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Yorktown Institute calls for new war college for the merchant marine and revision of maritime policy

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by Captain John Konrad (gCaptain) The Yorktown Institute has joined a cacophony of voices raising the alarm about the critical state of the U.S. Merchant Marine, releasing a comprehensive document calling on the Executive Branch and Congress to take immediate action to strengthen the nation's maritime transportation and maritime industry capabilities.

This was released at an event attended by former US Secretary of the Navy Mark Buzby and former Navy Chief Gary Roughead. This follows recent World Maritime Day addresses by Senator Mark Kelly and Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro, who made similar calls.

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Seth Cropsey, president of the Yorktown Institute, emphasizes the indispensable role of the merchant marine in war logistics. “The majority of American war materiel is transported by sea,” Cropsey claims, stressing the need for a robust fleet of merchant and government ships as well as trained sailors to ensure the success of military operations. Without these, he warns, it would be impossible to win a major conflict.

The Yorktown study, “A Strategic Concept for the United States Merchant Marine,” can be viewed here.

The document criticizes the neglect by the White House and Congress, stating: “The transportation of fuel, weapons, troops and supplies is not the responsibility of the Navy; this task falls rather to merchant seamen.”

With his extensive background as a naval officer and former Assistant Secretary of Defense, Cropsey brings a wealth of experience to his analysis. He emphasizes the critical role of the U.S. Merchant Marine and highlights the role of Strategic Sealift Officers (SSOs), U.S. Navy reserve officers – graduates of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy or state maritime academies – who are important links between the military and the merchant marine.

Read also: Commentary by John Konrad: Senator Kelly throws a life preserver to the US shipping industry – let’s use it

The paper contrasts the dwindling US fleet with the rapidly growing Chinese merchant fleet. In the event of war, China could deploy over 5,500 ships to transport troops, weapons and supplies, while the US would have only 80 ships for similar tasks.

Beyond the quantitative gaps in ships and sailors, the study also identifies a more general deficit in strategic thinking and research on maritime logistics in U.S. military training institutions. While institutions such as the Naval War College and CNA study the Navy's sea forces, there is a notable lack of academic focus on maritime logistics, sea transportation, and merchant marine.

To remedy this problem, Cropsey proposes the creation of a separate war academy or think tank, possibly called the United States Maritime Institute, affiliated with the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. This institute would focus on both civilian and military logistics and supply, conduct in-depth research on maritime logistics, engage in extensive war gaming of logistical challenges, and collaborate with similar organizations at other military academies. This think tank would integrate into the larger U.S. defense intellectual system, improving strategic and operational planning of maritime logistics.

“The USMMA trains not only combat officers but also civilian and military logisticians and supply specialists,” the report said. “The U.S. Navy's professional educational institutions, including the Naval War College and the Naval Postgraduate School, provide the Navy with an intellectual backbone to study dozens of strategic and operational questions. The Air Force Academy's Institute for Future Conflict and Institute for National Security Studies do the same for pilots. In addition, the U.S. military explicitly provides its soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, and members of the Space Force with training opportunities throughout their careers to enhance their intellectual understanding of the craft of combat.”

The Yorktown Institute's message is clear: Without significant investment in the U.S. Merchant Marine and U.S. Merchant Navy, America's ability to project power and sustain its forces during significant conflict is at serious risk. Congress and the executive branch must act now before it is too late.

The full Yorktown newspaper is available for download here.

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