House Majority Whip Visits Austal

The third-ranking member of the U.S. House toured the Austal USA shipbuilding facility in Mobile on Wednesday along with his host, U.S. Rep. Bradley Byrne, R-Fairhope, and Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson.

Byrne said he invited House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to tour Austal facilities for a “show-and-tell” session at the important Gulf Coast industrial employer.

McCarthy offered a strong endorsement of the shipyard’s contract to build Littoral Combat Ships for the U.S. Navy, the Mobile Press-Register reported. ““I am very impressed by what I’ve seen. These are the ships I look at to modernize our Navy. Whatever the military decides they need, they can do it.”

The Navy originally ordered 26 ships from Austal and 26 from Marinette Marine Corp. in Wisconsin.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel decreased the order to 32 coastal defense ships and ordered the Navy to review the program. The Obama administration is shrinking the Navy.

Byrne was sworn in in January after winning a special election. He said one of his top priorities is to protect the Mobile program. He enlisted McCarthy’s help.

“I don’t think there’s a better way to tell people about these ships than to bring them here and do a little show and tell,” Byrne said. “By hosting Congressman McCarthy at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, we can demonstrate the importance of the Littoral Combat Ship to the future of the U.S. Navy, and the jobs that are hosted here in Southwest Alabama, to this important decision maker.”

Byrne is on the powerful House Armed Services Committee and the subcommittees on Seapower and Projection Forces and Tactical Air and Land Forces.

McCarthy said he was impressed by how quickly the shipyard has grown since the company started in 1999. And he endorsed a key argument Byrne has made in favor of the LCS – the vessel is a cost-effective alternative to larger ships.

“These are the ships I look at to modernize our Navy,” McCarthy said. “Each ship that comes through comes at a lower cost because workers are learning things and becoming more efficient.”

There are two versions of the LCS – the aluminum-hulled trimaran Independence-class vessel in Mobile and the steel monohull Freedom-class LCS built in Wisconsin. Byrne said competition between the two shipyards is good.

Austal employs about 4,000 people in Mobile. The shipyard has five LCS ships under construction and plans to deliver the recently christened U.S.S. Jackson to the Navy by the end of the year. Austal also is building three, joint high speed vessels, which is a noncombat vessel designed to carry troops, weapons and cargo.

— Dana Beyerle