House Hearing Reaffirms Crucial Need For Strong U.S.-Flag Sealift Capability


September 2014


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The deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) and the newly confirmed head of the U.S. Maritime Administration both voiced strong support for the U.S. Merchant Marine and the Maritime Security Program during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill.


On July 30, Maritime Administrator Chip Jaenichen, USTRANSCOM Deputy Commander Vice Adm. William Brown, and F. Scott Dilisio, director of the Navy’s Strategic Mobility/Combat Logistics Division, testified before the House Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces about the current state of U.S. sealift requirements and the challenges involved in maintaining an adequate-size support fleet. The subcommittee is part of the House Armed Services Committee.


The hearing was chaired by Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-Virginia), and was very well-attended by other members of Congress. According to the official transcript, they included Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-California), Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colorado), Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Virginia), Rep. Steven M. Palazzo (R-Mississippi), Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Virginia), Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas), Rep. Paul Cook (R-California), Rep. Kristi Noem (R-South Dakota), Rep. Jon Runyan (R-New Jersey), Rep. Bradley Byrne (R-Alabama), Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon (RCalifornia, Ex Officio), Rep. Mike McIntyre (D-North Carolina), Ranking Member Rep. Jim Langevin (DRhode Island), Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Washington), Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Connecticut), Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia), Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D-Hawaii), Rep. Derek Kilmer (DWashington), Rep. Scott Peters (DCalifornia), Rep. John Garamendi (D-California), and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Washington, Ex Officio). Having this many members attend a subcommittee hearing that was not related to a specific piece of legislation is very rare, and speaks well of the subcommittee’s understanding of the importance of maritime issues.


The hearing focused on the current and future states of the vessels and crews available for sealift operations. Subcommittee members were focused on the ages and sizes of the ships themselves and the available number of mariners to be called upon in case of an emergency through the Maritime Security Program (MSP).


Brown opened his testimony by explaining the relationship between USTRANSCOM and the MSP ships. “TRANSCOM relies on both government- owned vessels and access to the commercial industry,” he said. “Our government-owned fleet of 60 total assets from the Military Sealift Command and the surge fleet in the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force are strategically positioned around the country and important to our capability. All of these government- owned and commercial vessels are critical to the Department of Defense’s ability to surge to meet future global requirements. As the Department of Defense postures its forces in the future, sealift will continue to be a key component in ensuring strategic agility and dynamic presence for our nation’s military forces.”


Pointing out the importance of the MSP, Brown continued, “The Maritime Security Program provides access to a fleet of 60 military-useful commercial vessels operating in international commerce and exercising intermodal networks throughout the world. And these provide jobs for United States citizens who are mariners. A significant percentage of our required sealift capacity needed in response to a national emergency will come from the 60 vessels operating within the MSP program.”


The admiral concluded his opening statements by speaking to a misconception about sealift’s importance in peacetime. “Some think that as we transition from Afghanistan, our requirement is reduced,” he explained. “This is indeed not the case. Maintaining a responsive sealift capacity and experienced mariners to crew our ships in time of need is essential to meeting the nation’s defense requirements. We are working with the Maritime Administration in its development of a national maritime strategy, which could grow the U.S.-flag fleet and ensure the availability and the ability of the U.S. Merchant Marine to meet our national security needs.”


Jaenichen’s opening statement made it clear what’s most important to the operational capacity of U.S. sealift: U.S. Merchant Mariners. He also reiterated MARAD’s support for a 60-ship Maritime Security Program that maximizes employment for American mariners.


“First of all, I’d like to just point out that the U.S. Merchant Marine – both the vessels and the mariners – are a national asset,” he said. “As we take a look at the ability to project forces globally, it requires a capable U.S. Merchant Marine, both from a standpoint of having vessels that can do it and the mariners that are able to be there. And so, we need to have that capacity.”


He continued, “Government-owned sealift force requirements have a direct and significant nexus to the commercial U.S.-flag maritime industry and provides the ready pool of proficient and qualified mariners. Given that the two are linked, DOD and the Maritime Administration must now assess the impact of a loss of these vessels on our sealift capacity and the availability to support national security.”


Jaenichen pointed out that although American mariners are known for their reliability, the amount of training required of the modern-day seafarer shouldn’t be overlooked.


“The ships themselves are important but the mariners themselves are probably just as important because I can’t necessarily make a mariner,” he said. “It takes 10 years to get a mariner trained and experienced and licensed to be a master on one of these vessels or a chief engineer. I can’t turn the faucet and just say, ‘OK, I ramp up’ and suddenly, they’re there.


“We need cargo to have ships. I need ships to have mariners. The mariners are probably one of the most important complements of that and it’s not easy to ramp those up,” he concluded.


Chairman Forbes echoed Jaenichen’s words, saying, “The main thing is that this myth that this is a faucet that we can turn on and turn off is just not accurate, because as the ships get reduced, our industrial base to repair the ships also gets reduced. And, Mr. Jaenichen, as you pointed out, then our workforce suffers.”


Rep. Duncan Hunter used his time to thank Forbes for calling the hearing.


“I want to thank the chairman for doing this,” Hunter said. “I think is one of the most important things that we do here. And we’re facing a time in Congress right now, where people don’t understand why you have cargo preference. Ex-Im Bank goes away, that’s cargo preference. These numbers are going to drop, and this is how America goes to war. When America has to go to war, it uses these ships – every single time.”

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