I have been involved with the Pittsburgh Council of the US Navy League for about ten years. It’s a great organization that reflects the connection between Pittsburgh and the Navy and in particular, the submarine service. Most people who are not fully aware of Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania probably would not know how much the Navy depends on this area for technology and manufacturing. This includes the surface and submarine forces as well as the air forces.
In my recent assignment as a Chief of Staff for Westmoreland County Commissioner Doug Chew, I have been blessed to visit a number of local companies that manufacture components that fill an important part of the supply chain for the Department of Defense. Typically, an old mental model would include raw materials like steel. But like everything in a global economy, our contribution has been expanded beyond anyone’s imagination. And it continues to grow.
But one thing that has been coming up more and more lately is how far the Navy seems to be falling behind. The shipbuilding capacity and ship repair capacity is abysmal. If we were to be challenged on even a single front in any of our global hot spots, we would be challenged. If there was a multi-pronged attack, we would be in deep trouble. The painful fact is that with the emergence of missiles that are hypersonic, the huge investment we have made in aircraft carriers would be blown up in the first salvos. The ability to repair any surviving units would be nearly non-existent. We can barely fix non-combat damaged ships in a timely fashion; replacing them would be impossible.
So how did we get here? We spend an enormous amount of money on the DOD.
The real question is this: Have we been spending money on the right things?
This is an article recently wrote for the Port of Pittsburgh magazine.
Is the Navy League Still Needed?
By Bob MacPherson
From the Navy League Headquarters: “The Navy League of the United States, founded in 1902 with the support of President Theodore Roosevelt, is a nonprofit civilian, educational and advocacy organization that supports America’s sea services: the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard and U.S.-flag Merchant Marine.”
The question for some today might be, after 121 years, is the Navy League still needed?
Like many organizations, membership remains one of the biggest challenges for this organization. With life being so fast and so many demands placed on people’s time, it is easy to understand how some organizations struggle to keep the membership numbers credible. Plus, people are busy and it’s difficult to keep them engaged with an organization that has seen ebbs and flows.
Despite some challenges to membership, the need for a strong advocacy organization has never been as important as it is now. The threats to our nation from other nations around the world in the oceans is more focused now than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Those threats are on the water, beneath the water and in the skies above the water. New technology is advancing that threatens our very freedom and ability to control the seas.
From an article in Forbes Magazine: “A nation that was among the world’s leaders in commercial shipbuilding at key junctures in its history today builds less than 10 vessels for oceangoing commerce in a typical year. China builds over a thousand such ships each year. The entire U.S.-registered fleet of oceangoing commercial ships numbers fewer than 200 vessels, out of a global total of 44,000.
And despite trade flows to and from America exceeding a trillion dollars annually—the vast preponderance of which travel by sea—U.S.-registered ships carry barely 1% of that traffic.”
Our military shipbuilding and repair are also greatly under supported. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) or the Chinese Navy has numerically the largest navy in the world with an overall battle force of approximately 355 ships and submarines, including approximately more than 145 major surface combatants, a new report revealed.
Navy Secretary Del Toro said recently that US naval shipyards can’t match the output of Chinese ones. As with fleet size, it’s about numbers.
“They have 13 shipyards; in some cases their shipyard has more capacity – one shipyard has more capacity than all of our shipyards combined. That presents a real threat,” he claimed.
Del Toro did not give a breakdown of those shipyards, but Chinese and Western reports say China has six major and two smaller shipyards building naval vessels.
The coming threats are real. The way to counter them still exists but time is not on our side. The reality is that recreating an industrial base that can make the sea going weapons and commerce is not a small task.
Is the Navy League still relevant?
I would say that it is more relevant now than at any time in our history. While we continue to support the men and women of the sea services, we do that best when we support the various entities that will build and repair the ships, submarines, aircraft and vehicles they need. Our government needs to hear from organizations like ours that will advocate for the best defense posture possible. And in a global world filled with emerging threats, the best defense begins with a strong Navy that is second to none.
One thought on “Submarine Month 2023”
I recall a commercial for Virginia Slims back in the 70s, “You’ve come a long way, baby,” and that phrase is equally true of our nation and its priorities. China and Russia are supplanting the US on the world stage and soon the dollar will no longer be the go-to currency of the world which will further devalue its value. The only thing that does keep me going is knowing that God is on the throne and regardless of what happens tomorrow, He remains in charge.