The U.S. Navy and the Maritime Administration’s marine highway program are sailing on intersecting courses, and the result could bring benefits to all parties. Finding ship designs suitable for short-sea operations is part of the Marad program, while the Navy wants a merchant fleet on call to meet a national emergency.
The Navy has been looking at the potential for a dual-use vessel that meets military and commercial needs, and it may consider providing financial assistance. But that doesn’t mean the Navy is waiting with baskets of money for anyone who walks through the door. Jonathan Kaskin, director of the Navy’s office of strategic mobility, said a host of questions surround the concept, but the Navy, Marad and a cadre of experts are gradually working toward answers.
“The whole point of this effort is to get a government estimate of what’s needed,” said Kaskin, who’s met with any number of would-be short-sea operators looking for ways to capitalize their venture. “They come by my office looking for a government handout. Everybody’s got his own ideas. You’ve got to work this in a competitive manner and in such a way that everybody gets a chance.”
Marad has contracted for designs of 11 vessel types that may be useful for short-sea shipping, ranging from tugs and barges to container ships and roll-on, roll-off carriers. It’s similar in principle to what Marad did in the 1940s and 1950s when it developed standard cargo ship designs that were available for any shipyard wanting to build them.
Kaskin said those vessels were intended for international service, and Marad had the construction differential program to subsidize them. Those subsidies are long gone. The program was replaced by the Maritime Security Program, which provides annual operating subsidies to companies that keep a fleet of U.S.-flag ships available for military sealift.
The Navy’s interest is a ro-ro vessel capable of transporting military equipment, Kaskin said. The service faces replacement of 27 aging ships it owns in the Ready Reserve Force. Under Marad’s management, the ships are kept ready to sail on a few days’ notice. He said the Navy doesn’t have the resources to build a fleet of merchant ships to be kept on call while building a fleet of 323 combat vessels at the same time.
“We hope by this summer we will have two or three designs with an economic analysis for each, and we can determine what the impediments are to making this happen,” Kaskin said.
He said the work is needed to help the government make policy decisions that will affect the future of marine highways. The working group will meet in Boston in July to measure their progress.
“We are looking for ways of helping the marine highways program along, and that may also include fiscal support if that is required,” Kaskin said, “if, on a business-case analysis, it’s cheaper than the other alternatives we have to meet the Navy’s needs.”
Contact R.G. Edmonson at firstname.lastname@example.org.