The conference agreement for the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) almost certainly won’t be finalized until after Election Day, but dozens of members of Congress have spoken out for the completed bill to include provisions for a new U.S. Tanker Security Program.
Such an arrangement would be similar to the U.S. Maritime Security Program (MSP), which ensures availability of American-flagged, U.S.-crewed dry cargo ships to our armed forces in times of need. U.S. military leaders in recent years have expressed a pressing need for access to American-flagged tankers.
With that in mind, 34 members of Congress in mid-September sent a bipartisan letter to Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma), Senate Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-Rhode Island), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee Adam Smith (D-Washington), and House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).
“As you work to finalize a conference agreement on the NDAA, we write to convey our strong support for retaining section 3511 of H.R. 6395, the William M. Thornberry National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021,” they wrote. “This provision would authorize the establishment of a tanker security program comprised of ten privately owned, militarily useful U.S.-flag product tankers crewed by licensed and unlicensed American merchant mariners.
“We are deeply concerned about the decline in the number of militarily useful commercial vessels operating under the U.S. flag and, consequently, in the number of trained and qualified American merchant mariners available to crew the vessels needed by the Department of Defense to protect America’s interests and to support American troops deployed around the world,” the letter continued. “A tanker security program as passed in H.R. 6395 would begin to rectify this situation, adding additional commercial vessels to the U.S.-flag fleet and creating new jobs for American mariners. This program, modeled after the successful and cost-efficient Maritime Security Program, represents an important maritime policy initiative not only for the maritime workforce but for our nation’s commercial sealift readiness capability.”
The writers pointed out that Lt. Gen. John Broadmeadow (USMC), while serving last year as deputy commander of the U.S. Transportation Command, told Congress “a 10-tanker program will be a welcome start to begin to address the gap in U.S.-flagged bulk fuel delivery.” The September letter concluded, “Establishing a tanker security fleet would begin to reduce our military’s reliance on foreign flag vessels by ensuring that a greater portion of the fuel needed by the Department of Defense is transported by American mariners on U.S.-flag vessels. It would not promote or expand the production of petroleum products but would instead begin to end America’s almost total reliance on foreign flag-of-convenience vessels to meet the energy needs of the Department of Defense at sea and around the world.”