US agencies work to recapitalize strategic maritime transport capabilities


US agencies are working to recapitalize strategic maritime transport capabilities


By Mandy Mayfield

The Combat Logistics Force ship USNS Military Sealift Command William McLean and the ship’s 96 Civil Service Sailors return to Naval Station Norfolk after a seven-month deployment.

Military Sealift Command photo

To project and maintain power abroad, the US military must maintain a strong strategic maritime transport capability, including the merchant navy.

The Ministry of Defense and civilian agencies are now joining forces to recapitalize an aging logistics fleet.

The Navy’s Military Sealift Command has a critical role to play in the shipping and sustaining of US forces during conflict or crisis.

While some equipment and personnel can be transported by air, the main movements abroad depend on maritime transport.

“Our strategic maritime transport fleet must have the capacity and the capacity to accommodate 90% of the required military equipment that should be deployed during a major conflict”, Erica Plath, director of the strategic mobility and combat logistics division within from the office of the chief of naval operations. , said during a panel discussion at the Navy League’s annual Sea-Air-Space conference in National Harbor, Md.

Christopher Thayer, director of maritime operations at Military Sealift Command, said the service must be prepared to operate in a contested environment.

“To make a difference, we will need a workforce of sailors who are trained and ready to move forward in a contested maritime environment to accelerate the improvement of results,” he said .
To do this, the Navy needs the support of not only the Pentagon, but also the civilian agencies tasked with providing and facilitating these key assets.

The Department of Transportation is working closely with the Department of Defense and the Maritime Service to advance a strategy to repair and replace dozens of ships in the coming years, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said.

“This department is committed to supporting the maritime industry in every detail, including our preference for freight and maritime safety, which are essential to support our mission,” he said. “We also need a generational investment in our infrastructure.

At the time of going to press, the Senate had passed a bipartisan infrastructure bill worth more than $ 1,000 billion. According to Buttigieg, the legislation contains funds for several strategic maritime transport priorities.

“This bill includes $ 17 billion to improve our ports and waterways, [and] funding will go to everything from getting out of the repair backlog to adding new capacity and resources, ”Buttigieg said. It “will create millions of well-paying union jobs in the maritime sector and across the country.”

Buttigieg reiterated his commitment to working with Pentagon leaders and members of industry to help “transform our maritime infrastructure for the future, so that the next generation [of] sailors, Marines, Guardsmen and Americans can count on them, ”he said.

Douglas Harrington, deputy deputy administrator for federal shipping in the Maritime Administration – which reports to the Department of Transportation – said his programs are in a significant period of recapitalization.

“We are seeing new construction and we are building a new class of training ships never built before in the United States,” he said. They will “provide sailors with the most up-to-date training we have for the future of the merchant navy,” he said.

The Maritime Administration uses government and commercial vessels to provide maritime transport capabilities in the event of a national emergency and to meet the military’s strategic maritime transport needs.

In 2019, then-retired Marine Administrator of Rear Admiral Mark Buzby announced that TOTE Services, Inc., a company based in Jacksonville, Fla., Was the director of shipbuilding for the new class. training ships, the multi-mission national security vessel. The contractor will oversee the selection of a shipyard and ensure that best business practices are used to deliver the NSMV on time and on budget, according to the administration.

The agency is also working on a new contractual approach for the recapitalization of its National Defense reserve fleet, Harrington said. “We will … replace the existing Reserve Force Ready, or RRF, vessels using our contracted vessel acquisition manager approach,” he said.

The Ready Reserve Force is a subset of ships in the Maritime Administration’s National Defense Reserve Fleet. The ships help support the rapid global deployment of U.S. military forces by conducting maritime transport operations.

The RRF provides nearly 50% of the government-owned peak shipping capacity, according to the administration.

At the end of July, the Maritime Administration awarded Crowley Maritime Corp. a multi-year contract of $ 683 million for the management of the acquisition of vessels.

Crowley, who is also based in Jacksonville, Fla., Will use its strategic acquisition and ship management services to help the administration improve Reserve Force Readiness by helping to reduce the total age of the fleet and increase the reliability of the ships, the company said in a press release.

As part of the contract, Crowley will use a new information technology system to assess, research and make purchase recommendations.

Once the vessels are acquired, the company will oversee the reclassification, modification and maintenance.

The contractor has 20 years of experience managing maritime administration programs and other government and navy vessels. It will provide recommendations based on essential service requirements, the company said.

At the same time, the administration is managing a comprehensive strategy for shipping, Harrington said.

“We are working on the maintenance of the current vessels that we have,” he said. Problems facing the organization include outdated equipment and new regulations that also affect the commercial shipping industry, he added.

The agency is also reorganizing its staff, Harrington noted.

“We have changing roles within the organization,… and we have the reallocation of responsibilities,” he said.

Meanwhile, the maritime administration is aware that technology is changing rapidly and becoming increasingly digital. “It affects us in every element of the ship’s operations – from how the ship communicates, how we [perform] maintenance to the way we monitor ships, ”he said.

The administration needs to modernize its fleet, and that includes not only ships, but also better equip merchant navies with the skills they need, he added. “We need to regain or refocus on our skills,” Harrington said.

Meanwhile, Thayer of Military Sealift Command noted that a number of merchant ships have recently come under attack in the Middle East – an issue the Defense Ministry and sailors must remain vigilant about.

These ships are attacked by “drones and all kinds of abilities from these people who want to do harm,” he said.

Crews must be prepared for attempted hijackings, identity theft and jamming, Harrington noted.

“The merchant seamen who equip our ships through the MSC business… must be ready now,” said Thayer. “They have to be prepared, and we commit… [at] Military Sealift Command to support the development and retention of this workforce. “

Cyber ​​security is imperative for vessel operators, he noted. Sailors face conditions where adversaries can hack into commercial and military satellites while trying to operate in an environment with limited bandwidth, he said. The problem becomes even more complicated when operating on certain vessels in disputed areas, Thayer noted.

To address the problem, “we have developed certain capabilities … and we are going with other technologies that limit the adversary’s ability to intercept our communications,” he said.

Military Sealift Command is currently investigating anti-jamming capabilities for GPS.

“These are the types of capabilities that we are going to introduce into the MSC fleet that also need to be looked at” to help secure communications, he said.

Harrington agreed that increased cybersecurity protocols on board ships are needed.

“We’re going to use cybersecurity at a much lower level where it’s ubiquitous in the fleet… and every operator on the coast is doing it,” he said.

However, resources are limited, officials noted.

“We have to have the right amount of resources for the capacity that we can afford, and that’s always a challenge,” Thayer said.

The service is concerned about the capabilities of adversaries, as well as potential supply chain issues.

“There are other countries that give more importance to the maritime industry and the logistics behind this,” he noted.

“It’s not just the ships that we’re concerned about, it’s the logistics supply chain.”

The service welcomes the industry’s assistance in continuing these efforts, Thayer said.

We are ‘always on the lookout for the industry on how you can support [us] and what we need… to make sure that we are resilient and able to move forward in this contested maritime environment that we have been talking about, ”he said.

The subjects: Maritime safety

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