The mission of the Sealift Program is to provide ocean transportation to the Department of Defense by meeting its sealift requirements in peace, contingency and war with quality, efficient cost effective assets and centralized management. Strategic sealift is essential to the Department of Defense (DoD) for it to carry out its national security mission. Surge sealift is provided primarily by DoD's organic fleet. Sustainment refers to shipping provided by the US merchant fleet, mostly containerships, to deliver large quantities of resupply and ammunition to forward-deployed forces augmented as necessary by the RRF. Sustainment shipping maintains the supply pipeline with armament, food and other materiel necessary for continued presence overseas. Resupply and sustainment shipping moves the equipment, parts, and supplies necessary to sustain the force. It is largely breakbulk cargo, which is readily convertible to containerized storage, or POL products.
Sustainment sealift is accomplished through chartering commercial ships. US maritime policy places the primary requirement for sustainment sealift on the US maritime industry. Policies dating to the 1920s attempt to ensure an adequate number of ships by providing operating subsidies and cargo preference. Despite these policies, the size of the US commercial fleet has declined. DoD uses foreign flag ships to meet its needs when US flagged vessels are not available. Foreign flag ship use is significant and presents risk to the conduct of military operations. The world maritime industry has undergone significant change. The rise of flags of convenience and open registries has altered the industry.
The Dry Cargo Project Office handles all Department of Defense cargo requirements that cannot be accommodated by regularly scheduled ocean liner service. Nearly all peacetime DOD cargo is shipped via US flagged contracted or government-owned ships. During a military contingency, additional vessels may be chartered to expand sealift capabilities to meet additional demand. Nearly 90 percent of all cargo sent to support US war fighters in Operation Enduring Freedom has been deployed aboard more than 160 MSC ships, including 88 chartered commercial vessels.
MSC's dry cargo ships carry engineering and construction equipment, military vehicles, helicopters, ammunition and supplies. The Dry Cargo Project Office makes every attempt to use as many US flagged vessels as possible in order to support the US maritime industry. When needed, foreign flagged vessels may be chartered. As the US military continues to downsize and overseas bases continue to close, DOD peacetime demands for shipping dry cargo have changed. Shipments are smaller and have much shorter planning times, occur with reduced funding and take place at more -- and often unusual -- delivery locations. MSC dry cargo ships are used efficiently and effectively to move the maximum amount of cargo at the lowest possible cost.
MSC's Tanker Project Office works closely with the Defense Energy Support Center to transport petroleum products to DoD storage and distribution facilities around the world. MSC operates four government-owned tankers and one long-term chartered tankers to meet the over-ocean transportation needs of DESC and augments this organic lift capacity with short-term commercial charters when necessary. The four government-owned tankers and one of the long-term chartered ships are capable of conducting underway replenishment with Navy fleet oilers to provide additional logistics support to the fleet in time of need.
The heart of the MSC tanker fleet are five Champion-class, double-hulled, ice-strengthened tankers built in 1985. Four of these tankers are government owned and contract operated and one was under long-term charter until September 2005. In addition to the primary mission of providing transportation of fuel for the DESC, MSC's chartered tankers perform unique missions such as refueling the National Science Foundation's McMurdo Station in Antarctica as well as fuel for the Thule Air Base in Greenland. MSC also operates a shallow-draft shuttle tanker between Korea and Japan. MSC's Tanker Project Office moved a total of 1.92 billion gallons of petroleum products in support of DOD operations worldwide in fiscal year 2004. For sealift USTRANSCOM relies upon the commercial US Flag Fleet to move over 80 percent of sustainment cargo during wartime. The sealift companion to CRAF is the Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA). Recently implemented in concert with MARAD and the US maritime industry, VISA provides DOD wartime access to sealift capacity and intermodal infrastructure in return for peacetime business preference. When needed, VISA is activated in three stages of increasing levels of commitment. Implementation of this program, after several years of negotiations, is a major accomplishment for USTRANSCOM.
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