‘Desperate’ US Seeks Japan’s & South Korea’s Help To Restart Its Defunct Shipyards; Keep Pace With China

Defunct Shipyards; Keep Pace With China - Merchant Navy Info - News

In a concerted effort to match up to China’s burgeoning shipbuilding capability, the United States is wooing its Asian allies, Japan and South Korea, to help it renew redundant shipyards.

The US approach concentrates on tapping Asian funding, engineering know-how, and shipbuilding knowledge to grow its shipbuilding capacity, Nikkeia Asia reported.

US Secretary of the Navy, Carlos Del Toro, made pitches to join industries to resurrect shuttered shipyards in the United States during his visits to two shipyards in South Korea and one in Japan last week.

US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, who accompanied Del Toro to the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries shipyard in Yokohama last week, said that the visit served two purposes: 

1) to analyze the repairs made to the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn.

2) to determine whether the Japanese company would be interested in financing a closed US shipyard.

Emanuel stated, “There’s a closed plant in Philadelphia. We want to check if Mitsubishi and other Japanese companies would be interested in financing and reopening one of the closed Navy shipyards in Long Beach. Also, being part of building Navy, commercial, and Coast Guard ships.”

The development follows Del Toro’s statement last month that he would visit South Korea and Japan to encourage investment in shipbuilding, particularly in smaller yards.

Emanuel hinted in January this year that for US Navy warships to remain in Asian waters and be prepared for prospective confrontation. The United States and Japan are attempting to reach an agreement. Enabling Japanese shipyards to do routine maintenance and overhauls.

Japan’s Shipyards Eyed for US Warship Maintenance

Over the past 40 years, China has developed a unparalleled commercial shipbuilding industry, precautioned Del Toro at an event. “We have lost that capability from about the 1980s when we left it open to market forces.”

The move comes when there is overall concern in the US about reduced capacity. It is caused by delays and cost overruns for several major military programs. Including the construction of submarines and aircraft carriers.

Reports from May 2023 indicated that the US Navy was exploring the potential of using private shipyards in Japan to maintain, repair, and refurbish its warships to cut down on local servicing backlogs. At that time, it was suspected that the effort would extend to include Singapore, South Korea, and the Philippines.

After his recent visit to Mitsubishi, Emanuel said he favoured using private shipyards in Japan to maintain, repair, and refurbish American warships. Ships present in Japan would be included initially. But ships in US ports would be included later.

“It keeps ships in theater so that we do not lose time on the travel back and forth from the United States when it comes to repair work. The repair work being done here would relieve pressure on American shipyards, so they are building new ships,” Del Toro said.

Besides Japan, another major US ally, South Korea, is also being tapped for similar collaboration. Del Toro travelled to the southern tip of the Korean Peninsula to tour the shipyards of Hanwha Ocean on Geoje Island and Hyundai Heavy Industries in Ulsan, the largest shipyard in the world.

Rebuilding American Industry for Warships & Green Energy

Del Toro told the industry leaders: “There are numerous former shipyard sites around the (US). That are largely intact and dormant. These are ripe for redevelopment as dual-use construction facilities for both warships. Like Aegis destroyers and high-value chain commercial vessels, such as the ammonia gas carriers. These will enable the global transition from fossil fuels to green energy sources like hydrogen.

“Investment in dual-use shipyards in the United States will create good-paying, blue-collar and new-collar American jobs building the advanced ships that will protect and power the economy of tomorrow.”

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro speaks to reporters during a shipyard tour at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., Jan. 26, 2022.

The US has seen a very significant dip in its shipbuilding capacity. Nine of the 13 public naval shipyards the United States formerly had are closed. Several closed shipyards are now national parks, naval air stations, or container terminals. However, a few could be brought back for ship repair or construction.

The urgency of resuscitating these redundant shipyards stems from the threat posed by China’s massive shipbuilding industry. Which produces many naval vessels that could be used to project dominance in far seas. Also, deployed against the US and its Indo-Pacific allies in the event of a conflict.

China’s Shipbuilding Capability Spurs Urgent US Action

The world’s largest Navy, China’s People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLA-N), has expanded rapidly, surpassing the United States’ shipbuilding capacity. The PLA-N’s induction of warships proceeds at the speed of “dumping dumplings into soup broth,” as the common saying goes.

A leaked US Navy Intelligence presentation slide revealed last year that the Chinese shipyards could build ships at a whopping 232 times faster than the US. Chinese shipyards can build over 23.2 million tons, while US shipyards can only create fewer than 100,000 tons.

The slide also showed the “battle force composition” of the two navies against each other. It included “combatant ships, submarines, mine warfare ships, major amphibious ships, and big combat support auxiliary ships.”

China’s fleet now possesses more warships than the US did at some point between 2015 and 2020, and the difference between the two navies is rapidly widening.

According to the latest Pentagon annual report to Congress on Chinese military and security developments. The Chinese Navy possesses an estimated 350 vessels, while the US Navy battle force has 293 warships.

US Faces Looming Gap in Naval Power

The yawning gap of 60 hulls between the two navies. China is expected to grow its naval fleet every five years until 2035, reaching an estimated total of 475 ships. This would surpass the number of US warships, which currently stands between 305 and 317.. China has inducted as many as 150 warships in the last ten years.

The Chinese Navy possesses battleships, coast guard, and marine militia forces. Even by cautious estimates, the combined number of ships in all these maritime fleets exceeds 700. Making them the largest in the world.

In November 2022, the US Congressional Budget Office reported that the US fleet will shrink as it decommissions older ships.

The US Navy leadership has approved for a fleet of about 380 ships in the future. However, the building rate could have enhanced. The biggest backlog is in nuclear-powered submarines. The People’s Liberation Army Navy of China is widely regarded as being at a disadvantage compared to the United States.. However, there are also many areas where China is rapidly closing the gap and making significant strides in military technology and capability.

By bringing in more financial and human resources from Asia. The United States will partially bridge the gap with China’s shipbuilding prowess. Also, spur the construction of vessels needed for force projection.

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