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Intermodalism is the use of several modes of transportation to accomplish a single movement of cargo. A shipment is intermodal primarily by virtue of its physical characteristics. For example, cargo loaded into a container is moved by truck, then by vessel, and finally by train to its final destination. Intermodal may also be a contractual description. In this case a carrier may subcontract portions of the move, while presenting the shipper with a single Bill of Lading under which the move is performed. In contrast to the separate evolution of the laws of common carriage by land and by sea, ocean intermodalism developed as a result of land based transportation practice, not separate from it.

A worst-case scenario would arise if port access was denied, forcing the war reserve materiel to be downloaded at Diego Garcia or Guam and airlifted to a forward operating location. One major challenge is the inter-modal problem; that is, sealift and land utilize 20- or 40-foot containers, and airlift requires 463L pallets.

April 2006 marked the fiftieth anniversary of the container ship. Containerization is the use of transport containers (that is, CONEX, MILVAN, SEAVAN, RO/RO trailers) to unitize cargo for transportation, supply and storage. Containerization aids carriage of goods by one or more modes of transportation without the need for intermediate handling of the contents. This includes boxes, packages, or loose articles of freight in a commercial / Government-owned / leased shipping container (SEAVAN), Military (MILVAN), a Military Sealift Command SEAVAN or MILVAN (MSCVAN), Roll-on/Roll-off (RORO) trailer, or CONEX.

A QUADCON is called a QUADCON because four QUADCONs have the same external dimensions as a 20-foot shipping container (20 foot long by 8 foot high by 8 foot wide). Three TRICONs have the same external dimensions as a 20-foot shipping container - hence the name. A CONEX [Container Express] is a reusable container for shipment of troop support cargo, quasi-military cargo, household goods, or personal baggage. CONEXs are older containers that are generally now used for unit storage, rather than for deployments. A 20-Foot Shipping Container (or Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit - TEU) is the most commonly used container for military deployments. A MILVAN is a DoD owned 20-foot shipping container. A 40-Foot Shipping Container is twice as long as a 20-foot shipping container. Special Container Handling Equipment and vehicles are needed to move these containers.

Containers provide security. Containers generally only have one door, which can be bolted and padlocked. Additional security is provided by the use of numbered seals that will reveal if anyone has opened the container during transit. They also provide weather protection. As long as they haven't got any holes in them, container provide good weather protection, even if they are stored on the weather deck (top deck) of ships. There is less damage to cargo, if loaded properly. As long as the container is loaded correctly - that is proper use of blocking and bracing to prevent internal cargo shifting in the container - the cargo is generally protected from external damage by the walls of the container. They also provide ease in handling. Just imagine trying to move a large number of bowling balls - it is a lot easier to put them into a container and just move the container using Container Handling Equipment (CHE), then to attempt to move them individually. And they provide concentration of unit supplies/equipment. It is a lot easier to secure and track unit supplies and equipment if they are centralized in a container, rather than being spread around as secondary loads in a number of separate vehicles.

The Army goal is to optimize use of strategic lift, focusing primarily on sealift, to improve force closure time for unit equipment and sustainment supplies and meet national defense objectives. The Army objectives are to optimize the use of origin-to-destination containerization to support peacetime, war planning, transition to war, and wartime Army transportation requirements, and to develop origin, in-transit, destination, and force structure containerization capabilities consistent with Army transportation requirements. The Army reviews regularly Army container requirements against commercial availability and capability to ensure an adequate number of containers are available on a timely basis to support peacetime and wartime requirements. The Army maintains unit integrity by keeping a unit's equipment together in the same container or the same ship.

The 20 foot long by 81/2 foot high by 8 foot wide ANSI and ISO container is the primary size container for unit equipment shipments. Larger containers may be used in contingency or mobilization operations. However, user capability to handle and transport these containers shall be the overriding consideration; for example, what is the availability or capacity of container-handling equipment? The ISO container is already a standardized part of the world's commercialized shipping and transportation system.

Substantial portions of the Marine Corps Assault Follow-On Echelon (AFOE), Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS), and follow-on sustainment supplies will be transported in 20-foot International Organization for Standardization (ISO) containers. The Marine Corps goal is to optimize the use of containers to improve the utilization of strategic lift, improve force closure for unit equipment and sustainment supplies, improve field warehousing, and improve materiel distribution.

Specific containerization goals contained in the Marine Corps Capabilities Plan are to: (1) develop doctrine for the use and management of containers to move supplies ashore, and warehouse and distribute their contents; (2) develop and incorporate containerization planning and usage training into CSS formal schools; (3) increase containerization capability that is all-service compatible in support of both land and sea based operations; (4) increase containerization and enhance material handling facilities and equipment especially those located on or near container marshaling and control sites; and (5) identify throughput requirements and capabilities for moving containers by road, rail, and sea.

The 20-foot-long by 8-foot-wide ISO container is the primary container for the Marine Corps during development. (NOTE: container height varies; e.g., 8.5 feet, 4.5 feet, etc.) Although 40-foot containers may be received in theater port areas through common-user resupply channels, they will not normally be pushed to units in forward areas. The Marine Corps does not currently have the optimum equipment capability to handle 40-foot containers.

Flatracks are containers without standard sides, ends, or tops. They are used to move items that are too big to fit in a standard container. Some flatracks have end walls, some have four corner posts, and others have fixed A-frames on their ends and no sides.

Unlike a flatrack, a containerized roll-in-roll-out platform, known as a CROP, fits inside a container and is used primarily to haul ammunition. CROPs and the ammunition stored on them are removed from containers after the strategic leg of a force movement, such as from the continental United States (CONUS) to a sea port of debarkation (SPOD). CROPs, along with truck tractors, then are used to move ammunition forward. The tare weight of a CROP is about 3,300 pounds.

Some units have their own containers. The Army refers to its unit-owned family of containers as Equipment Deployment Storage System (EDSS) containers. Examples include the interval slingable units (ISUs), containers express (CONEXs), quadruple containers (QUADCONs), triple containers (TRICONs), and other specialty containers used for such purposes as mortuary affairs, refrigeration, or medical services. ISUs 60 and 90 are 88 inches long, 108 inches wide, and either 60 or 90 inches tall. They are designed to be transported by helicopters, either internally or externally, and can be placed on top of 463L pallets.

Both 20- and 40-foot containers can be placed onboard C-17 Globemaster III and C-5 Galaxy aircraft, but, because of their heavy tare weight, they are not normally transported by air. Instead, 463L pallets are used to aggregate items for storage and air delivery. A 463L pallet has no walls or top. It measures 108 inches long and 88 inches wide and can hold items stacked to a maximum height of about 8 feet. When shrink-wrap and cargo netting are used, a 463L pallet can hold a gross weight of 10,000 pounds. The tare weight of a 463L pallet is about 300 pounds.

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