Congressman calls for greater U.S. sealift capacity

Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI) voiced the need for bolstering the U.S. maritime fleet and America’s sealift capabilities in a February 6 letter to leaders at United States Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) and the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD) that centered around a possible conflict with China.

Gallagher, the head of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party, said the combination of the small and aging Ready Reserve Force (RRF) coupled with the lack of qualified mariners available to man the ships in case of a wartime activation has become a “screaming national security vulnerability” that needs to be solved quickly.

The RRF fleet is a group of 45 U.S. owned vessels operated by MARAD that ferry military cargo, equipment and troops around the world. The aging vessels average more than 45-years old and many were built 50 years ago.

Gallagher also notes the size of the U.S. fleet as a whole – some commercial 177 vessels operating in international trade – compared to that of China, which boats over 5,500 merchant ships. Less ships also means less opportunities to groom new mariners, which also needs to be addressed if America is to win an Indo-Pacific conflict, he said.

“The dwindling size of our merchant fleet, which has stayed under 200 ships for over 10 years and is now just a fraction of what it was decades ago, has contributed to the aging and shrinking of the mariner workforce,” Gallagher wrote. “The combined effect of an underfunded and undersized fleet, crewed by an insufficient workforce of mariners, has led to a perfect storm in which the United States appears unprepared to carry out major sealift operations during a crisis.”

The letter, addressed to TRANSCOM’s General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost and Maritime Administrator Ann C. Phillips, asked for a response on how to combat these troubling maritime trends by February 28.

“We are quickly running out of time to implement meaningful changes, many of which will take years to fully execute,” Gallagher wrote. “We must prioritize our attention and resources to restoring our deterrence against China and ensuring that we can succeed in any future conflict.”

The entire letter can be read here.