The House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces authorized a new Tanker Security Fleet program of 10 civilian-operated petroleum tankers in its markup of the FY ’20 defense authorization bill Tuesday.
“This is somewhat similar to the Maritime Security Program (MSP). However, it will be exclusive for tankers,” senior committee staff told reporters on Monday.
The committee’s rationale is that the U.S.-flagged tanker fleet has too few vessels for what is required if the U.S. Navy went into a contingency operation, so this program hopes to increase the organic U.S.-flagged tanker fleet.
Committee staff said, “the provision was kind of crafted almost identically to [MSP] with some minor changes, and then it would be up to the Department to fund that in a future year or if the appropriators could in FY ‘20 add that money, which would initiate the program beginning in FY ’20.”
Like MSP, these would be commercial tankers that are paid stipends by the government so that in case of emergency they could be pulled back into U.S. service.
The MSP consists of 60 commercially available ships that are in international trade currently and receive a stipend. In exchange, the government could pull them into U.S. service in case of contingency.
The committee believes this would increase U.S.-flagged tankers, and increase the qualified mariner pool to help bridge the current gap.
“We cannot sustain the Reserve Fleet for more than about six months if we had to activate the Ready Reserve Fleet due to the limited number of qualified mariners currently,” the staffer noted.
The subcommittee’s mark also reauthorizes the 60-ship MSP through 2035, including maintaining current stipends. The program was set to expire in 2025.
Committee staff said the stipends were due to drop in FY ’22 to earlier levels, which might take some carriers out of the MSP. So in the reauthorization the subcommittee maintained the stipends.
The staffer said as with MSP the new program would be administered by the Maritime Administration but U.S. Transportation Command would be the utilizer.