A Maritime Policy for Our Sea Services
By John A. Panneton, National President
The primary lesson arising from the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and other recent disasters is that we must not wait until tragedy strikes to refurbish and maintain the nation’s critical infrastructures. The breach of the levies of New Orleans had been forecast by press reports and government warnings. But government officials did nothing, and much of the city was destroyed.
The federal government now is making that same mistake. Just as reliable levies were required to hold back the waters surrounding New Orleans, a strong U.S.-flag Merchant Marine is essential to support the defense of our nation and our economic security in the 21st century. As our future needs are rising, however, our capacity is declining, creating a framework for disaster.
In peacetime, 95 percent of trade tonnage is waterborne. During a conflict, 95 percent of the equipment and supplies required to deploy the U.S. armed forces overseas are delivered by ship. U.S.-flag commercial and government-owned vessels, manned by more than 7,000 U.S. citizen mariners, played an indispensable role in providing strategic sealift for Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and in the continuing Operation Iraqi Freedom. Sea Power 21, the Navy’s strategic vision of the future, underscores the need for a robust logistics force and commercial sealift capability to support and sustain Special Operations Forces, maritime coalition forces and additional expeditionary strike groups. A variety of commercial maritime vessels, in-stream cargo handling systems and high-speed connector vessels also will be needed.
But the base of skilled mariners is shrinking in proportion to the declining numbers of U.S.-flag commercial ships. Similarly, the Maritime Administration’s Ready Reserve Force, a versatile strategic sealift fleet of 68 ships with unique capabilities, is being reduced. This diminishing level of resources presents a crisis that threatens the nation’s ability to project timely military power. These are among the reasons why the Navy League believes that the problems facing the U.S.-flag Merchant Marine require presidential attention.
Our call for White House intervention to bolster the Merchant Marine is a central element of the Navy League’s Maritime Policy for 2006-07. The underlying purpose of our policy is to establish the basis for Navy League support of the sea services’ mission success. The Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine are beset by rising expectations of performance and diminishing resources. Personnel and equipment are being driven to extremes as the sea services continue to prosecute the global war on terrorism in the Middle East and Southeast Asia while vastly increasing their humanitarian operations around the globe, from tsunami relief in Southeast Asia to hurricane relief on the U.S. Gulf Coast and earthquake relief in Pakistan.
Accordingly, the Navy League Maritime Policy for 2006-07 concludes that the sea services are stretched to the point where they can no longer do more with less. The nation must provide the funding for the reconstitution and modernization of its forces, and avoid the specter of failure that lies on our horizon.
The full text of the policy will be published on our website in January. Below are additional key excerpts from our policy, developed by the Navy League Maritime Policy and Resolutions Committee. The Navy League:
Providing for the future is not easy or cheap, but it is essential. Each day, the people of our nation ask sailors, Marines, Coast Guard personnel and merchant mariners to go into harm’s way to protect their interests. We are obliged to hold ourselves accountable, and provide them with the resources to survive and prevail.
- Supports a Navy force structure of more than 300 ships, including 47 attack submarines. Our nation must strike a balance between naval shipbuilding and modernization requirements and the sustainment of a stable industrial base, preserving competition.
- Advocates the continued full-rate production of the Marine Corps MV-22 Osprey, and supports the acquisition of the Expeditionary Fighting Vehicle and the short takeoff and vertical landing version of the Joint Strike Fighter.
- Favors the transition to net-centric expeditionary forces able to execute the global war on terrorism supported by advanced intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance assets that strengthen joint and combined capabilities, ensure presence and foster surge capabilities.
- Supports the recapitalization of Deepwater, the vital Coast Guard program to purchase new cutters, aircraft and associated intelligence and communications resources. The requisite funding is not less than $1.5 billion per year in 2006 dollars.
- Advocates the accelerated acquisition of Deepwater’s Fast Response Cutter.
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