Democrats have appointed Sen. Mazie Hirono to head the Senate Armed Forces Subcommittee on Seapower, which oversees most of the operations and funding for the Navy and Marine Corps.

Of the military branches, the Navy has the largest footprint in Hawaii. Oahu is home to the military’s Indo-Pacific Command — which has always been headed by an admiral — and the headquarters of the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet and Marine Corps Base Hawaii.

Hirono said she hopes “to sharpen the Navy and Marine Corps’ readiness to meet existing and emerging threats to our national security.”

Senator Mazie Hirono in our editorial board.
U.S. Sen. Mazie Hirono, pictured here in 2017, will be the new chair of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower, which oversees the Navy and Marine Corps. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

“Critical to this effort is building bipartisan support for a prudent shipbuilding plan that invests in our industrial base and delivers a fleet for the 21st century,” Hirono added Wednesday in a press release.

The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is the state’s top industrial employer with as many as 6,000 employees.

Hirono has served as the ranking member of the Seapower Subcommittee since 2015. In her time on the committee she has pushed efforts to modernize shipyards — including the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard — expanding the Navy’s fleets and encouraging closer military ties with nations in the Pacific and Asia.

The U.S. military has been engaged in a standoff with the Chinese Navy in the Pacific that has escalated since the beginning of the pandemic. Last year the leaders of the Navy, Marines and Coast Guard released a new strategy aimed at countering China and centered in the Pacific.

The Pacific Fleet has continuously conducted operations in the South China Sea, a critical maritime trade route through which a third of all global trade travels. The Marine Corps is currently beginning a process of reorganizing its entire force with a major emphasis on island and coastal fighting, starting with a “testing regiment” on Oahu.

The Marine Corps is also moving forces from Okinawa and spreading them across islands in the Pacific, with 5,000 moving to Guam and 2,700 to Oahu. Hawaii companies have been heavily involved in the process, winning multimillion dollar contracts to design and build new facilities both in Guam and Oahu.

While military spending has played an increasingly prominent role in Hawaii’s economy as tourism declines with the pandemic, residents have raised concerns about the environmental impact of training and facilities. Last month the Environmental Protection Agency reported that Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam released 540,000 pounds of nitrate compound into the ocean in 2019 while the Marines dumped 86,000 pounds.

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