Military Sealift Command
The mission of Military Sealift Command (MSC) is to support our nation by delivering supplies and conducting specialized missions across the world's oceans. MSC provides ships ready for tasking; develops, enhances and enables the workforce; focuses on the customer; and managees organizational change and growth. Military Sealift Command is organized around 4 mission areas: Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF), Special Mission, Prepositioning, Sealift. Each of these programs has a separate office.
Military Sealift Command was an outgrowth of 4 different agencies that provided ocean transportation for the US military through World War II: the Naval Transportation Service, the Army Transport Service, the US Maritime Commission's War Shipping Administration, and the Navy's Fleet Support Services.
Following World War II, US military leaders sought a better system. The Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) was established on 1 October 1949 to be the US military's ocean transportation provider. MSTS faced its first challenge almost immediately with the onset of the Korean War in June 1950. The Command moved thousands of troops and millions of tons of cargo to Korea, operating more than 450 ships at the height of the hostilities. The MSTS mission expanded in 1958 to include the operation of scientific support ships, vessels involved in oceanographic research, missile tracking, communications and other special missions.
MSTS continued to define its role within the Navy and the Department of Defense in the 1960s. MSTS ships transported people and supplies to and from Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. MSTS ships also supported the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969. MSTS began the 1970s changing its name to Military Sealift Command (MSC). In 1972, MSC began operating its first Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF) ship, civilian mariner-crewed fleet replenishment oiler USNS Taluga. By 2000, MSC operated about 30 NFAF ships working side-by-side with the US Navy combatant fleet worldwide.
The Ready Reserve Force, owned and maintained by the Maritime Administration in reduced operating status, but under MSC control when activated, was established in 1976. The RRF ships filled ocean transportation needs that the commercial maritime industry might have been unable to fill for the US military during contingencies.
In 1984, Secretary of the Navy John Lehman formally added Strategic Sealift to the US Navy's other 3 primary functions of strategic deterrence, sea control, and power projection. This ensured that sealift programs would be considered on a balanced basis with other US Navy programs, bringing them under one strategic, tactical and operational purview during overall planning. In the 1980s, MSC introduced afloat prepositioning ships, vessels laden with combat equipment and supplies and prepositioned at sea within several days sailing time of potential contingency areas. The 7 initial Near Term Prepositioning Ships, operating near Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, were the forerunners to the Maritime Prepositioning Ships operated by MSC for the US Marine Corps and which began service in 1984.
The fastest large cargo ships in the world joined the MSC fleet beginning in 1984 when fast sealift ships were purchased and converted by the Navy. The 8 FSS, capable of speeds of more than 30 knots, together could carry nearly a full US Army mechanized division of the time from the US's East coast to northern Europe in just 5 days. The first Navy Combat Logistics Force ships built specifically for MSC operation, the Kaiser class fleet replenishment oilers, also began delivery in the 1980s. In addition, the Sirius class combat stores ships, purchased from the United Kingdom, joined the MSC force.
MSC showcased its sealift and prepositioning capabilities during Operation Desert Shield in 1990-91. At the peak of strategic sealift activity, MSC operated 212 dry cargo ships and 22 tankers. Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, US Navy, awarded MSC a Navy Unit Commendation, MSC's first, for its execution of strategic sealift in support of the war. As a result of lessons learned from the Persian Gulf war and changing world dynamics after the fall of the Berlin Wall, Department of Defense expanded afloat prepositioning and surge capabilities, building 19 large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ships for MSC operation.
By the end of the 1990s, MSC was an echelon II Navy operating force under the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO). The mission of Commander, Military Sealift Command (COMSC) was to provide ship operating services to Department of Defense components; provide strategic sealift in support of National Command objectives and to provide ocean transportation for Department of Defense activities. MSC operated and maintained government owned ships, and was responsible for shipping Department of Defense cargo on commercially operated and chartered ships. To accomplish the assigned mission and responsibilities, MSC was designated as the "Single Manager for Ocean Transportation" by the Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) and CNO. The mission of the Military Sealift Command was to provide ocean transportation of equipment, fuel, supplies and ammunition to sustain U.S. forces worldwide during peacetime and in war for as long as operational requirements dictate. During a war, it could be expected that more than 95 percent of all equipment and supplies needed to sustain the US military will be carried by sea.
At that time, MSC operated about 120 ships worldwide, with about 100 more ships in reserve status. What set MSC ships apart from other Navy ships was that all MSC ships were crewed by civil service or contract merchant mariners instead of active duty Navy people. Using civilian crews freed active duty Navy personnel for more traditional war-fighting assignments. MSC exercises operational control over ships activated from the National Defense Reserve Fleet. Ready Reserve ships were activated in the case of a national emergency within a 5, 10 or 20-day time frame. In addition to reserve ships, MSC exercised control over T-AH 19 Class Hospital Ships, Fast Sealift Ships (FSSs), and Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPSs), which were prepared to respond immediately in the event of war or national emergency. Hospital ships provided mobile, flexible, rapid response afloat capabilities for acute medical and surgical care in support of deployed elements of the Armed Force. FSS transported mechanized armored equipment to strategic locations throughout the world in minimal time (e.g., to Europe within 5 days and the Persian Gulf within 2 weeks). MPS were prepositioned at various strategic locations overseas and contain ammunition, supplies and armored equipment to support US troops.
In peacetime MSC operated 3 separate forces: the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF), the Special Mission Support Force and the Strategic Sealift Force. The Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF) provided direct support for Navy combatant ships, allowing them to remain at sea for extended periods. NFAF ships replenished supplies, including food, fuel and ammunition for forces afloat. Other NFAF ships conducted underwater surveillance and provided towing services to Navy ships at sea. These ships were crewed by civilian mariners and also carried Navy departments ranging in size from 4 to 67 people. Civilian crews operated the ships, and military personnel provided communications support, coordinated supply operations and conducted helicopter operations.
The Special Mission Support Force, the smallest component of MSC's 3 forces, carried out a variety of highly specialized missions. MSC Special Mission ships provided specialized services for the Navy and the US Federal Government, including surveying the world's oceans and performing counter-drug operations. MSC Special Mission ships worked with scientific and military commands to combat drug smuggling, monitor international compliance with strategic arms treaties and lay submarine cable. All of these ships were Navy-owned and were operated by civil service mariners or contractor employed mariners. Military and civilian scientists and technicians carried out the specializes missions of various types of ships.
The Strategic Sealift Force was MSC's third and largest force of ships. The mission of the force was to deploy and sustain US military forces, wherever needed, through delivery of equipment, petroleum products and other supplies. In peacetime, more than 95 percent of DoD's dry cargo was transported on regularly scheduled, commercial US-flag liners. MSC operated a privately owned fleet of more than 35 dry cargo ships and tankers under long-term contract to support this peacetime sealift mission. The Strategic Sealift Force had various types of ships to support an operational contingency: Afloat Prepositioning Force, which consists of Maritime Prepositioning Ships and other prepositioning ships; two hospital ships; two aviation logistics support ships; Fast Sealift Ships and the Ready Reserve Force. Ships in reduced operating status had small cadre crews aboard to assure the readiness of propulsion and other primary systems if the need arises to activate the ship. The cadre crews varied in size based on the type of ship and the length of reduced operating status. ROS-4 indicated it would take 4 days to make the ship ready to sail, fully crewed and operational. ROS-90 indicated 90 days to full operations status from time of notification to activate
MSC also had 5 area commands, each headed by a US Navy captain. The area commands maintained operational control of MSC ships that were assigned to, or passed through, their areas of responsibility. These commands included: Military Sealift Command Atlantic (MSCLANT) in Norfolk, Virginia; Military Sealift Command Central (MSCCENT) in Manama, Bahrain; Military Sealift Command Europe (MSCEUR) in Naples, Italy; Military Sealift Command Far East (MSCFE) in Yokohama, Japan; and Military Sealift Command Pacific (MSCPAC) in San Diego, California.
Area commanders were the focal points for MSC customers in their areas. As personal representatives of Commander, Military Sealift Command, they were the "face of MSC" for the command's customers. The area commands also were the direct links to MSC ships, providing maintenance, logistics, and other needed services. Area commanders and their staffs were responsible for exzecuting the plans and policies that result from business decisions made at MSC headquarters, effectively translating headquarters vision into field action.
The commanders of MSCLANT and MSCPAC were also assigned additional duty as the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force East and West Project Officers, respectively. Duties included management of the NFAF ships assigned to them, as well as administrative support to other MSC programs and activities..
Between 2005 and 2006, as part of MSC's global transformation efforts, the area commands were renamed from Military Sealift Commands to Sealift Logistics Commands (SEALOG). In 2011, the commands were renamed back to Military Sealift Commands, with Sealift Logistics Command Europe (SEALOGEUR) becoming Military Sealift Command Europe and Africa (MSCEURAF), reflecting it providing service to both US European Command (EUCOM) and US Africa Command (AFRICOM).
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