Rhode Island Builds American Seapower
By Ray Mabus
March 7, 2015
Today I am visiting Quonset Point for the keel-laying of the Navy’s newest submarine, the Colorado. An important ship-building milestone, this keel-laying begins the building of a new ship, and continues the long tradition and strong connection between the people of New England and our Navy. It is also an opportunity to highlight the strong commitment we continue to make to increase the size of our Navy fleet.
We face an increasing array of threats and demands, even as our budgetary situation grows more challenging. But the Navy and Marine Corps team offers the best value to advance both our global security and our economic interests. Uniquely, the Navy and Marine Corps provide presence around the world, around the clock. Having that presence means we can respond faster; remain on station longer; carry everything we need with us; and do whatever missions are assigned by our nation’s leaders without needing anyone else’s permission.
Born a maritime nation, we have always known -- particularly here in New England -- that America’s success depends on an exceptional Navy and Marine Corps. Article One of our Constitution authorizes Congress to “raise” an Army when needed, but directs it to “provide and maintain a Navy.” From the first six frigates to our growing fleet of today, from Tripoli to Afghanistan, sailors and Marines have proven the founders’ wisdom. American leaders across the political spectrum have understood the vital significance of sea power.
Nearly half the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the sea; 90 percent of global trade goes by sea; and 95 percent of all voice and data transfer goes under the ocean. Some 38 million American jobs are directly linked to seaborne international trade. For seven decades, the presence of our Navy and Marine Corps has been the primary protector of maintaining open sea lanes and freedom of commerce, giving rise to an international trade system that has created unprecedented economic growth and helped deter major conflict.
Maintaining our naval presence requires a properly sized and balanced fleet. On Sept. 11, 2001, the Navy’s battle force stood at 316 ships. By 2008, our fleet had declined to 278 ships. In the five years before I became Secretary, Navy contracted for only 27 ships, not enough to stop the slide in the size of the fleet. During my first five years, we contracted for 70 ships, halting and reversing the decline. By the end of the decade, our fleet will once again top 300 ships.
In the face of budgetary uncertainty, I have committed to preserve shipbuilding to the maximum extent possible because cutting ships is the most damaging and least reversible course of action.
Which brings me back to my visit today. Here in Rhode Island, and across Southeast New England, shipbuilding and the Navy play a major role in the regional economy. For example, every two jobs created in the private defense industry supports three jobs in other sectors of the Rhode Island economy. Navy students who come to our training facilities here spend about $46 million annually on local goods and services, and defense sector jobs are the highest paying in the state.
We cannot have a strong Navy and Marine Corps without the American people, and I greatly appreciate these opportunities to come see first-hand the result of our partnership with a community. The Colorado will soon sail the world’s oceans in defense of our country, and her journey started right here.
This fast-attack submarine and the people who will build her here in the Electric Boat shipyard give us a technological edge. Another edge comes from our highly trained, always strong, always faithful United States Sailors and Marines. Around the world, far from their homes and families, they are deployed in defense of America. From the wide expanse of the Pacific, to the waters of the Middle East and the Black Sea, they truly are America’s “Away Team.” Today the partnership between our men and women in uniform and the people of New England is playing a vital role in maintaining America's seapower and presence around the world.
Ray Mabus is secretary of the Navy.