Maritime Protection Plan

The trend toward larger, containerized vessel fleets with smaller crew complements has presented the nation’s defense needs with a considerable challenge. As previously noted, although competitive factors have driven the movement toward containerized cargoes, military requirements frequently dictate the need for less efficient, but more militarily useful break-bulk vessels. Break-bulk vessels, in turn, necessitate a higher crew complement equipped with a different repertoire of seafaring skills. The challenge facing our nation’s defense infrastructure is to craft a maritime policy that will enhance the competitiveness of the U.S.-flag fleet during times of peace while concurrently accommodating our national defense needs during times of conflict. The government has responded to this challenge by developing an innovative array of programs designed to address the conflicting demands of commercial competitiveness and the logistics of national security.

Today U.S. strategic sealift needs for surge and sustainment shipping are being met with a mélange of active U.S.-flag merchant ships, commercial ships under long-term charter to the military, and Ready Reserve Force vessels under private commercial management contracts and crewed by citizen mariners.

Enacted in 1996 as Public Law 104-239, the Maritime Security Program (MSP) provides for a fleet of militarily useful U.S.-flag commercial vessels, crewed by U.S. citizens that can be immediately called upon during national defense contingencies. The ten-year program, designed to replace the Operating Differential Subsidy program at less than half the cost, establishes a fleet of 47 U.S.-flag vessels engaged in the waterborne commerce of the United States. Eligible vessels may be built in the United States or in another country, and are subject to one-year renewable contracts. Funding for the program (approximately $97 million/year at its enactment) is subject to annual appropriations from Congress.

In 2004, the 108th Congress enacted the Maritime Security Act of 2003 which expanded on the Maritime Security Program by increasing the fleet from 47 to 60 vessels. The new ten-year program also calls for increased funding subject to annual appropriations (approximately $156 million at its enactment, increased to $174 million in 2010 and to $186 million in Fiscal Year 2013). In Fiscal Year 2016 the program received an appropriation level of $210 million ($3.5M per ship to support 60 enrolled vessels). In fiscal years 2017 and 2018, MSP was funded at the authorized level of $300 million for 60 vessels. The Consolidated (Omnibus) Appropriations Bill of FY2016 authorized annual funding for MSP through FY 2021 at $5.00 million per ship from FY 2018-2020, and $5.23 per ship in FY2021. Under the Maritime Security Act of 1996, this funding must be approved each year as a direct appropriation.

The program demonstrates the United States’ continued recognition of the vital role the U.S. maritime industry assumes in our nation’s national defense infrastructure. During times of peace, these vessels ply our deep-sea international trades, generating jobs for U.S. citizens while generating income for maritime carriers and tax revenue for the government. When called upon by the government, participating vessel operators are required to make their ships and other commercial transportation resources available to the Department of Defense.

As noted by military logisticians and defense planners, the MSP fleet provides our nation with a significant security asset at a substantially lower cost. DOD officials have testified that it would need more than $10 billion in capital costs and $1 billion in annual operations costs to replicate what the Maritime Security Program provides at a fraction of the cost. Furthermore, a 2006 National Defense Transportation Association report entitled “The Role of Commercial Shipping Initiatives in Military Sealift “affirms that the cost to the U.S. Government to replicate the vessels provided for by the MSP was estimated at $13 billion.  An additional $52 billion would be needed to replicate the assets.” General William M. Fraser, Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) testified before a House Armed Services Seapower Subcommittee hearing in 2013 that “the loss of mariner jobs, access to the related intermodal logistics networks these companies provide, and potential loss of competition in certain trade routes may degrade our current support to forces deployed overseas and likely increase transportation costs to the government.” General Fraser continued, noting that “USTRANSCOM relies heavily on the significant capabilities the U.S.-flag commercial sealift industry contributes to our nation.”

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.

Military Sealift Command

The Military Sealift Command is the Navy’s operating agency for ocean transportation. The MSC is responsible for providing strategic sealift and ocean transportation for all armed services, as well as other U.S. government agencies. MSC controls 170, including the Ready Reserve Force (RRF), non-combatant, civilian crewed ships worldwide consisting of barge-carrying ships, breakbulk ships, tankers, and specially configured ships.

Combat Logistics Force (CLF)

These 31 vessels provide supplies to the combatant fleet, i.e., food, fuel, spare parts, munitions, mail, and includes 15 replenishment oilers; 12 cargo/ammunition ships; and 4 fast combat support ships.

Service Support Force

These 15 ships provide services to the combatant fleet, i.e., towing, rescue/salvage, forward-deployed submarine maintenance support, etc., including 4 fleet ocean tugs; 4 rescue and salvage ships; 2 hospital ships; 2 submarine tenders; 1 cable-laying/repair ship; 1 command ship; and 1 afloat forward staging base. Note: Both the CLF and the Service Support Force include government-owned, civil service operated ships.

Special Missions

25 special mission ships provide operating platforms and services for a wide variety of U.S. military and other U.S. government missions such as oceanographic and hydrographic surveys, underwater surveillance, missile tracking, acoustic surveys, and submarine and special warfare support. The program includes 9 submarine and special warfare support ships; 6 oceanographic survey ships; 5 ocean surveillance ships; 3 missile range instrumentation ships; 1 navigation test support ship; and 1 sea-based X-band radar ship. Note: The Special Mission, Prepositioning, and Sealift Programs include both government-owned and contractor-owned ships and are crewed by commercial mariners (all civilians, but non-federal employees).

The National Defense Reserve Fleet is a government-owned collection of vessels originally established in 1946 to absorb surplus vessels used during World War II and intended for activation during national emergencies. As of January 31, 2014, the NDRF fleet totaled 121 vessels, including 46 vessels in the RRF, 36 (retention vessels) in long-term storage, and 24 ready for disposal or being prepared for disposal and 15 custody vessels. Older vessels in the NDRF, including retired RRF and Navy vessels, are being systematically scrapped. NDRF vessels have been used as museums, transferred to state agencies to be sunk as artificial fish reefs, and used for military and civilian training. The deep lay-up vessels in the NDRF are maintained in three reserve fleet sites: James River Reserve Fleet at Ft. Eustis, VA; Beaumont Reserve Fleet at Beaumont, TX; and Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet at Benicia, CA.

The Ready Reserve Force component of the National Defense Reserve Fleet, managed and administered by the Maritime Administration, is maintained in a state of readiness for activation in 5 days, with one vessel PETERSBURG, maintained in a state of readiness in 10 days to meet the surge requirements typical of the early stages of military operations. When activated, RRF ships come under the operational control of the Military Sealift Command. As of February 2014, there were 46 vessels in the RRF including 35 roll-on/roll-off vessels, 2 heavy lift or barge carrying ships, 6 auxiliary craneships, 1 tanker, and 2 aviation repair vessels.

The Maritime Administration contracts with private sector managers for RRF maintenance and repair services, activation, manning, and operation. On July 27, 2005, the three-year procurement effort to obtain ship management services for the RRF program was completed. Twenty-one contracts were awarded to nine successful bidders for the management, maintenance and repair, activation, operation and deactivation of 54 RRF vessels. The total contract award exceeded $2.3 billion over a 10-year performance period; the $2.3 billion figure includes options for extension for good performance. Innovation was the keynote of this procurement; it was the first performance-based service solicitation issued by the Maritime Administration and was the first major all-electronic solicitation in its history. Currently, there are 7 Ship Managers under 19 contracts managing a total of 48 ships. The total estimated contract value is $1.3 billion. In addition to the contracts awarded in 2005, the Maritime Administration awarded five Ship Manager contracts in 2011 that included Fast Sealift Support Ships and two awards in 2012. All of the awards will expire in 2015. MARAD is currently planning for the release of the 2015 solicitation.

Readiness of RRF vessels is verified through random no-notice activations and scheduled activations for military cargo operations and exercises. This program has experienced a total of 214 vessel activations since 1990. Sea trials not only prove the condition of the ships, but also provide a training opportunity for merchant mariner crews and permit RRF management companies to observe crew performance.

RRF ships and their crews have provided an unprecedented level of support to the Armed Forces since November 2002 for Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom with more than 45 ship activations, logging over 5,446 cumulative days of service. RRF ships continued to support the more routine exercises and prepositioning required by the Department of Defense during the same time period.

The RRF was also called upon to provide humanitarian relief to the Gulf coast in the aftermath of the 2005 Hurricanes of Katrina and Rita 5 RRF vessels provided logistic relief to the region’s emergency response teams, logging 866 days of service in the effort. In addition, the RRF provided 5 vessels to support international relief efforts in response to the Haitian earthquake (2010), and provided 153 days of service in support of Operation Unified Response. Most recently the RRF provided support to Hurricane Sandy relief efforts with the activation of RRF vessel WRIGHT for 44 days of service in Staten Island, New York in November/December 2012.

The 26 ship fleet,crewed by private citizen mariners, includes 9 large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ships; 4 government-owned tankers, 3 dry cargo ships, 1 high speed vessel, 5 roll-on/roll-off ships, 2 high speed transports, and 2 joint high speed vessels. The Sealift Program provides high-quality, efficient and cost-effective ocean transportation for the Department of Defense and other federal agencies during peacetime and war. The program manages a mix of government-owned and long-term-chartered dry cargo ships and tankers, as well as additional short-term or voyage-chartered ships. By DOD policy, MSC must first look to the U.S.-flagged market to meet its sealift requirements. Government-owned ships are used only when suitable U.S.-flagged commercial ships are unavailable.

The Prepositioning Program is an essential element in the U.S. military’s readiness strategy. Afloat prepositioning strategically places military equipment and supplies aboard ships located in key ocean areas to ensure rapid availability during a major theater war, a humanitarian operation or other contingency. This program includes 13 Maritime Prepositioning Ships (container, roll-on roll-off and mobile landing platform ships); 8 Army Prepositioned Stocks (roll-on/roll-off and container ships); 2 Dry Cargo/Ammunition ships; 2 Air Force Containers; and 2 Offshore Petroleum Distribution Systems. These vessels are ready to deploy on short notice to initially support military forces in the event of a contingency; crewed by civilians employed by companies under contract to the MSC; the ships are located in such areas as the Mediterranean Sea, the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, and Guam; prepositioning ships include long-term chartered commercial vessels, activated Ready Reserve Force ships, and government-owned ships.