NATIONAL SECURITY BENEFITS
An undeniably vital aspect of the Jones Act is the range of national security benefits it affords the United States. First, the Jones Act fleet plays a vital role in maintaining the nation’s economic security by ensuring the United States controls its essential transportation assets and the related infrastructure in both peacetime and wartime. American-owned and American-manned ships ensure the safe transport of grain down the Mississippi, ore across the Great Lakes, coal from America’s heartland, and more. Without the Jones Act, America’s internal network of waterways would be vulnerable to foreign shippers who don’t play by the same set of safety rules or adhere to important environmental standards. America’s economy relies on an efficient system of shipping, thus with foreign vessel operators playing a role, our natural resources and goods, and citizens are subject to the whims of ship operators who have a lot less at stake.
Because of the Jones Act trade, American shipyards and repair yards efficiently operate during times of peace. As a result, when war places demands on these resources, they can be mobilized to repair, convert, and construct vessels for military use — quickly and efficiently. At the same time, with the Jones Act in place, equipment manufacturers that supply the military are in business and ready to serve the nation when they are called upon to use their expertise to produce vital equipment for military needs.
In addition, the actual Jones Act vessels and Jones Act crews form a ready team of professionals who play a central role in meeting U.S defense needs when they emerge — sometimes at a moment’s notice. Without this ready fleet of ships and people, the U.S. taxpayer would bear the burden of building these ships and maintaining these highly technical capabilities over many years. It has been estimated that the Department of Defense would have to spend $800 million annually to maintain these resources. It is critical that American shipyards are continuously operating, advancing the industrial base and providing the military with a steady stream of skilled workers can that can answer the call as needed.
For example, the SS NORTHERN LIGHTS, a Jones Act trailer-ship, typically engaged in the Alaska coastwise domestic trade, made 25 voyages and 49 port calls to the Iraqi war zone during Operation Iraqi Freedom following the Pentagon’s request and need for a fast and shallow draft vessel to move military vehicles and hardware to the conflict area. Furthermore, according to the Military Sealift Command, U.S. merchant mariners moved 90 percent of the combat cargo and supplies used by the military in the Iraq war. Jones Act vessels, whether operating on ocean lanes or inland waterways, provide training for U.S. citizens and create a ready labor pool the military can draw from when needed. These vessels provide an estimated 87 percent of the employment opportunities for the U.S.-flag fleet.
With the military budget under continued assault to streamline staffing and ship requirements, it is easy to see the importance of keeping the current cost-effective manning and shipping system intact through the Jones Act. The Jones Act fleet serves as an important adjunct to government-owned defense resources, without any burden of cost to the government and the American taxpayer. Real world demonstrations such as the Gulf War, Bosnian conflict, and Operation Iraqi Freedom confirm the importance of Jones Act vessels in the mobilization of U.S. allies and in meeting logistics requirements.