WASHINGTON — Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is passing the Seapower Subcommittee gavel to self-described “China watcher” Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga., as part of a larger reshuffle on the Senate Armed Services Committee for the new Congress.
“Today, we have the smallest Army since WWII, the smallest Navy since WWI, and the oldest and smallest Air Force ever. At the same time, we face complex threats from China, North Korea, Russia, and Iran,” Perdue said in a statement Friday to Defense News.
"A robust naval fleet is critical to deter aggression worldwide, project power, and support our allies. The Subcommittee on Seapower will provide vital oversight and support for our Navy and Marine Corps as they work to meet the increasing demand of global missions.”
Perdue’s state hosts nine military installations, including the 40-year-old Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, which is home to six Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines, two guided-missile submarines and a facility that assembles the D-5 ballistic missile.
Perdue’s selection to head the Senate Seapower Subcommittee is a bicameral coup for the U.S. Navy’s submariners. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., who is the presumptive head of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee, has been a fierce advocate for submarine building.
Courtney’s district includes the General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard where the new Columbia class — set to replace the Ohio class in 2027 — will be constructed. The two chairmen will have outsized voices in how many Columbia-class subs will be built, as well as the future role of the aging Kings Bay.
A rare Seapower chairman without a major shipbuilder in his state, and a fiscal conservative, Perdue will bring objectivity to the sub-panel and “a needed focus on more bang for the buck,” said Arnold Punaro, a retired two-star and SASC staff director under Georgia Sen. Sam Nunn, now retired.
Perdue has used his experience as a businessman who lived and worked in Asia to become a voice in Congress on China issues, including trade and human rights. Perdue sits on the Senate Budget Committee and sat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee until recently.
On the SASC since 2016, Perdue has grilled administration officials about Beijing’s military buildup and whether the size of America’s sub fleet can match competitors. Last year, he traveled to Japan, Taiwan and Singapore, where he touted the U.S. military’s role in securing free trade and safe shipping lanes.
“He has become a real expert on China both from an economic and military standpoint,” Punaro said of Perdue. “The U.S. military, and in particular the Navy, needs to be extremely focused on Chinese naval power and their other threats in the maritime domain.”
Wicker, the sea power panel’s chair since 2015, relinquished the gavel to become chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. He and his House counterpart, Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Va., saw their legislation to turn the Navy’s 355-ship requirement into U.S. policy signed into law a year ago.
SASC leaders announced a new roster Thursday that mostly maintains the status quo at the top, following a wider shakeup.
For the minority, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., replaced former Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., as ranking member on the Cybersecurity Subcommittee.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., replaced former Sen. Joe Donnelly as ranking member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., replaced Heinrich as ranking member of the Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee.
The leadership of SASC subcommittees is as follows:
Subcommittee on Airland
- Chair: Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark.
- Ranking member: Sen. Angus King, I-Maine
Subcommittee on Cybersecurity
- Chair: Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.
- Ranking member: Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.
Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities
- Chair: Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa
- Ranking member: Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich.
Subcommittee on Personnel
- Chair: Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
- Ranking member: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.
Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support
- Chair: Sen. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska
- Ranking member: Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va.
Subcommittee on Seapower
- Chair: Sen. David Perdue, R-Ga.
- Ranking member: Sen. Maizie Hirono, D-Hawaii
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces
- Chair: Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb.
- Ranking member: Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
Joe Gould is senior Pentagon reporter for Defense News, covering the intersection of national security policy, politics and the defense industry.
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News. Before that, he reported for Navy Times.