Category Archives: Infrastructure

A Modest Proposal for Improving Shipyard Production and Repair Capacity

By Ryan C. Walker

Popular history and historians in public service have encouraged the public to view the production capacity of the United States during as World War II (WWII) as a “miracle.”1 The production was recognized by the Allies as pivotal to victory and the first studies appear to have sought to understand the process behind the miracle. Academic interest in the subject dates at least to 1956, when Francis Walton wrote the book that likely coined the term, Miracle of World War II: How American Industry Made Victory Possible.2 Research did not end there, however, as Alan L. Gropman wrote a McNair Report in 1996, Mobilizing US Industry in World War II: Myth and Reality, which sought to dispel notions of a spontaneous miracle and identify how this process occurred. Gropman believed the importance of dispelling the “halo” surrounding the production was identifying the constituent causes as:

“…there were enormous governmental, supervisory, labor-management relations and domestic political frictions that hampered the effort—and there is no reason to think that these problems would not handicap future mobilization efforts. With enormous threats looming in the mid 1930s and increasing as Europe exploded into war at the end of the decade, the United States was in no way unified in its perception of the hazards, nor was there any unity in government or business about what to do about it.”3

Gropman identified one of his primary influences as Gary E. Weir.4 Weir has been one of the primary influences in identifying these processes specifically for shipyards and submarine production, with his focus on 1940-61.5 Weir argues the “wartime blend of naval, industrial, and scientific resources,” would eventually coalesce into what he termed the “naval-industrial complex,” which was a result of “[t]he wartime blend of naval, industrial, and scientific resources,” that constituted modern submarine construction.6 The previous focus of these studies has been macro-observations, centering primarily on the larger players, but the problems of today seem to match closely to the problems facing the USN in the 1930s, potentially offering insight into solutions of the present context.

The current production of ships, particularly submarines, has become a subject of interest as geopolitical circumstances become increasingly uncertain. Solutions to increase shipyard productivity, which include building new facilities in Lorain County, Ohio, are primarily long-term solutions that seek to reverse the post-Cold War atrophy of the defense industrial base and are hindered by the necessity of building supply chains for new Naval-Capital Towns.7 As investment has maintained a smaller industrial base since 1991, for the foreseeable future, the shipyards that are producing and repairing today are all that can be reasonably depended on in the short-term (3-5 years). The United States can do well by recognizing this fact and looking at alternative methods to increase production in existing areas, such as returning to shift work seven days a week on a modified Dupont schedule used in facilities requiring 24-hour support. The modification would be the shift work time availability and switching to a gold-blue crew working two 10-hour first and second shifts, on a four day on/four day off schedule, henceforth referred to as an 8-4-2-10 schedule (eight-day work week, four days per crew, two primary shifts working ten-hour days).

The Challenges to Navigate and Consider

A shipyard, particularly for submarines that fall under SUBSAFE requirements, is one of the most complex production environments. The shipyard worker is employed in a dynamic environment including challenges such as limited spaces; ventilation; exposure to the elements; or the heat and cold associated with an interior of a ship that does not have services to control atmosphere. Further, maritime industries are a relatively unknown niche that only directly or indirectly employed 393,390 people in the United States during 2020, of which 83.1 percent of the directly employed were concentrated in ten states.8 Due to the declining significance and lack of prestige associated with blue-collar work, shipyards that need workers such as General Dynamics Electric Boat have resorted to hiring on the spot and creating elaborate advertisement outreach campaigns. Thus, compounding the shipyard shortage is a shortage of laborers willing to work on a shipyard in any capacity (directly onsite or supporting).9

Creating any solution must be palatable to a variety of stakeholders, Federal, State and Local governments, business and organizational interests, and labor interests. For any radical departure from the status quo outlined in this work, concessions must be made to all stakeholders. For government and naval officials, this proposal would assume a higher expenditure for funds that are already tightly spread amongst the Department of the Navy. For business interests, the schedule will interrupt long-standing processes and require a new business environment, the type of overhaul that necessitates organizational unrest. Similarly, labor interests will have to change their normal work schedule of eight hours, five days a week, with a rigid weekday and weekend divide (which has come under recent pressure anyway). Recognizing these challenges and then designing collaborative strategies that find true win-wins among the stakeholders is a major goal of this article and is meant to be thought-provoking rather than a delineation of true guidelines.

The Miracle of Production was fuelled in no small part by hard work and coordination at all levels of production, from the apprentice standing a Firewatch to the Admirals who oversaw the programs, getting an increase in production today will likely require a similar level of shiftwork, dedication, and expense seen in the previous era. There is a defense industrial base to build on today, and the USN, private shipyards, and policymakers would do well to seek to maximize the current output in addition to planning new facilities. The shift work this article seeks to create is similar to the nearly around the clock production seen in World War II. It also maintains a period of third shift where evolutions that require minimal personnel presence or would be too costly to be effective, and the 8-4-2-10 schedule could be implemented to offer a sustainable long-term solution. First, though, it is important to understand why this would be more desirable/efficient than the current status quo.

Shift Work as Practiced Today

In 1920, then Rear Admiral Joseph R. DeFrees was approached by Thomas Edison on the “best ways to expedite construction.”10 With Edison’s input, Defrees recommended uninterrupted construction programs, increased uniformity in construction, improved labor and facilities, as well as devoting more hours to production, improving labor relations to reduce strikes, and encouraging more efficient utilization of skilled workers who could not do shift work.11 Similar issues, such as labor shortages, plagued submarine construction prior to WWII as well, but Weir notes the Commandant of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard adopted several of these recommendations, such as “employing shifts, permitting overtime, and hiring as many skilled workers as possible,” though the primary yards were stymied by a limited two-year construction program.12

While shift and weekend work is still practiced in many yards, the ability of the second and third shifts to match production is limited primarily by the structure of society emphasizing a five-day, 40-hour work week, primarily conducted between 0600-1700. The result of the slowdown in defense spending, the schedules have shifted to a ‘normal’ workweek that emphasizes much of the work is primarily done during first shift. Work conducted aboard a submarine is conducted in tight spaces, often falling prey to the Law of Diminishing Marginal Productivity, wherein adding labor units to a fixed space will increase productivity at a decreasing rate, until adding additional units becomes negative. Further, the difficulty of coordination in an environment with so many stakeholders means much of the time that could be spent for labor is often spent in meetings (which are important, but do represent an opportunity cost). Currently, shipyards are facing the issue of too much simultaneous work is conducted during first shift, increasing frustration for the work force.

Cutting corners in safety is not acceptable in the USA and is certainly not acceptable in a NAVSEA or NAVSEA-certified private facility producing SUBSAFE boats, reducing hours for any reason is likely not a tenable solution as each evolution has a purpose. If there has been a benefit in the slowdown in the past thirty years, it is that much of the waste associated with naval production has been identified and mitigated to the best of the respective facilities’ ability. In this case, the root cause is the reliance on one shift to do much of the current work in a limited space.

Figure 1: Potential outline of May 2023 if 8-4-2-10 modified Dupont schedule were to be adopted. (Author graphic)

In the recommended 8-4-2-10 modified Dupont schedule, the two ten-hour shifts will be equally divided in terms of personnel and workload. Assuming the actual labor time per shift can be increased to seven hours per 20 hours of effective labor availability per day, with the average extended across all seven days, would mean an effective 140 hours of potential production per week. This compares to the current (1.5 full shift capability, for 12 hours of potential production, five days a week) for 60 hours, which can be extended two more full shifts during the weekend for a likely peak efficiency at 76 hours per week. These hours are illustrative and substantiated only by the author’s personal experience in the naval facilities; they may not be accurate or paint the full picture for every shipyard or even each department. For best results, the best insight would be garnered by surveying each department if the 8-4-2-10 schedule is best for their work as the answer may be different depending on the type of work conducted.

The greatest potential increase comes from increased weekend work, but in the current five-day workweek, working overtime or weekend work in addition to a normal workweek could cause burnout and cause prospective personnel to shy away from the shipyard due to a reputation of burnout. To prevent that, creating a two-crew system that allows laborers to have four days off will preserve their well-being while also ensuring production continues. Overtime opportunities will still be present: if a person is ill or on vacation during their scheduled shift, two workers could be present to offer their time in six consecutive days of labor, while also ensuring two days of rest occur. If a pandemic such as COVID-19 occurred once again and a person on one shift were sick, this could ensure the further division of the labor force to ensure around-the-clock production continues. This is an incredibly desirable practice, which guarantees labor force happiness even during the upheaval associated with a dramatic organizational restructuring. The generous time off practice would become a beacon for employees seeking a more favorable work environment with better benefits and prevent a union, group, or laborers to argue they are being taken advantage of.

Having two primary shifts, first and second, that extend to be ten-hour swathes as opposed to eight, will keep the third shift in a steward/setup role. Manning a third shift as an equal shift would be impracticable, as it is an undesirable shift for many, thus spreading two hours that are traditionally third shift to the other shifts would assist in week-to-week work. Further it creates new opportunities for deckplate leaders, who coordinate with managers that oversee the transition and ensure work continues as the shift changes. The 8-4-2-10 also prevents the Law of Diminishing Marginal Productivity while also preventing the shortage of parking from which most naval facilities suffer, a quality-of-life improvement many desire. Further, it would offer more opportunities to build the workforce to avoid future shipyard labor shortages or expansion to new facilities like the production of submarines in the Manitowoc Shipyard in Wisconsin during WWII. While this is a future envisioned for shipyards, if executed successfully it could be replicated in essential programs within the DOD.

Returning to the Manitowoc example, should a potential conflict erupt, the shifts also build the available pool of experienced labor to act as advisors for yards who need to be rapidly stood up. As Don Walsh recalled:

“In early 1940 the Manitowoc Shipbuilding Company was asked to build the most complex of ships: the submarine. This was a radical, almost unimaginable, proposal for a company of shipbuilders, many of whom had never set eyes on a submarine…In September 1940, the Navy awarded a contract for the initial run of ten subs. Teams of experts from the Electric Boat Company came to Manitowoc under contract to the yard to help with the early stages of this program. Manitowoc personnel, in turn, visited Electric Boat and the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to observe submarine construction that was under way at those sites. The first Manitowoc boat, the USS Peto (SS-265), was laid down in June 1941. She was launched in April 1942—228 days ahead of schedule—and went off to war just one year after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Early delivery of subs was to be a way of life for this fine shipyard. And as they got out into the Fleet, their crews even began to send back thank-you letters for the quality and strength of those boats. These satisfied ‘customers’ offered the best kind of praise for the Manitowoc employers, who earned Navy Department production “E” awards every year during the war.”13

The teams of Electric Boat advisors were pivotal to this rapid success, along with allowing the workers from those areas to observe production in existing sites. In an ideal world, the short-term solution would also be pursued simultaneously with longer-term solutions, each fueling the other’s success. As labor is at the center of each challenge, any solution that increases the available pool of labor should be considered.

Challenges Reconsidered

The ultimate question is whether or not the potential increase in production is worth it. Manning production around the clock will likely increase the cost of doing business in private or public yards. Are policy-makers and the USN willing to spend the money? Even if the plan received backing from leadership, where would that money come from? Would private and labor interests buy-in? Perhaps attempting this on a smaller scale, such as only shipyard trades or on a smaller project would be more palatable to start with. Once that is accomplished, larger projects can be attempted once actual production increases can be observed and measured as worth the expense. Further, there may be money to develop a new production site or to increase production; the former will likely be more efficient in the long-run and the latter for the short-run. Manitowoc was stood up, but experienced personnel from other yards helped the push, expanding the pool of experienced labor can only aid these long-term projects positively.

For naval officials, this program would likely cause questions of how to adequately supervise and maintain control over essential procedures, particularly those requiring approval and oversight. Changes to management structures to become a fulcrum between the two shifts, splitting their time equally between the two shifts, will be necessary. In some cases, stoppages are inevitable, but the goal in this schedule would be to resolve the issue discovered on one shift, before they return to work the next day, or at least make progress. Overall, the least amount of resistance is expected from naval officials, as this is a recognized and much discussed topic.

While the government will ultimately bear much of the cost, businesses will be required to spend more money on more laborers, particularly benefits for full-time employees. However, considering the potential “deal” laborers would receive, there likely would be no shortage and the production scheduling issues that have plagued them could be resolved without burning out the workforce. There is even the potential that reducing the amount spent on overtime labor will reduce costs and the shipyard itself would become increasingly resilient.

On the surface, one could look at this potential schedule and sense the laborers receive the greatest benefit and have no room to complain. This would ignore how fundamental the first shift, 40-hour work week has become for American society. Working 9 to 5 (or any other iteration of an eight-hour work day) is cherished by many and it would take a long time for towns to cater to the workers on different shifts. For a single person there is not much lost, but many who work have families. Adopting the 8-4-2-10 would be asking for a fundamental change in the work week, affecting availability for family events, dinners, sport events, and many other familial practices and commitments. A labor union, which many shipyards have, would have to sell that this is not only a good idea, but a benefit to the people they represent. The guarantee of four days off per 8-day work week and at least 15 days of paid time off (which seems to be the industry standard as is) would help sell this as a deal that cannot be refused: a win-win for all. Make no mistake, despite the benefits, the greatest burden will be carried by the labor force should this plan be enacted; and leaders should seek to empower and support their mission.


How to return to WWII production pace in an unsure geopolitical environment that requires ever more ships? The first step should not be asking where can we produce more and spending resources, but rather asking how can current facilities be operated at the maximum efficiency? This article forwards a proposal based on a return to around the clock production, modified to meet the needs of all stakeholders. The 8-2-4-10 modified Dupont schedule could increase shipyard productivity in the short-term to levels needed, once an adjustment period associated with an initial learning curve is overcome. The inspiration we should look for is not a “miracle,” but rather a slow progressive increase in production efficiency coupled with nurturing the labor force to ensure labor issues are also resolved. This is potentially a radical solution that may ultimately be unpalatable but should start the conversation in a direction that emphasizes reinforcing current production, rather than spending a generation waiting on another Miracle of Production.

Ryan C. Walker served in the United States Navy’s Submarine Force from 2014 to 2019, receiving an honorable discharge. He received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Southern New Hampshire University, he then received his Master of Arts in Naval History from the University of Portsmouth, receiving a Distinction. Walker has continued his studies at the University of Portsmouth as a PhD candidate, his current research interests are enlisted American submariners from 1915-40, British private men-of-war in the North Atlantic, and the development of American Naval-Capital-Towns. Walker has also held a variety of roles in the Defense Industry and is currently employed by General Dynamics Electric Boat as a Senior Test Engineer. The opinions and views expressed are those of the author alone and are presented in his private capacity.


1 The National WWII Museum, “Out-Producing the Enemy:’ American Production During WWII,” accessed May 5, 2023,; David Vergun, “During WWII, Industries Transitioned From Peacetime to Wartime Production,” accessed May 5, 2023,; National Parks Service, “World War II and the American Home Front,” accessed May 5, 2023, 

2 Francis Walton, Miracle of World War II: How American Industry Made Victory Possible, (New York: Macmillan, 1956).

3 Alan L. Gropman, Mobilizing US Industry in World War II: Myth and Reality. McNair Report No. 50, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, 1996, 2.

4 Gropman, Mobilizing US Industry, v.

5 Gary E. Weir, Forged in War: The Naval- Industrial Complex and American Submarine Construction,(Washington D.C.: Naval Historical Center Department of the Navy, 1993); Gary E. Weir, “The Search for an American Submarine Strategy and Design, 1916-1936.” Naval War College Review 44, no. 1 (1991): 34–48.

6 Weir, Forged in War, 6.

7 Richard Payerchin, “Lorain: Submarines would Ride in Barges to get to Dry Dock,” accessed May 14, 2023,; Megan Eckstein, Joe Gould and Bryant Harris, “How the US plans to Expand its Submarine Industrial Base for AUKUS,” accessed May 5, 2023,; Sam LaGrone, “Navy Estimates 5 More Years for Virginia Attack Sub Production to Hit 2 Boats a Year,” accessed May 5, 2023,; Sam LaGrone, “Submarine Supply Chain Largest Barrier to Improving Virginia Attack Sub Schedule, Says Boykin,” accessed May 14, 2023,

8 Maritime Administration (MARAD), The Economic Importance of the U.S. Private Shipbuilding and Repairing Industry, Report, March 30, 2021., 1, 8.

9 Dana Wilkie, “The Blue-Collar Drought: Why jobs that were once the backbone of the U.S. economy have grown increasingly hard to fill,” accessed May 14, 2023,; Brian Hallenbeck, “Electric Boat president can’t stress it enough: ‘We’re hiring!’” May 8, 2022,

10 Weir, Forged in War, 14-15.

11 Weir, Forged in War, 15.

12 Weir, Forged in War, 15-16.

13 Walsh, “Those Stout Manitowoc Boats,” Website Reprint.

Featured Image: An October 2017 aerial view of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard located in Kittery on the southern boundary of Maine across from the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. (Photo via U.S. Library of Congress)

Leaning on the Big Switch in the Pacific: Why The United States Dominates Pacific Telecom Infrastructure

By Geoffrey L. Irving


A combination of the United States’ nascent modern industrial policy, diplomacy, and aligned governmental and commercial interests have set the conditions for it to pull ahead in the race to control vital telecommunications infrastructure in the Pacific. The race to control telecommunications infrastructure is founded upon a number of small island nations and territories in the Pacific Ocean that last saw global attention during the island-hopping campaigns of the Second World War. This analysis will give particular focus to the nations and territories of Guam and the Solomon Islands and the effect that they have on subsea telecommunications infrastructure. Further, this analysis will review how competing American and Chinese telecommunication infrastructure strategies are affecting these Pacific Island nations and territories and how the convergence of the United States’ regulatory regimes, including “Team Telecom,” and commercial interests are dominating Pacific telecommunications.

The People’s Republic of China’s (hereinafter referred to as “China”) return to great power status is well-covered in national security circles and beyond. From construction of artificial islands in the South China Sea, to continued saber rattling directed at Taiwanese unification, to the infiltration of Chinese technology into the United States’ supply chains and defense industrial base, media and academic coverage of China’s return to global power often include dire warnings that the United States is unknowingly falling behind. However, there is one sector of Sino-American competition that currently bodes well for the United States and its allies, and deserves additional recognition and analysis; namely, the race to control international telecommunications infrastructure, and specifically the subsea fiber-optic cables that serve as the backbone of modern communication. 

Subsea communications infrastructure is the backbone of the modern way of life. More than 95 percent of international internet traffic flows across subsea fiber-optic cables.1 This data traffic includes all types of communications, from consumer phone calls, to streaming entertainment, financial transactions, or secure military or intelligence messaging.2 While high-profile satellite communications like those provided by SpaceX’s Starlink low earth orbit technology receive a lot publicity for their deployment in austere conditions, satellite data capabilities do not come close to matching the data capacity of fiber-optic cables.3

The concept of a subsea cable is relatively simple. Since the first subsea copper telegram cable was laid by the Atlantic Telegraph Company in 1858 between the North America and Ireland, cable technology has progressively matured with advances in materials science and information technology, although the operational concept has remained the same.4 A physical cable is spooled into the hull of a massive ship designed specifically for the task of laying and maintaining subsea cables.5 The ship then steams from one landing site across a body of water to another, laying cables and signal amplification units along the way. The cable, with its periodic amplifiers, sinks to the seafloor where it rests on top of seabed topography and uses relative obscurity and layers of armored sheathing to protect the delicate strands of glass fibers that carry light waves across thousands of miles.6 A tremendous level of complexity is required to execute this task; however, this simple explanation is meant to provide a basic understanding of the operations behind a subsea fiber-optic cable.

As the largest body of water in the world by far, the Pacific Ocean poses a particular challenge when laying subsea cables. Before the first Pacific subsea cable existed, reaching East Asia by electronic communication required either unreliable radio repeaters subject to the vagaries of weather and atmospheric conditions, or through a cable route that travelled across the Atlantic, through Cape Town, South Africa or Russia to a connecting cable to Japan or India.7 However, since the first Pacific cable was laid in 1903, cables across the Pacific have proliferated and now serve as the primary means to connect isolated Pacific Island Nations to the rest of the world.8 Additionally, in a bi-polar geopolitical environment internet connectivity and infrastructure is a key tool in drawing these nations towards alignment with the United States or China.9

Cable infrastructure is such an important piece of the geopolitical chessboard because its ownership and control can influence global data traffic and the contents of that traffic. Of particular note, as an overwhelming majority of financial transactions are negotiated, administered, and settled via electronic communications, if a party controls communications infrastructure, it can control the financial dealings of any client who relies on that infrastructure.10 For small Pacific Islands Countries, having a single cable connecting an island to the world wide web creates a single point of failure that can have extremely dire consequences if there is an unanticipated fault or break in the line – as there often are in subsea infrastructure.11 For example, in January 2022, an underwater volcanic eruption and landslide severed the only subsea cable connecting the island nation of Tonga to the outside world. As a result, it was nearly impossible to contact the island for a number of weeks.12 

China’s return to superpower status on the global stage has been accompanied by its audacious Belt and Road Initiative.13 This program funded massive infrastructure programs around the developing world to expand China’s diplomatic reach and to erode the international institutions of the post-Second World War international order. As a subset of the Belt and Road Initiative, China specifically focused on future technologies and set a goal to create a “Digital Silk Road” that would involve communication infrastructure projects driven by Chinese national champion state owned enterprises like Huawei and China Unicom.14 These projects were intended to include both the provision of 5G-capable network infrastructure for developing nations as well as subsea communications infrastructure to connect partner nations to China’s internet service providers. To this end, Huawei, an electronics hardware conglomerate, established Huawei Marine in 2009 to begin providing marine communications technology hardware and infrastructure services.15 Huawei Marine, as a newcomer to the maritime communications technology industry, had to compete with established Western companies like SubCom and Alcatel Submarine Networks to build and maintain subsea infrastructure.16

While the United States and its allies did not have the appetite to compete with China’s massive spending spree in the developing world, an alignment of government and commercial interests has led it and other western-aligned countries to dominate the communications landscape in the Pacific. As of this writing, no Chinese-owned or operated subsea cable is the sole provider for subsea communications to any Pacific Island.17 Further, networks generally reject any Huawei and other Chinese state-owned-enterprise communications and network hardware.18 This outcome bodes well for American interests in the Pacific, and the expanded provision of network capabilities to Pacific Island countries and territories will have beneficial economic impacts on local economies. In the following section, this paper will analyze case studies of Guam and the Solomon Islands as it relates to the competition of US and Chinese telecommunications providers and the expansion of Pacific telecommunications networks.

Case Study: Guam

Guam is a small Pacific Island that is the southernmost island in the Mariana Island chain and is the largest island in Micronesia.19 Guam has a rich history of indigenous culture and position in contemporary history as a strategic way point in the Pacific Ocean for competing navies. Guam was a protectorate of the United States Navy following the end of the Spanish-American war in 1898 and then received formal recognition as an unincorporated territory with self-rule in 1950.20 Guam is also home to a large American military presence and hosts a U.S. Naval Base, an Air Force Air Field, and a burgeoning Marine Corps Base. Because it is the United States’ westernmost territory, Guam is also a landing point for many trans-Pacific cables, earning it the moniker “The Big Switch in the Pacific.”

The first transpacific cable landed on Guam in 1904 by a private enterprise led by John Mackay. This cable functioned until 1950 when a fault removed it from service leaving decades of inconsistent telecommunications connectivity until the advent and proliferation of fiber-optic cables. Following the advent of fiber-optic cables, there was an explosion of telecommunication activity on Guam evident by the laying of sixteen cables between 1987 and 2022 – roughly one cable every two years.21 See Figure 1.

Cable System Name Year Status
TPC-3 1987 Retired
GPT 1990 Retired
PacRim West 1995 Retired
Mariana-Guam (MICS) 1997 Currently lit
GP 1999 Retired 2011
Australia-Japan 2001 Currently lit
China-US 2001 Retired 2016
Tata TGN Pacific 2002 Currently lit
Asia-America Gateway 2009 Currently lit
PPC-1 2009 Currently lit
HANTRU1 2010 Currently lit
Guam Okinawa Kyushu Incheon 2013 Currently lit
Atisa 2017 Currently lit
SEA-US 2017 Currently lit
Japan-Guam-Australia North 2020 Currently lit
Japan-Guam-Australia South 2020 Currently lit
Echo 2023 Planned, not lit
Apricot 2024 Planned, not lit
Bifrost 2024 Planned, not lit
Asia Connect Cable 1 (ACC-1) 2025 Planned, not lit

Figure 1: A historic list of telecommunication cables landing on Guam

Despite sixteen cables laid on Guam over the past three decades, Guam’s telecommunications market is relatively small. Guam’s population is around 170,000 people, roughly the same as a midsized American city like Springfield, Missouri.22 Despite this small market, three competing internet and communications service providers compete for market share on the island – Docomo, IT&E, and GTA. As of 2017, Guam had an internet penetration rate of eighty-one percent among its population.23 As a US territory that hosts a large military footprint, Guam’s telecommunications network is largely insulated from Chinese intrusion. Measures such as Federal government regulation, import controls, and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) largely block Chinese or Chinese-funded companies from penetrating the Guamanian telecommunications sector.24

Further, as a result of Guam’s strategic position as a gateway to Asia and wider trends in the telecommunications sector, many large US technology companies are vying to invest in data centers in Guam.25 These data centers will serve as edge storage and computing nodes for internet service providers with retail and commercial customers in the Indo-Pacific theater. This next wave of telecommunications infrastructure poses an additional benefit to Guam’s local economy, as the influx of investment to stand up data centers that rely on consistent power generation and stable climate will likely create increased opportunities for job growth and a local telecommunications expertise.

Because of these reasons, Guam’s role as the “Big Switch in the Pacific” has been a driver of its local economy and will likely continue to yield dividends as the telecommunications industry matures and seeks improved and additional infrastructure projects. Additionally, as the United States focuses its national security posture on the Pacific theater, Guam will likely see increased military investment which has both positive and negative effects on local culture, but inarguably injects additional capital into the small island.

Case Study: The Solomon Islands

A study of the Solomon Islands’ telecommunications infrastructure and geopolitical position is an interesting counterpoint to Guam. Unlike Guam, the Solomon Islands is a sovereign nation state comprised of hundreds of islands off the East coast of Papua New Guinea and Northwest of Australia.26 The Solomon Islands have a population of approximately 700,000, but a gross domestic product of only $1.6 billion.27 Compared to Guam’s population of 170,000 and 2021 GDP of $5.8 billion, an apparent disparity exists as the Solomon Islands trails Guam’s development and productivity in terms of per capita GDP. Additionally, the Solomon Islands had an internet penetration rate of only 12% in 2017, and reportedly around 30% in 2022.28 While Guam serves as a switch for a growing inventory of subsea cables, the Solomon Islands is served by only one cable, the Coral Sea Cable (installed in 2020), which connects four of its major islands to New Guinea and Australia.29

To maintain a neutral position in the Sino-American competition for influence in the South Pacific, the Solomon Islands previously courted foreign investments and partnerships from the party willing to make them. The Coral Sea Cable reveals how the competition between China and US-aligned nations plays out over competition to build telecommunications infrastructure.

In 2018, the Solomon Islands government announced a partnership with China’s Huawei Technology Company to install a maritime fiber-optic cable that would link the islands to its two major neighbors: Papua New Guinea and Australia.30 This infrastructure project was long overdue, as high-speed internet was not available to an overwhelming majority of Solomon islanders. When the Solomon Islands announced the partnership with Huawei, US and Australian diplomats identified the risk that Huawei hardware and software could pose to Australia’s telecommunications network and began pushing the Solomon Islands to reconsider the partnership.31 Ultimately, the Australian government financed construction of the Coral Sea Cable by providing $92 million dollars in funding.32 Australia’s commitment, alongside diplomatic pressure from Japan and the United States, blocked Huawei from installing a new fiber-optic system connecting Pacific Island countries and further pushed the balance of power towards US-aligned nations in the Pacific telecommunications race. Unfortunately, these same pressures did not stop Papua New Guinea from completing its own domestic fiber-optic cable in partnership with Huawei Maritime Tech Co. in 2019.33

Although the Solomon Islands government ultimately partnered with Australia and the Australian firm Vocus to lay the Coral Sea Cable, the Solomon Island government has continued to court Chinese infrastructure investment. In 2019, the Solomon Islands formally ceased diplomatic relations with Taiwan, possibly to ensure future close diplomatic ties to the PRC. Then, in 2022, the Solomon Islands again announced a partnership with Huawei to build 161 mobile transmission towers financed by a $66 million loan from China’s Export Import Bank.34 The project has an expected completion date of November 2023, with the goal of installing most of the towers before Solomon Islands hosts the Pacific Games. Australia and other Pacific partners have again voiced opposition and concern about Huawei’s integration into the Solomon Islands’ local telecommunications infrastructure.35

The Solomon Islands’ diplomatic posturing between both Chinese and Australian/US-aligned investment gives it negotiating power to derive maximum investment from all sides. Its government cannot be criticized for attempting to upgrade the country’s telecommunications infrastructure to connect its population and drive GDP growth. However, negotiators should see the consistent playbook of courting Chinese investment and pressuring Australia and Pacific nations to step in with additional funding. While this means that Huawei and China are still in the race for dominance of Pacific telecommunications infrastructure, the Coral Sea Cable project shows that nations will choose US-aligned nations when given the opportunity. Therefore, it is up to the United States and its allies to create the opportunities to do so.

Undersea cables in the Pacific and proposed projects. (Reuters graphic)

The United States’ Pacific Policy Response

A broad decoupling of American and Chinese industries has been the theme of the early 2020s. For example, equity markets demanded audit transparency of Chinese firms listed in the United States and threatened to delist noncompliant companies.36 Further, the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018 strengthened the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) and gave the federal government broad power to mitigate or block adversarial investment or ownership in industries sensitive to The United States’ national security.37 With additional authorities, CFIUS has been increasingly aggressive and encouraged by members of Congress to investigate and block specific transactions. In CFIUS’ shadow however, there is a smaller interagency committee that receives less media coverage but is largely responsible for ensuring United States telecommunications resiliency and for winning the telecommunications competition in the South Pacific. That committee is the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector (Team Telecom). This Committee’s name does not have a phonetic acronym and is referred to simply as “Team Telecom.” 

Team Telecom is an interagency committee chaired by the Department of Justice that includes the Departments of Defense and Homeland Security.38 Executive Order 13913 established Team Telecom in April 2020. The Committee provides the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) with recommendations on whether to issue licenses to companies applying to provide telecommunications services or otherwise connect to the domestic US telecommunications network.39 This scope includes licenses to provide cable-based international telecommunications transport services, licenses to provide satellite communications, and multiple other FCC licenses.

When the FCC receives an application for a new cable landing or for the transfer existing assets to a foreign purchaser, the FCC will refer the transaction to Team Telecom for review by the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Defense to ensure that national security interests will not be affected or compromised by the foreign owner. If Team Telecom sees undue risk to domestic consumer data or to secured government data traffic traveling over a particular cable system, the members then recommend that the FCC deny the license or grant the license with specific conditions to mitigate the national security risk.40 In effect, this collaborative effort has succeeded in sealing out adversarial actors from the United States telecommunications sector, and shielded the United States telecommunications industry from Chinese competition and associated risks.

Because the United States controls strategic switching points in the Pacific, namely American Samoa, Guam, and Hawaii, Team Telecom’s rules regarding network hardware manufacturers and cyber security standards apply to any cable that lands in those territories. Because these territories are situated at geographically strategic points in the Pacific, Team Telecom’s rulings have become the de facto standard for the Pacific maritime telecommunications industry. While CFIUS is garnering headlines by protecting American technology and forcing adversary finance from core aspects of the United States’ domestic economy, Team Telecom operates quietly to both preserve the integrity of the United States’ domestic telecommunications network as well as set the conditions for US-aligned telecommunications companies to dominate network infrastructure across the Pacific Ocean.

The proliferation of Pacific subsea telecommunication cables is not a product of government policy alone. Rather, the information technology explosion of the past two decades and the demand for near-instant communication and connectivity to markets around the world created a huge demand for telecommunications capacity. The volume of cables landing on Guam in Figure 1 captures the frenetic pace of construction and expansion of bandwidth connecting North America to Asia. Furthermore, advances in materials science allowed fiber-optic cables to carry increasing volumes of data. The MICS cable, installed in 1997 that connects the Mariana Island chain, provides an estimated bandwidth capacity of 622 Megabytes per second, while Google’s Apricot cable is projected to have the capacity to run 190 Terabytes per second (190,000,000 Megabytes per second), or just over 300,000 times the throughput of the MICS cable.41 Despite exponential increases in data transport capabilities, infrastructure cables have continuously struggled to keep pace with industry demands for transport service. A trend away from consortia construction of fiber-optic lines in the telecommunications industry is one of the results of data transport demand so quickly outstripping supply.

In the early stages of large fiber-optic cable projects, international consortia of telecommunication infrastructure companies, government organizations, and occasionally research organizations primarily funded and planned new cable lines. In 2007, a consortium of 19 different parties funded the Asia American Gateway cable and laid 20,000 kilometers of fiber-optic cable from the United States, through Guam, to South Pacific nations like Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines.42 The Australia-Japan cable, laid in 2009, was funded through a consortium of five telecommunications companies – Communications Global Network Services Ltd, NTT Ltd, Softbank Corp., Telstra, and MFC Globenet, Inc.43 This trend of consortium ownership was necessary to secure the required licenses and regulatory approvals to run and maintain new cables across multiple jurisdictions, as well as to diversify financial risk across a number of different owners. However, a new trend has emerged. Technology “hyperscalers” like Meta (formerly Facebook), Google, and Amazon are now unilaterally, or bilaterally, building and controlling their own cables.

Over the past few years, technology conglomerate hyperscalers announced projects that will install and operate their own series of subsea fiber-optic cables. These hyperscalers have been overwhelmingly American and are creating the next wave of telecommunications infrastructure that will be primarily influenced by US legislation and governmental policy. Hyperscalers are interested in building and owning their own infrastructure so that they get primary right of transport on the cable, instead of having to negotiate and pay for leases on competitor or legacy cables. Google and Meta plan to run two new cables, Echo and Bifrost, through Guam to diverse landing points in the Pacific.44 Additionally, Google plans to create the Apricot Cable to extend Google Cloud services to markets that complement Echo and Bifrost’s reach.45 These cables will have the net effect of increasing internet connectivity and lowering latency for large swaths of under-connected Pacific populations.46 The ancillary effect is that these hyperscalers are all primarily US corporations, subject to US regulation and therefore prohibited from contracting with or connecting to many Chinese telecommunications providers. While US technology champions are on a building spree, China’s technology champions and state-owned enterprises like HMN Technologies (formerly known as Huawei Maritime Networks) do not have plans to build any comparable trans-Pacific cables. With the United States’ alignment of commercial demand and governmental industrial policy, fiber-optic cables have and will continue to proliferate in the Pacific, creating net benefit to both isolated Pacific Island Countries and the United States.

Conclusion: The United States is Winning the Pacific Telecom Race

The United States is particularly well suited to win the contest to dictate and control operations, standards, and installation of new telecommunications infrastructure in the Pacific. As discussed, the United States’ control of key geographic islands like Hawaii and Guam gives it an upper hand when seeking to run transpacific fiber-optic cables. As “The Big Switch in the Pacific,” Guam is well situated as the landing point of choice for the next generation of transpacific cables that will effectively seal out Chinese telecom competitors from the Pacific subsea infrastructure market. The US Team Telecom’s oversight and regulation, in addition to associated federal industrial policies, has effectively increased critical telecommunications infrastructure resiliency and set a standard for new infrastructure projects in the Pacific. This beneficial status quo is reflected in the relationship between island nations such as the Solomon Islands and the United States and its allies. While Pacific Island Countries like the Solomon Islands will continue to entertain Chinese technology investment, case studies like the Coral Sea Cable show that these nations will elect Western infrastructure programs when given the opportunity. Finally, the geopolitical competition to connect the Pacific is a massive net benefit for Pacific Island Countries’ populations. Competitive and redundant communications infrastructure mean that the number of nations and islands that rely on single points of failure for their communications will diminish over time as future cable projects propagate. On a geopolitical note, the race to build and operate Pacific telecommunications infrastructure is a bright spot for the United States and a valuable case study in how governmental policy and commercial opportunity can interact to protect American interests and extend necessary and beneficial services to the global community.

Geoffrey Irving works with the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense, Acquisition and Sustainment to protect the Defense Industrial Base. Geoff previously served on active duty with the U.S. Marine Corps, and is currently a Major in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. Geoff is a graduate of Tsinghua University College of Law and writes about the national security implications of international economic competition. 

The views expressed in this paper are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.


[1] 2013 Section 43.82 Circuit Status Data, FCC International Bureau Report, Federal Communications Committee (July 2015)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Micah Maidenberg, “Elon Musk’s SpaceX, Pentagon to Deepen Ties Despite Dispute on Starlink Funding in Ukraine,” Wall Street Journal, October 20, 2022,; Ibid.

[4] Allison Marsh “The First Transatlantic Telegraph Cable was a Bold Beautiful Failure” IEEE Spectrum, (October 31 2019),

[5] Justin Sherman, “Cyber Defense Across the Ocean Floor: The Geopolitics of Submarine Cable Security” Atlantic Council Snowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Cyber Statecraft Initiative (September 2021)

[6] Ibid.

[7] “Honolulu’s First Cable” Evening Bulletin, December 5, 1902.

[8] Bill Burns “Submarine Cable History”, 2012.

[9] Justin Sherman, “Cyber Defense Across the Ocean Floor: The Geopolitics of Submarine Cable Security” Atlantic Council Snowcroft Center for Strategy and Security, Cyber Statecraft Initiative (September 2021)

[10] Ibid.

[11] Amanda Watson, “The Limited Communication Cables for Pacific Island Countries,” Asia-Pacific Journal of Ocean Law and Policy, vol 7, 2022

[12] Ibid.

[13] U.S. Library of Congress, CRS, China’s 14th Five-Year Plan: A First Look, by Karen Sutter and Michael Sutherland, CRS Report IFI1684 (Washington, DC: Office of Congressional Information and Publishing, January 5, 2021).

[14] Ibid.

[15] Thomas Blaubach “Connecting Beijing’s Global Infrastructure: The PEACE Cable in the Middle East and North Africa,” MEI Policy Center (March 2022)

[16] “Submarine Fiber Cable Market Size to Grow by USD 3.86 Bn at a CAGR of 11.04%| Investments Source Segment is expected to witness lucrative growth,” Technavio Research (May 27, 2022):–technavio-301555740.html

[17] “HMN Tech,” Submarine Cable Map, TeleGeography, accessed November 13, 2022;

[18] Amy Remeikis, “Australia supplants China to build undersea cable for Solomon Islands,” The Guardian, June 13, 2018

[19] “Guam,” The World Factbook, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, accessed November 13, 2022

[20] Ibid.

[21] “Guam,” Submarine Cable Map, TeleGeography, accessed November 13, 2022;

[22] “Population, total – Guam” Data, The World Bank, accessed November 13, 2022;

[23] “Individuals using the Internet (% of population) – Guam” Data, The World Bank, accessed November 13, 2022;

[24] Donald Trump, Executive Order 13913, “Establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector.” Federal Register 85, no. 19643 (April 4, 2022):

[25] David Abecassis, Dio Teo, Goh Wei Jian, Michael Kende, Neil Gandal, “Economic Impact of Google’s APAC Network Infrastructure,” Anlysys Mason (September 2020)

[26] “Solomon Islands,” The World Factbook, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, accessed November 13, 2022

[27] “Population, total – Solomon Islands” Data, The World Bank, accessed November 13, 2022;

[28] “Individuals using the Internet (% of population) – Solomon Islands” Data, The World Bank, accessed November 13, 2022;; Georgina Kekea, “Solomon Islands secures $100m China loan to build Huawei mobile towers in historic step,” The Guardian, (August 18, 2022)

[29] “Solomon Islands,” Submarine Cable Map, TeleGeography, accessed November 13, 2022;

[30] Amy Remeikis, “Australia supplants China to build undersea cable for Solomon Islands,” The Guardian, June 13, 2018

[31] Colin Packham, “Ousting Huawei, Australia finishes laying undersea internet cable for Pacific allies,” Reuters, (August 27, 2019),

[32] Australian High Commission Papua New Guinea, “Coral Sea Cable System launched”. Accessed November 13, 2022;,Guinea%20and%20Solomon%20Islands%20governments.

[33] Corinne Reichert, “PNG sticks with Huawei for subsea cable: Report” ZD Net Magazine, November 26, 2018;

[34] Georgina Kekea, “Solomon Islands secures $100m China loan to build Huawei mobile towers in historic step,” The Guardian, (August 18, 2022)

[35] Ibid.

[36] Matthew P. Goodman, “Unpacking the PCAOB Deal on U.S.-Listed Chinese Companies,” Center for Strategic & International Studies, (September 28, 2022)

[37] Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018, US Code 50 (2018), § 4565

[38] Donald Trump, Executive Order 13913, “Establishing the Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector.” Federal Register 85, no. 19643 (April 4, 2022):

[39] Ibid.

[40] “The Committee for the Assessment of Foreign Participation in the United States Telecommunications Services Sector – Frequently Asked Questions” National Security Division, United States Department of Justice, accessed November 13, 2022;

[41] Federal Communications Commission. “In the Matter of Micronesian Telecommunications Corporation, Application for a license to land and Operate a High Capacity Digital Submarine Cable System Extending Between the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam,” File No. S-C-L-92-003, February 3, 1993.; Nico Roehrich “Apricot subsea cable will boost internet capacity, speeds in the Asia-Pacific region” Engineering at Meta, August 15, 2021;

[42] “About Us’ Asia American Gateway, accessed November 13, 2022;

[43] “Staff & Shareholders” Australia Japan Cable, accessed November 13, 2022;

[44] Bikash Koley, “This bears repeating: Introducing the Echo subsea cable,” Google Cloud Blog, March 29,2021,

[45] Ibid.

[46] Bikash Koley, “Announcing Apricot: a new subsea cable connecting Singapore to Japan,” Google Cloud Blog, August 16, 2021;

Featured Image: APRA HARBOR, Guam (March 5, 2016) An aerial view from above U.S. Naval Base Guam (NBG) shows Apra Harbor with several navy vessels in port. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Deven Ellis/Released)