Appropriations Conference Approves Use Of Foreign Ships For Ready Reserve Force

In conference on October 1, the Senate receded to the House on the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) provisions in the fiscal year 1992 Maritime Administration appropriations bill. This action effectively killed the Senate amendment which would have restricted RRF purchases to U.S.-flag vessels and repairs/modifications of these ships to U.S. yards (except for the three Danish ships used during Operation Desert Shield/Desert Storm).

Representative Neal Smith of Iowa fought hard to defeat the amendment for strengthening the U.S. maritime industrial base. Unfortunately, the Senate conferees did not stand their ground. In addition to the U.S. industrial base issue, there is the serious question of whether or not the old foreign vessels contemplated for the RRF are capable of meeting operational readiness goals. MarAd has indicated that it does not intend to do any extensive conversion work on the ships; for example, strengthen the decks to allow them to carry more military tanks or incorporate other special design characteristics that the Army says it needs.

In 1981, the U.S. Government terminated subsidies to U.S. yards.

On October 1, 1991, conferees on the FY 1991 Commerce, State, and Justice Appropriations bill effect i v e l y agreed with the A d m i n i s t r a t i o n ' s plan to use taxpayer's dollars to subsidize foreign yards instead.

As U.S. shipyards continue to close because they cannot compete against subsidized foreign shipyards, the Maritime Administration has lobbied hard to buy ships for the RRF that have been built in subsidized foreign yards. Apparently, the Appropriation conferees agreed with MarAd that it is good policy to take advantage of the very subsidy practices which the U.S. Trade Representative has been trying to eliminate through international negotiations for more than two years— so far, without success.

There is another irony in this situation. The subsidized ships the Administration wants to buy will do little to achieve the purpose of enhancing our nation's sealift capability.

They are too old and too slow and lack many of the required de- sign features. As the Persian Gulf war proved, the military needs ships that have 24-knot speed capability and are maintained in a reduced operating status to ensure quick deliverability of heavy military equipment to the theater of operation.

It was clearly demonstrated during Operation Desert Storm t h a t the ships in Mar Ad's Ready Reserve Force were not up to the task. They were old, poorly maintained, and could not be activated in a timely fashion. Thus, it took six months for the U.S. to get its equipment to the Persian Gulf. In contrast to the RRF, the Navy's seven fast sealift ships which are maintained in reduced operating status, carried 10 percent of all the cargo to the Persian Gulf. It took 71 RRF ships to carry only 20 percent of the cargo.

The nation needs modern, efficient sealift ships, and U.S. shipyards certainly need the business.

The policy decision of the Administration and the Appropriations conferees won't significantly improve our sealift capability, but it will further erode our shipyard industrial base.

Other stories from November 1991 issue


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