For the larger needs of the US Navy, US shipping and shipbuilding must be revived

With the Navy’s eyes set on achieving a goal well above the 355 manned warships mandated by Congress, the US shipbuilding industry has a lot of work to do. Unfortunately, the current state of the industry does not offer much hope of achieving these goals, let alone sustaining a slightly larger fleet.

In a 2021 report on US defense supply chains, Maiya Clark of the Heritage Foundation explained what is called a “fragility and criticality” assessment. It is a tool used by the Department of Defense to identify and mitigate weaknesses in the defense industrial base.

Fragility can be understood as the likelihood of disruption to a certain “product or service”, while criticality indicates how difficult it would be to replace the item.

Applying this tool to US Navy shipbuilding reveals that America is a far cry from its former status as a great shipbuilder.

Let’s take a quick look at three metrics:

1) Foreign dependency

Foreign sources provide the U.S. maritime industrial base with strategic materials critical to shipbuilding, such as precision machine tools, aluminum, and microelectronics. In 2020, China was the third largest source of microelectronics for the United States and in 2021 the second largest source of aluminum for the United States.

When it comes to precision machine tools, the theme continues: in 2021, by far, China topped the machine tool production rankings. It is concerning that America’s main strategic competitor appears to be constantly present in vital supply chains.

2) Too few American companies

Since the 1970s, 14 “defence-related shipyards” have closed and only one new shipyard has opened. And all of the companies still in the shipbuilding business have shrunk to an oligopoly serving virtually one customer, the US Navy.

To make matters worse, the seven shipyards that build large, deep-draught vessels only cater to the specific requirements of Navy and Coastguard vessels. As such, shipbuilders are encouraged to serve a limited market, exacerbated by the Jones Act, a 100-year-old law aimed at ensuring the nation has a minimum shipping capacity.

This warped the sector into incompletion and the death of American shipping. In August, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday acknowledged the Navy’s contribution to this slow death of U.S. shipbuilding by providing no shipbuilding predictability and spoke of the need to give the industry a “clear point of aim” of requirements with a “higher degree of confidence” in the future.

3) Too few merchant seamen and shipyard workers

Finally, a major challenge for the shipbuilding industry is to attract, train and retain a skilled workforce.

Earlier this year, a director of a major US shipbuilder pointed to labor shortages as the shipbuilding company’s “biggest challenge”. Often there are not enough workers to replace those who retire and the industry fails to attract new young employees.

The Ministry of Defense also recognizes this problem. In response to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2021, the Pentagon released a report stating that the shipbuilding “industrial base today lacks the resilience and bench strength to meet the required demand. and underscored the need for long-term priority investments in the workforce.

The supply of sailors is also insufficient. If a “protracted crisis” were to occur, the number of US sailors required (whose average age is 46) would be 15% lower.

For too long the nation has tried to build the necessary navy while neglecting the fundamentals of building and sustaining it. The result is obvious: namely, too few ships and shipyards unable to meet the demand.

For those familiar with the famous maritime writings of Alfred Thayer Mahan, it is no surprise that without a vibrant and competitive shipping and shipbuilding industry, the Navy withers away.

To compete effectively with China, the nation needs a larger navy, and to do this, American shipping and shipbuilding must be revived. To do this, America must once again compete globally, taking advantage of new technologies that address obvious weaknesses in the supply chain. Such innovation speaks to American strengths.

To achieve this, a market bridge must be used; that is, to develop revolutionary shipping and shipbuilding to meet urgent military logistical needs with commercial utility. Examples include solving Navy operational challenges with reloading weapons at sea, small modular nuclear reactors for ship propulsion and unmanned navigation.

Already, additive manufacturing is being embraced with the Department of Defense roadmap, as well as commercial sectors to mitigate delivery delays, reduce costs, and reduce capital investments for transportation.

And the global market for delivery drone services is expected to grow from $2.37 billion in 2021 to $3.49 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach $18.77 billion in 2026. These are just two of the many technologies key promises, which, if synchronized, can restore America’s global competitiveness. in shipping.

What impact will it have?

Returning to our roots as a maritime nation and affirming the innovations necessary to do so in the modern age will be essential to American security and prosperity.

Done right, fostering an American revolution in shipping can energize a sluggish industrial sector critical to the nation’s defense and sustain a wartime economy. As such, a stronger and globally competitive maritime sector acts as a deterrent against Chinese economic coercion and military adventures, which could result in a long war for Taiwan.

This piece originally appeared in The Daily Signal

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