The Lifeblood of the American War Machine
Defense giants like Huntington Ingalls are the ones who make headlines but it’s the company’s network of suppliers that makes the military-industrial complex tick
Nothing exemplifies the waste of government spending quite like the US military’s fleet of aircraft carriers. Because so many people are getting a piece of the pie, it’s a budgetary line item that only seems to go in one direction and has become a spending addiction the US just can’t seem to shake.
The defense dollars never stop flowing to weapons manufacturers like Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin, and Raytheon, but the contracts these industry leaders receive are generally just the tip of the iceberg. It’s only once you zoom out and consider the thousands of suppliers they work with that the military-industrial complex’s grip on our economy truly snaps into focus.
It’s an ecosystem that keeps countless communities in the United States afloat but it does so at the expense of a global military footprint that’s killed and displaced millions, has destabilized regions on multiple continents, and has ultimately made us less safe. Increasing our investment in the Pentagon ensures that this will never end. As a result, the economy we’ve essentially engineered depends on a future that is consumed by warfare. It’s a deeply disturbing way to construct a society but that’s what we’ve done.
Huntington Ingalls Industries, the largest military shipbuilder in the US that’s responsible for constructing the Navy’s aircraft carriers, is one of the best examples of this broken and unsustainable system.
First, it’s important to note just how few aircraft carriers exist in the world.
Brazil, France, Spain, and Thailand each have just one apiece, as does Russia, the nation we’ve spent $65 billion this year waging a proxy war against. India, Italy, and the UK each have two, which until recently was the same number of carriers operated by the government of China, the nation we’re constantly told is our primary global competitor. This year, the Chinese military launched its third carrier, which it named the Fujian, named for the province located directly across from Taiwan.
That’s as close as anyone has gotten to the US military, which boasts a fleet comprising 11 aircraft carriers. This includes the US Navy’s latest acquisition, the $13 billion USS Gerald Ford, which took more than 15 years to complete, ran more than 22% over budget, and ended up as the most expensive warship in history.
The total number of carriers in the US Navy’s arsenal is actually a part of US federal code which mandates that “the naval combat forces of the Navy shall include not less than 11 operational aircraft carriers.” In order to comply with the letter of the law, the Navy had no choice but to act. Of course, that wasn’t going to be enough.
Three additional carriers, the USS John F. Kennedy (CVN 79), the USS Enterprise (CVN 80), and the USS Doris Miller (CVN 81) – which are all a part of the same CVN class as the Ford – are currently under construction. A fourth carrier, which has yet to be named, is slated to be commissioned by approximately 2034.
This is music to the ears of the corporate interests waiting in the wings to reap the rewards.
In early 2017, when the newly sworn in President Donald Trump expressed his desire in a speech to sailors aboard the soon-to-be-commissioned Ford for the “12-carrier Navy we need,” Milwaukee Valve President and CEO Rick Giannini was quoted by the Washington Examiner as saying that he was “jumping with joy” when he heard the news. [The Milwaukee Valve Company’s more than 500 employees are responsible for manufacturing the Ford’s valves (a typical Navy carrier features more than 12,000).]
The top brass at Huntington Ingalls had a similar reaction in January 2019 when its subsidiary, Newport News Shipbuilding, was awarded $15.2 billion for the construction of the Enterprise and the Doris Miller.
“Today’s announcement is a triumphant step toward returning to a 12-ship aircraft carrier fleet and building the 355-ship Navy our nation needs,” Jennifer Boykin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding, noted in the firm’s press release announcing the contract. “Most importantly for us, it provides stability into the year 2032 for our workforce and for our supplier businesses across the United States.”
It was the first time that two aircraft carriers were going to be built simultaneously in more than 30 years.
By the following January, Huntington’s stock peaked, scraping close to $280 per share in January 2020, a 610% gain since being spun out by Northrop Grumman in early 2011.
As this page frequently documents, the role that corporate donations play in our political system should never be overlooked. Corporations whose existence is linked to a reliable stream of government funding rarely miss an opportunity to take care of the politicians who have a direct impact on their interests.
Huntington Ingalls is no different and has been greasing the members of Congress in its home state for years. A breakdown of how much Huntington’s corporate PAC has given to Virginia’s lawmakers over the years follows below:
Virginia Senator Tim Kaine
Armed Services Committee
Foreign Relations Committee
Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee
Virginia Senator Mark Warner
Select Committee on Intelligence (Chairman)
Committee on Finance
Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs
Committee on the Budget
Committee on Rules and Administration
Newport News Shipbuilding
Newport News, Virginia
Represented by Democratic Congressman Robert “Bobby” Scott [VA-3]
Mission Technologies, a division of Huntington Ingalls
Represented by Democratic Congressman Gerry Connolly
House Committee on Oversight and Reform
Chairman, Subcommittee on Government Operations
Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy
House Committee on Foreign Affairs
Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa
Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific
2016, $9,0002014, $8,500
The company has also donated to Republican Congressman Steven Palazzo, who represents the Mississippi district Huntington Ingalls’s Shipbuilding division is based in. How much Huntington has given to Palazzo, who also sits on the critical House Committee on Appropriations, is detailed below:
According to OpenSecrets, Huntington has utilized the services of 38 lobbyists during the current election cycle.
Included in this batch are four former members of Congress, including John Breaux, the Democrat who represented Louisiana in the Senate from 1987 until 2005; and former Republican Representative Bob Livingston, who’d served as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee while in office.
Livingston is an interesting footnote in presidential history. Chosen as the successor to Newt Gingrich, Livingston – who at the time was one of the most powerful Republicans leading the impeachment spectacle against President Bill Clinton – was forced to resign as the incoming Speaker of the House following allegations of his own extramarital affairs.
The next time the word “impeachment” made its way into America’s living rooms, Livingston’s name did too.
The former representative’s lobbying work produced ties to multiple entities with links to former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. In October 2019, testimony delivered by State Department official Catherine M. Croft revealed that Livingston allegedly urged at least one Trump official to oust Marie Yovanovitch, the former US ambassador to Ukraine.
The other individuals – Trent Lott and Dick Gephardt, who’d served as Senate Majority Leader and House Majority Leader, respectively – were once household names in the Beltway, as powerful as it gets in Washington’s political circles.
Over the course of the past decade, Huntington has annually spent between $2.6 million and $5.75 million on lobbying.
Among the many specific bills the company has deployed its army of lobbyists for is H.R. 7900, the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act. More specifically, OpenSecrets notes that the lobbying was related to “issues related to Navy Ship procurement.”
That endeavor was led by a firm called Crossroads Strategies LLC, and was one Huntington paid $80,000 for. Senators Lott and Breaux are two of the eight lobbyists listed in the documentation that is associated with this effort.
All six of the other individuals listed on the lobbying disclosure had also previously worked on Capitol Hill, and include a previous congressional legislative director and a White House Special Assistant. John Green, the co-founder of Crossroads, served as Trent Lott’s deputy chief of staff in the early 90s.
The company has also given money to just about every Congressional committee in Washington, along with dozens of other lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
And the money they donate, of course, isn’t charity. It’s an investment. Not a single publicly traded corporation’s board would allow cash to flow to a politician that wasn’t working to advance the company’s interests, and Huntington’s return on investment has been substantial. The shipbuilding giant is far from the only organization that’s gained from the Navy’s rapid expansion. The reason this spending spree is so difficult to contain is rooted in how many companies benefit from making sure that it never ends.
According to the Aircraft Carrier Industrial Base Coalition (ACIBC), which represents the more than 2,000 companies that supply parts, equipment, and services to the US government’s carrier fleet, just five states – Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Hawaii – aren’t getting a piece of the action. Every other state in the nation is home to at least one community with residents whose jobs are tied to the continued construction and maintenance of America’s aircraft carriers.
The ACIBC notes that the program is linked to more than 121,000 jobs nationwide and has injected some $9.6 billion into the US economy. The organization itself writes on its website that “stability in aircraft carrier programs is critical not only to our national security, but also to the shipbuilding industrial base as well.”
According to the ACIBC, the carrier program has generated more than 34,000 jobs for the state of Virginia and helps keep some 250 local companies afloat. The organization notes that the estimated economic impact of continuing to build these carriers amounts to around $2.5 billion for the state.
A similar impact is felt in states like Ohio, California, Mississippi, and Pennsylvania, where that impact is estimated at between $635 million and $1.4 billion.
This bloated and unnecessary program is fueled by the US government’s insatiable thirst for maintaining a unipolar world order but the lure of funneling more defense dollars to the nation’s manufacturing base is just as important a factor in our out-of-control military spending.
This is a problem that runs much deeper than the contracts that are awarded to the weapons manufacturers most Americans know by name. Every congressional district in the country is tied to the financial benefits of the military-industrial complex. If a mass movement to substantially cut US military spending ever materializes, it’s a web that’s going to be very difficult to untangle.