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Ready Reserve Force (RRF)

The Ready Reserve Force (RRF) program was initiated on 14 February 1977 as a high readiness subset of the Maritime Administration's National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) to support the rapid worldwide deployment of U.S. military forces. A key element of Department of Defense strategic sealift, the RRF supports transport of Army and Marine Corps unit equipment, combat support equipment, and initial resupply during the critical surge period before commercial ships can be marshaled. The RRF is a select group of ships within the NDRF, which are relatively modern, highly militarily useful ships, rigorously maintained to meet Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping standards. RRF ships are also used as platforms for cargo handling training by Navy and Army Reserve units.

The RRF (a quick response subset of the NDRF) is a select group of ships within the NDRF, which are relatively modern, highly militarily useful ships, rigorously maintained to meet Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping standards. The Ready Reserve Forceis the government's largest source of strategic sealift capability. RRF ships are berthed at Reserve Fleet sites located in James River, Virginia; Beaumont, Texas; Suisun Bay, California; and other locations in the United States and overseas. RRF ships are maintained in a readiness status such that they can be activated for service within 4, 5, 10, or 20 days after DOD requests them. The Department of Transportation, through the Maritime Administration (MarAd), manages and maintains the RRF ships, and DOD directs and controls operations once the ships have been activated. DOD's Transportation Command is responsible for DOD's RRF oversight and operational control.

The Ready Reserve Force is managed by MARAD, but starting with fiscal year 1996, the RRF is funded from the Navy-controlled National Defense Sealift Fund, not through the Department of Transportation's budget as in the past. On average, it costs between $2 million and $3 million per ship per year to maintain the RRF ships in 4- to 20-day readiness status. The FY 1998 level for the RRF is $302 million. MARAD will maintain the current readiness level of the RRF with the $260 million requested by DOD for FY 1999 activities through planned capacity reductions.

Management of the RRF is defined by a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) between DOD and Department of Transportation. According to the memorandum of understanding between the Navy and the Maritime Administration, the approval of the Navy is required for acquisition of any ship for the Ready Reserve Force. Once acquired, ships are "maintained in accordance with standards agreed to by (the) Navy and (the Maritime Administration)" and are prepared for the Ready Reserve Force "in accordance with specifications mutually agreed to by (the) Navy and (the Maritime Administration)". The Navy and Maritime Administration are responsible for joint annual maintenance and repair reviews of Ready Reserve Force ships and for deciding on the nature and level of repairs.

	Auxiliary Crane Ships T-ACS 
	Break Bulk/LASH Ships T-AK 
	Heavy lift / Roll-on/Roll-off Ships T-AKR 
	Product Tankers T-AOT 
	Troop Ships T-AP 

During the Persian Gulf war, 95 percent of the total cargo needed to support Allied forces went by sea. U.S.-flag ships crewed by American citizen seafarers transported nearly 80 percent of the oceanborne cargoes. These ships included privately owned merchant ships in commercial service, chartered ships, and 79 Ready Reserve Force (RRF) ships. On short notice, more than 3,000 civilian seafarers volunteered to crew the RRF ships. But during the Persian Gulf War, 75 percent of the Ready Reserve Force ships could not be made ready by their specified deadlines, mainly because of the ships' poor conditions and because of crewing problems.

In 1992, the Department of Defense (DOD) recommended spending almost $4 billion over 7 years to purchase more ships for the RRF and improve their readiness. The Mobility Requirements Study recommended that by 1999 the RRF consist of 142 ships, 63 of which would be kept in a high-priority readiness status. Of these 63 ships, 36 would need to be able to activate in 4 days and 27 would have to be ready in 5 days. However, the pool of U.S. merchant mariners available to crew RRF ships has been steadily declining for several decades. The decline in the number of available mariners should not immediately affect MarAd's ability to crew RRF ships. However, if the decline continues, MarAd's future ability to adequately crew these ships is questionable.


RRF vessels have consistently exceeded activation requirements. When activated, RRF ships come under the operational control of the Military Sealift Command, and are crewed by civilian American seafarers whose normal jobs are aboard the tankers, grain carriers, containerships and other US-flag merchant ships serving the nation's domestic and foreign commerce.

The first large-scale activation of RRF ships came in support of operations in the Persian Gulf in 1990 and 1991. The RRF made a major contribution to the success of Operations DESERT SHIELD/STORM/ SORTIE from August 1990 through June 1992, when 79 vessels were activated and operated to meet military sealift requirements. On short notice, 3,000 civilians seafarers volunteered to crew the 79 RRF ships activated. In all, U.S.-flag ships with civilian American crews carried about 80 percent of the supplies needed by American and Allied forces in that conflict. In addition to RRF ships, this included U.S.-flag ships in commercial service and commercial ships under charter to the military, as well as cargo ships dedicated to military service.

In 1992, three Ready Reserve Force vessels were activated to support the United Nation's humanitarian and peacekeeping operations in Somalia. These included two offshore petroleum discharge system (OPDS) tankers, the AMERICAN OSPREY and POTOMAC.

Two APF and two AWR ships, along with an RRF troopship, were needed in Somalia for Operation RESTORE HOPE in 1993 and 1994. The TS EMPIRE STATE, normally used for training students at the New York State Maritime Academy, was activated to repatriate troops from Somalia.

In 1994, the Maritime Administration activated 14 of its Ready Reserve Force vessels, this time to support Operation Support Democracy in Haiti. The ships transported military cargo from various U.S. ports to Port-au-Prince, Haiti. All were fully crewed by a total of more than 400 civilian American seafarers and were operational within four days of being requested, ahead of the military's activation requirement. All were activated ahead of schedule, with an average activation time of 3.1 days.

In 1995 and 1996, four RO/RO ships were used to deliver military cargo to the former Yugoslavia as part of U.S. support to NATO peace-keeping missions. In support of the deployment of NATO's Rapid Reaction Force intervention in the Bosnia conflict, President Clinton committed the United States to supply sealift capability to move vehicles, ammunition and support equipment to Croatia.

In June 1995, two Ready Reserve Force ships were activated to support NATO peacekeeping efforts in Bosnia. The CAPE RACE and CAPE DIAMOND carried more than 92 percent of the cargo transferred from the United Kingdom to Croatia. This included 2,015 military vehicles, 232 containers and 3,629 pallets of breakbulk cargo. Two MARAD RRF ships, the CAPE RACE and CAPE DIAMOND (homeported in Jacksonville) were called upon to carry NATO's cargo in support of Britain's 24th Air Mobile Brigade. The CAPE RACE and CAPE DIAMOND carried more than 92 percent of the total cargo transferred from the UK to Croatia. Included were 2,015 military vehicles, 232 containers and 3,629 pallets of breakbulk cargo. Upon completion of the final delivery, the CAPE RACE was released for return to the United States, stopping briefly at Rota, Spain, to pick up a load of U.S. military cargo on its way to Norfolk. On December 1, 1995, the CAPE RACE was again activated to support NATO activities in Bosnia, this time in support of Operation Quick Endeavor. A sistership, the CAPE RISE, also was called into service.

In 1998 Four Maritime Administration (MARAD) Ready Reserve Force (RRF) Ships, under MSC operational control, transported equipment and supplies needed to help rebuild roads and bridges that were destroyed by the torrential rains following the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch. The RRF ship MV Cape Vincent was the first to arrive in Corinto, Nicaragua carrying heavy construction equipment, trucks and tractors. The RRF ships MV Cape Ducato, MV Cape Edmont and MV Cape Victory carried additional construction material to the Central America region.

Since 1990, specialized RRF tankers have continued their preposition Army support in the Afloat Prepositioning Force (APF); these tankers rotate so two are always available. From 1993 to 1997, the RRF supported the preposition of Army equipment with eight dry cargo ships in the Afloat Warfighting Reserve (AWR).

Ships are maintained in various states of readiness to correspond to the activation timeframe requirements. Those ships requiring the fastest activation (4 and 5 days) are maintained in Reduced Operational Status (ROS, i.e., ROS-4 and ROS-5). ROS vessels are required to be fully mission capable within either four or five calendar days from notice to activate (ROS-4 & ROS-5 designations). These vessels are in a state of continuous maintenance and many of the systems are continuously or frequently operational.The vessels are crewed by maintenance crews that serve as the core of the ships' operating crew when the vessels are activated. High priority ships kept in Reduced Operating Status (ROS) 4-day and 5-day status have 9 or 10 person maintenance crews on board, are berthed at dispersed "outport" locations, and have frequent sea trials to test their operational capability. When the ships are activated, remaining crew members come from the pool of seafarers whose normal jobs are aboard U.S.-flag merchant ships which operate in the nation’s domestic and international commerce.


The Department of Defense relies on the RRF for sealift of U.S. forces during the early stages of a military crisis, and for logistics sustainment after initial deployment. The RRF is composed of specially capable ships and non-commercial service support ships that can carry or offload heavy and oversized military cargoes which regular U.S. flag commercial cargo ships cannot. DOD appropriations fund RRF maintenance and operation, and DOT owns and manages the RRF. Consistent, high operational reliability of the RRF is essential for effective support of DOD.

MARAD carries on a program of planned periodic activation of RRF vessels. High priority vessels perform an annual sea trial (4 and 5 day readiness status vessels). This program was established to further enhance the probability of successful activation by providing a real time insight into the material condition of the vessels. This enables MARAD to make timely maintenance decisions and repairs and better allocate resources.

The highest priority vessels, which are all Roll-on/Roll-off (RO/RO) ships, are maintained in a status which permits reliable activation within 4 or 5 days at their berth sites, allowing expedited loading of critical surge DOD equipment. These vessels have Reduced Operating Status (ROS) crews of merchant mariners aboard carrying out a planned maintenance program. The ROS crews become a part of the operating crew that serves on the activated vessels. The outport and ROS crew provisions greatly enhance the probability of successful activation as has been demonstrated in recent vessel call-ups.

Other RRF vessels are maintained in a deep lay-up condition. Vessels in lay-up are required to be fully mission capable within 10, 20 or 30 calendar days from notice to activate (RRF-10, RRF-20 or RRF-30 designations). These vessels are in a state of deep lay-up with all equipment preserved to prevent deterioration. The frequency of periodic maintenance and testing is dependent on the level of readiness. Lesser priority vessels perform sea trials in alternate years consistent with their particular readiness status.

MARAD is able to activate the RRF rapidly by maintaining accurate fleet-wide data on RRF vessels and characteristics, requiring the use of commercial contracting practices by RRF ship managers, upgrading the status of priority RRF ships to include permanent onboard ROS crews, and conducting full-power sea trials. MARAD will maintain contracts with ship operating companies to provide support in planning, contracting, maintenance and crewing of the RRF fleet. RRF ships undergo regular Coast Guard and American Bureau of Shipping inspections and surveys to assure that these ships continually meet U.S. and international safety standards. Along with periodic and DOD no-notice activation, this ensures RRF readiness and reliability.

The joint goal of DOD and DOT is to keep RRF ships in designated states of readiness to meet military sealift requirements in the event of war or other national security contingency. The U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) is responsible for ensuring adequate sealift transportation of military cargo to support military needs. They determine the readiness status and siting of RRF ships in order to support Joint Staff force projection needs and provide annual program planning guidance so that MARAD can develop RRF budget requirements. The Department of the Navy funds DOT's maintenance and operation of the RRF through the National Defense Sealift Fund.

DOD conducts no-notice exercises, called "Turbo-Activations," annually to assess RRF activation readiness. The USTRANSCOM, via MSC, randomly selects and orders the activation of a number of RRF ships on an annual basis to test their capability to be ready-for-sea (i.e., mission-capable) within their assigned readiness timeframes of 4, 5, 10, or 20 days. In FY 2000, 18 RRF vessels were ordered activated without advance notice and 13 were operated by MSC.

In the year 2000 DOT met the no-notice activation target of 100%, but did not meet the mission-capable target of 99%. MARAD successfully activated all 18 RRF ships ordered by DOD with no advance notice within established timelines. DOD conducts these "no advance notice" tests annually to ensure availability of these military support ships. After activation, the 13 ships operated at sea by the Military Sealift Command (MSC) were mission-capable 97 percent of the time, two percent less than our goal. One of the 13 ships had a main-propulsion boiler fire and underwent 44 days of major repairs. MARAD successfully conducted 53 maintenance sea trials and 12 dock trials of RRF ships.

MARAD maintains a database on the number of days it takes to activate each RRF ship and its operational reliability. The MSC activation order is received either by phone call or message. Documents produced during the no-notice activation period comprise the data source for determining the amount of time taken to activate each ship. Non-performance time is based on the MSC Casualty Reporting (CASREP) system, which identifies casualties that are of a severity to prevent the ship from performing the mission. These messages are passed from the ship's Captain to MSC, the Ship Manager, and MARAD. The reliability of the RRF ships once activated, as measured in the percent of days that RRF ships are mission-capable while under DOD control, is primarily determined by the number of days it takes to repair a ship that has become inoperative. For example, the low percent of mission capability in 1997 (95.2) was the result of one ship being out of service for 156 days while undergoing repairs.

Since the population of vessels covered by these measures often consists of a very small number of vessels (as low as 13 vessels in FY 2000), a large swing in results can occur from just one ship not being available on time or one ship having operational problems. The source of the activation data is the actual activation order from DOD to MARAD and the documents produced during a no-notice activation. These fix the actual time of call-up and the time when the vessel is "Ready for Sea" (or tendered to MSC). The Ready for Sea time is agreed to by MARAD and the on-board MSC representative and reported to DOD by official message. The time taken to activate each ship is maintained in the ship's logbook and in official DOD, MSC, and MARAD records.

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