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Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS)

The MPS are divided into three MPS Squadrons that report to their respective COMPSRONs. (* Denotes Flagship/Alternate Flagship with COMPSRON staff embarked and secure communication capabilities.) The MPS are organized into three squadrons, each commanded by a Navy captain. MPS Squadron One, usually located in the Atlantic Ocean or Mediterranean Sea, has five ships; MPS Squadron Two, usually located at Diego Garcia, has five ships; and MPS Squadron Three, normally in the Guam/Saipan area, has five ships.

The Marine Corps' Maritime Prepositioning Force [MPF] mission is to support the rapid deployment of Marine forces by providing mobile, long-term storage of equipment and supplies near areas of potential trouble. When trouble arises -- such as Operation Desert Storm or Restore Hope in Somalia -- these ships can respond immediately to provide rapid deployment forces with critical sustaining support. The MPF concept calls for Marines and Sailors to fly into a secured airfield to link up with the MPF ships. More than 17,000 Marines and Sailors can be flown in on fewer than 250 aircraft sorties. If the equipment on the ships had to be flown in with the Marines and Sailors, it would take more than 3,000 sorties.

Some MSC prepositioning ships are specially configured to transport supplies for the US Marine Corps. Known as the Maritime Prepositioning Force, these ships were built or modified in the mid-1980s and are on location in the western Pacific Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Ships from one MPSRON are interchangeable with ships from any other. The Maritime Prepositioning Ships, or MPS, contain nearly everything the Marines need for initial military operations -- from tanks and ammunition to food and fuel to spare parts and engine oil.

An MPF operation is the rapid deployment and assembly of a Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) in a permissive area using a combination of strategic airlift and forward-deployed Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPS). Each maritime prepositioning ship squadrons (MPSRON) has been assigned to a specific Marine Expeditionary Force [MEF] to support a designated regional Commander-In-Chief (CINC). Each squadron is embarked to support two Force Modules (FM). The largest FM is a 16,500 - 17,600-man MPF Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) supported from all the ships of a MPSRON with additional FIE supported by strategic airlift. Each MPSRON prepositions sufficient Maritime Prepositioning Equipment and Supplies (MPE/S) to sustain a MPF MEB for 30 days. The smallest FM is a 2,700-2,800-man MPF Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU). An MPF operation may consist of one ship and an appropriate-sized Fly In Echelon (FIE) such as a Marine Expeditionary Unit, or at the other end of the scale, all three maritime prepositioning ship squadrons combined support a MEF sized unit. Each individual squadron is prepositioned with the concept of interoperability, so each MEF must be prepared to utilize any or all MPSRONs during contingency or exercise planning.

MPF and amphibious operations are complementary capabilities; one is not an equivalent substitute for the other. Amphibious operations provide the means for forcible entry, while MPF permits rapid deployment into permissive areas where force introduction is essentially unopposed and is expected to remain so through the arrival and assembly phase. Amphibious operations can be used in the same environment as MPF, but the inverse is not true. The MPF possesses heavier forces with greater sustainment than that typically available to amphibious forces. MPF and Amphibious operations are complementary capabilities; One is not an equivalent substitute for the other. MPF is not Joint Logistics Over The Shore (JLOTS), strategic sealift, or a floating warehouse to be used for spare parts or sustainment. Such inappropriate use of equipment and supplies would significantly degrade MPF capability and could jeopardize the CINC's ability to employ the MAGTF.

There are three initial MPS configurations which are typically referred to by the name of the operating company: AMSEA (American Overseas) , Maersk and Waterman. Each of these configurations could be considered functionally equivalent to a ship class. The three MPS operating companies are Maersk Line Ltd. (Maersk), Waterman Steamship Corp. (Waterman), and American Overseas Marine Corporation (AMSEA). The MPS operating companies each operate their respective class of MPS for MSC. Each of the 13 MPS have their own separate time charter. These charters are all very similar in the terms and conditions with the exception of differences with the MPS ship classes (e.g., contract speed, fuel consumption, deadweight carrying capacity).

One additional Maritime Prepositioning Force vessel was added to each squadron. Unlike the current ships which are all under long-term charters -- the Maritime Prepositioning Force (Enhanced) ships, or MPF(E), are US government-owned vessels crewed by contractor-employed mariners. Fiscal year 2000 saw the delivery and deployment of the first Maritime Prepositioning Force (Enhanced) vessel, USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin. The ship loaded at Blount Island, Fla., and deployed to Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron One in the Mediterranean Sea in June. The ship improves the squadron's current capabilities by carrying expeditionary airfield, Seabee and fleet hospital cargo. USNS 1st Lt. Harry L. Martin is MSC's first Maritime Prepositioning Force (Enhanced) vessel.

Blount Island Command [BICMD] is subordinate to Marine Corps Logistics Command (MARCORLOGCOM) and is located on the north side of Jacksonville, Florida on the St. Johns River. BICMD plans, coordinates, and executes the logistics efforts of the MPF Maintenance Cycle (MMC) in support of the MPF Program. The MMC is a continuous process that renews the equipment and supplies (E/S) embarked on each MPS. Over a 36 month rotation period, each MPS will sequentially depart its assigned AO, arrive at BICMD, and offload its equipment and supplies. The equipment and supplies undergo a 45-60 day process of being inspected, repaired, replaced, and/or rotated. The process is completed once the MPS is backloaded with condition code A (SL-3 complete) equipment and accompanying supplies. The majority of the work is done on site at BICMD, but some of the maintenance is done at a depot or other locations and replacement items are sent to BICMD based on the requirements and MPS departure schedule. During this same period, the MPS will undergo its own maintenance cycle at contracted shipyards within the CONUS. The ship returns to BICMD upon completion of its shipyard maintenance, is backloaded, and returns to its assigned AO.


Each MPS squadron carries sufficient equipment and supplies to sustain 17,000 Marine Corps Air Ground Task Force personnel for up to 30 days. Each ship can discharge cargo either pierside or while anchored offshore using lighterage carried aboard. This capability gives the Marine Corps the ability to operate in both developed and underdeveloped areas of the world.

    Partial list of a sample loadout of the four MPSRON One ships
    Quantity	Item
      5.2		Million gallons cargo fuel
    2,174		50,000-pound cargo containers
       76		TOW missile launchers
       24		Light armored vehicles (LAV)
      105		Amphibious assault vehicles (AAV)
       30		Combat tanks (M1A1)
       30		155mm howitzers
      123		Electrical generators
        1		Field hospital (200 beds)
       14		50,000-pound container handlers
        8		25-ton cranes
       16		7.5-ton cranes
       47		Floodlight sets
        7		Tactical airfield fuel dispensing systems
        6		Motorized road graders
        4		Wheeled scraper trackers
      104		3,000-gallon collapsible fabric tanks
       50		Tractors (various types)
      107		Forklift trucks (various types)
       41		Reverse osmosis water purification units
      203		Cargo trailers
       89		Powered trailers (various types)
      282		5-ton cargo trucks
       42		5-ton dump trucks
       22		5-ton wrecker trucks
      530		Cargo/troop carriers (HMMWV)
    

The Navy-USMC maritime prepositioning program was begun in the late 1970s as a result of a DOD strategic mobility enhancement initiative to improve response times for SWA contingencies. Until the full Maritime Prepositioning Force (MPF) capability (specially built or converted ships) was achieved in the mid 1980s, an interim measure known as Near-Term Prepositioning Ships (NTPS) was created in 1980 to provide an initial response capability. The NTPS ships were on station at Diego Garcia by July 1980 and contained the equipment and 30 days of supplies for a USMC Brigade. By early 1985, the first combination RO/RO and breakbulk ships specifically built or converted for the Navy had been commissioned and were loaded with prepositioned vehicles, equipment, and supplies. By 1987, a total of 13 ships organized in three squadrons had been commissioned, crewed with civilian mariners, loaded, and deployed. The ships were more than just floating warehouses. Each of the three ships carried equipment for a Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), along with enough supply sustainment for at least 30 days. The squadrons were associated with a specific MEB to ensure effective planning and training. MPS-1, associated with the 6th MEB and stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC, was deployed in the western Atlantic; MPS-2, associated with the 7th MEB in California, was anchored at Diego Garcia; and MPS-3, associated with the Hawaii-based 1st MEB, was home ported at Guam and Saipan. Together, each squadron and its associated MEB become an MPF.

The Marine Corps deployment in the Gulf War was a confirmation of the efficacy of maritime prepositioning ships. The MPS squadron at Diego Garcia was ordered underway on 10 August, and it arrived in the port of Al Jubayl on the 16th. The personnel of the 7th Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) flew in, "married up" with their equipment, and were in defensive positions north of Al Jubayl by 25 August. The Army 82d Airborne Division had troops on the ground earlier, but it was the Marines, with the armor and artillery delivered by the MPS ships, that offered the first credible deterrence to a mechanized attack.

The MPF concept performed largely as expected during the Persian Gulf War, due to an aggressive training, exercise, and maintenance program carried out during the 1980s. Exercises had established planning goals of about 250 strategic airlift sorties to deploy a MEB; this figure was confirmed by the 7th MEB, which deployed to Saudi Arabia using 259 sorties. (The additional nine sorties reflected the addition of an infantry battalion and more helicopter antitank assets to the MEB.) The expected time of 10 days to unload ships and marry equipment with arriving units was met by all three MPFs. In fact, 7th MEB combat elements occupied defensive positions near Al-Jubayl in August within four days of their arrival. The only problem encountered during initial deployment of the 7th MEB centered on refueling support to Marine fixed-wing aircraft flying from CONUS, which competed for scarce assets with other Service aircraft. Elements of 1st MEB and ll MEF, although deployed using MPF concepts, did not do so as complete units. Instead, their air, ground, and logistics elements were deployed and integrated into I MEF as they arrived, drawing their equipment from their associated MPS ships.

MPS Squadron One ships prepositioned in the Mediterranean participated in exercises Northern Lights and Sharkhunt in fiscal year 1999. Northern Lights exercised a multinational fleet of NATO maritime forces in crisis-response operations in the north Atlantic. Sharkhunt validated U.S. units' proficiency in undersea warfare in a very challenging Mediterranean acoustic environment.

In October and November 1999, MPS Squadron Two vessel MV Hauge participated in exercise Bright Star. The exercise was designed to improve interoperability between coalition forces during joint operations. Hauge's participation consisted of a partial download of the vessel's cargo for use during this eleven nation exercise.

MPS Squadron Three vessels assigned to Guam and Saipan participated in a range of fleet support and training operations in 1999. The vessels also deployed to Gladstone, Australia, for exercise Crocodile 99, showcasing the versatility of the MPS and validating the full range of pierside, at anchorage and liquid cargo off-loads of which these ships are capable. The ships also participated in exercise Tafakula 99, promoting relations between the United States and the Tongan navy.



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