Is the US Still a Maritime Power?

If WW2 happened today Liberty ships would have to be built in South Korea and be crewed by Filipinos

In a recent post/comment, a reader offered a thought about the US as a maritime power:

… we are no longer a maritime power in the traditional sense.

Such a simple statement has enormous implications and this led me to consider … are we still a maritime power?

The knee-jerk response is, of course we are!  But … are we really?

Answering the question requires that we set some criteria for what constitutes a maritime power.  Setting aside any definitions from anyone else, here are the common sense requirements for a nation to be considered a maritime power:

Extensive Merchant Fleet – We don’t have many US flagged ships but the US is the central node in an extensive international shipping ‘fleet’.  From Wikipedia,

As of October 1, 2018, the United States merchant fleet had 181 privately owned, oceangoing, self-propelled vessels of 1,000 gross register tons and above that carry cargo from port to port. Nearly 800 American-owned ships are flagged in other nations.

So, while it is disturbing that the US flagged merchant fleet is almost non-existent, the US does have a very substantial merchant fleet supporting the nation.

Extensive Shipbuilding Capacity – The US has a pitifully small shipbuilding capacity, bordering on non-existent.  This was not always the case.  The US built around 77 commercial ships in 1975.  In 2000, the US built around 17 commercial ships.  The WWII Emergency Shipbuilding Program (US Maritime Commission) produced around 6000 general purpose cargo ships for the war effort.  The causes of the decline of US shipbuilding are well known and the reader can research the subject, if they wish.  Suffice it to say that the decline was largely self-inflicted and that the current situation has resulted in nearly non-existent shipbuilding capacity for the US.

Powerful Navy – It should go without saying that a powerful maritime nation requires a powerful navy to protect its maritime interests.  The US has a large navy relative to the rest of the world, however, that navy is steadily shrinking, aging, and has become woefully hollow, demonstrably incompetent, and lacks support in terms of shipbuilding capacity, repair facilities, drydocks, logistics, and foreign bases/ports.  For example, in the Pacific/China theater, we have almost no relevant bases/ports.

Given the above, can we still be considered a maritime power?

I’m not going to offer an answer.  Instead I’ll leave it to you to answer the question for yourself.  You might, however, consider the following:

  • Why are we allowing our navy to decline so precipitously?
  • Why have we allowed our shipbuilding industry to decline so precipitously?
  • Why have we created the legal/regulatory conditions that prevent our merchant fleet from being US-flagged?

  1. Ben says

    The Russian Hypersonic kinzal/ avangard also ends the US domination of the Sea. A lot of catching up to do Yankees!

    1. edwardi says

      I told that to my warrior son about 3-4 years ago, I thought that was obvious, he got all up in his dander and we have been not been communicating since. I took him to the 1st star wars movie when he was about 6 or 7, but I think he identified with darth vader instead of luke skywalker. He went over to the dark side, the death star, champion of the empire.

      1. edwardi says

        they didn’t have the kinzal yet, but shore to ship missiles were already quite advanced, and have only gotten better.

  2. ken says

    Check out how many people were millionaires before being elected to con-gress compared to how many are presently millionaires.

    The government is now a crime syndicate concerned only with money and power. It will be embarrassing and deadly when push goes to shove if war on the high seas breaks out. Like the British, America’s navy is living on decades old accomplishments.

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