The head of U.S. Transportation Command (TRANSCOM) said the organization is working with the Navy on a strategy to buy used ships to replace part of the sealift fleet before moving on to new vessels.

“In our discussions with the Navy, there’s a strategy out there to begin to purchase used ships, which is essentially what our strategy was almost 30 years ago – is to purchase some used ships and get them into the fleet because our fleet is old.” Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, Commander of U.S. Transportation Command, said during an online Center for Strategic and International Studies event Feb. 2.

She noted the Military Sealift Command vessels are 46 years old and stream powered.

In contrast, the newer used ships the military wants to purchase are 15 to 25 years old, “which is better than 47.”

Van Ovost underscored this is necessary “because 43 of our 50 large roll-on/roll-off ships, really these capital ships that we need to move this bigger equipment, they’ll all retire in the next 10 years.”

“So we’ve got to begin a stabilized program of recapitalization. So we’re working with the Navy on this strategy to purchase used in the beginning and we’re working with Congress, so we’ve been authorized to purchase up to nine used ships in combination with some new ships, so we’re working together to get there,” she continued.

Van Ovost also argued “the most important thing is we’ve got to revitalize our shipbuilding capability and our ability at the docks to do repairs and maintenance and modifications and that is critical for our defense industrial base, not just for sealift but frankly all of our seapower.”

Last year, while testifying at the House Appropriations Committee’s Defense Subcommittee, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said Congress has been gracious in allowing the Navy to look at market analysis to buy used ships with 20 years of life left. This would cost in the $20 million to $25 million range each instead of immediately buying new ships costing $300 million to $500 million (Defense Daily, April 30, 2021).

“And so we’re moving out purchasing vessels like that to close the capability gap, certainly widening with China and Russia,” he said.