Oral Statements Before Subcommittees on Seapower and Projection Forces and Readiness Joint Hearing: “Posture and Readiness of the Mobility Enterprise”
Subcommittees on Seapower and Projection Forces and Readiness Joint Hearing: “Posture and Readiness of the Mobility Enterprise”
Thursday, March 31, 2022
(2:00pm ET – 2118 Rayburn and via Webex – Open)
Purpose: To receive testimony from the U.S. Transportation Command and the Maritime Administration on the posture and readiness of the mobility enterprise.
General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, USAF
Commander, United States Transportation Command
Ms. Lucinda Lessley
Acting Administrator, Maritime Administration
General Jacqueline D. Van Ovost, Commander, United States Transportation Command:
Chairman Courtney, Chairman Garamendi, Ranking Member Wittman, Ranking Member Waltz, Distinguished Members of the committees, good afternoon. It is my honor to join you today with my Senior Enlisted Leader, Fleet Master Chief Donald Myrick, to represent the men and women of the United States Transportation Command. Every day I am immensely proud of their contributions to our Nation’s defense.
TRANSCOM operates an agile and resilient logistics enterprise comprised of our military components, commercial partners, and industry teammates delivering for our nation, our allies, and our partners around the world. We project and sustain the world’s most capable military force. The speed and reliability at which we can execute these missions demonstrates our nation’s resolve and serves as a deterrent to our adversaries. However, the world is evolving, and the complex contested environment that is emerging will test the future readiness of our enterprise, and challenge TRANSCOM’s ability to deliver a decisive force for high end conflict when needed.
It is imperative that we evolve into a more agile, resilient mobility force through focused modernization and recapitalization of our capabilities to ensure we remain ready now, and into the future. My top readiness concern remains sealift as 70% of our government owned surge sealift ships will approach the end of their service life in 10 years. I greatly appreciate your support on the authorization and funding of the first steps of our sealift recapitalization effort. The funding for five used ships in the FY22 omnibus appropriations will enable us to continue this vital process and we look forward to working with the Navy to satisfy restrictions in current law to execute these purchases.
Next, air refueling is critical to our joint force’s ability to deploy and employ an immediate force. I appreciate your continued support to funding the KC-46 recapitalization program and critical modifications to the KC-135 aircraft. We must continue to modernize and recapitalize our aging air refueling assets to ensure they remain agile, resilient, and relevant for the future fight.
One last and very critical thought, cyber is an area of significant vulnerability for TRANSCOM. As we are inextricably linked to commercial industry, and 90% of our systems operate outside of the Department of Defense Information Network, we remain focused on strengthening partnership with our transportation providers to mitigate cyber vulnerabilities. As such, cyber resiliency and digital modernization initiatives are a top priority.
In closing, I would like to say that I am pleased to join Acting Maritime Administrator Lessley, and I thank her for MARAD’s continued partnership with TRANSCOM in meeting the challenges of global maritime mobility. Administrator Lessley and I recently had the opportunity to visit the US Merchant Marine Academy at King’s Point, an institute whose graduates play a vital role in our Nation’s Defense and economy. Nearly 85% of the Navy’s Strategic Sealift Officers, military officers that integrate commercial vessels into military fleets during operations, are alumni of King’s point. This is a skill set that will be in high demand as we operate in the contested logistics environment.
I would like to thank you once again for your leadership and the support you provide for our service members. I look forward to your questions.
Lucinda Lessley, Acting Maritime Administrator:
Good afternoon, Chairman Courtney, Chairman Garamendi, Ranking Member Wittman, Ranking Member Waltz, and Members of the Subcommittees. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the Maritime Administration’s role in supporting the nation’s strategic sealift capabilities.
I have had the honor of serving as the Acting Maritime Administrator for more than a year now. Without question, it has been a year of unprecedented challenges.
However, the Biden-Harris Administration has been working to meet these challenges by strengthening both our merchant marine and sealift, and by quickly implementing a historic investment in our nation’s ports and inland and near-coastal waterways.
MARAD appreciates the support of Congress—and particularly the leadership of the Members of these subcommittees—for your support of our sealift capabilities.
That said, the average age of the vessels in the Ready Reserve is more than 46, which makes recapitalization critical to maintaining readiness.
Equipment casualties have increased and the challenges of replacing obsolete equipment make ship activations and operations more difficult.
MARAD has awarded our Vessel Acquisition Manager (VAM) contract and two used vessels were selected for procurement in 2021. The first vessel was delivered to MARAD this month and delivery of the second vessel is imminent. However, the rate of recapitalization is limited by the number of vessels we are authorized to purchase.
Separately, construction is well underway on the first two of five National Security Multi-Mission Vessels, with the first expected to be delivered to MARAD in early 2023.
The Maritime Security Program, which encompasses 60 commercial vessels, remains the heart of sustainment sealift.
In addition, the newly funded Tanker Security Fleet Program will begin to address the need for more U.S.-flag product tankers capable of transporting fuel to meet both national economic needs and DOD contingency requirements. Thank you for your support for the TSP in the FY21 NDAA.
That said, meeting the DOD’s sealift needs requires not only vessels, but also qualified mariners to operate them. MARAD remains concerned about our ability to quickly assemble an adequate number of qualified mariners if an extended mobilization occurs.
We are especially mindful of the negative effects of the pandemic on mariners and we concerned that some may have decided to seek employment in less challenging environments, exasperating an already challenging employment situation.
Further, it is critical that our merchant marine and indeed our entire maritime industry draw on the talents of all Americans who share a passion for the sea and for logistics.
As such, all vessels and all maritime workplaces must uphold the essential values of mutual respect and dignity and ensure all workers have an equal chance to excel on the basis of their competency and professionalism.
Late last year, we made the difficult decision to briefly pause Sea Year training aboard commercial vessels at the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy so we could institute new safety policies intended to help prevent sexual assault and harassment, support survivors, and strengthen a culture of accountability.
In response to a request from members of Congress, we developed a program called “Every Mariner Builds a Respectful Culture,” or EMBARC. This program enumerates new safety requirements for vessels that carry Academy cadets.
MARAD will not place cadets on commercial vessels that have not enrolled in EMBARC.
We also instituted new policies at the Merchant Marine Academy itself to improve the support we provide to our cadets at sea and to try to remove barriers to reporting when assault or harassment do occur.
Cadet embarkations resumed in December 2021, initially on training vessels and vessels operated by the Navy, Military Sealift Command, and the United States Coast Guard.
We offer our deepest thanks to General Van Ovost, as well as Admiral Mewbourne and Admiral Wettlaufer, and Admiral Schultz, the Coast Guard Commandant, as well as Rear Admiral John Mauger, for their support of our midshipmen.
With their assistance, we believe that all members of the Merchant Marine Academy Class of 2023 should be able to accumulate the sea time needed to graduate on time.
We also thank the Coast Guard for their extraordinary partnership and for leading efforts to improve safety for all mariners with adoption of these new procedures in ships safety management plans.
As of today, five commercial companies have enrolled in EMBARC. I urge every U.S.-flagged carrier to enroll as quickly as possible.
We know we have many miles to go, but through continuous process review, we will work to identify areas where our policies fall short and improve them—and we will support urgently needed culture change across the maritime industry.
Thank you for the opportunity to address this Committee on the state of our Nation’s sealift as a component of the mobility enterprise. I ask that my written statement be entered into the record and am happy to answer any questions.