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The United States Merchant Marine: A Valuable Strategic Resource, Now and for the Future

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Alfred Thayer Mahan has been quoted as saying A nations maritime commerce strength in peacetime is the most telling indication of its overall endurance during war. In todays modern context there still exists within the nations defense planning the understanding of the need for a maritime capability to support U.S. projected wartime and emergency contingencies. In his February, 1993 Chairmans report, General Colin Powell highlighted the role of sealift capacity to meet the nations strategic lift needs in addressing the new regional and flexible focus of its worldwide military missions. In his Annual Report to the President and the Congress in January 1994, former Secretary of Defense Les Aspin discussed the essential role that mobility forces, including sealift, will play in the nations effort to respond to regional dangers and opportunities. The question arises, however, whether Mahans nexus still exists as it pertains to the role of the U.S. merchant marine in the nations wartime or national emergency sealift effort. The most recent example in which sealift played a significant role in support of the nations military mission occurred during Desert StormDesert Shield. While U.S. sealift needs were basically met, some writers have indicated that about 45 of that sealift capacity came from foreign chartered ships and that there were insufficient U.S. merchant seamen available to meet the manning of the nations reserve fleet. There were even some foreign ships that were prohibited by their governments from entering the combat zone, thus affecting the effectiveness of the sealift effort. Whether this represents a true picture of U.S. sealift capability or accurately projects the extent to which the U.S. maritime fleet will be needed to meet the nations strategic requirements is the subject of this paper.

Subject Categories:

  • Economics and Cost Analysis
  • Marine Engineering
  • Logistics, Military Facilities and Supplies

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