Our Nation’s military readiness and the security of American troops stationed overseas are directly dependent on our commercial sealift capability and the ability of the Department of Defense to respond quickly and effectively to international incidents. Without the requisite number of U.S.-flag vessels and their U.S. citizen crews ready to respond to DOD’s call, DOD’s surge and sustainment operations – its ability to deliver and supply the equipment needed to wage a successful campaign – will be weakened.

The Maritime Security Program (MSP) and the uninterrupted operation of its maritime security fleet of 60 U.S.-flag militarily-useful commercial vessels with U.S. citizen crews represent a critical component of America’s sealift capability and readiness. MSP vessels have been key contributors to our Nation’s efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last decade, moving over 50 percent of all military cargo – over 26 million tons – to the Middle East. Since 2009, MSP carriers have moved over 90 percent of the cargo needed to support U.S. military operations and rebuilding programs in both countries. Of even greater significance, MSP carriers led development of multi-modal services into Afghanistan via the Northern Distribution Network, providing a critical alternative route to resupply and support U.S. military forces.

It is for these reasons that Congress, in 2012, reaffirmed its strong support for the Maritime Security Program (MSP) by reauthorizing and extending the MSP and its maritime security fleet through 2025 and the operators agreed to the long-term commitment of their vessels and intermodal logistics capabilities to DOD for this same period. This action by the Congress was intended to assure DOD that it would continue to have access to the commercial sealift capability and the global logistics networks of ports, rail, trucking, people, systems and infrastructure in the United States and around the world that DOD needs to support and supply American troops and to maintain America’s readiness. This commercial intermodal logistics system, specifically made available to DOD through the carriers’ MSP commitments, gives the military the opportunity to deliver its cargo to the MSP carrier at the military’s own inland depot, and eliminates the cost and the burden of DOD having to deliver its cargo to the vessel in the port. In addition, under this system the MSP carrier is able to deliver the cargo to the military’s final inland destination, relieving DOD of the cost and burden of moving the cargo itself from the vessel in port to its inland destination.

The 60 U.S.-flag vessel MSP fleet directly supports the employment of approximately 2,700 U.S. mariners and an additional 5,000 shore-side jobs while ensuring the availability of militarily-useful commercial vessels to the Federal government when required. The MSP, administered by the Maritime Administration (Department of Transportation) in conjunction with the Department of Defense, ensures the U.S. military has ready, assured access to a global fleet of U.S. flag, U.S.-crewed ships, plus intermodal logistics capability, that are available to move military equipment and supplies during times of armed conflict or national emergency.

Significantly, MSP gives DOD access to commercial sealift capability, American citizen crews and global logistics networks, all at a fraction of what it would cost the American taxpayer if the Federal government were to build, operate and maintain the vessel capability and global logistical operations itself.

A report on the MSP prepared for the Maritime Administration by Econometrica, Inc. cites a 2006 estimate by Reeve and Associates that “If DOD needed to replicate the . . . capacity of the MSP fleet, the capital cost alone would be $13 billion.” This same report notes that USTRANSCOM has estimated “it would cost the U.S. government $52 billion to replicate the intermodal system that has been developed, maintained, and continuously upgraded by MSP participants.”

In contrast, and as reauthorized by Congress in 2012, $186 million is necessary in FY’14 to fully implement the MSP and to ensure the continued availability and uninterrupted operation of its 60-ship maritime security fleet. Without access to the U.S.-flag vessels, American mariners, and intermodal and logistics networks provided by the commercial maritime industry through the MSP, DOD would have to acquire, operate, and maintain U.S. government assets and intermodal systems at a significantly higher cost to the American taxpayer.

We ask the Administration, Members of Congress, and all those who are concerned about our nation’s economic and military security, who want to strengthen and not weaken America’s sealift and readiness capability, who want to prevent the loss of militarily-useful U.S.-flag commercial vessels and the outsourcing of American maritime jobs, and who want to prevent unnecessary Federal spending to work with us to secure full funding for MSP at its congressionally-authorized level of $186 million for FY14 and thereafter.

It is also critically important to note that absent Congressional action, there will be a loss of U.S.-flag vessels and American maritime jobs, and a further reduction in America’s commercial sealift capability, if Congress does not address the cuts in funding for the Maritime Security Program mandated by sequestration. Commenting specifically on the potential FY’14 funding shortfall for the Maritime Security Program and the resultant loss of U.S.-flag vessels and American mariners, current USTRANSCOM Commander General William Fraser reiterated in a communication to Members of the House Seapower Subcommittee that “USTRANSCOM relies heavily on the significant capabilities the U.S.-flag commercial sealift industry contributes to our nation.”

General Fraser warned, however, that the loss of vessels in the Maritime Security Program, coupled with “the loss of mariner jobs, access to the related intermodal logistics networks these companies provide, and potential loss of competition in certain trade routes may degrade our current support to forces deployed overseas and likely increase transportation costs to the Government.”