Issue Briefs

Dwindling U.S. Merchant Fleet Is A Crisis Waiting To Happen (From Forbes)

Dwindling U.S. Merchant Fleet Is A Crisis Waiting To Happen (From Forbes)

Loren B. Thompson

October 08th, 2021

Pentagon plans for sealift in a future war assume the availability of commercial cargo vessels and mariners. The government’s organic fleet of five dozen dedicated transports is too small to sustain a protracted campaign, and would require private-sector mariners to operate at full capacity from the initial days of conflict. So it should be a source of concern to military logistics planners that the U.S.-flag fleet of oceangoing commercial vessels has dwindled to a mere 182 hulls. That’s 182 hulls in a global merchant fleet of over 40,000 oceangoing vessels. That isn’t just a problem for the military: in a major conflict, other countries might withdraw their commercial vessels from U.S. trade routes as happened in the World Wars, cutting off the flow of essential items to the economy from foreign sources. This is a potential crisis in the making, and the only way to fix the problem is to expand the U.S.-owned and operated fleet. One way of doing so would be to change existing cargo-preference regulations to require that a larger share of U.S. trade be carried on vessels of domestic registry. I have written an article for Forbes here.

The views and opinions expressed in this issue brief are those of the author.

Loren B. Thompson is a Senior Adviser at GPI, Chief Operating Officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute and Chief Executive Officer of Source Associates, a for-profit consultancy. Prior to holding his present positions, he was Deputy Director of the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and taught graduate-level courses in strategy, technology and media affairs at Georgetown. He has also taught at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government. Mr. Thompson holds doctoral and masters degrees in government from Georgetown University and a bachelor of science degree in political science from Northeastern University.