The Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) is a standby agreement intended to make commercial, intermodal, dry cargo capacity and supporting global infrastructure available to meet the “contingency deployment” requirements of the Department of Defense. VISA calls for comprehensive and integrated peacetime planning and exercises — something not done before the Gulf War. The Maritime Administration, U.S. Transportation Command (and its sealift-related strategic mobility elements, the Navy’s Military Sealift Command and the Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command), and the U.S. intermodal ocean carrier industry and maritime labor are now motivated to devise arrangements that will meet Defense Department deployment requirements from existing commercial services to the maximum extent possible without causing serious disruption of normal services and contracts.
Modeled after the U.S. Air Force Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) program, VISA allows carriers to continue to serve commercial commitments and provide support — ships and trained crews, truck and rail transport, logistics planners and worldwide distribution networks, satellite communications, cargo-tracking systems, full in-transit visibility, and supporting systems — in three stages depending upon the severity and expected duration of the contingency. The level of contractual commitment of capacity at each of the three stages will determine, in part, a carrier’s participation in the carriage of Defense Department and other U.S. government peacetime cargo. This will also obviate the need to look for the cheapest supplier in an emergency and will ensure that the plans and procedures are in place to integrate efficiently and effectively national defense and contingency sealift requirements into the commercial system. By relying on the U.S.-flag fleet, the military receives, at no additional cost, access to a total global intermodal network of vessels, infrastructure, terminals, equipment, and 20,000 well-trained and motivated seafarers and 22,000 shoreside employees located around the world.
The VISA program is divided into three phases based upon the amount of capacity committed to military cargo upon demand. The most intensive phase, referred to as Stage III, requires participants to commit at least 50 percent of their non-MSP vessel capability and 100 percent of their MSP vessel assets. More than 80 percent of the militarily useful U.S.-flag dry cargo fleet are participants in the VISA Stage III program.
The VISA program is closely aligned with the Maritime Security Program. Of those vessels participating in the VISA Stage III program, 70 percent are enrolled in the MSP program as well.