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President's Commentary: The Critical Decade for Maritime Modernization

By Lt. Gen. Susan S. Lawrence, USA (Ret.)

The 2022 Chief of Naval Operations Navigation Plan uses the term “critical decade” five times, making the point that as global challengers threaten U.S. interests, we must maintain maritime dominance.

Historically speaking, a decade is but a moment. But at this moment, this critical decade, we must prepare our maritime forces for strategic dominance for many decades to come.

The strategy explains that for the first time in a generation, we face “strategic competitors with the demonstrated intent to unravel the free and open order.” The People’s Republic of China, for example, is building all-domain military capabilities to challenge the world’s democracies. And Russia shattered the post-Cold War peace with its invasion of Ukraine—and if not checked—will not stop with Ukraine.

U.S. strategy emphasizes the joint force’s combined capabilities in all domains—in concert with our allies, partners and the entire U.S. government—to make the costs of aggression against our vital national interests prohibitive. We continuously build new partnerships and alliances while strengthening those we already enjoy.

Countering the Chinese government’s aggressive violation of various nations’ sovereignty through illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is one example. The Defense Department, U.S. Coast Guard, allies, partners and nonprofits all want to rapidly detect such activity.

Additionally, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro recently proposed a new maritime statecraft that encompasses a national effort to build comprehensive U.S. and allied maritime power, both commercial and naval. He recommended invigorating U.S. shipbuilding in concert with our closest allies, including Japan and South Korea. As Secretary Del Toro noted, China dominates the global shipbuilding market and possesses the world’s largest fishing fleet and the third largest merchant marine fleet, with more than 7,000 ships. The United States, in contrast, owns 178, putting us in 70th place.

He pointed out that less than one-half of 1% of U.S. international exports and imports sail on U.S.-flagged merchant ships, almost all of which are foreign-built. A NATO website notes that shipping makes up 90% of all international trade in raw material and manufactured goods, and tankers carry more than half of the world’s oil.

For homeland security, whole-of-government cooperation is as vital as international partnerships are globally. I will highlight just two efforts that demonstrate the degree of cooperation taking place daily: the Office of Maritime Security’s alerts and advisories and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA’s) Precision Marine Navigation program.

The first falls under the Department of Transportation and works closely with international and interagency partners to facilitate maritime security information sharing with industry. The effort includes representatives from the Departments of State, Defense, Transportation, Justice, Homeland Security and the intelligence community. The National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency shares the information with ships at sea and subscribed stakeholders.

NOAA, meanwhile, provides critical navigation data for mariners to plan their transits or make decisions at sea. Currently, this data is spread across several different websites, is often encoded in different formats and may need to be accessed using a variety of devices, information systems and mobile phones. But through the new Precision Marine Navigation website, all the maritime data services will be disseminated from a central location, allowing more efficient and effective access. NOAA is working with industry throughout development to ensure the new service meets all users’ needs.

We at AFCEA International will do our part to share information, build partnerships and find solutions in this critical domain at the WEST conference, February 13-15, in San Diego. Co-sponsored by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute, WEST is the premier naval conference and exposition on the West Coast and is now in its 34th year of bringing together military and industry leaders.

This is the conference for discovering the information, building the relationships and finding the solutions that will help us plot a course during this critical decade, this moment in history, and together build the future of this vital domain.