Mississippi military bases and defense contractors are expected to receive an estimated $8 billion in federal defense authorizations for fiscal year 2000.
“This is the best defense authorization bill in a number of years,” said U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss). “It ensures that our nation’s ongoing defense needs will be met, and it also provides resources that are immediately needed by our military personnel carrying out missions in Kosovo, Iraq and Bosnia.”
Lott, U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss) and other senators from both parties also defeated a proposed amendment to the defense bill that called for another round of base closures in 2001 by the Base Closure and Realignment Commission (BRAC). Lott said it wasn’t the time for more BRAC hearings.
“With a war in Kosovo and reports of Chinese espionage of our most sacred nuclear secrets, America needs to be strengthening her defense, not weakening it,” Lott said. “We just passed an emergency supplemental measure to add infrastructure to European facilities in support of the administration’s strategy in Kosovo. This is no time for base closures.”
“These funds will help modernize the military facilities in Mississippi and ensure that U.S. military personnel will be well prepared to defend our national security interests,” said Cochran. “It will also ensure that Mississippi continues to play an integral role in our country’s defense.”
Cochran said funding important research and development programs at various Mississippi universities shows the importance of state universities to national defense. Research is underway at Mississippi universities on acoustics, computational design for ships, new applications for polymers and innovative use of computers in distance learning.
The authorizations have not received final approval by Congress, but are expected to be approved with only minor alterations.
The Mississippi spending includes funds for the operation and maintenance of each military base, including payroll, weapons systems built in the state and for regional counter-drug intelligence operations.
Overall, the $288.8 billion in appropriations is $8.3 billion above the Clinton administration’s request for FY 2000, representing a 2.2% increase. The bill includes a 4.8% pay raise for military personnel effective Jan. 1, 2000.
“Our military force is deployed globally,” Lott said. “We are asking a lot from today’s men and women in uniform. This pay raise is well deserved. Our service personnel deserve the best quality-of-life improvements that we can provide.”
The bill also includes funds for construction of two DDG-51 Aegis guided missile destroyers to be built at Ingalls Shipbuilding of Pascagoula, two KC-130J aircraft constructed at Meridian’s Lockheed-Martin facility, 15 additional T-45C trainer aircraft for Naval Air Station Meridian and more than $100 million for electronics systems to be manufactured at Forest’s Raytheon plant.
Not everyone was pleased with the defense appropriations added above what was requested in the adminstration’s proposed defense budget. Brian Hughes, director of the national security reform project, Taxpayers for Common Sense, said some of the projects approved for Mississippi were not requested or wanted by the U.S. Navy.
“Taxpayers for Common Sense is always targeting spending that military experts say is unneeded,” Hughes said. “And when something isn’t in the President’s budget, it is because the Pentagon didn’t put it there. A great example of this is the LHD-8 helicopter carrier ship. Currently there are seven in the U.S. Naval Fleet. According to the Navy, the seven are what they need, and they aren’t really looking for more. Lott argues that the Navy needs them whether they realize it or not. The Navy says it can refurbish the ones they have and keep them going longer. The reality is that the Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula is the major recipient of this spending the Navy doesn’t need.”
Hughes said last year Lott added $50 million for the LHD-8 program above the President’s budget, and this year Lott added $375 million. Hughes said that is for gradual purchasing of parts and payments for building a LHD-8, which has a total price tag of $1.5 billion. The Navy has said it prefers refurbishing a LHA, an older-model helicopter carrier, for $950 million.