By Matthew Paxton The importance of a strong naval fleet once again revealed itself recently when the Pentagon urgently deployed a U.S. destroyer — the USS Farragut — to the Strait of Hormuz to aid a commercial container ship that was boarded and detained by Iranian forces. This situation came just days after tensions escalated when the U.S. stationed an aircraft carrier — the USS Theodore Roosevelt — off the cost of Yemen suspecting that Iran was supplying weapons to the Houthi rebels who are trying to take over Yemen.
The USS Farragut not only was designed specifically to counter such an attack on this commercial container vessel, the M/V Maersk Tigris, but the U.S. fleet was large enough to enable this destroyer to be in proximate waters and ready to defend and assist in the humanitarian distress call from the commercial ship. The overwhelming force posed by the USS Roosevelt near Yemen quickly brought calm while protecting our national interest to prevent weapons being supplied to terrorists.
Had the USS Farragut, the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and other ships not been in these waters and designed and built by Americans to confront the challenge, the situation most likely would have led to instability in already uncertain international shipping routes, and perhaps ended tragically.
These are just the latest examples of how critically important our naval fleet is, not only to national security, but also to the safety and free flow of commerce around the world. Instances like these do not always make international news, but when they do, they remind us that when unease presents itself in international waters, it is crucial that we not only have a naval fleet that is built by Americans for American security, but one that has enough ships to project strength and is ready to be deployed wherever and whenever needed.
The U.S. has created a presence that is unparalleled, and demonstrates to our allies, and our enemies, that we are a strong and committed force for good in the world that should not be challenged.
But while our naval fleet may be the most powerful, it is not mighty enough to withstand the federal budget sequestration that will diminish U.S. shipbuilding capacity and erode critical, skilled American jobs. The number of U.S. Navy combatant ships has been halved since the Reagan Administration — from 568 to 275. This has made it harder for American shipbuilders, both commercial and military, to maintain their operations and retain the skilled labor needed to build our Navy and merchant marine vessels that have been so important in times of war. The continuation of this trend is unacceptable.
We as Americans, and our representatives in Congress, must make the commitment (both fundamentally and financially) to be serious about our national security and the importance of assuring the free and lawful flow of commerce in the world. But with political gamesmanship doubling and tripling down on a policy of sequestration, the U.S. government is consciously and effectively deciding to unilaterally disarm itself and, doing so, is putting our citizens, military, and allies at risk, creating even more instability in the world at a time when we need stability the most.
From coast to coast, the shipyard and repair industry undoubtedly plays a critical role in bolstering national security. Currently there are 117 shipyards in the United States, spread across 26 states that are classified as active shipbuilders, with suppliers in every corner of the nation. In addition there are more than 200 shipyards engaged in ship repairs.
Keeping our naval fleet up to date and ready for the challenges of war requires a long-term commitment. Repairing and maintaining what has already been built is just common sense and required to achieve the full, useful lives of these vessels. The next round of sequestration cuts will spell cancellation of much of the Navy’s maintenance program for next year.
Americans need Congress to stand up and ensure that the budget not be balanced on the backs of U.S. Sailors and the skilled workers who build and repair the ships that provide for our national security and safety. When Congress cuts sea services, it cuts our national security, and diminishes our ability to provide humanitarian assistance. We must never be acquiescent to a policy that moves the nation toward outsourcing our security and, with it, our sovereignty.
Too often we forget the demands of war during times of peace. In order to provide a strong viable Navy, Coast Guard and Ready Reserve Fleet, a strong shipbuilding industrial base is a vital national asset and we urge Congress to remember this.
Matthew Paxton is the President of the Shipbuilders Council of America, a trade group that advocates for a robust shipyard industrial base.
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