Welcome to another issue of SEA STATE, where this week we are featuring our maritime counterparts on the civilian side!

Pandemic-driven supply chain issues, pictures of container build ups in the Port of Los Angeles and elsewhere, and rising concerns about the global economy have forced the commercial maritime sector into the American public consciousness. Often neglected in policy discussions, the international maritime industry moves the lion's share of raw materials, finished products, and storable energy. Most of the knowledge and capacity necessary for tasks such as laying telecommunications cable, responding to oil spills and shipwrecks, dredging harbors, and building port infrastructure is in commercial hands. What does this commercial control mean for military applications and questions of economic and diplomatic influence?

In the United States, both combat logistics and strategic sealift needs of the armed forces are provided by civilian operated and manned vessels via the Military Sealift Command. The remainder of government-owned strategic sealift ships is overseen by the Maritime Administration and operated by ship management companies staffed by civilian mariners. Recapitalization of the aging MSC and MARAD fleets is proceeding at a slow pace, with construction of the John Lewis-class oilers and Navajo-class towing, rescue, and salvage ships ongoing.

According to the last set of data released by the Maritime Administration, there are only 180 US registered commercial vessels of greater than 1,000 gross tons that carry cargo between ports. Of these, only 96 are Jones Act eligible. The Jones Act is a 1920 cabotage law that restricts the use of vessels carrying cargo between U.S. ports to those built, owned, and crewed by Americans. It can create trade distortions because of the high cost or lack of availability of American shipping. The number of ships in the U.S. registry has declined significantly since the end of WWII, owing to these high shipbuilding and labor costs, as well as the rise of flags of convenience. These factors created a deficit in the ability of American shipping to support military objectives, if called upon.

Complex commercial relationships underlie international shipping. It is not unusual for the shipowner, ship management company, charterer, ship’s officers, and ship’s crew to all be from different countries. Still, shipping remains an enormously powerful economic and diplomatic force that Americans have neglected over the last 50 years. Shipping creates networks in foreign states and contributes to indirect influence over trade policy. By allowing the size of the commercial merchant marine to decline, we have lost significant economic influence and military capacity while our competitors move forward relentlessly in this space. By comparison, the China-flagged Chinese merchant fleet numbered nearly 4,000 vessels in 2019.

Enormous military-relevant capacity exists in the commercial sector. To leverage this potential, commercial and military parts of the maritime world need to start a dialogue about their roles and responsibilities in wartime. American mariners already serve a vital role in peacetime military logistics, and will crew strategic sealift vessels held in reserve if they are activated in wartime. Shipping, logistics and stevedoring, marine construction, bulk fuel transport and storage, salvage, heavy lift, and emergency response, diving, shipbuilding and repair are all areas in which industry can both provide capability and improve understanding by stakeholders that may need these services in peace and war.


Maxwell Anderson

Naval Architect, T&T Salvage, LLC


“2021 China Military Power Report Released” (Department of Defense): The latest version of the DOD’s annual report to Congress on China Military Power was released last week. China military experts such as Andrew Erickson, Zack Cooper, Emily Carr Young, and Thomas Shugart have produced excellent summaries of this report while lauding it as the most substantial report to date. They have identified the following as key developments:

  • Nuclear Triad: Defense experts expressed concern about advancements in China’s nuclear capabilities. The report revised its previous estimates of Chinese nuclear stockpiles, predicting that China will have 700 nuclear warheads by 2027 and over 1,000 by 2030. The report also increased its projections for China’s supply of inter-continental and intermediate range missiles (For a comparison of this years’ and previous years’ projections, click here) and concluded that China’s Jin-class Type 094 SSBN and the H-6N nuclear-capable bomber are viable undersea-based and air-based nuclear deterrents. Understanding these rapidly-evolving nuclear capabilities and working to advance our own nuclear programs in response will be a key mission in coming years.

  • Amphibious and Expeditionary Capability: China’s advantage in shipbuilding and fleet size has been reported and commented on widely, and this report echoes past revelations that Chinese shipbuilding is greatly outpacing American shipbuilding. However, one key area of interest that experts focused on in the report is expeditionary and amphibious ships. China appears focused on increasing its expeditionary capabilities through the procurement of landing platform docks and landing helicopter assault ships. While China lacks the quantity of vessels needed to support a direct beach assault, the report observes that China could quickly build the ship-to-shore connectors or even utilize civilian ferries to support such operations. China’s demonstrated interest in amphibious and expeditionary operations is mirrored in the Marine Corps’ orientation towards amphibious and expeditionary warfare in the Pacific.

  • Global Presence: The report unveils surprising information about the quick expansion of the PLA’s global reach. The report details that a PLAN naval task group conducted training exercises near Hawaii in early 2020, while in Djibouti, the PLA has “interfered with U.S. flights by lasing pilots and flying drones.” The report lists over a dozen countries the PLA may be considering for additional bases or logistics facilities. It also lists Argentina, Namibia, and Pakistan as sites of tracking, telemetry, and command stations to support the PLA Strategic Support Forces’ satellite operations. These trends will have the largest impact on officers, as 7th Fleet will no longer be the only area of operations in which there are routine encounters with Chinese military vessels.



“FBI warns US companies about Iranian hackers” (CNN): The FBI sent an advisory note to US companies stating that Iranian hackers had been searching cybercriminal websites for sensitive data from American and foreign organizations that could be used in the future to hack those organizations. Stolen emails and network configurations are leaked by scammers and then picked up by hackers on dark-web forums. Hackers linked to the Iranian government have become increasingly active in cybercriminal activity, blurring the line between state and non-state cyber operations, a practice the Russian government and the Saint Petersburg-based Internet Research Agency uses, as well. Cybercriminal activity demonstrates how digitalization has created new space for foreign actors to interfere in US affairs outside of the purely military realm.

“SpaceX Delivers NASA’s Crew-3 Astronauts to Space Station” (NYT): On November 10, NASA’s Crew-3 rocketed into space from Cape Canaveral. Less than 24 hours later, their capsule docked to the International Space Station, in orbit some 250 miles above the earth’s surface. The four astronauts increase the ISS population to seven. One of the members of Crew-3 is LCDR Kayla Barron, a 2010 graduate of the US Naval Academy who transferred from submariner to astronaut in the most recent class. Over the course of the next six months, the crew will work on over 200 experiments, many of which explore ways to sustain crews for much longer journeys to the moon and to Mars. The trip is another example of the rejuvenated global interest in space exploration; “In 2021, more people have traveled to space than in any year since 2009.”


“Metallurgist Admits She Falsified Test Results for Steel Used in Navy Submarine” (NYT): A former metallurgist working for a subcontractor that supplies the Navy steel used in the production of submarines admitted to falsifying test results indicating the steel’s toughness and ability to withstand force. The falsification took place over a period of 30 years, with the Navy only becoming aware of the discrepancies in 2017. While the supplied steel was substandard and would not have been purchased if the true characteristics were accurate, the Navy has not said that the structural integrity of any submarines has been compromised. The ensuing court case reflects the potential pitfalls of the Navy acquisition process and reliance upon subcontractors; previous issues have included cyber security vulnerabilities that were exploited in 2018.

“Navy selects first woman to go directly to flying the F-35C after earning her wings” (NavyTimes): This month LTJG Suzelle Thomas became the first woman in the Navy to transition directly to flying the F-35C from flight school. There are currently only three women in the Navy who fly the F-35C, all who have transitioned from other platforms. LTJG Thomas was nominated to the Commodore’s List in primary flight training and was recognized as Training Squadron 7 student of the quarter last spring. LTJG Thomas is one of many servicewomen who have recently earned the title of “first woman to…” in their respective communities, showcasing how women continue to make ground in the services.

“Militaries Around the World Are ‘Severely Underreporting’ Carbon Emissions, Researchers Say” ( During the 2021 United Nations’ Climate Change Conference on Tuesday, a group of UK-based academics called for mandatory reporting of military-related carbon pollution. Reporting would occur under a revised edition of the UN’s Framework Convention on Climate Change and encompass not only military-owned asset pollution but their supply chains, as well. Reporting this information provides an opportunity for nations to internally evaluate their contributions to climate change and hold each other accountable. Studying supply chains in-depth is a means to study the military’s impact on climate change, which has been labeled a national security concern in a DOD study published in October.

DISCUSSION QUESTION: How should the US government aim to address supply chain issues? Diversification across friendly states, onshoring, or a combination of the two?

Send your response to!


“A Marine Reflects on War, Love & Finding Purpose” - Fresh Air

Like she does in all of her interviews, Fresh Air host Terry Gross draws insightful and interesting answers from her Veteran’s Day guest, author and Marine Elliot Ackerman. Gross and Ackerman discuss the events that led to him being awarded the Silver Star for his actions in Fallujah, how he found purpose in his service, and how he processed his service through writing. As we reflect on the service and sacrifice of those who have gone before us this Veteran’s Day, this forty minute interview is well worth your time.


“The day the soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care.”

— General Colin Powell

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We’ll see you next week.


This issue of SEA STATE was written and edited by Madison Sargeant, Charlotte Asdal, Jake Marx, Nick Romanow, Sam Lick, Polly Finch, Bryce McClelland, Emma Quinn, Christian Hoffman, Madi Wagner, Lauren Hickey, Julie Stabile, Nate Bermel.

SEA STATE is not affiliated with the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, or the Department of Defense. All views expressed or shared in this newsletter are the authors’ own and not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. government or any military entity.

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