The Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) recently released a new study detailing the benefits of the American maritime industry to national security, titled “Strengthening the U.S. Defense Maritime Industrial Base.”
As a first-time review of the impact of the U.S. domestic maritime industry to national security, this historic report found that the domestic fleet provides the largest source of merchant mariners for U.S. surge sealift operations, supports shipbuilders that also construct government vessels, ensures the maintenance of the U.S. waterways and shipping lanes, and helps reduce the potential of foreign mariners illegally entering the United States.
At a launch event of the new study, U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby addressed the importance of sustaining a strong and readied defense maritime industrial base. “Implementing a national maritime strategy demands a national-level effort, and a national will to support our shipbuilding and repair sector,” he stated. “It begins with this kind of report from CSBA, so I thank you again for your contribution to the debate and to the security of our great nation. Together, we will continue to educate our nation on the importance of maritime policy. It’s critical to our economic and national security in the face of an increasingly contentious world.” Key findings include the Jones Act remains an important element of America’s defense maritime industrial base. As stated in the study, “The U.S. maritime industry is essential to American prosperity and security.”
The study also describes American mariners as crucial to national security. The CSBA drilled down on the importance of domestic mariners in a contingency, finding, “The 3,830 mariners that operate large, ocean-going ships in the domestic fleet constitute about 29 percent of the overall number MARAD estimates would be needed to operate U.S. surge sealift during wartime or another contingency.” That 29 percent is the largest single commercial source of mariners and was demonstrated during Operation Desert Storm when “the crews of 13 foreign ships refused to go into a war zone and deliver their cargo. Not a single American crew refused.”
Additionally, the study confirmed that the Jones Act helps maintain shipyards and ship repair yards, which are crucial to national security. The CSBA said, “The U.S. shipbuilding and repair industry is a major component of the defense maritime industrial base,” and “without the Jones Act’s requirements … it is likely the U.S. government would have few, if any, shipyards available to episodically recapitalize its smaller vessels.”
American vessels also help maintain U.S. waterways and keep America secure. The CSBA emphasized the role that American dredgers and salvage operators play, highlighting the importance of not having to depend “on foreign companies to dredge its dozens of naval facilities, potentially opening up opportunities for sabotage or the depositing of underwater surveillance equipment.”
Moreover, the Jones Act helps reduce illegal entry into the United States. The CSBA noted that “without the Jones Act’s requirements, foreign companies could buy domestic carriers that operate smaller vessels and barges that ply U.S. rivers and intercostal waterways.”
The study further concluded that the Jones Act makes America more secure amidst a growing threat from China.
Notably, the study’s executive summary stated, “To effectively compete, the United States will need to break with an approach that assumes the commercial and national security requirements of the maritime industry are largely distinct. Instead, the United States should adopt a new approach that recognizes the inherent linkage between the two and fosters a healthier commercial industry that can support U.S. national security. CSBA’s report identifies viable, cost-effective initiatives the nation can adopt to address challenges, including the strategic sealift gap, and cultivate a vibrant maritime industrial base that spurs innovation and enhances American prosperity and security.”
As part of the study, the CSBA also established the phrase “Defense Maritime Industrial Base” (DMIB) – including the U.S.-flag deep sea fleet, the Jones Act fleet, mariners, shipyards, repair yards, dredgers, the maritime logistics infrastructure and more – that collectively encompass all the parts of the American maritime industry that contribute to national security. This reflects the views of leaders in the maritime industry, with each smaller component of the DMIB helping to ensure and maintain a strong U.S.-flag fleet.
In the report, the CSBA urges the government to release a comprehensive national maritime strategy that helps grow the maritime industrial base. It also advocates for the expansion of the Maritime Security Program. Additionally, the CSBA suggests that the U.S. government should assist domestic shipbuilding and repair yards by providing multi-ship maintenance contracts, as well as loan guarantees and grants, to help promote stability and predictability for that part of the industry.
The CSBA summarized by saying, “The U.S. maritime industry is essential to American prosperity and security. Since their nation’s founding, Americans have gone to sea for trade, to harvest resources from the oceans, and to advance the country’s interests. By building and repairing ships, training mariners, operating shipping networks, and sustaining ports and waterways, the U.S. maritime industry makes possible the economic benefits of access to the sea.”
The CSBA is self-described as “the world’s premier center for understanding future international competition and conflict.”
The study was co-authored by Bryan Clark, Timothy A. Walton, and Adam Lemon.