Lack of Skilled Workers Hinder Trump’s Grand Navy Plan

President Donald Trump walks to the White House after arriving on Marine One, Sunday, March 19, 2017, in Washington. Trump is returning from a trip to his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Washington- US President Donald Trump’s announcement that he wants to build dozens of new warships has raised many question marks on whether such an attempt is feasible in the short-term.

Interviews carried out by Reuters with ship-builders, unions and a review of public and internal documents show major obstacles to that plan.

The initiative could cost nearly $700 billion in government funding, take 30 years to complete and require hiring tens of thousands of skilled shipyard workers – many of whom don’t exist yet because they still need to be hired and trained, according to the interviews and the documents reviewed.

Trump has vowed a huge build-up of the US military to project American power in the face of an emboldened China and Russia. That includes expanding the Navy to 350 warships from 275 today. He has provided no specifics, including how soon he wants the larger fleet.

The Navy has given Defense Secretary Jim Mattis a report that explores how the country’s industrial base could support higher ship production, Admiral Bill Moran, the vice chief of Naval Operations with oversight of the Navy’s shipbuilding outlook, told Reuters.

He declined to give further details. But those interviewed for this story say there are clearly two big issues – there are not enough skilled workers in the market, from electricians to welders, and after years of historically low production, shipyards and their suppliers, including nuclear fuel producers, will struggle to ramp up for years.

To be sure, the first, and biggest, hurdle for Trump to overcome is to persuade a cost-conscious Congress to fund the military buildup.

The White House declined to comment. A Navy spokeswoman said increases being considered beyond the current shipbuilding plan would require “sufficient time” to allow companies to ramp up capacity.

The two largest US shipbuilders, General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (HII.N), told Reuters they are planning to hire a total of 6,000 workers in 2017 just to meet current orders, such as the Columbia class ballistic missile submarine.

Companies say they are eager to work with Trump to build his bigger Navy. But expanding hiring, for now, is difficult to do until they receive new orders, officials say.

Because companies won’t hire excess workers in advance, they will have a huge challenge in expanding their workforces rapidly if a shipbuilding boom materializes, said Bryan Clark, who led strategic planning for the Navy as special assistant to the chief of Naval Operations until 2013.

Union and shipyard officials say finding skilled labor just for the work they already have is challenging. Demand for pipeline welders is so strong that some can make as much as $300,000 per year, including overtime and benefits, said Danny Hendrix, the business manager at Pipeliners Local 798, a union representing 6,500 metal workers in 42 states.

Much of the work at the submarine yards also requires a security clearance that many can’t get, said Jimmy Hart, president of the Metal Trades Department at the AFL-CIO union, which represents 100,000 boilermakers, machinists, and pipefitters, among others.

To help grow a larger labor force from the ground up, General Dynamics’ Electric Boat has partnered with seven high schools and trade schools in Connecticut and Rhode Island to develop a curriculum to train a next generation of welders and engineers.

“It has historically taken five years to get someone proficient in shipbuilding,” said Maura Dunn, vice president of human resources at Electric Boat.

It can take as many as seven years to train a welder skilled enough to make the most complex type of welds, radiographic structural welds needed on a nuclear-powered submarine, said Will Lennon, vice president of the shipyard’s Columbia Class submarine program.

The Navy envisioned by Trump could create more than 50,000 jobs, the Shipbuilders Council of America, a trade group representing US shipbuilders, repairers and suppliers, told Reuters.

The US shipbuilding and repairing industry employed nearly 100,000 in 2016, Labor Department statistics show. The industry had as many as 176,000 workers at the height of the Cold War in the early 1980s as the United States built up a fleet of nearly 600 warships by the end of that decade.

Expanding the Navy to 350 ships is not as simple as just adding 75 ships. Many ships in the current 275-vessel fleet need to be replaced, which means the Navy would have to buy 321 ships between now and 2046 to reach Trump’s goal, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report in February.

Iran Lost 2,100 Fighters in Syria, Iraq

London- The last count of the human losses that Iran suffered in Syria and Iraq until today is around 2,100 casualties, according to an Iranian official.

Mohammad Ali Shahidi, the head of Iran’s Foundation of Martyrs and Veteran Affairs, said on Tuesday: “There have been so far some 2,100 martyrs in Iraq or other places defending the holy mausoleums.”

He spoke at a conference on martyrdom culture in Tehran.

The number offered by Shahidi is the latest official figure released by an Iranian official during the six years of military intervention in both Syria and Iraq.

However, Shahidi did not provide details on the nationalities of those killed, and whether this figure is only related to Iranians or included the Shi’ite militias that Iran has mobilized in both countries.

The count is also considered the highest number announced by a high-ranking official while suspicion prevails concerning the total number of Iranian forces that have arrived in Iraq and Syria as part of the “holy mausoleums.”

Shahidi’s comments came following statements issued last November by Yahya Rahim Safavi, a senior advisor to the Supreme Leader on military affairs, who said that “Hezbollah” lost thousands of men in their war in Syria.

Safavi had also confirmed that Hossein Hamadani, another IRGC commander who was killed in October 2015, had set up a force of local militias to fight in Syria that now numbers 20,000 men.

In a related development, a spokesperson from the US Central Command told Asharq Al-Awsat that Saturday’s incident on a contact between US and Iranian ships is the sixth to occur in 2017.

His comments came hours after the US Defense Department criticized the “unprofessional” behavior of the Iranian navy after the US navy surveillance ship Invincible was harassed by Iranian naval vessels in two incidents last week in the Strait of Hormuz.

US Official Says US Navy Ship Changes Course after Iran Vessel Interaction

Multiple fast-attack vessels from the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps came close to a United States
Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, forcing it to change direction, a US official told Reuters on Monday.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the IRGCN boats came within 600 yards of the USNS Invincible, a tracking ship, and stopped. The Invincible was being accompanied by three ships from British Royal Navy and forced the formation to change course.

The official said attempts were made to communicate over radio, but there was no response and the interaction was “unsafe and unprofessional.”

Iranian Army Stages Exercises between Strait of Hormuz and Bab-el-Mandeb

London- Iranian Naval Commander Admiral Habiballah Siari has announced that navy maneuvers began in a two million square kilometer area that stretches from the Strait of Hormuz to the north of the Indian Ocean near Bab-el-Mandeb.

Siari stated that some segments of the Iranian Navy will take part in the concluding phase of maneuvers code-named ‘Velayat 95’ – similar drills code-named ‘Velayat 94’ were conducted in 2016.

“These maneuvers will show the Iranian Navy power in the international seas,” he said, denying that they are a threat to other countries.

Iranian maneuvers coincide with tension between Washington and Tehran that erupted last month after the ballistic missile test in Iran. Trump’s administration issued an official warning to Tehran, considering it the biggest state sponsor of terrorism.

US Navy’s Fifth Fleet refused to comment on the Iranian maneuvers, knowing that the fleet protects sea lanes from the Gulf to the Strait of Hormuz.

During the past years, Iran’s threats to close the Strait of Hormuz and prevent the entry of oil tankers to the region became a source of concern for the international community, but Iran says that its military forces’ alertness in that region falls under the framework of protecting Iranian ships from piracy.

Iran is facing accusations of transferring arms to conflict zones in the region, especially to the Houthis in Yemen. Yet Siari said: “The maneuvers contribute to the region’s security and confronts maritime terrorism.”

During his electoral campaign, Trump warned of targeting the Iranian Navy in case it approached US ships.

Lieutenant Commander of the Iranian Army Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan pointed to recent war games staged by the Iranian Army and Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and said the main objective behind them is to create preparedness and prevent sudden attacks.

“In case of any foreign aggression, the aggressor will definitely regret its action,” Pourdastan added.

Trump Would Back Probe to Look into Yemen Raid that Claimed U.S. Navy SEAL’s Life

Yemen

Washington- The White House said Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump might be supporting a probe into the U.S. January operation in Yemen.

The offensive resulted in the death of a number of militants affiliated with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and claimed the life of a U.S. Navy SEAL along with civilians.

Asked on ABC’s “This Week” about the SEAL’s father calling for an investigation, White House deputy press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said she had not spoken directly with Trump about it “but I would imagine that he would be supportive of that.”

Navy SEAL William “Ryan” Owens, 36, was killed in the raid on a branch of Qaeda, also known as AQAP, in al-Bayda province on Jan. 29, the first operation authorized by Trump as commander in chief.

The Miami Herald reported on Sunday that Owens’s father, Bill, wanted an investigation into the raid.

The Pentagon said the operation in Yemen killed 14 militants but also acknowledged that civilians were likely killed. Medics at the scene said about 30 people, including 10 women and children, were killed.

Launched January 29, six days into Trump’s presidency, the raid quickly ran into trouble.

The Navy SEALs received fire from all sides as they attacked the objective; al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula camp.

Air cover was called in and a V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft crash-landed during the fight and had to be destroyed on the ground.

Three other SEALs were wounded and three more U.S. troops were injured in the V-22 crash.

“I told them I didn’t want to make a scene about it, but my conscience wouldn’t let me talk to him,” Owens said Friday, speaking out for the first time in an interview with the Miami Herald.

Owens’ father, Bill, had learned only a short time before the ceremony that Trump was coming.

“I’m sorry, I don’t want to see him,” Owens recalled telling the chaplain who informed him that Trump was on his way from Washington. “I told them I don’t want to meet the President.”

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why? For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now, all of a sudden we had to make this grand display?’’

In a statement from the White House Saturday, spokesman Michael C. Short called Ryan Owens “an American hero who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of his country.”

The White House did not address his father’s criticisms, but pointed out that the Department of Defense routinely conducts a review of missions that result in loss of life.

Joint Saudi-Sudan Naval Exercises: Falak 2

Jeddah– Saudi-Sudanese Maritime Exercises “al-Falak 2” continued on Tuesday between Royal Saudi Naval Forces and Sudanese Naval Forces within the framework of carrying out joint drills between the two countries.

The Navies started last Thursday their joint exercise at King Faisal Naval Base, of the Saudi Western Fleet.

The Royal Saudi Western Fleet Commander, who is also the commanding officer of the exercise, Admiral Saeed al-Zahrani, welcomed the participating Sudanese Navy mission in the exercise, as the forces arrived at Jeddah Islamic Port.

The drills included storming and inspecting a ship to make sure that it does not smuggle weapons and landing on one of the islands carried out by speedboats with the participation of Royal Saudi Navy aircraft.

The naval forces stormed a speedboat to prevent it from smuggling arms and ammunition in a mock drill. They also landed on an island as part of the security drill.

Royal Saudi Navy aircraft took part in the exercise.

China to Give back Seized Drone

China’s Defense Ministry announced on Saturday that it had been deferring with the United States about returning an underwater drone previously reported to have been taken by a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea, but the U.S. was not helping by “hyping up” the issue.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump weighed in to the row on Saturday, tweeting: “China steals United States Navy research drone in international waters – rips it out of water and takes it to China in unprecedented act.”

The drone was taken on Thursday, the first seizure of its kind in recent memory. The Defense Ministry said a Chinese naval vessel discovered a piece of “unidentified equipment” and checked it to prevent any navigational safety issues, before discovering it was a U.S. drone.

“China decided to return it to the U.S. side in an appropriate manner, and China and the U.S. have all along been in communication about it,” the ministry said on its website.

“During this process, the U.S. side’s unilateral and open hyping up is inappropriate, and is not beneficial to the smooth resolution of this issue. We express regret at this,” it added.

Without directly saying whether the drone was operating in waters China considers its own, the ministry said U.S. ships and aircraft have for a long period been carrying out surveillance and surveys in “the presence” of Chinese waters.

China will remain on alert for these sorts of activities and take necessary steps to deal with them, the ministry said without elaborating.

UK Leads U.S. Task Force 50 in Arabian Gulf for First Time

London- An officer in the United Kingdom’s navy has been assigned to lead the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command’s “Task Force 50” for the first time.

By this move, Royal Navy Commodore Andrew Burns, commander of Amphibious Task Group embarked on the UK’s premier naval warship, HMS Ocean (L 12) and has become responsible for commanding eight ships and other destroyers in a historic step.

This marks the first time a Royal Navy officer has led a U.S. task force in the Middle East and demonstrates a significant step in combined maritime operations.

Burns said this assumption of command by the Royal Navy is a significant development in the U.S.-UK partnership.

“Together we have had an enduring presence in this region that has contributed to stability, order on the high seas and freedom of navigation, and ensuring the free flow of commerce, so vital to the prosperity of our respective nations,” said Burns.

“Today marks the start of another chapter in this partnership as the Royal Navy takes on the privilege of leading a U.S. task force in the Middle East for the first time.”

A helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship, Ocean is the flagship of the Royal Navy and will be providing continued forward presence in the Arabian Gulf.

Capable of delivering Sailors and Marines by helicopter or landing craft, this premier naval warship brings its own unique capability of ensuring free flow of commerce, freedom of navigation and regional security.

The Daily Mail reported that the huge aircraft carrier U.S.S. Eisenhower boasts 66 jets and helicopters – compared to two helicopters on HMS Ocean, which will focus on maritime activity rather than ISIS.

There are 44 F-18 warplanes alone on the massive aircraft carrier, the site published.

The choke points include the Straits of Hormuz off Iran, the Bab al-Mendeb off Somalia and the Suez Canal.

HMS Ocean – an amphibious assault ship – currently has just over 500 crew on board, including 30 Royal Marines, to deal with any threat from the region.

It is covering for the U.S. until another carrier, U.S.S. HW George Bush, arrives in February.

It will be joined immediately by U.S.S. Monterey – a guided missile cruiser. The UK’s HMS Daring is on its way to help defend the region and up to five other ships could come under its control.

For his part, Adm. James Malloy, commander of Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 10, said the handover of the CTF 50 to the Royal Navy, “represents a wise investment in this region’s future.”

“Hearing of his sterling reputation long before meeting him last month, I cannot think of a more capable officer and friend to continue the mission out here than Commodore Burns,” Malloy said.

“Security and stability cannot be maintained by one nation alone. Working together with our UK and other coalition counterparts, I am confident in the success of our shared interest for security, stability and prosperity in this region.”

Saudi, Bahraini Navies Begin Joint Exercises Gulf Bridge 17

Joint

Manama – Royal Saudi Arabian Navy and Royal Bahrain Navy Forces begin their joint maneuvers “Gulf Bridge 17” today, as part of the ongoing military cooperation and defense exchange experience between members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The exercises aim to raise the combat capability, enhance the professional performance in all types of naval operations and the unification of the tactical concepts of command and control.

Early this month, Saudi Arabia’s navy had held exercises for ten days in the Gulf and the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Gulf 17 is expected to end on Thursday.

Opinion: The First US – Houthi Confrontation

US warplanes finally struck Houthi sites and radars on the Red Sea coast after US navy ships were bombed twice. International leniency with the rebels despite the huge number of crimes that they have committed against Yemenis over two years is what has enabled this religious terrorist group to frighten local residents, assassinate political opponents and threaten maritime navigation routes many times. They even bombed an Emirati aid shipment last week.

Do Houthi militias differ from Al-Qaeda and ISIS? Previously, the Houthis never attacked American or western targets and therefore were not included in the list of terrorist organisations. In reality, however, they are actually similar to Al-Qaeda in that they use religion to target civilians and declare war. Houthi political slogans are no different from Al-Qaeda, and they both call people to fight “the disbelieving west”, kill those who do not believe in the same doctrine as them and impose their religious law on Shafi’i Sunnis and other Zaidis who disagree with them. The extremist organisation has filled the streets of cities that is has occupied with images and slogans of its religious leaders and calls for war against “the disbelieving west” and Yemenis who oppose it.

More recently, the Houthis have become more daring and have begun to launch battles against neutral parties. They kidnapped an American teacher who was teaching at an English language institute and who had lived in the capital Sana’a for many years. His fate is still unknown. Then they carried out missile attacks on the US Navy ship USS Mason on Sunday, and the Americans thought that the attack was an instance of indiscriminate bombing carried out by the rebels. However, they carried out another attack on the same ship on Wednesday despite American warnings that followed the first attack.

The US Air Force launched cruise missile strikes on radars belonging to Houthi militias in the provinces of Taiz and Al-Hudaydah. The strikes were not a punishment but were merely a message that warned against attacking the US Navy. These limited strikes gave a specific message; that the Houthis should not attack US ships. The strikes do not suggest that the American side is generally interested in the safety of navigation in the Red Sea and the Strait of Bab Al-Mandab. Battles between the legitimate government’s forces and the Houthis are taking place in order to gain control of the strategic strait.

International navigation on the other side of the Red Sea has suffered over the past decade from the fear incited by pirates belonging to extremist Somali militias. It took international coordination and the formation of multinational naval forces to control the situation. This will be repeated on the Yemeni side of the Red Sea unless the world supports a peaceful solution based on the same international resolutions that were violated when the Houthis and the former Yemeni president carried out a coup and shared authority. Navigational safety and the security of the region and the world requires an international stance against thuggery and militias, regardless of their religion, as long as they carry weapons.

The Houthi organisation, also known as “Ansar Allah” was founded by the Iranians and trained by the Lebanese Hezbollah. It continues to receive military, logistical and media support from there. It is like many armed groups that Iran founded in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and Lebanon. It has one function – serving Iranian politics by using armed force. The treatment of religious extremist organisations, whether they are Sunni or Shiite, should be the same.

Al-Qaeda, ISIS and Ansar Allah should all be classified as terrorist groups, rather than limiting terrorism to Al-Qaeda groups just because they attack the west.