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The Structure Of The US Strategic Mobility System: Is It Adequate And Cost Effective?
CSC 1992
SUBJECT AREA - Strategic Issues
Title:	The Structure of the US Strategic Mobility System:
	Is It Adequate and Cost Effective?
Author:  Major L. A. Mercado, Jr., United States Marine Corps
Thesis:  An analysis of the probable type of conflict involving
US forces in the future leads to the realization that the present
structure of the US strategic mobility system does not possess
sufficient sealift assets to sustain deployed forces beyond the
initial phase of the contingency.
Background:  The dissolution of the former Soviet Republic
has altered the international balance of power from a
bipolar to a multi-polar balance of power.  The reduced
threat to national security has led to a shift in the
military strategy from one of forward presence to one based
on power projection.  In order to support this new military
strategy, the US strategic mobility system will be required
to project a substantial amount of combat power from CONUS
to coincide with the reduced forward presence overseas.
The present mobility system was designed during the Cold
War era and emphasized airlift at the expense of sealift
as the primary mobility asset.  Consequently, the sealift
has experienced a degradation in quantity and quality,
particularly with US-flag commercial shipping.  Several
factors have contributed to this degradation: increased
shipyard and operating costs, an increasing void of trained
crewmen, a lack of coordination between the military and
maritime industry, and insufficient government assistance.
These ships are the cornerstone of military strategy due
to their inherent delivery capability to sustain deployed
forces.  As DOD reductions are implemented, Congressional
appropriations for future acquisitions will be evaluated
on cost effectiveness, utility, and joint interoperability.
As demonstrated during the recent war in Southwest Asia,
the US must retain the ability to project and sustain its
combat power a substantial distance from CONUS.  The present
structure of the US strategic mobility system with its
emphasis on airlift will not be adequate to sustain deployed
forces if the contingency escalates to a major conflict
of significant duration.
Recommendation:  The US government should implement the
necessary measures to acquire and maintain a strategic
mobility system emphasizing an enhanced sealift capability.
The Structure of the US Strategic Mobility System:
	Is It Adequate and Cost Effective?
Thesis:  An analysis of the probable type of conflict involving
US forces in the future leads to the realization that the present
structure of the US strategic mobility system does not possess
sufficient sealift assets to sustain deployed forces beyond the
initial phase of the contingency.
I.	Evolving Military Strategy
	A.	Shift in US military strategy
	B.	Principles of new military strategy
II.	Possible scenarios for committment of US forces
	A.	Perceptions of low-intensity conflict
	B.	Probability of mid-intensity to high-intensity
	C.	1994-1999 Defense Planning Guidance
		Scenario Set
III.	Strategic Mobility System
	A.	US concept of employment of strategic
		mobility assets
	B.	Necessity for combination of airlift and
		sealift assets.
	C.	Impact of previous threat of Warsaw Pact
		attack in Europe on stratgic lift acquisitions
IV.	Importance of Sealift
	A.	Percentage of war materiel transported by sealift
	B.	National Security Sealift Policy
	C.	Relationship of government and maritime industry
		in crisis
V.	Status of US-flag Shipping
	A.	Primary sources of sealift for contingencies
	B.	Degradation of US Merchant Marine
	C.	Dependence on foreign-flag ships for contingencies
	D.	Mission of strategic sealift during crisis
VI.	Necessity of Sealift as Primary Strategic Mobility Asset
	A.	Impact of decreasing DOD budget for future
	B.	Comparative costs of airlift and sealift assets
	C.	Delivery capability of sealift
VII.	Benefit of an Enhanced Sealift Capability
	A.	Strategic mobility system emphasizing sealift
	B.	Importance of ability to deploy and employ forces
		in contingency
The Structure of the US Strategic Mobility System:
	Is It Adequate and Cost Effective?
     During an address to the Aspen Institute on 2
August 1990, President George Bush outlined the new
military strategy which the US will pursue in the
post Cold War era:
     Our new strategy must provide the framework
     to guide our deliberate reductions to no more
     than the forces we need to guard our enduring
     interests -- the forces to exercise forward
     presence in key areas, to respond effectively
     to crises, [and] to retain the national capacity
     to rebuild our forces should this be needed.
     The dissolution of the Warsaw Pact has signified
the passing of the Soviet Union as the predominant
threat to national security.  Consequently, US military
strategy will shift from one of containment to one
based on forward presence, enhanced power projection
to respond to crises, and the ability to reconstitute
forces if necessary.
     The focus will be on power projection rather
than the forward defense of Western Europe and Korea
which emphasized collective security in the form of
military alliances.  In concert with the reduction
of the US armed forces, this strategy envisions
employing small, flexible, and rapidly transportable
forces capable of responding to a regional crisis
anywhere national interests are threatened.
     The underlying principle of this military strategy
is that the US must maintain strategic mobility
necessary to project sufficient combat power to respond
to regional crises in the minimum amount of time.
At present, the US strategic mobility system is capable
of rapidly projecting initial combat power to a single
regional contingency.  However, an analysis of the
probable type of conflict involving US forces in the
future leads to the realization that the present
structure of the US strategic mobility system does
not possess sufficient sealift assets to sustain
deployed forces beyond the initial phase of the
     A perception is present among policymakers that
the conflict in Southwest Asia was an anomaly and
that future US involvement will primarily be in the
spectrum of low-intensity conflict.  However, it could
be argued that experiences in Korea and Vietnam have
made the American populace extremely hesitant in
becoming involved in a limited war.  Mr. Michael J.
Mazaar of the Center for Strategic and International
Studies (CSIS) has stated that the probability of
mid-intensity wars in the Middle East and Korea are
more likely than either a high-intensity clash in
Europe or a major low-intensity conflict in the Third
World. (9:35)  Further substantiation of this
assessment is contained in a 1990 CSIS report which
     . . . conflicts that might be termed 'mid-
     intensity' will dominate U.S. planning
     concerns.  The potential for U. S. involve-
     ment in mid-intensity conflict -- wars with
     or between powerful regional states -- will
     provide a key justification for military
     budgets during the 1990s and will establish
     most of the threats against which U. S.
     forces are sized, trained, and equipped.
     The Department of Defense (DOD) was tasked by
Congress to develop a planning document which could
be utilized to determine what type of force structure
the armed forces should reflect in the future.  The
result of this tasking was the 1994-1999 Defense
Planning Guidance Scenario Set.
     This planning document supports the conclusions
of Mr. Mazaar and the CSIS study in that several of
the scenarios can be characterized as mid-intensity
to high-intensity conflict.  The document discusses
several scenarios where US forces could be committed
to support national policy objectives.  The scenarios
discussed include:  a Russian invasion of Lithuania,
an Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, a North
Korean invasion of South Korea, a simultaneous conflict
in Southwest Asia and Korea, a coup in Panama, a coup
in the Philippines, and the reemergence of a hostile
superpower. (4:8)
     Each scenario, other than the coups, depicts
a requirement to project and sustain substantial combat
power a significant distance from the contiguous United
States (CONUS).  Despite the shift from a bi-polar
balance of power in the global community, it is
unlikely that the US will abandon its commitment to
a strategy of forward defense.  Consequently, if war
or a limited conflict occurs US policy will continue
to prefer to fight on foreign soil.
     Therefore, the basic requirement for strategic
mobility will continue to be a crucial factor in the
projection of US combat power.  The Department of
Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms
(Joint Pub 1-02) defines strategic mobility as "the
capability to deploy and sustain military forces
worldwide in support of national strategy."  The
present system utilizes airlift to provide a rapid
strategic movement capability during the initial days
of a contingency.  In a complementary role, sealift
provides the capability to sustain the forces during
the conflict.  The Secretary of Defense, Mr. Richard
B. Cheney, summarizes the continuing importance of
this concept:
     For crisis response, we must be able to deploy
     to regions of U. S. interest sufficient forces
     with the capabilities needed to counter a wide
     variety of contingencies.  Thus, the restructured
     force will include high airlift and sealift
     capacities . . . (2:13)
     The present strategic mobility system is "threat
based" and was developed during the Cold War era.
Military planners concentrated on the most critical
scenario of general war with the former Soviet Union
-- a Warsaw Pact assault against Western Europe.
The geographic proximity of Warsaw Pact forces to
western Europe precluded a significant amount of
"warning time" in the event of hostilities.  In
response, a significant stockpile of war materiel
was prepositioned to deter the Soviet threat and
fulfill the US commitment to NATO.
     As a result, for the last several decades
military planners have concentrated on how to rapidly
increase combat power into the European theater within
the initial thirty days of war.  The amount of
prepositioned war materiel in Europe negated a
significant concern with the sustainment of deployed
forces.  Consequently, airlift capability received
the primary emphasis over sealift.
     The anticipated decrease in future DOD
appropriations will present significant challenges
in the acquisition of additional strategic lift
resources.  Government officials will be hesitant
in the allocation of fiscal appropriations without
conducting a detailed cost analysis and evaluation
of utility.  The president of the Shipbuilders Council
of America, Mr. John J. Stocker, has observed that
although 95 percent of all US military cargo must
go by sea, the DOD spends only 5 percent of its
strategic lift budget on sealift.  Conversely, 95
percent of the budget is allocated toward airlift
which carries only 5 percent of the cargo. (11:50)
     Despite the change in US military strategy, the
acquisition and maintenance of the resources necessary
to project combat power will not diminish.  Maritime
analysts have assessed that sealift will continue
to move 95 percent of all dry cargo and 99 percent
of all petroleum products during wartime or any
long-term overseas deployment.  Therefore, the
requirement of sustainment will make sealift the
predominant strategic mobility asset.  The Commander
in Chief, US Transportation Command, General Hansford
T. Johnson, USAF has said:
     Airlift will be the first to arrive in [a]
     crisis or contingency, but ships will carry
     90 percent of materials and equipment in a
     large-scale operation.  This is a well-known
     fact within the transportation community, but
     not a well-known fact in the press and general
     public.  It is a fact that will not change in
     the next decade or century.  Sealift will remain
     the bedrock of America's defense transportation
     system. (5:30)
     The National Security Sealift Policy is the
primary document which delineates the relationship
between the government and maritime industry.  An
unclassified version was released to the public during
October 1989.  The premise of the policy is that "the
national sealift objective is to ensure that sufficient
military and civil maritime resources will be available
to meet defense deployment, and essential economic
requirements in support of our national security
strategy."  The guidelines specified in the policy
address the reliance on US-flag commercial ships,
DOD requirements, available shipping resources,
sustainment of deployed forces, and the development
of sealift programs. (1:204-205)
     The significance of this policy directive is
in its overall objective of ensuring the US retains
the capability to meet sealift requirements in crisis
or war.  Understandably, it places a heavy reliance
on US-flag commercial shipping.  However, a brief
examination of the present status of the sources of
sealift and maritime industry will indicate that
significant deficiencies exist in the fleet of US-flag
commercial carriers.
     There are four sources of sealift in the inventory
of US-flag assets: the Military Sealift Command (MSC),
the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), the Ready
Reserve Force (RRF), and the private sector of the
US-flag merchant marine.  These "fleets" are primarily
comprised of breakbulk, container, crane, tanker,
and Roll-On/Roll-Off (RO/RO) ships. The estimates
for these assets in fiscal year 1992 are:  MSC, 72;
RRF, 96; and NDRF, 122.
     In regard to the merchant marine, maritime
strategists have stated that it is an essential part
of America's national security infrastructure and
considered to be "the fourth arm" of national defense.
When activated by the MSC during a contingency or
crisis, these ships will provide the US with readily
available seaborne assets for the sustainment of
deployed forces.
     There are presently 423 commercial ships in the
US Merchant Marine.  However, the continued degradation
of the US merchant fleet has diminished this quantity.
If this trend continues, maritime experts have
projected there will be less than 200 ships by the
turn of the century.  Unless measures are taken to
correct this situation, a significant deficiency will
exist when these ships are required to support US
military strategy during a crisis.
     The quantity of these ships has diminished over
the last several decades primarily due to the high
costs of building and operating US-flag commercial
ships.  As an example, it would cost approximately
$4 million to build a medium-size bulk ship in a
shipyard located in the United States and another
$2.8 million to operate the vessel with an American
crew.  In comparison, it would cost approximately
$1.8 million to build one in a foreign shipyard and
only $600,000 if a crew from the Western Pacific were
employed for its operation.
     Understandably, shipping magnates would be
hesitant to invest in American built and crewed
dry bulk carriers.  Due to increasing shipyard costs
and a decreasing number of trained merchant seamen,
the US merchant fleet is unable to remain competitive
in the world market.  Additionally, the insufficient
attention the government has given to developing the
merchant fleet as a naval and military auxiliary has
reduced the compatibility of the maritime fleet with
military needs. (6:2)
     An analysis of the problems and possible solutions
for the shipbuilding industry would be beyond the
scope of this discussion to address in sufficient
detail.  It would suffice to say that despite the
provisions of the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, a
profit-oriented maritime industry cannot provide
wartime sealift readiness incidental to its peacetime
operations. (8:36)  The former legislative affairs
officer of the Military Sealift Command, Mr. Larry
C. Manning has addressed this issue in stating:
     It [the maritime industry] should not be expected
     to do so, especially not if the military is
     unable to establish specific requirements and
     to provide necessary resources, beginning with
     funding.  Ships in the merchant marine are
     designed to be economically competitive, are
     highly specialized, non-self-sustaining, part
     of an integrated international ocean distribution
     system. (8:37)
     As a result of the commendable efforts of the
US Transportation Command, it can be argued that the
present quantity of sealift assets were more than
adequate during Operations Desert Shield and Desert
Storm.  However, it took the US several weeks to deploy
a credible defensive capability, and seven months
to transport the necessary force to conduct offensive
operations.  Should a scenario of the magnitude of
Desert Storm be experienced in the future, it is highly
improbable that the adversary will provide the US
several months to project overwhelming combat power
into the theater of operations.
     During a crisis, the mission of strategic sealift
is surge shipping during initial mobilization and
resupply or sustainment shipping.  The insufficient
quantity of US-flag shipping was evident during the
"surge phase" of Desert Shield.  During the first
three months, 47 of the 73 commercial ships were
foreign-flagged.  Had actual combat operations
commenced during this period, it is unlikely that
foreign shipping companies would have jeopardized
their ships and crews.  As stated by Mr. L. Edgar
Prina, ". . . it took the United States a month to deploy
even a relatively modest force and, as the build-up
continued in early September [of 1990], the lack of
an adequate, quick-response US-flag sealift capability
was becoming more apparent." (10:46)
     The sustainment phase was also an area of concern
due to insufficient assets.  Vice Admiral Francis
R. Donovan, Commander of Military Sealift Command,
testified before Congress in February 1991 that "the
US alone couldn't meet the surge requirement, and
the sustainment requirement would be met with
difficulty." (14:12)  Of the 195 ships which sustained
US forces during the war in Southwest Asia, 74 were
foreign-flagged ships.
     Justification for DOD acquisitions in the future
will be scrutinized for cost effectiveness.  If a
comparative cost analysis is conducted it will indicate
that the delivery capability of sealift assets will
be more cost effective in utility than airlift.  An
enhanced sealift capability is the most cost effective
means for future strategic mobility
acquisitions because 95 percent of all equipment and
sustainment supplies must be moved by sea.  Supporting
this assessment is Mr. Richard B. Rainey of the Rand
     If a purely economic comparison is made of
     sealift and airlift, treating it as a routine
     transportation problem, initial responsiveness,
     and capability in subsequent redeployments,
     sealift is almost certain to be dominant since
     it is a much cheaper way of transporting the
     kinds of materiel which are required for the
     support of ground forces. (13:15)
     As US forward presence overseas decreases,
a dichotomy will exist in that combat power will have
to be projected from CONUS in response to regional
crises.  Although the US presently maintains
approximately 120 overseas bases, a reduction in
defense spending and evolving military strategy will
result in a substantial decrease in the number of
these installations in the future.  Consequently,
as forces are based in CONUS, sealift will be the
most cost efficient means to transport the bulk of
combat power.
     As stated, the most cost effective means to
sustain these forces will be achieved with seaborne
assets primarily because of their inherent delivery
capabilities.  Delivery capability is dependent upon
several factors: the carrying capacity of the asset,
the time required to load and of fload, and transit
time between points of embarkation and debarkation.
     The Interagency Committee on Maritime Policy
published a report in July 1982 comparing airlift
and sealift carrying capacities.  The report stated
that a combat package of four light ground combat
divisions, five tactical fighter wings, and minimum
air/ground support units would be comprised of
approximately 150,000 personnel.  This force would
weigh about 270,000 tons.  If this force were
armor/mechanized, the tonnage might be from 150 to
200 percent of this amount.  On the basis of mere
tonnage, one modern containership can carry as much
cargo as can be carried in 150 C-5 Galaxy transport
aircraft sorties.
     The Maritime Prepositioning Squadron (MPS) concept
provides an additional example of the carrying capacity
of sealift.  The five MPS ships which initially arrived
in Southwest Asia were configured to support a Marine
Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) with equipment and thirty
days of sustainment.  In contrast, a MEB deployed
in its entirety by airlift assets would require 4,400
C-141 equivalent sorties.  Once again, this comparison
of carrying capacity depicts the predominant advantage
of sealift in comparison to airlift.
     Although airlift is undoubtedly much faster,
sealift should not be discounted in terms of response
time.  The Fast Sealift Ship is designed for a maximum
speed of 33 knots.  Strategically deployed, these
ships would be capable of responding to a regional
crisis within hours of notification.
     At the present time, there are eight fast sealift
ships maintained by private contractors.  Together,
these eight ships provide adequate lift for the unit
equipment of an Army mechanized division and can make
a trans-Atlantic crossing from CONUS to Europe in
four days.  In terms of relative response time and
carrying capacity, these ships are much more beneficial
than aircraft.
     Another aspect of delivery capability is the
time required to load and off load cargo.  Within the
context of the carrying capacity of these ships, the
time required to accomplish these tasks is minimal.
Breakbulk ships which are capable of carrying 20,874
metric tons of cargo can be loaded in four days at
the point of embarkation (POE) and of floaded in four
days at the point of debarkation (POD).  Similarly,
containerships, which are capable of carrying 13,881
metric tons, can be loaded at the POE in two days
and offloaded at the POD in two days.  The RO/RO ships,
which are utilized in MPS, carry 38,755 metric tons
and can be loaded in a day and a half and off loaded
in a day and a half.
     The final aspect of delivery capability which
will be discussed is that of transit time between
the POE in CONUS and an overseas POD.  The transit
times (in days) have been extracted from the Distances
Between Ports (HO. Pub. No. 1) and are based on an
average speed of 24 knots.  Additionally, these PODs
are commensurate with the geographic regions previously
discussed in the contingency scenarios:
     Atlantic      Pacific     Point of Debarkation
        7            12         Bizerte, Tunisia
       18            10           Pusan, Korea
       19            12        Subic Bay, Philippines
        3             2         Canal Zone, Panama
        7            14         Marseille, France
       15            20       Ad Damman, Saudi Arabia
     As stated previously, the DOD budget will continue
to decrease.  Inherently, the competition for future
acquisitions will increase.  Therefore, in regard
to The National Sealift Security Policy guideline
addressing costs and benefits, a cost comparison
would assist in the justification for a continued
enhancement of sealift capability over airlift.  For
the cost of a single B-2 Stealth bomber, presently
estimated at $850 million per aircraft, the government
could build two large RO/RO ships with money remaining.
     It is not the intent of this discussion to imply
that a strategic mobility system comprised solely
of sealift assets would be the most effective means
of projecting a credible response to a regional crisis.
However, in view of current reductions within DOD
and US forward presence overseas, a system emphasizing
sealift will provide a higher delivery capability
than an equal cost system which emphasizes airlift.
     The US is presently focused on domestic issues
and, in particular, the federal deficit.  As a result
of the "reduced threat" to national security, DOD
appropriations will be the primary source of relief
for the federal deficit.  As previously discussed,
the forward presence of US forces overseas will
continue to decrease as DOD reductions are implemented.
Consequently, when required, a strategic mobility
system emphasizing an enhanced sealift capability
will ensure that the US will be able to project the
combat power necessary to support and achieve the
goals of national policy.
     In conclusion, the uncertainties of the present
international security environment indicate that the
US must be able to respond to any type of crisis within
the spectrum of conflict.  The response will require
a substantial projection of combat power in order
to achieve national policy objectives.  Inherently,
the most critical requirement of employment will be
the ability of the US strategic mobility system to
sustain this deployed force.
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