Military figures throughout the history of the United States have pointed out the obvious: by virtue of our geography, we are a maritime nation. What Admiral Alfred Mahan, the great military tactition of the late 19th century, noted, is as true today as it was more than 100 years ago: the United States will only be a first-class power as long as it maintains a superior navy, merchant fleet and industrial shipbuilding base.
The importance of maintaining a strong Naval fleet capable of meeting all of America’s defense needs cannot be overestimated. Naval forces played pivotal roles in both Afghanistan and Iraq, especially since the United States was denied the use of land bases in the region from which to stage offensive strikes.
U.S. Naval vessels were pivotal from the first day of hostilities. U.S. retaliation against the Taliban began with cruise missiles being launched from submarines and surface combatants. After the first wave of cruise missiles, more than 4,000 aircraft sorties were flown from the decks of three aircraft carriers over a period of less than three months.
Ironically, when it comes to preserving our naval might, the federal government has been on the wrong track. When Ronald Reagan was president, he made a concerted effort to enhance Naval power. The United States built an average of 19 new vessels each year during the 1980s. By the time he stepped down in 1989, the fleet numbered nearly 600 vessels.
Since then, funding for U.S. naval construction has undergone a rapid decline. Over the past decade, an average of only four to six vessels have been built in any calendar year. The U.S. fleet recently fell below 300 vessels. If the build rate is not increased, the fleet will stabilized at about 180 vessels some time within the next 20 years.
Many defense experts believe that minimum security interests can only be maintained if the United States has a fleet of 375 vessels. Therefore, the MTD has been strongly supporting a “Sense of the Congress” resolution calling for a fleet of this size.
Recently, the U.S. Navy unveiled a plan to stabilize the fleet at 313-vessels. Recognizing that this would be an important first step in enhancing America’s fleet.
The decade-long failure to increase the U.S. Naval construction build rate is coming at a time when a growing number of defense experts are warning about the long-term threat posed by the rapid buildup of the Chinese military. According to a 2003 report issued by the Congressional Research Service, China’s naval fleet may reach parity with America’s within the next 15 years.
For U.S. maritime workers, this is a critically important issue. Directly and indirectly, U.S. Naval construction generates tens of thousands of jobs for workers in all parts of the nation, tax revenues at the state, local and federal levels and business opportunities for companies are workers in a wide array of allied trade.