the finish line.
Jake Proctor is a former intelligence officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency and previously held staff and defense policy positions for U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Luther Strange (R-AL), and Joni Ernst (R-IA). He currently works in business development at software company in Washington, D.C., focusing on the company’s intelligence community and defense work. He is a Birmingham native and graduate of the University of Alabama and the U.S. Air Command and Staff College.