Military Sealift Capability Faces Myriad Challenges
By DAISY R. KHALIFA, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Sealift, logistics and combat service support leaders outlined challenges and concerns in military sealift capability — from soaring costs and resource limitations to an aging fleet and a shortage of manpower — during an April 4 panel discussion at the Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
Sealift recapitalization, while a priority within the Navy, also is problem for the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) fleet of vessels with an average age of 39 years, which is is more expensive to maintain and less reliable, U.S. Air Force Gen. Darren W. McDew, commander, U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM), said during his Sea-Air-Space Luncheon address earlier in the day.
“We have to get to get after recapitalization,” said McDew, who also said that the U.S. Navy needs about 11,000 civilian mariners to sail on U.S.-flag vessels to get the nation deployed.
Among the panelists was F. Scott DiLisio, director of the Navy’s Strategic Mobility & Combat Logistics Division. He provided a laundry list of costs associated with sealift, stressing cash-flow challenges, maintaining basic resources and anticipating a range of expenses, such as port costs and canal passage.
“I don’t think anybody realizes sealift brings the fight,” DiLisio said.
Rear Adm. Dee Mewbourne, commander, Military Sealift Command (MSC), said MSC faces serious challenges right now. He said the nation is seeing potential conflicts all the time, be it maritime crime in West Africa, piracy in Somalia or a resurgent Russia, as well as challenges in cyber space. He said that going forward, and during his tenure, he will focus on what he sees as MSC’s four pillars: people, platforms, processes and partners.
“We are sailing in contested waters,” said Mewbourne. “And the seas in which we operate are getting more contested. They are more challenged than ever before.”
Representing MARAD, Kevin Tokarski, associate administrator for Strategic Sealift, said that about 75 percent of MARAD’s work is dedicated to ensuring that the nation has sealift capability. He described MARAD’s Maritime Security Program (MSP), which supports 60 U.S.-flag ships earmarked for military sealift and said that, at this point, the agency is working on an updated iteration, or “MSP 4.0,” to address challenges going forward.
“The [MSP fleet] size continues to decrease, and we’ve lost 20 percent of that fleet,” Tokarski said. “When I look at sealift, I am looking at commercial and federal that have to work together, and we have got to support both together.”