The official commissioning of a new U.S. Navy vessel named the USS New York raised steel to national visibility in November as Americans were reminded that 7.5 tons of steel cast into the bow of the ship was made from steel recovered from the ruins of the Twin Towers after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The emotional symbol of American strength is also a memorial to the nearly 3,000 innocent victims who lost their lives that day. Likewise, every day members of the U.S. armed forces—the Navy, Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Coast Guard—risk their lives in order to preserve America's freedom and national security. Thanks to our brave veterans, we as a nation are able to safely enjoy that which our country was founded on: freedom and democracy.
Virtually every segment of the domestic steel industry contributes in some way to the defense sector, just as every piece of national defense infrastructure involves steel. This two-way relationship includes hot-rolled carbon bar in shell casings, steel wire in tow missiles and high-strength alloy steel in aircraft engine mounts and gear assemblies—not to mention all the steel needed for railroad tracks, rail cars and other modes of transporting these objects from factory to the field of use. Aircraft carriers each contain approximately 50,000 tons of steel plate, while every Abrams tank consumes about 22 tons of steel plate.
The U.S. steel industry's continued ability to supply the armed forces is dependent on it remaining competitive in the global marketplace. The undesirable alternative is to become dependent on foreign sources, putting our nation at risk in times of crisis. We could never be sure if our orders would be processed to the specifications needed in a timely manner, which would be totally inconsistent with the tight deadlines on which the U.S. national defense system runs.
U.S. national economic security also requires a strong and viable domestic steel industry. It is necessary for projects in transportation, such as rebuilding and modernizing the 25 percent of bridges, 27 percent of highways, 21 percent of rail track and 30 percent of airport runways in need of rebuilding. The domestic steel industry is also vital to the energy infrastructure, such as oil and gas pipelines, storage tanks, electric power generating plants, transmission towers, utility poles, wind turbines and for steel boilers, pressure vessels and pipe that help to produce and deliver steam and water to power generators. In addition, it is critical to health, such as creating and maintaining efficient sewage, wastewater treatment and management facilities. And steel is equally essential to America's commercial, industrial and institutional complexes, such as manufacturing plants, schools, commercial buildings, hospitals, retail stores, hotels, houses of worship and government buildings.
Other countries recognize the national security value in having a healthy domestic steel industry. The government of China, for instance, has made development of its steel industry a national policy priority. Indeed, that government's massive support of its steel industry raises serious defense issues for our nation as Chinese government subsidies provide a significant artificial advantage to the Chinese steel industry in international competition.
If this government support is left unchecked it will result in the continued transfer of significant defense-related manufacturing capability to this growing military power in Asia. American manufacturers, including steelmakers, are looking to the Obama administration and Congress to get tougher on Chinese trade practices that violate World Trade Organization rules and U.S. trade laws. The Chinese government's manipulation of steel border measures, raw material markets and currency are three examples of practices that must be addressed.
Without a healthy U.S. steel industry, the U.S. military would lose its primary source of strategic metals. An excellent example is the mine-resistant ambush-protected (MRAP) vehicles that have emerged in recent years as an essential role in properly equipping and protecting U.S. troops in parts of the world such as Iraq and Afghanistan.
According to Tommy Pruitt, senior communications director of Force Protection Inc., the steels used in the MRAP vehicles that his company produces are secured through a number of suppliers, all of which are domestic. "The steel is an important component in the survivability of these vehicles, along with the welding process and the overall design," he said.
Ladson, S.C.-based Force Protection is one of a number of companies that utilize American-made steel in essential products being manufactured for the U.S. military. These armor-plated and alloyed steels will play an increasingly important role in servicing the nation's growing homeland security needs.
The importance of a strong and viable domestic steel industry to U.S. national defense and to our national economic and homeland security is clear. Steel will continue to go hand-in-hand with the U.S. government's critical role in protecting Americans at home and abroad.
THOMAS J. GIBSON