Sealift Fleet Needs a Makeover
BY JOHN C. MARCARIO, Seapower Special Correspondent
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. – The United States sealift capabilities, and fleet, need to continue evolving in order for the nation to handle the various threats it faces, said a panel of maritime leaders during the 2018 Sea-Air-Space Exposition.
Rear Adm. Peter J. Clarke, Navy director of strategy, capabilities, policy and logistics for U.S. Transportation Command, said figuring out this challenge is a major upcoming challenge for the department.
“We have to adjust,” Clarke said.
While noting the sealift capability the country provides is resilient, and agile, he admitted that they are not in a particularly good position for the future, today.
“We have to start recapping that sealift fleet now,” he said.
The director of strategy said buying used and older vessels, while they build new sealift ships, can be used as a stopgap measure for the fleet.
“This is part of the Navy’s 30-year strategy … building new sea lift type vessels,” he said.
He also noted that a key point moving forward would be improving their cyber domain capabilities and protection.
Clarke said they would be moving operational resources more toward the cloud, as a better security measure.
“For mission assurance, to be comfortable, as forces and goods and products move across the world … it is good visibility on it, and we will know where the equipment is and where the forces are,” he said.
Rear Adm. Dee Mewbourne, Navy commander of Military Sealift Command (MSC), said they are an extension of the Navy, and the MSC today is the best in the world at what they do.
MSC exists to support the joint warfighter across the full spectrum of military operations.
The commander noted that he has seen an increased threat from the cyber domain, and noted that his division needs partnerships with other government agencies to succeed in the long term.
Rear Adm. John P. Nadeau, Coast Guard assistant commandant for prevention policy, said the service is an active stakeholder in the military sealift discussion as the have supported MSC and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) for decades.
“We are keenly aware we need a safe, secure and sustainable marine transportation system,” he said.
The service has 11 core missions, and part of that involves protecting ports and waterways, while also assisting Navy and Marine Corps personnel.
They are also tasked with monitoring 50,000 aids to navigation systems and helping to sustain the marine transportation system that’s responsible for $4.6 trillion dollars of economic activity each year, said Nadeau.
“Today, we are in charge of sustaining the safety, security and sustainability of this. … That’s a gift to the nation,” he said.
Kevin Tokarski, the associate administrator for strategic sealift for MARAD, said there is a record number of merchant mariners being produced today, but the aging and dwindling fleet is worrisome for the future.
He touted the need to recapitalize at least half the 82-ship U.S.-flag fleet.
Tokarski said it is important to continue sharing information between the agencies and hopes that grows in the future, while noting MARAD needs additional funding for training capacity ships.