Surge Sealift Fleet (SSF)
The nineteen-ship surge sealift fleet (SSF) is optimized for the rapid transoceanic transport of joint ground combat equipment from CONUS. These ships are operated by the MSC, which maintains them in American ports at a high state of readiness (with activation times of ninety-six hours or less). They are designed to load and transport mechanized and armored combat units.
A robust and responsive surge sealift fleet is a critical element of U.S. national security strategy. The ability to move U.S. forces and military equipment enables the United States to defend and promote vital interests anywhere in the world. This is especially true as the nation continues to draw down its shore-based infrastructure overseas. The MSC Surge Project Office manages strategic sealift ships that can be activated from reduced operating status to support the U.S. military in exercises, contingencies and war. More than 50 surge sealift ships have been activated for Operation Enduring Freedom since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The ships assigned to the Surge Sealift fleets all require a deepwater port or anchorage to discharge their cargos. They are optimized for pierside unloading, using their roll-on/roll-off ramps; however, they all have cranes and can off-load their cargos "in stream"-up to four miles from the shore-albeit at much slower rates than is possible pierside. The personnel associated with the equipment carried by the Surge Sealift Fleet are flown to a nearby airfield to marry up with the equipment and prepare for combat in a procedure known as "reception, staging, onward movement, and integration" (RSOI). This process can take a week or longer. In other words, the forces associated with these ships are not ready to fight when delivered to a distant theater.
Eight of the ships are former high-speed merchant ships built in the early 1970s; although relatively old, they remain the world's fastest oceangoing cargo ships. With speeds in excess of 30 knots, these ships can sail from the U.S. East Coast to Europe in less than six days and to the Persian Gulf in 18 days, ensuring U.S. war fighters the quick delivery of needed equipment and supplies. Together, these eight fast sealift ships (FSSs) are capable of lifting nearly all the equipment associated with a legacy Army mechanized division.
The remainder of the SSF consists of eleven LMSRs. These eleven ships-along with eight sisters in the CPF and one in the MPF-are the largest, most capable military RO/RO ships in the world. They were built on the recommendation of the aforementioned Mobility Requirements Study. MSC's large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ships, or LMSRs, are among the largest cargo ships in the world and can carry up to 380,000 square feet of combat cargo -- the equivalent of more than six football fields of wheeled and tracked vehicles -- at speeds up to 24 knots. LMSRs are equipped with on board ramps and cranes to assist in loading oversize cargo including helicopters, M1A1 tanks and Bradley armored personnel carriers. MSC operates eleven surge LMSRs using commercial operating companies to crew and maintain the ships as necessary in order to be ready to sail within 96 hours of notification. Their large capacity allows them to carry every vehicle in the joint force, as well as an armored battalion task force that is approximately 75 percent the size of a new Army brigade-sized UA. It would require between thirty-eight and fifty-two C-17 transport sorties to carry a similar load.
In addition to the Sealift Program's government-owned and three long-term, commercially chartered dry cargo ships and tankers, the ships of the U.S. Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force, or RRF, come under MSC's operational control when they are activated. These government-owned ships offset a lack of suitable military cargo ships in the U.S. commercial sector. Normally kept in four-, five-, 10- or 20-day reduced operating status, the 59 militarily useful ships come under MSC control when activated. Ships may be activated for humanitarian operations, military exercises and contingencies and for war. The RRF includes tankers, crane ships, roll-on/roll-off ships, heavy lift ships, lighter-aboard-ship vessels and modular cargo delivery system ships. MSC charters additional commercial ships or activates RRF ships whenever mission requirements call for more capacity. Thirty-three RRF ships were directly involved in Operation Iraqi Freedom, delivering more than nine million square feet of combat cargo for U.S. forces in Iraq.
During mobilization for the continuing global war on terrorism, the MSC surge fleet of LMSRs and FSS delivered 10.8 million square feet of cargo. This was approximately 55 percent of the total dry cargo carried by all MSC government-owned and chartered ships during FY 2005.
During FY 2005, the Surge Project LMSRs delivered more than 4.6 million square feet of cargo in 24 voyages. This averaged 191,770 square feet per ship per voyage. MSC's eight fast sealift ships, although older than the LMSRs, remain the fastest cargo ships in the world, capable of sailing from the U.S. East Coast to the Persian Gulf in 18 days. Fast sealift ships delivered one million square feet of combat cargo for Operation Iraqi Freedom in FY 2005.
In September 2005, four fast sealift ships berthed in New Orleans played a large roll in the humanitarian relief efforts that followed Hurricane Katrina. Because USNS Pollux did not sortie during the storm, she lent aid to nearby hospitals just hours after the storm. Pollux and the other ships provided meals and respite for emergency responders and fuel to power emergency generators. Pollux also provided the necessary water pressure for life-saving dialysis machines when local water pressure failed.
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|