US Merchant Marine Unprepared for Major Conflict with China; Weakened Fleet and Lack of Qualified Mariners Grave Threat to National Security

For Immediate Release

US Merchant Marine Unprepared for Major Conflict with China; Weakened Fleet and Lack of Qualified Mariners Grave Threat to National Security

Yorktown Institute study calls for immediate action to rebuild military sealift capabilities and grow pool of service obligated mariners

WASHINGTON, May 22 – The Yorktown Institute today released a monograph discussing the weakened state of the US Merchant Marine and provided recommendations for the Executive Branch and Congress to strengthen the nation’s sealift before it’s too late.

According to Seth Cropsey, the President and CEO of Yorktown, the majority of American warfighting material is transported by sea during times of war. In the paper, Cropsey emphasizes the importance of having a viable fleet of commercial and government vessels, as well as militarily obligated mariners, to manage the sealift. He believes that without these, winning a major war would be impossible.

The Yorktown study, titled “A Strategic Concept for the United States Merchant Marine,” can be found here.

Cropsey points out that Maritime Day is the perfect occasion to shed light on the nation’s deteriorating merchant fleet. He said that “it is not the responsibility of the navy to transport fuel, armaments, troops, and supplies; instead, this falls on the shoulders of merchant mariners and this institution has been overlooked by the White House and Congress for too long.”

Having served as a naval officer and former deputy undersecretary of defense, Cropsey emphasizes the importance of the US Merchant Marine’s trained personnel, particularly the US Navy’s Strategic Sealift Officers (SSOs). He notes that over 80 percent of these SSOs are graduates of the US Merchant Marine Academy, one of the nation’s five federal service academies.

While the US has allowed its fleet to diminish, China has been heavily investing in its merchant fleet. In the event of a war, China would have a significant advantage with over 5,500 vessels available for transporting troops, weapons, and supplies. In contrast, the US only has around 80 vessels for the same purpose.

A summary of the Yorktown recommendations include:

  1. Modernize the US Ready Reserve Force and increase its size by a third, and modernize the National Defense Reserve Fleet, over the next five years.
  2. Expand the stipend model already in use for MARAD’s Maritime Security Program to include another 40 ships, while considering a tax incentive to increase US maritime competitiveness.
  3. Contract with friendly Indo-Pacific powers to create a sustainable medium-term logistical capacity.
  4. Initiate a long-term maritime industrial base expansion program.
  5. Seek to maintain a manpower pool of around 15,000 trained licensed mariners, around 5,000 more than currently exist.
  6. Within two years, conduct a full mobilization of the RRF (Ready Reserve Force) at least twice.
  7. Adopt a badly needed recapitalization plan for the US Merchant Marine Academy’s 80-year-old campus.
  8. Protect the Academy’s mission-critical at-sea training known as “Sea Year.”
  9. Revamp the USMMA curriculum and invest in new teaching talent and create an affiliated intellectual center that links the USMMA to the broader service academy system.

Yorktown praised representatives and senators who are trying to rebuild the nation’s military sealift and expressed hope that Yorktown’s recommendations will be considered by members of Congress working on the National Defense Authorization Act currently being crafted on Capitol Hill.


Media contact:

Austen Maggin

[email protected]

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