TRANSCOM CHIEF TO HOUSE COMMITTEE: ôWE NEED MSP NOWö
TRANSCOM Commander in Chief Gen. John W. Handy called for reauthorizing and expanding the Maritime Security Program to provide immediate access to military-useful vessels owned and operated by American companies.
As Congress considers military action against Iraq, it should also face the reality that the U.S. military may have to rely on foreign flag vessels to support wartime efforts, Handy said in testimony before the House Armed Services Committee’s Merchant Marine Panel Tuesday.
“We can’t afford not to invest in MSP,” he said. “The alternative to MSP is, ultimately, reliance on foreign flag vessels manned by foreign crews during crisis. MSP provides the security of resources we must have.”
MSP, which was established by the 1996 Maritime Security Act and managed by the U.S. Maritime Administration, expires in September 2005. The program provides the federal government immediate access to military-useful commercial container and roll-on/roll-off tonnage during times of war or emergency.
Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., agreed that allowing foreign-owned companies to participate in the marine pool invites loopholes that could weaken national security. “I think it leads to a lot of unintended consequences.”
Handy said the government needs to move swiftly to assemble a sufficient mariner pool in case of conflict. “It could be anywhere from 60 to 90 days,” Handy said, adding that most key seaports in the Persian Gulf would receive wartime supplies. “We have no constraints on us from a port perspective, but only time will tell.”
Handy added that if MSP’s was reauthorized, the program would require about 50 to 60 dry cargo ships to be effective. He cited that figure from a two-year-old Mobility Requirements Study that predated Sept. 11 and the subsequent War on Terrorism. “It is possible that War on Terrorism scenarios, when factored into a future MRS-05 baseline, could drive the aforementioned capacity requirements higher,” Handy said.
Handy told Rep. Jim Saxton, R-N.J., that future vessels in MSP should have multiport capability, and should not be deep-draft vessels since they will be required to carry bulk cargo. He added that TRANSCOM was interested in utilizing faster ships that reach up to 900 feet long and are capable of speeds up to 38 to 40 knots, but speed was not the criterion for their utilization. “Certainly we are looking at this technology,” Handy said. “The bottom line from our perspective is that it has to be militarily useful.”
Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., told Handy to appeal to White House Office of Management and Budget Director Mitch Daniels to assure MSP reauthorization and expansion,'so that the program would not be sidelined by interests in other programs. Otherwise, the program would be given short shrift, Hunter said. “I think you need to weigh in in this fight to the chair of the OMB (Daniels) specifically,” Hunter said.