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Military Sealift Command
United States Navy — Sealift Logistics Command — Ship Logo.jpg
The logo of Military Sealift Command shows an outline of a grey ship on a stylized ocean displaying blue and gold stripes.
Active 9 July 1949 – present
Country United States
Branch United States Navy
Current commander RADM (sel.) Thomas K. Shannon, USN
(10 May 2013 – present)

The Military Sealift Command (MSC) is a United States Navy organization that controls most of the replenishment and military transport ships of the Navy. The United States Military Sealift Command has the responsibility for providing sealift and ocean transportation for all US military services as well as for other government agencies. It first came into existence on 9 July 1949 when the Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) became solely responsible for the Department of Defense's ocean transport needs. The MSTS was renamed the Military Sealift Command in 1970.

Military Sealift Command ships are made up of a core fleet of ships owned by the United States Navy and others under long-term-charter augmented by short-term or voyage-chartered ships.[1] The Navy owned ships carry blue and gold stack colors, are in service with the prefix USNS (United States Naval Ship), rather than in commission (a USS prefix), have hull numbers as an equivalent commissioned ship would have with the prefix T- and are civilian manned by either civil service mariners[2] or contract crews as is the case of the special mission ships.[3] Ships on charter or equivalent, retain commercial colors and bear the normal merchant MV, SS, or GTS without hull numbers.

Five programs comprise Military Sealift Command: Combat Logistics Force, Special Mission, Prepositioning, Service Support, and Sealift. The Sealift program provides the bulk of the MSC's supply-carrying operation and operates tankers for fuel transport and dry-cargo ships that transport equipment, vehicles, helicopters, ammunition, and supplies. The Combat Logistics Force’s role is to directly replenish ships that are underway at sea, enabling them to deploy for long periods of time without having to come to port. The Special Mission program operates vessels for unique military and federal government tasks, such as submarine support and missile flight data collection and tracking. The Prepositioning program sustains the US military's forward presence strategy by deploying supply ships in key areas prior to actual need.

MSC reports to the Department of Defense's Transportation Command for defense transportation matters, to the Navy Fleet Forces Command for Navy-unique matters, and to the Assistant Secretary of the Navy (Research, Development and Acquisition) for procurement policy and oversight matters.[4]

Command structure

Military Sealift Command is organized around five programs:

On 9 January 2012, the MSC command organization was reorganized via a realignment of its structure to increase its efficiency while maintaining effectiveness. To better manage this new program structure, MSC repositioned three of its key Senior Executive Service (SES) personnel, with one SES acting as the program executive over MSC's government-operated ships, a second SES serving as the program executive over contract-operated ships, and a third SES overseeing total force manpower management for MSC worldwide operations. Also, MSC realigned two of its four mission-driven programs (Combat Logistics Force and Special Mission) and adding a fifth program (Service Support). The Prepositioning and Sealift programs are unchanged by the 2012 reorganization.[5]

As of June 2013, Military Sealift Command operated around 110 ships, and employed 9,800 people (88% of whom are civilians).[6]

Combat Logistics Force

A Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force ship, USNS Kanawha, bearing the blue-and-gold stripes on its stack

The Combat Logistics Force is the part of the MSC most associated with directly supporting the Navy. In 1972, a study concluded that it would be cheaper for civilians to man USN support vessels such as tankers and stores ships. The CLF is the American equivalent of the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary. These MSC ships are painted haze gray and can be easily identified by the blue and gold horizontal bands around the top of their central smokestack.

The Combat Logistics Force was formerly called the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force.[7] After a 2012 reorganization, this program now maintains the 32 government-operated fleet underway replenishment ships from the former Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (NFAF), such as dry cargo/ammunition ships, fast combat support ships, ammunition ships, and fleet replenishment oilers. Some of its ships were transferred to the new Service Support program.[5]

Combat Logistics Force ship types

  • Dry Cargo/Ammunition Ships (T-AKE)
  • Fast Combat Support Ships (T-AOE)
  • Fleet Replenishment Oilers (T-AO)

Special Mission program

Military Sealift Command's Special Mission Program controls 24 ships that provide operating platforms and services for unique US Military and federal government missions. Oceanographic and hydrographic surveys, underwater surveillance, missile flight data collection and tracking, acoustic research and submarine support are among the specialized services this program supports. Special mission ships work for several different US Navy customers, including the Naval Sea Systems Command and the Oceanographer of the Navy. These ships like those of the NFAF are painted haze gray with blue and gold stack bands.

After a 2012 reorganization, this program now maintains all of its 24 contract-operated ships involved in missile range instrumentation, ocean surveillance, submarine and special warfare support, oceanographic survey, and navigation test support. Some of its ships were transferred to the new Service Support program.[5]

Special Mission ship types

  • Missile Range Instrumentation Ships (T-AGM)
  • Navigation Test Support Ship (T-AGS)
  • Ocean Surveillance Ships (T-AGOS)
  • Oceanographic Survey Ships (T-AGS)
  • Submarine and Special Warfare Support Ships
  • Sea-based X-band Radar and MV C Champion.

Prepositioning program

Military Sealift Command's Prepositioning Program is an element in the US's triad of power projection into the 21st century—sea shield, sea strike and sea basing. As a key element of sea basing, afloat prepositioning provides the military equipment and supplies for a contingency forward deployed in key ocean areas before need. The MSC Prepositioning Program supports the US Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and the Defense Logistics Agency. Prepositioning ships remain at sea, ready to deploy on short-notice the vital equipment, fuel and supplies to initially support military forces in the event of a contingency. The Prepositioning Program consists of 34 at-sea ships plus 2 aviation support ships kept in reduced operating status. These ships wear civilian livery, and are only designated "USNS" if government-owned; those chartered from civilian owners are either "SS" or "MV".

Prepositioning Program ship types

  • Air Force Container Ships (T-AK)
  • Army Container Ships (T-AK)
  • Aviation Logistics Support Ships (T-AVB)
  • Break-Bulk Ships (T-AK)
  • High-Speed Vessels (HSV)
  • Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-On/Roll-Off Ships (T-AKR)
  • Marine Corps Container and Roll-On/Roll-Off Ships (T-AK/T-AKR)

Service Support program

This program was created as a result of a 2012 reorganization. It consists of four government-operated ships formerly in the Special Mission program (i.e., two submarine tenders, one command ship, and one cable laying and repair ship), as well as the 10 government-operated ships formerly from NFAF (i.e., hospital ships, fleet ocean tugs, and rescue and salvage ships).[5]

Service Support ship types

  • Afloat Forward Staging Base
  • Cable Laying/Repair Ship (T-ARC)
  • Command Ship (LCC)
  • Fleet Ocean Tugs (T-ATF)
  • Hospital Ships (T-AH)
  • Rescue/Salvage Ships (T-ARS)
  • Submarine Tender

Sealift Program

The mission of the Sealift Program is to provide ocean transportation to the Department of Defense by meeting its sealift requirements in peace, contingency, and war with quality, efficient cost effective assets and centralized management. This is achieved through the use of commercial charter vessels, Large, Medium-Speed Roll-on/Roll-off ships, and the Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force, including the eight former MSC fast sealift ships. Sealift is divided into three separate project offices: Tanker Project Office, Dry Cargo Project Office and the Surge Project Office.

Sealift Program Ship Types

  • Dry Cargo Ships (T-AK)
  • Large, Medium-Speed, Roll-On/Roll-Off Ships (T-AKR)
  • Tankers (T-AOT)

Area Commands

MSC headquarters is located at Washington Navy Yard in Washington, DC. As a result of a 2012 organization, MSC's 12 worldwide MSC ship support units (SSU) will now report to the MSC operational area commands in their respective areas of responsibility. These are responsible for crewing, training, equipping and maintaining MSC's government-owned, government-operated ships.[5][8]

  • MSC Atlantic in Norfolk
  • MSC Pacific in San Diego
  • MSC Europe & Africa in Naples
  • MSC Central in Bahrain
  • MSC Far East in Singapore

Formerly, these SSUs had reported to MSC's Military Sealift Fleet Support Command (MSFSC), a subordinate command of Military Sealift Command and is a single Type Commander execution command having worldwide responsibility to crew, train, equip and maintain MSC government-owned, government-operated ships. MSFSC officially stood up on 13 November 2005. Stand up of the Ship Support Units (SSU) followed establishment of MSFSC, their parent command. SSU San Diego stood up in conjunction with MSFSC. By late 2008, all subordinate SSUs were fully operational.

MSFSC was formed from the following MSC elements: Portions of Sealift Logistics Command Atlantic and the former Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force East; Portions of Sealift Logistics Command Pacific; Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force West (except those positions remaining in SSU San Diego); and The Afloat Personnel Management Center.

MSFSC was also responsible for providing support to other MSC assets as directed. MSFSC has ship support units, or SSUs, in Naples, Bahrain, Singapore, Guam, Yokohama and San Diego. The SSUs (except for Guam and Yokohama) are collocated with their respective numbered fleet operational logistics task force commanders and Sealift Logistics Commands, but are not within that chain of command. SSUs provide local TYCOM support to ships in their area of operations and report directly to MSFSC.


Military sea transportation prior to 1949

As early as 1847, both the U.S. Army and U.S. Navy chartered American merchant ships separately. Following the Mexican-American War, Brigadier General Thomas S. Jesup, Quartermaster of the Army, recommended that the Navy be given responsibility for all water transportation requirements for the military. However, each service managed their own sea transportation throughout the nineteenth century and both World Wars.

In World War II, four different government agencies conducted military sealift functions, the Naval Overseas Transportation Service, the Army Transport Service, the U.S. Maritime Commission's War Shipping Administration, and the Fleet Support Services. To oversee these organizations, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) established the Joint Military Transportation Command.

Military Sea Transportation Service

On 15 December 1948, the Secretary of Defense James Forrestal issued a statement, "all military sea transport including Army transports would be placed under Navy command." Issues with funding held up the transfer of the functions to the Navy. The new Secretary of Defense, Louis Johnson, issued a memorandum on 12 July 1949 that detailed service responsibilities and the funding of the new Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS).[9]

MSTS became the single managing agency for the Department of Defense's ocean transportation needs. The command assumed responsibility for providing sealift and ocean transportation for all military services as well as for other government agencies. The new command set up subcomponents, for example, Military Sea Transportation Service Pacific (ComMSTSPac).

Nine months after its creation, MSTS responded to the challenge of the Korean War. On 6 July 1950, eleven days after the initial invasion of South Korea by North Korean troops, MSTS deployed the 24th Infantry Division for duty in Japan to Pusan, South Korea. In addition to transporting troops and combat equipment to and from Korea, command ships supplied US bases and Distant Early Warning line construction sites and supported US nation building efforts from Europe and Africa, to the Far East.

The 1960s brought the conflict in Southeast Asia. From 1965 to 1969 MSTS moved almost 54 million Short ton of combat equipment and supplies and almost 8 million long tons of fuel to Vietnam. The Vietnam War era also marked the last use of MSC troop ships for personnel movement. Currently, most US troops are prepositioned by air.

Military Sealift Command

MSTS was renamed Military Sealift Command (MSC) in 1970. In 1971 Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Elmo Zumwalt proposed the use of MSC ships for direct support of the fleet at sea. Heretofore, these civilian-manned ships had only been used for point to point transport of cargo. To determine the feasibility of this concept, Admiral Zumwalt directed the formation of a special study group to recommend how the navy could better utilize the MSC fleet to save both manpower and money. The high cost of training personnel after the advent of the all-volunteer navy made it imperative that seagoing personnel be assigned to complex warships of the fleet whenever possible. The study concluded that significant savings could be achieved if civilian mariners could be substituted for uniformed navy sailors in fleet support ships.

In 1972 a joint U.S. Navy-Maritime Administration project called "Charger Log" was established to test whether or not a union-crewed merchant ship could provide some or all of the fleet support services normally provided by navy oilers. Extensive trials were conducted using the civilian manned merchant tanker SS Erna Elizabeth equipped with both alongside and astern fueling gear to test the feasibility of augmenting (not replacing) the service force with ships of the merchant marine. The success of 'Charger Log' contributed to the formation of the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force.

The navy oiler USS Taluga (AO-62) was the first fleet-support ship to be placed under MSC control.[10] Decommissioned on 4 May 1972, she was transferred to the MSC and redesignated T-AO-62. After its transfer, the ship underwent a thorough overhaul that included refurbishment of equipment, gear, and refueling rigs, modification of crew quarters, and the removal of armaments. She entered service with a crew of 105 civilian mariners hired by the government augmented by a sixteen-member naval complement.

The shortage of multiproduct replenishment ships in the early 1970s led to the development of an improvised system for dispensing fuel from ammunition and stores ships that allowed them to transfer fuel to smaller combatants. Neither type of ship had cargo fuel, but each could share its own fuel with destroyers and frigates in an emergency. The lack of sufficient numbers of AOEs or AORs precluded the deployment of these types in support of any of the surface warfare groups, which were generally composed of destroyers and frigates. The old saw that necessity is the mother of invention proved to be true when Rear Admiral John Johnson devised a practical solution to the shortage of fuel-carrying UNREP ships based on the modification of existing cargo transfer gear on ammunition and stores ships. As commander Task Force 73 (the service force of the Seventh Fleet) in 1973, Admiral Johnson had to contend with the problem of how to provide logistic support for the two Seventh Fleet destroyers deployed to the Indian Ocean for an extended period of time. The answer was to turn the USS Kiska (AE-35) into a mini multiproduct ship by adding two cargo reefer boxes as deck cargo and outfitting it with a jury-rigged fuel station. The latter was achieved by temporarily rigging a 7-inch fuel hose to the starboard side cargo station—the one closest to the ship's fuel receiving raiser. The highline was used as a span wire, and fuel hose saddles were supported from a wire whip from a nearby hauling winch or a fiber whip from a nearby gypsy. Fuel was pumped from the ship's own fuel bunkers to the receiving ship alongside using the fuel-transfer pump normally carried aboard the AE. The pumping rate was considerably less than that of a fleet oiler and, while workable, contained many drawbacks.

By the time the USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO-187) entered service on 19 December 1986, the Navy had transferred the five Second World War vintage tankers of the Mispillion class and the six 1950s-built Neosho class fleet oilers to the Military Sealift Command.

Through the 1970s and 1980s MSC provided the Department of Defense with ocean transportation. During the first Persian Gulf War, consisting of Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, MSC distinguished itself as the largest source of defense transportation of any nation involved. Command resources delivered more than 12 million tons (11 million metric tonnes) of wheeled and tracked vehicles, helicopters, ammunition, dry cargo, fuel and other supplies and equipment during the war. At the high point of the war, more than 230 government-owned and chartered ships delivering the largest part of the international arsenal that defeated Saddam Hussein in Iraq. MSC was also involved in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, delivering 61,000,000 square feet (5.7 km2) of cargo and 1,100,000,000 US gallons (4,200,000 m3) of fuel by the end of the first year.

See also


  1. "Sealift Ships". Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  2. "Combat Logistics Force". Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  3. "Special Mission Ships". Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 19 April 2013. 
  4. "About MSC". U.S. Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 "Military Sealift Command Reorganizes to Increase Efficiency/Cut Costs". NNS120109-10. Military Sealift Command Public Affairs. 9 January 2012. Retrieved 2012-01-09. 
  6. "U.S. Defense Logistics by the Numbers: The Cheatsheet". 13 June 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013. 
  7. "Combat Logistics Force (PM1)". U.S. Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  8. "Navy Sealift Command Worldwide Locations". Military Sealift Command. Retrieved 21 August 2014. 
  9. Salvatore R. Mercogliano (29 November 2000). "One Hundred Years in the Making: The Birth of Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS)". American Merchant Marine at War. Retrieved 22 March 2009. 
  10. Thomas Wildenburg, Grey Steel and Black Oil


External links

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