Following World War II the primary strategic sealift mission was to rapidly move men and equipment to Europe to defend against a Soviet/Warsaw Pact attack. The central front was 3,600 miles away and sealift would be provided by over 600 NATO merchant vessels and an active U.S. merchant fleet that still numbered 578 major ships as of 1978. Those 578 ships dwindled to 367 over the next 12 years. The Iranian crisis and Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1970s focused emphasis on developing rapid deployment forces to respond to contingencies in distant regions, such as Southwest Asia, in addition to the continuing NATO mission in Europe.
On 1 January 1986, the Near Term Prepositioning Force (NTPF) was renamed as the Navy's Afloat Prepositioning Force which now consists of 12 former NTPF ships, redesignated Prepositioning (PREPO) ships, and 13 Maritime Prepositioning Ships (MPSs) that are designed to support three U.S. Marine Corps, Marine Expeditionary Brigades (MEB).
Because afloat prepositioning proved successful during the Persian Gulf War, DOD's January 1992 Mobility Requirements Study identified a need for the Army to preposition additional combat, combat support, and combat service support equipment and supplies aboard ships. These requirements included supporting the Army's objective of deploying a heavy corps within 75 days in response to either a northeast or southwest Asian scenario. The study established a requirement for an additional 3 million square feet of surge capacity and 2 million square feet of prepositioned capacity by fiscal year 1998. The study recommended that DOD acquire 20 LMSR ships, 9 for prepositioning, and 11 for surge to meet this requirement.
In the 1995 Mobility Requirements Study Bottom-Up Review Update, DOD validated the study's recommendation and reinforced an earlier recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to buy 19 LMSR ships and established a requirement for 10 million square feet of surge capacity and 4 million square feet of prepositioned capacity, for a total capacity of 14 million square feet.
The Army transferred equipment aboard seven roll-on/roll-off ships to five larger temporary ships and then ultimately to eight new Large Medium-Speed Roll-On/Roll-Off ships by 2000. These prepositioning ships have been designed to provide a better controlled-humidity environment below deck, which should help reduce the deterioration of equipment while stored aboard the ships. These eight LMSR ships provide about 2 million square feet of cargo capacity to preposition Army equipment for heavy forces and support units, nearly 50 percent of DOD afloat prepositioning requirements. The remaining 11 LMSR ships will move equipment quickly from the United States to areas of conflict.
The 1992 Mobility Requirements Study, the 1995 Bottom-Up Review, and the 1997 Quadrennial Defense Review reaffirmed the requirements for "defense deployment." To deploy U.S. forces overseas and resupply them, the U.S. Merchant Marine provides U.S.-flag civilian-crewed commercial ships and civilian crews to government-owned support ships. These sealift assets account for about 95 percent of all the tonnage delivered in support of military requirements in peacetime and during times of crisis. Over 4,800 civilian mariners crew the 200 commercial vessels with military features which are included in the Afloat Preposition Force, Fast Sealift Ships, Ready Reserve Force ships, Maritime Security Fleet, and Navy Fleet Auxiliary Force. Over half of these sealift ships are actively deployed or are in commercial service around the globe.
The end state envisioned for strategic airlift and sealift assets to support a single Major Theater War (MTW) is based on the findings of the Mobility Requirements Study Bottom-Up Review Update (MRS BURU). At the farthest reaches of envisioned future threat environments, this single MTW set of lift assets is the minimum required for a moderate risk transportation solution. Sealift capacity is growing primarily by replacing smaller, aging ships with new Large [capacity], Medium-Speed Roll-on/roll-off ships. The LMSRs provide the platforms for the Army's afloat prepositioning program and add significant square footage to the surge fleet. In addition, the Marine Corps added 3 additional RO/RO ships to their Maritime Prepositioning Ships program, bringing the total to 16. DOD rapidly closed to within 550K square feet of the surge capacity required (10 million sqft) to move the force required for a single Major Theater War (MTW).
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