The USA and Canada undertook alliance and assistance obligations in NATO to support their NATO partners if necessary if Europe was confronted with a crisis and/or a military conflict. While reinforcement troops can be shifted to a large extent by air transport, the enormous quantity of the necessary material can be transported with a continuous commitment actually only with sealift.
One of the first tings to be discussed after the forming of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April 1949 was the establishment of a Planning Board for Ocean Shipping. The aim was to have a central pool of allied ships to draw from in case of emergency. The opinion of the Secretary of Defense by February 1950 was that the US would have a shipping deficit during certain phases of an emergency. A pool of allied shipping was looked upon as the best interests of our national defense because it would provide machinery for maximum utilization of all available shipping.
The Maritime Administration is the United States representative to NATO's Planning Board for Ocean Shipping (PBOS). The PBOS plans for the provision of transportation of persons and goods by sea in crisis and conflict within and beyond NATO's area of responsibility. Additionally, MARAD's Office of National Security Plans provides the Secretariat for PBOS and the Associate Administrator for National Security currently serves as the Chairman of PBOS. PBOS was established by the NATO North Atlantic Council (NAC) in 1950. It is one of nine NATO Planning Boards and Committees (PB&Cs) responsible in peacetime for coordinating and monitoring National and NATO arrangements for civil emergency preparedness and crisis management.
The Planning Board is responsible for developing and maintaining plans for civil shipping support to the Alliance in crisis and war. PBOS planning takes into account the international character of merchant shipping and seeks to facilitate access to worldwide shipping. Its planning responsibilities include planning for the provision of shipping resources to support military lift requirements through appropriate shipping crisis management arrangements, and planning for the availability of marine war risks insurance for merchant ships supporting the alliance. PBOS plans for the use of merchant shipping in crises or wars affecting the interests of the Alliance. All other sealift activities in peacetime are solely a national responsibility.
The Planning Board operates on the principle that shipping cannot be treated on a regional basis and that the worldwide interrelation of all shipping activities must be taken into account in securing the benefit of shipping services, including vessels and facilities controlled by countries not party to the North Atlantic Treaty. In carrying out its functions, PBOS allows for the needs of countries and territories beyond NATO's area of responsibility for which a measure of shipping responsibility might have to be borne in wartime.
PBOS meets annually in Plenary Session in early Fall. It meets first with NATO members only in attendance, and then it meets with representatives from the Partnership for Peace (PfP) Nations in an enlarged format. The PfP Nations participate in the work of PBOS, but are not involved in the decision making process. The Planning Board reports to the Senior Civil Emergency Planning Committee (SCEPC) and through the SCEPC to the North Atlantic Council (NAC), the highest political body in the Alliance. Most of the work of PBOS is carried out by the PBOS Working Group (PWG) which is its permanent subordinate working group.
Ships committed by individual NATO countries (other than the United States) to augment US common-user sealift for the rapid reinforcement of Europe by US forces. NATO member nations have made commitments to provide 400 dry cargo ships for this purpose. To provide a high level of confidence in the availability of at least 400 dry cargo ships, more ships are nominated than the commitment requires. Only 400 ships are available for deliberate planning. Tankers capable of carrying clean products are also nominated toward meeting NATO PAL requirements, and passenger ships are nominated toward meeting troop requirements (including Assault Follow-On Echelon (AFOE)) for NATO. These assets form the NATO Sealift Ships List, which was updated semiannually by PBOS. These assets would become available only after a North Atlantic Council decision to reinforce NATO.
MARAD can requisition ocean shipping and coordinates activities with the NATO Defense Shipping Authority for allocation of NATO sealift assets to meet US requirements during a NATO contingency. About 600 ships were counted by the European NATO partners in the "NATO Sealift Ship List" of the Planning board for Ocean Shipping (PBOS). This high number would guarantee that at least 400 ships could be used at short notice for the reinforcement of Europe. In case of application these European Sealift ships would be chartered by the nation. Charter fees and war risk insurance as well as reliable manning should in accordance with the "NATO Sealift Charter Party" via the flag state responsible for these ships.
In May 1998 the Council of Ministers of NATO decided not to update the NATO Sealift Ships List any longer.
From 23-25 April 1999, NATO held the 15th Summit in its 50 year history in Washington, DC. NATO decided to improve its defence capabilities to ensure the effectiveness of future multinational operations across the full spectrum of Alliance missions. The focus is on improving interoperability in areas such as the deployability and mobility of Alliance forces
At the Prague Summit in November 2002, NATO identified a shortfall in military sealift capability for its rapid deployment forces equivalent to 12-14 medium-sized roll-on/roll-off vessels. Norway was given the lead on Strategic Sealift. On 01 September 2003 a Sealift Coordination Center was established at Eindhoven, Norway.
The 2003 Planning Board for Ocean Shipping (PBOS) Military Support Workshop was held on 2-4 September 2003. It focused on two issues: analysis of fulltime charter and assured access contracts, to satisfy the sea-lift requirements identified in the Prague Capabilities Commitment; and proposals for alternative means to obtain shipping services from the commercial market to support military sea-lift requirements, including a NATO Hub System. Participants agreed that there is no single solution for obtaining sea-lift. They supported the efforts for obtaining transport services through alternative means and suggested that the various measures should preferably be interconnected within the framework of a total concept ("toolbox") that is being developed and refined as the process goes forward. This "toolbox" can include fulltime charter, assured access contracts, liner services, and the Hub System.
To increase sealift capabilities, the United Kingdom is increasing the number of its roll-on/roll-off container vessels from two to six. France has plans to acquire more roll-on/roll-off ships and has agreed with the Netherlands to pool shipping capacity to move heavy equipment to trouble spots by sea. Canada is progressing with the Afloat Logistics and Sealift Capability project, a multi-role ship geared in part to strategic lift for the army.
For those countries that are members of the European Union, the European Union's Headline Goal of creating a 60,000-strong Rapid Intervention Force by 2003 was a major incentive to increase the deployability and mobility of their forces. The force was to be mobile, militarily self-sustaining and deployable to a distant crisis within 60 days. Whereas NATO's responsibilities range across the full spectrum of conflict, the EU force was focused on peace-support operations and crisis-management missions.
To deploy the NATO Response Force (NRF), an average of 20 ships are required, primarily medium-sized roll-on/roll-off (ro-ro) vessels. On 01 December 2003 nine NATO members (lead country Norway plus Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and the UK), under the guidance of Norwegian Defence Minister Kristin Krohn Devold, signed a Multinational Implementation Agreement (MIA) to establish a sealift capability package of assured-access ro-ro shipping. As part of the MIA, seven countries agreed to provide funding, while two (Denmark and the UK) committed to contribute "in kind" by making available their nationally owned sealift capacity. The nations agreed to acquire a multinational capability package of five RO-RO ships, with 2004 planned as a trial year. The aim was to incrementally develop further capacity for subsequent years based on the experience gained during the first 12 months of operation.
By January 2004 a Multinational Sealift Steering Committee (MSSC) was formed to pursue the proposed sealift capability package, made up in part of multinational assured-access contracts through the Luxembourg-based NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA). On 12 February 2004 the nine countries signed an agreement with NAMSA to provide NATO with a strategic sealift capability for rapidly deployable forces. For the trial year of 2004-05 three ships were to be chartered, but eventually just two vessels were taken under contract, the Spanish-owned MV Cervantes (signed on 12 February 2004 and offering 2,700 lane metres) and MV Carmen B (signed on 20 April 2004 and offering 1,650 lane metres). The combined cost of these vessels was EUR1.3 million (US$1.7 million) and they are to be ready for loading in any port within 10 to 30 days of their call-up.
According to the most recent  analysis by the Planning Board for Ocean Shipping, there were about 860 ships in the ro-ro and roll-on/roll-off - passenger (ro-pax) category worldwide. However, only about 160 of these were regarded as militarily useful, equipped with three to five hoistable decks and meeting NATO requirements for capacity and endurance.
By 2005 strategic sealift was a point for optimism about the success of the Prague Capabilities Commitment (PCC). Norway is the lead country in this effort, convening several meetings to discuss various proposals including arrangements with national shipping companies. The outlook is good, not the least because of the oversupply of commercial shipping capacity in the global market and the willingness of the commercial sector to enter into contracts to supply sealift to the military.
The nine countries (Canada, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, and Spain) participating in a strategic sealift group set the goal of 10 ships (mainly roll-on/roll-off) available for NATO operations on a mix of assured access and full-time charter contracts. As of 2005 the sealift group had arranged assured access to three ships, including one Norwegian and two Danish roll-on/roll-off ships, and the residual capacity was four of the UK's roll-on/roll-off ships. Both assured access and charter contracts involve using large ships owned by private companies. Assured access allows the military to use those ships for set periods of time. Full-time charters allow the military to have continual use of those ships although the ships are owned and operated by private companies.
This is closely tied to the better co-ordination of sealift through the Sealift Co-ordination Center at Eindhoven, the Netherlands, which has already become a cost effective operations centee. The Center costs about 100,000 euros per year to operate, but NATO sources say it saved an aggregate 3.5 million euros in 2004. It does so by arranging for ships, that would otherwise be travelling empty or only partially loaded on return trips, to carry the material of other allies. For example, an empty UK vessel returning from the Persian Gulf was used to carry Dutch air defence equipment, saving both countries about 500,000 euros each.
Those savings of a few million euros per year are only a tiny fraction of the approximately 150 billion euros that the European Allies spend annually on defence, but the sealift co-ordination program had only just become operational and may show larger savings in the years to come. More importantly, it represented a commitment by the European Allies to do more to rationalize their defence expenditures and avoid unnecessary duplication.
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