This summer, the Senate will move to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for the 60th year in a row. This annual legislation authorizes military spending to meet the needs expressed by our top military leaders. As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I worked to craft core elements of this legislation and hope it will pass soon.
The Senate bill would give our military momentum as it continues to grow and modernize. It would keep military manufacturing companies on a reliable production schedule despite the disruptions of the COVID-19 crisis. And it would provide new support to military families who sacrifice every day alongside their loved ones in uniform.
The U.S. Navy needs more vessels to meet the growing threat from China and other adversaries. Mississippi shipbuilders play a critical role in keeping our Navy well-supplied. This year’s defense bill would approve two submarines, two destroyers, two rescue ships, and a frigate for the Navy. It would also allow the military to purchase four amphibious assault ships to be built in Mississippi. In addition, the Navy recently announced plans to build a destroyer in Pascagoula. These projects would bring our Navy closer to the total of 355 ships required by the SHIPS Act, a law I authored in 2017.
This legislation would also help businesses, large and small, across America that are struggling amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Our shipbuilding and aircraft industries rely on supply companies that support hundreds of thousands of jobs. This legislation would authorize funds to help protect these jobs during a time of economic distress.
In addition to providing equipment, the Senate bill would boost active-duty service numbers for the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Under the legislation, the Army would grow by 5,000 soldiers to reach a force of 485,000, the Navy would grow by 6,200 sailors to reach 346,730, and the Air Force would add 675 airmen to reach a total of 333,475.
The Senate also included my amendment to expand Junior ROTC programs to more high schools across America. This is the result of an initiative of mine two years ago. In 2018, I introduced the JROTC Act to support more JROTC units and help schools in rural and underserved areas participate. The passage of that legislation led to funding for roughly 150 new units. This year’s legislation sets the goal of having at least 3,700 units nationwide.
JROTC is a powerful tool for building character and skill in our high school students. Statistics show that compared to their peers, young cadets have better grades, lower dropout rates, and higher rates of graduation and admission to college. I have met with JROTC cadets from across Mississippi and will continue supporting this remarkable program.
Military families know that serving in the Armed Forces is truly a family endeavor. As an Air Force veteran and the father of an Air Force officer, I understand the unique hardships our military families face.
The Senate legislation includes measures to help our military families. It would provide a three percent pay raise for all troops and would improve services for military children with special needs. It would also help military spouses gain employment in licensed professions. Additionally, I worked to include a provision making National Guardsmen and Reservists eligible for housing at the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport.
As Congress finalizes this legislation, I am mindful of the support we owe to the men and women who keep us safe. This bill would make good on that debt.