By VOICES Staff.

General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, the Commander of the United States Transportation Command, testified at a hearing to members of the House Armed Services Committee’s seapower and readiness subcommittees about the importance of maintaining the U.S. Sealift and Airlift fleets, especially as China aims to dominate global maritime.

General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, 14th commander of TRANSCOM
Commander of the United States Transportation Command, General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost

The hearing was held in part due to growing concerns about China’s expansion and the need to ensure that the United States is prepared for any national emergency. General Van Ovost emphasized the significance of America’s cabotage laws and other maritime programs to maintain this critical component of the armed forces.

“In addition to the Tanker Security program, we fully support the Maritime Security program, the Jones Act, and cargo preference laws that all work together to ensure we have the necessary U.S. flag capability and U.S. mariners during peacetime and ready to move sensitive defense materials during a national emergency,” Van Ovost said.

The new Tanker Security Program, which will see 10 tankers joining the strategic sealift fleet to support America’s commercial and military supply chains, typifies the role of American Maritime in providing reliable service to the military. The TRANSCOM leader added that reliance on the use of “foreign-flagged, foreign crude tanker vessels” would leave America’s armed forces “vulnerable.”

In addition to providing a fleet of vessels that can be called upon in peace and war to move cargo, the Jones Act supports U.S. shipyards and repair facilities across the country by helping keep production lines active without subsidies. These sustain supply chains that build and repair American-built ships, including Navy and Coast Guard vessels. 

While providing reliable service to the men and women of America’s armed forces, these yards also contribute billions in economic value for their local communities. A recent study showed that just one Maine shipyard supported 11,600 jobs and $8.4 billion in total economic activity over the last five years. 

Experts see the opportunity for partnerships like the Tanker Security Program as key to maintaining a skilled American Maritime workforce. 

“In addition to expanding the number of available, militarily useful, U.S.-flagged tankers, a prime objective of the [Tanker Security Program] is to deepen and broaden the pool of domestic merchant mariners who possess the requisite skills and experience to support a right-sized U.S. flag tanker fleet,” said Sam Norton, President & CEO of the Overseas Shipholding Group, a company with three American built, owned and crewed vessels participating in the Tanker Security Program.

Without an expansive sealift fleet, and talented loyal mariners to crew it, analysts say America will find itself in a difficult position in a conflict.