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Used Ships Could Solve Sealift Readiness Issues

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The aging vessels used to move personnel, equipment and supplies around the world pose a readiness concern, the commander of U.S. Transportation Command said.

A man and woman sit facing each other across a small table.
Commander Conversation
Reporter Oriana Pawlyk talks with Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons, commander of U.S. Transportation Command, during a presentation at the Atlantic Council in Washington, Jan. 28, 2020.
Photo By: C. Todd Lopez, DOD
VIRIN: 200128-D-NU123-0018

In September, the command held a "turbo activation" exercise, activating more than 30 transport vessels with no notice to assess their ability to get ready for operations.

"We kind of confirmed what we knew. The readiness of the fleet today is not where it needs to be," Army Gen. Stephen R. Lyons told an Atlantic Council panel in Washington yesterday.

Through the Military Sealift Command, Transcom relies on about 125 civilian-crewed surface vessels averaging about 50 years old to replenish Navy ships, conduct specialized missions and transport personnel, cargo and supplies.

A large ship moves through the water.
Activation Exercise
Military Sealift Command’s USNS Gilliland participates in a group sail during a turbo activation exercise., designed to test the surge sealift fleet's material readiness and its crews' ability to sail their ships in a contested environment.
Photo By: Jennifer Hunt, Navy
VIRIN: 190924-N-BI924-9837A

"It's very hard to conduct service-life extensions on a ship that is that old," Lyons said. "What we are finding is the money that is provided against it is woefully insufficient to come back out of the shipyard in a ready status."

Lyons said he thinks purchasing used ships to augment the fleet is a good solution to the problem. "Congress has granted us the authority — granted the Navy the authority — to purchase seven used ships on the open market," he added.

By the end of this year or the beginning of the next fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, the Defense Department expects to buy the first two of those used vessels, followed up with two or three more, the general said.

Two individuals man the controls of a naval vessel.
Minefield Training
Able Bodied Seaman Editho Barraca, a civilian mariner attached to the Military Sealift Command ship USNS PFC Eugene A. Obregon, takes the helm as the ship transits a simulated minefield in the Atlantic Ocean, Sept. 23, 2019.
Photo By: Bill Mesta, Navy
VIRIN: 190923-N-OH262-0239A

The president's budget proposal will be released next month; following that, Lyons and other leaders within the U.S. military will testify on Capitol Hill to explain their portions of that budget proposal. The general said he expects he’ll ask Congress for money for used ships, rather than new ones.

"What I'd like to see is more money to accelerate the used-buy move ahead," he said. "I frankly think the 'new buy' piece is going to be very, very difficult for the Navy to go after. My own personal view is the faster we can move to demonstrate good faith in what the Congress gave us to do, the faster we can demonstrate that this is a viable way to move forward."

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