Strengthening Maritime Capability for a Stronger and More Resilient America

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Now is the time to enhance and improve America’s maritime industrial base to meet the challenges today and into the foreseeable future. With Russia and China building their sea power in search of a new world order, American shipbuilding cannot afford to lag behind. The administration and Congress must take immediate action to counter the threats to America’s role in the world and to ensure our prosperity. This action starts in the shipyards (public and private) and in the sea services.

After three decades existing as the sole superpower in global affairs without a peer, we live in a different world today. A revanchist Russia and aggressive China seek to alter the rule of law on land and sea and tear down the international institutions that prevented the terrible global conflict that swept the globe in the early 20th century. Allies and partners from Vietnam and Japan to Finland and Estonia protect their waters and airspace from daily incursions of Russian and Chinese forces.

Today American merchant ships and shipbuilders compete in a global market, where foreign competitors operate ships with crews paid third-world wages built by countries that subsidize their cost. While we wish global shipping were an even playing field, the reality is it is not, and the American military relies on our merchant ships for sealift surge capacity to supply our armed forces. In fact, regional combatant commanders plan to move 95% of materiel by ship. It is critical that Congress not forget this as we face critical shortfalls in the number of crews and ships necessary to supply our military, many of which are over 40 years old. Additionally, to ensure taxpayer money is well spent, the Pentagon must provide Congress with its sealift requirements.

Congress is in the midst of markups to the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2021 but lacking transparency in understanding the requirements of the future force. It is vital that the Pentagon completes and delivers to Congress the Integrated Naval Force Structure Assessment, a 30-year shipbuilding plan, and the U.S. Transportation Command mobility requirements, all of which are past due.

Chief of Naval Operations Mike Gilday has said the capabilities of the fleet and the readiness of its ships and sailors are the top priority. Last week the Navy embarked on a decade-long process to put to sea the Columbia-class, which will comprise the most survivable leg of our national nuclear deterrent for the next 50 years. Congress must pay close attention to and support this program, as there is little room for error with the aging Ohio-class retiring this decade. Additionally, Virginia-class submarines provide a powerful deterrent to aggressive adversaries and must continue to be built at a pace of two per year, as it is one of our most capable platforms which remains relevant in the future fight.

For examples of clear guidance shaping effective policy, look no further than the Marine Corps. After fighting the last two decades on the ground in the Middle East, the Marines are returning to their maritime roots and pursuing aggressive re-integration with the Navy. To that end, Gen. David Berger released his visionary Commandant’s Planning Guidance. Congress must support this plan to make the Marines lighter, leaner, less detectable, and more mobile to fight effectively within range of adversaries in the maritime domain.

The Pentagon must also be as transparent as possible by providing information on future plans as far as what we want to build and when. The military cannot expect Congress to spend money and our industrial base to plan ahead without it. Transparency leads to trust and alignment and allows those supplying our armed forces to row in the same direction. It’s vital the Pentagon and Congress have the same playbook going forward. Our prosperity and that of our allies, partners and the free world depend on it.

Mike Stevens retired as the 13th Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) and is the current Navy League National Executive Director.

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