Ranking Member Courtney’s Opening Remarks on Seapower and Projection Forces Subcommittee Hearing on Logistics and Sealift Force Requirements and Force Structure Assessment
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing on maritime logistics and sealift requirements. Thank you, as well, to our witnesses for being here today.
This is a topic that does not often get the attention it deserves, but is arguably one of the most critical components of our Nation’s maritime national security. In 2015 alone, Navy Combat Logistics ships transferred nearly 1 million pallets of dry cargo and ordinance, and offloaded 8.3 million barrels of fuel to Navy ships. Our U.S. flagged sealift ships were responsible for the transport of over 900 thousand tons of dry cargo, much of which was being transported to and from combat zones. These critical capabilities are what allow the United States to project power anywhere in the world without having to depend on foreign vessels.
Unfortunately, we have reached a time period where this capability is being put in jeopardy. In 2012, there were 241 active commercial and Military Sealift Command (MSC) vessels. In just 4 short years, that number has dropped to 208. The Maritime Security Program (MSP) carriers, who operate 60 of the commercially owned sealift ships, continue to operate at a loss due to the expense of sailing their ships under the U.S. flag versus what it costs to flag outside of the U.S.
These challenges have left the U.S. with a pool of qualified mariners that would preclude the Navy from a sustained activation of the 46 Ready Reserve Fleet (RRF) ships. Of the 100,000 credentialed mariners, only approximately 11,280 have sailed in the last 18 months and would comprise the total pool of mariners needed to man the RRF. The Maritime Administration (MARAD) estimates that more than 13,000 qualified mariners are needed to sustain a full activation of the RRF. Should the qualified mariner pool fall below 11, 119 which is just 161 fewer mariners than we have today, there would be insufficient mariners to even support an initial activation of the fleet.
I think we can all agree that this puts our national security at unacceptable risk.
We need to now begin looking at a variety of options that will help reverse this trend and ensure there is a viable and sustainable military and commercial sealift capability. Options should include continued recapitalization of the Navy’s combat logistics ships, reconstituting the RRF, increasing the MSP stipends to ensure the viability of that program and, finally, ensuring that our maritime training institutions have the necessary resources needed to provide newly qualified mariners to the workforce.
With regard to maritime training requirements, I understand that MARAD has been working on a design for a new state maritime training vessel that would replace the aging vessels that are in use now. The current aging fleet of vessels supports the training of nearly two-thirds of all new mariners – a critical contribution to the issues we are talking about here today.
According to MARAD’s own information, the oldest ship in the program – the TS EMPIRE STATE attached to SUNY Maritime College – is 55 years old and is expected to end its service life in 2019. Again, according to MARAD, loss of this ship alone without replacement would cause a loss of 36 percent of the existing training ship capacity needed for mariner education -- portrayed as “a major setback to meet the rising national demand for mariners” by the agency in its 2017 budget request to Congress.
I want to applaud Administrator Jaenichen for launching this effort to replace the training ship fleet. Last year, MARAD requested – and Congress strongly supported – the allocation of $5 million to undergo initial design efforts for the new National Security Multi-Mission Vessel, or NMSV. I am disappointed, however, that the new construction funds that we had anticipated seeing in this year’s budget did not survive the final stages of budget deliberations.
I am deeply concerned about the impact that this decision, and the resulting delay in recapitalizing these important training ships, will have on the ability of our state maritime academies to provide the trained mariners our nation needs. I think it is important for this subcommittee to understand the requirement that these new ships would fill, and how our panel might be able to support this requirement.
On the RRF side, I would be interested in hearing from the Navy if they have any ideas on how to help reconstitute the RRF, such as amending regulations to allow for ships that age out of the MSP program to flow into the RRF.
Finally, I think it would helpful to hear from TRANSCOM as to how the MSP program fits in to their overall mission of moving cargo around the world and what the impact would be should that program no longer exist.
Again, I want to thank the Chairman for holding this hearing today, and thank the witnesses for their service to the country and for agreeing to be here today.