The Importance of Human Capital in a Sealift

This opinion article from RealClearDefense where former deputy undersecretary of the Navy Seth Cropsey discusses the importance of the U.S. Merchant Marine in deterring and winning a major conflict against an increasingly aggressive China or a desperate Russia.

Mr. Cropsey argues that in time of war, the Merchant Marine “becomes a crucial and wholly underappreciated aspect of national power.”

A viable sealift capacity depends not just on having enough vessels to deploy, but also on having a sufficient number of highly qualified, militarily-obligated Merchant Mariners to operate them. The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA) is the key source for the crucial human capital required to operate those vessels. Founded in 1943 to provide the qualified, federally obligated Merchant Marine officers who execute the sealift aboard these commercial ships, USMMA currently supplies 80 percent of the officers in the U.S. Navy’s Strategic Sealift Officer (SSO) Force.

USMMA is the only federal academy that educates and graduates licensed Merchant Marine officers. USMMA is also the only maritime school in which 100 percent of graduates both earn a Merchant Marine license and incur an obligation to serve their country for eight years.

Mr. Cropsey ends his column by suggesting that major funding is required to increase the enrollment at the Academy. In addition to looking at increasing the enrollment, Congress is considering major appropriations to completely modernize the 80-year-old campus, which is essentially unchanged since its founding. In anticipation of this major undertaking, the NDAA enacted last month requires the Maritime Administration, which oversees the Academy, to begin the search for a federal construction agent within 90 days, so Mr. Cropsey’s endorsement is both timely and prescient.