Why Hampton Roads matters to national security: A primer

randy forbesColumn by Randy Forbes

82,000. That’s the number of military personnel – from all military services – who call the Hampton Roads region home. This comprises one of the highest concentrations in the entire country, with another 43,600 civilian employees of the Department of Defense and thousands more civilians performing more than $8 billion in DoD contracts. These are impressive numbers, and I believe they demonstrate an important truth: not only does Hampton Roads need a strong defense, a strong defense needs Hampton Roads.

What exactly does this military presence mean for our region? Why does it play such a crucial role in America’s national security? Here is what you need to know about defense in Hampton Roads:

 

What makes Hampton Roads unique?

Hampton Roads itself is one of the best natural harbors on the East Coast. It never freezes, it is relatively protected from hurricanes, it boasts of a 50-foot deep channel (allowing large ships to maneuver through), and there are no bridges that could block access.

On top of that, Hampton Roads is home to the only shipyard that can build and overhaul nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. It has one of only two shipyards in the entire country that can build nuclear-powered submarines. And three out of the nation’s five dry docks that are capable of accommodating a 1,000 foot aircraft carrier are located in this region.

 

What are the key military installations in Hampton Roads and what do they do?

Hampton Roads and the surrounding region comprise some of our nation’s most important military assets and installations. Here are some of the unique capabilities they contribute to our national defense:

  • Naval Station Norfolk is the largest naval base in the entire world and the home port of four U.S. Navy carrier strike groups.
  • Naval Weapons Station Yorktown stores the munitions needed by roughly half the U.S. Navy fleet.
  • Naval Air Station Oceana is one of the Navy’s two “Master Jet Bases,” overseeing pilot training and aircraft maintenance.
  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard repairs our nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, ballistic missile submarines, and attack submarines.  It is one of the few facilities in the world that can overhaul nuclear-powered submarine reactors and accommodate ships the size of our 1,000-foot aircraft carriers.
  • Fort Eustis is home to the Army’s four-star headquarters that oversees all Army training and doctrine and is responsible for thinking about the future of land warfare and the Army.
  • Langley Air Force Base is a four-star headquarters, which oversees the Air Force’s fleet of fighter, attack, and other support aircraft. The Air Force just announced that it will be establishing a new Cyber Operations Squadron there.
  • The Joint Information Operations Range (JIOR), based at Norfolk, provides a one of a kind, virtual training range for cyber warriors.
  • Dam Neck Annex is home to units that train our Navy’s warfighters and prepare them for combat.
  • The Northwest Annex is home to a U.S. Navy-operated over-the-horizon radar, a unique asset that can track drug runners off the coast of South America.

 

How many ships are in Hampton Roads?

Hampton Roads is especially important to our Navy as the base for a large portion of the fleet and a place where everything comes together before our forces deploy overseas. It is currently home to 4 of our 9 carrier strike groups, 3 of our 9 amphibious ready groups, and over one third of our destroyers and cruisers. Today, there are a total of 65 Navy ships homeported at Norfolk and Little Creek. Over the next five years, the Navy plans to increase the total to 69, but I am committed to growing the fleet even more.

 

What do the shipbuilding and ship repair industries do for our economy?

Hampton Roads employs roughly one fifth of the nation’s shipbuilders, while thousands of smaller businesses in Hampton Roads support the ship repair industry. This has huge ramifications for our economy, which is why I’ve worked to fully fund Navy ship repair and pushed the Navy to accelerate maintenance and modernization work to better sustain the ship repair sector in 2016 and beyond.

 

What does this military presence mean for Hampton Roads as a whole?

 11.8% of Virginia’s GDP is reliant on military spending—the highest percentage in the nation. Hampton Roads’ reliance is higher still, with 39% of the economy and 36% of jobs in the area supported by the military.

 

How does your role in Congress impact the region?

Protecting national security and fighting for the men and women who support our nation’s security are my top priorities in Congress — it is not only a duty, but a privilege, to do so.  As Chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, it’s my job to oversee key Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force programsincluding Navy force structure and shipbuilding, that are critical to Hampton Roads. I’ve worked to prevent this Administration from mothballing large portions of our cruiser fleet and led the charge to stop the relocation of an aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Florida – preserving thousands of jobs and millions in economic activity for Hampton Roads.

As a Subcommittee Chairman, I write large sections of the annual defense policy. This bill guides the direction of the entire Department of Defense and is the only bill in Congress to be consistently passed in a timely fashion by an overwhelmingly bipartisan vote year after year. Just last month, the Seapower legislation I authored passed the House as part of this bill. My legislation authorizes the highest levels of shipbuilding funding since the Reagan era, protects 1/12th of the Navy Fleet from inactivation, stops the Administration plan to scrap 1 out of 10 Carrier Air Wings, and represents a “down payment” on the 350 ship Navy our national security needs.

Finally, part of my job as a representative of Hampton Roads is to ensure that the military federal facilities in our area are protected from closure under the Base Realignment and Closure process (or BRAC), and to advocate for bringing more military missions to our region. Earlier this year, for example, I led 18 Senators and Members of Congress from Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware in advocating for basing the Navy’s new MQ-4C Triton unmanned aerial vehicle at Wallops Island on the Eastern Shore.  Wallops Island is one of many federal facilities in our area that has room to grow, and basing Navy aircraft there would bring hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars of economic activity.

 

Looking ahead…

Virginia has a proud tradition of supporting our country’s national security, and Hampton Roads in particular plays a key role in resourcing, strengthening, and equipping our military. Looking ahead, I am confident that our future will be defined by our commitment to our servicemembers and our national security, and by our ability to empower our region to keep leading the nation in ensuring a strong defense and a secure America.

Randy Forbes represents the Fourth District of Virginia in Congress.

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