🔷 Merchant Marine

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U.S. Navy

US Merchant Marine

🚢 This week is National Maritime Day, which honors the thousands of dedicated merchant mariners who serve on US-flagged vessels worldwide.

In this spirit, we focused our latest podcast on the US Merchant Marine! There is a ton of goodness packed into our discussion. Here are the highlights:

  • What is a merchant mariner, and how do they fit into national security?

  • How the Navy (mis)counts ships

  • What is Military Sealift Command

  • The ghost fleet of ships strategically placed along the US coastline

  • The Jones Act, shipbuilding, and how it got so political

  • The manning and shipping crisis and how it’s 100 times worse than you think

  • What went wrong with the USS Bonhomme Richard fire response?

  • Why is Baltimore’s Francis Scott Key Bridge still not cleaned up?

  • Which US military branch is the biggest merchant mariner customer? Hint…. it's NOT the Navy.

As always, we pepper in some salt, wit, and humor along the way. And we couldn’t have a sea-based interview without an epic sea story!

Don’t trust us, though—catch the episode and judge for yourself. 🚢

Grab the show where you get your content: SpotifyApplePandoraiHeartRadio, and even YouTube.

Don’t forget to comment and leave a rating!

In That Number


The Pentagon is spending an average $1 billion annually on directed-energy weapons development, with more than 30 initiatives underway.

We’ve got some great content on this coming soon…


Though usually not included as a branch of military service, the Merchant Marine had a higher percentage of fatalities during World War II than which branch?

A) Army
B) Navy
C) Marine Corps

On the Radar

Lawmakers are proposing a DIU-managed military testing and evaluation cell to better facilitate the validation and effectiveness of various commercial technologies. This concept is trying to address 2 issues: 1) a lack of sufficient testing infrastructure and 2) a drawn-out test process.

  • The Merge’s Take: It’s unclear how adding a team that has no test infrastructure will solve the former, and there are several processes in place already to address the latter. The concept would have more merit (and acceptance) if they were liaisons to the testing community. Besides, the military test community has some of the largest and fiercely protected rice bowls in the Department of Defense. Seems like an odd hill to pick to die on.


Speaking of lawmakers, they’re also proposing a mandate for the Air Force to set up a working group dedicated to getting their eVTOL (aka “flying car”) projects transitioned for operational testing and fielding. The news comes just as Joby’s 2nd production prototype rolled off the line and BETA’s recent Air Force exercise participation.

  • The Merge’s Take: The program, called Agility Prime, was created as an industry priming and tech exploration initiative. It’s tough to say if this tech needs to stay in the nurture phase for a few more years, but this “let’s get serious” would force a plan to integrate them into the Air Force. Be careful what you wish for though—this also forces the eVTOLs into the rigors of operational test and evaluation via military suitability, survivability, and operational effectiveness. Lawmakers might not like those results, but it would provide justification for keeping the program alive—or not.


The Army is experimenting with long-range drones and high-altitude balloons in the Pacific. The effort is being led by one of the service’s Multi-Domain Task Forces (MDTF), which has 3 platoons—1 for the electronic spectrum, 1 for drones, and 1 for balloons.

  • The Merge’s Take: When you think of the Army and the air domain, you probably think of the air littorals—close to the ground. Not this unit. They are sensing up to roughly 100,000 feet across the electromagnetic spectrum—so keep an eye on the 2 systems under test. The drone is a Kraus Hamdani Aerospace K1000, a Group 2-sized drone with solar panel wings that can fly 70+ hours and advertises completely autonomous operations and swarming with onboard AI. The K1000 been used by the Army in various experimentation campaigns, and other services seem to be taking notes—last month, the K1000 was selected to field with the Marine Corps. The balloon is Urban Sky’s Stratospheric Microballoon. The startup offers 10-centimeter high-resolution imaging from 6-pound payloads on small(ish) high-altitude balloons and closed a $9.75m Series A round last year.


Speaking of the Army, this week, they released requirements for increment 2 of the program to replace the ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile System). Known as Precision Strike Missile Increment 2 (PrSM Inc 2), it will be launched by the M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems) and M270A2 MLRS (Multiple Launch Rocket Systems), the same as its predecessor. PrSM Inc 1 is expected to field next year.

  • The Merge’s Take: That’s a lot of acronyms to sift through, but here’s the takeaway: The PrSM Inc 2 missile, designed to integrate with existing ground launchers, has requirements to hit moving maritime targets 250+ miles away and is planned to field in 2028.

  • The Merge’s Spicy Take: ATACMS was originally called JTACMS (J for Joint) and designed to both ground launched by the Army and air-launched by the Air Force. It might be time to dust off this concept and spend some R&D money to experiment with adapting PrSM for the F-15EX and B-52J. It would be the perfect program for the Strategic Capabilities Office

They Said It
“You got to figure out how to handle an epic level of multitasking.”

— Lt. Gen. Tony Bauernfeind, head of Air Force Special Operations Forces Command, on the shift from an operator controlling a drone (human in the loop) to a ‘swarm pilots’ monitoring the mission execution of several drones (human on the loop) as the number of drones starts to scale.

Knowledge Bombs

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All of the above. 243,000 mariners served in WWII and more than 9,500 died—a larger proportion than in any other branch of the military. Over 1500 merchant ships were attacked and sunk during the war, and those who weren’t killed at sea often died in POW camps.

Now go watch/listen to the podcast about the Merchant Marine!