Friday, August 16, 2013


  First and foremost we must live up to our constitutional obligation to maintain a navy. The founding fathers had serious reservations about maintaining a standing army. The founding fathers only put into the Constitution Congressional authority to "raise an army" and limited army appropriations to no more than two years in duration. So all congressional law requiring joint service budgeting and equal budget cuts is fundamentally unconstitutional. It is also unwise. We have never had a military coup in this country and after generations of officers haveing served without that threat ever appearing , the risks to our democracy of a large standing garrisoned force at the beck and call of the powers that be ,doesn't frighten the average American much. Apparently, the idea doesn't hold much threat in the mind of those sworn to uphold our constitution such as our Senators and Congressmen, but the potential danger is real. Naval forces don't pose much of a threat to the civilian population. Armies do coups.


But the threats from without never cease. So the founding fathers required Congress to maintain a navy but only authorized them to raise an army. At the time they couldn't even imagine an "air force" which is historically an out growth of the U.S. Army Air Corps.

 Under the various provisions that "spread the pain" of budget cuts; naval power, the power we now have in shortest supply suffers the most. Ships are needed in numbers, lots of them. China is building a 950 ship navy and we are trying to maintain considerably less than 300 ships to service the world's oceans. Russia is rebuilding its navy. Piracy is back in vogue with a vengeance  We have threatened maritime interests everywhere. 

 Our English speaking allies and Japan have even smaller naval forces and no such constitutional provision to maintain a naval force. Part of any naval; force worthy of the name is a naval infantry organization, "soldiers from the sea", ours is called The United States Marine Corps. They are covered as well by the constitutional naval mandate. The Navy Department (recently renamed the Department of the Navy and Marine Corps)  is our only full service military force with ships, an air arm, and soldiers from the sea. It can operate from anywhere on the world's oceans. It truly is our first line of defense, yet we cut it's budget by equal amounts relative to the other services even while knowing that naval forces require the most funding to maintain. 

What constitutes the size of the navy that we are constitutionally obligated to "maintain". We think the founding fathers intended that Congress should maintain a navy of sufficient size to meet our real needs  at any particular moment in history. 

 When we had only Atlantic, Gulf and Great Lakes coasts and only sporadic problems affecting our maritime commerce as was the case prior to 1812 we needed a small navy. That navy probably should have consisted of a squadron of small frigates on each coast and one for long range deployment to defend troubled merchant ships flying our flag, perhaps a total of less than 50 modest war ships would have been sufficient. In fact at times we made due with six or ten naval frigates and 10 to 13 small revenue cutters, forerunners of our present day Coast Guard. 

 We paid dearly for that mistake when the war of 1812 broke out. Our navy was too small to carry the war to the enemy or keep them off of our coasts. They burned Washington. They landed an army at New Orleans but they had to bury a large part of the that army there. But the fighting and destruction took place on our soil because we had not maintained a navy of sufficient size and power for the times.

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18th Century Frigate by Pearson Scott Foresman

 In those days merchant ships were often armed on certain trade routes and merchant sailors often had mixed careers in both naval and merchant service and could ably defend their ships against similarly armed single vessels. When convoy and naval escort services were needed these merchant ships were not only the protected portion of the convoy but often part of the overall fire power. Sometimes such armed merchant men were pressed into irregular naval service under letters of mart, something now banned by international law though the United States was not signatory to the convention.

The painting Salem Harbor by Roy Cross depicts the MARGRET an American merchant ship armed with at least 18 guns

By the time of the Cold War nearly all merchant ships were unarmed, piracy was thought to be a thing of the past and the big naval issue was could we maintain control of the seas if the Cold War blew hot in the face of an imposing Soviet Navy. At that time the administration thought a 600 ship navy was needed. Then the soviets went broke and the Russian people traded them in for a new group of thugs, any thoughts of a 600 ship navy went out the window as Russia held a fire sale on military equipment. Our Navy began to shrink, within a few years a 300 ship navy became not a floor, but a ceiling, one that we can't seem to reach. Yet the Russian navy is on the rise and acting aggressive again, the Chinese Navy has already announced its intention of pushing us back to Pearl Harbor, and piracy is epidemic. But when some kid burned the submarine USS Miami because he wanted the day off, we had to declare it a constructive total loss because we didn't have sufficient repair funds in the budget.
Training was supposed to be a major responsibility of the Maritime Administration. The Coast Guard and the International Maritime Organization would pile on the training requirements for Merchant Mariners and the Maritime Administration would provide the training. During the Reagan administration the regional Maritime Administration radar, gyro, loran and  firefighting schools were shut down and their physical facilities sold at bargain basin prices to local community colleges who then started offering the required courses for stiff fees. There is a shortage of American seamen today. One reason is that in order to get through minimum entry level training called "STCW Basics" training costs can exceed $7,000. For an officer ascension total training costs can exceed a four year state university tuition. 

The Maritime Administration still runs the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy which provides both officer licensing and naval officer training as well as a four year degree in a variety of majors. The Academy is still free to the lucky Congressional appointed cadets. Yet within 5 years of Academy graduation the majority of these graduates are more likely to be pursuing careers about the sea than on the sea opting to become admiralty lawyers, naval architects, and maritime managers. Despite officer out put from one federal and five state maritime academies ( four year colleges) the vast majority of licensed masters and mates in the Jones Act fleet are the products of on board apprenticeships. The blue water fleet is less than two hundred ships, they can't use the out put from 6 maritime academies. The entire training mission of the Maritime Administration must be reinvented.
United States Maritime Service Recruiting bus in Toledo Ohio   So lets recap. We believe that a "comprehensive national maritime policy must have the following elements at a minimum:

1. A commitment to constantly research, fund and continuously maintain a right sized navy for the global conditions of the times without regard to the funding of other branches of the Armed Forces.

2. A commitment to continually fund a right sized Coast Guard, an organization that is about one complete fleet and air arm short of playing with a full deck right now. The Superintendence of the Merchant Marine must be shifted out of the Coast Guard but not necessarily all marine safety functions. The Coast Guard should continue to supervise explosive loadings and maintain marine safety zones for example. But the licensing and certification of merchant mariners, and the routine inspection of ships should be transferred to the Maritime Administration.

3. There should be a commitment to the Navy/Coast Guard Board for joint fleet planning for maximum efficiency in acquisitions  fleet mix, weaponry, communications etc..

4. THE NOAA CORPS, FLEET, AND AIR ARM should remain a dedicated service within  NOAA and the Commerce Department.  Statutory protection should be provided against absorption of any part of the NOAA Corps, fleet, or air arm by the Coast Guard. A Coast Guard/NOAA Board should be established however to coordinate fleet and air arm configuration to maximally meet NOAA mission requirements while also being able to provide some mission support to civil mission areas normally supported by medium endurance Coast Guard cutters that may have to deploy forward with the Navy from time to time. A Coast Guard Reserve unit should be created to provide tactical law enforcement teams, boarding teams, SAR mission coordinators, tactical mission officers in charge and similar services to NOAA research vessels called to temporary service in support of Coast Guard civil/law enforcement missions.

5, The Maritime Administration must be completely revamped. It must become the champion of the Jones Act and protector of the domestic fleet even against the neglect or harmful policies of other federal agencies. The Maritime Administration must have some limited subsidy authorities and must be able to address our manpower, vessel, and ship building issues decoupled when necessary. Build American provisions that work against man by Americans provisions should not be allowed to get in each other's way.  If problems must be tackled serially the agency needs the authority.

 This is by no means an exhaustive or even complete list. These are the three hundred pound gorilla issues we see every day, Our purpose is to get the conversation started because the problem is already way out of hand. Please pass the link to this post along to every voter you know. Don't vote for people who think the PBS subsidy is more important than having an American Merchant Marine. 

Read More About It:

The U.S. Navy Today:

U.S. Navy History:

U.S. Coast Guard History:

The U.S. Coast Guard Today:



The Maritime Administration Today: 

The Training Mission As It Used to Be: The U.S. Maritime Service:

The Defense Mission and History Of The U.S. Merchant Marine in Armed Conflict:



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