WWW.SEAPOWERMAGAZINE.ORG 60 SEAPOWER / MAY 2016
MSP Provides Economical
Sealift Capability to DoD
A POINT OF VIEW By JAMES CAPONITI
Though it’s not readily appar- ent to the average American, the national security role of
the U.S. Merchant Marine — and its
importance — is routinely acknowledged by those of us whose livelihood is connected to the maritime
industry. Beginning with the fight
for independence in 1775, the U.S.
maritime industry has supported wartime engagements.
It has been a dependable strategic asset, having been
called upon repeatedly to deliver U.S. military personnel
and materiel to areas of conflict or emergency.
Perhaps most notably, the U.S. maritime industry and
civilian citizen mariners were integral to the Allied Forces’
victory in World War II, leading President Franklin D.
Roosevelt to refer to our industry as the “fourth arm of
defense.” That label still applies in the 21st century.
The U.S.-flag industry’s sealift mission in support of
military operations in Afghanistan (Operation Enduring
Freedom — OEF) and Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom
— OIF) was historically efficient, having delivered more
than 90 percent of all cargoes bound to and from those
countries throughout a decade of conflict.
Sealift capability had been re-engineered within the
U.S. government during the 1990s as a consequence of
“lessons learned” from the first Gulf War in 1990-91.
The “Persian Gulf Conflict” highlighted a need for more
effective and dependable sealift assets from the U.S.-flag
commercial fleet, as well as upgraded reserve capacity in
the government-owned surge fleet. The sealift mission
for that operation revealed an insufficient availability
of commercial vessels to meet military planners’ lift
requirements and readiness deficiencies were encountered during the activation of numerous government
reserve vessels. As a consequence, the Department of
Defense (DoD) was forced to charter foreign-flag vessels
to satisfy 23 percent of its dry cargo lift requirement.
Throughout the multiyear effort to revitalize U.S.-flag
sealift, special attention was directed toward gaining
assured access to militarily useful U.S.-flag commer-
cial vessels. To achieve that outcome, the Maritime
Administration (MARAD) collaborated with the DoD’s
U.S. Transportation Command to develop and imple-
ment the Maritime Security Program (MSP) and a com-
panion sealift readiness program.
MSP is a public/private partnership that provides DoD
its most cost-effective source for sealift. Originally sized
to support 47 ships, the 60-ship MSP promotes U.S.-flag
shipping and the employment of well-trained U.S. citizen mariners. Together with legislative preference cargo
mandates applicable to military and civilian government-impelled cargoes, MSP enables the United States to
maintain a flag presence in international waterborne
trades, thereby assuring that the nation’s economic and
security interests are served.
MSP’s value to the government is manifested in many
ways. Though national security and sealift readiness
during emergencies are the underlying purposes for the
program, MSP plays an integral role in sustaining civilian jobs to retain an active mariner pool and provides a
multiplier effect of economic benefits that accrue from
promoting a U.S.-flag foreign trade fleet. The mariner
pool itself is a fundamental element of sealift readiness,
and crewing requirements exceed commercial needs
since activated government-owned vessels depend upon
the same source for qualified personnel, i.e., civilian
mariners with deep-sea credentials. MSP benefits the
DoD by enhancing national control of sealift resources
and capability to satisfy transportation and logistical
needs during peacetime and in emergencies.
The Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA)
is a contractual mechanism developed to complement
MSP and assure that DoD has time-phased access to
commercial U.S.-flag dry cargo vessels, intermodal systems and citizen crews in wartime and during emergencies. MSP carriers are required by law, and by their MSP
agreements, to enroll those vessels and related assets in
the program (similarly, two MSP product tankers are
enrolled in the Voluntary Tanker Agreement).