The mission of Military Sealift Command is to provide ocean transportation of equipment, fuel, supplies and ammunition to sustain U.S. forces worldwide during peacetime and in war for as long as operational requirements dictate. During a war, more than 95 percent of all the equipment and supplies needed by U.S. military forces overseas is carried by sea.
Military Sealift Command is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and has area commands in Norfolk, Va.; San Diego, Calif.; Naples, Italy; Manama, Bahrain; and Singapore.
MSC operates more than 120 ships worldwide on a day-to-day basis and, if needed, has access to more than 100 ships usually kept in reduced operating status in U.S. ports.
MSC employs more than 10,000 people worldwide; more than 80 percent serve at sea. MSC's workforce includes federal civil service personnel, commercial mariners, active duty military members and military reservists. All MSC ships, unlike other U.S. Navy ships, are crewed by civilians. Some ships have small military departments assigned to carry out communication, supply and aviation functions.
Military Sealift Command reports through three distinct and separate chains of command:
- To the Commander, U.S. Fleet Forces Command for Navy transport matters,
- To the Commander, U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM) for defense transportation issues, and
- To the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition for procurement policy and oversight matters.
The command is organized around four programs representing primary business operations:
The Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force provides the bulk of the Navy's combat logistics services, the lifelines to U.S. Navy ships at sea. Providing fuel, food, ammunition, spare parts and other supplies, NFAF ships enable the Navy fleet to remain at sea, on station and combat ready. In addition to delivering supplies at sea, NFAF ships also conduct towing and salvage operations and serve as afloat hospital ships.
The Special Mission Program provides unique operating platforms and services for a variety of U.S. military and federal government missions. Specialized services include oceanographic and hydrographic surveys, underwater surveillance, missile tracking, acoustic surveys and submarine support.
The Prepositioning Program strategically places military equipment and supplies aboard ships in key ocean areas for the U.S. Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Defense Logistics Agency and Navy. Prepositioning ships remain at sea, ready on short notice to deliver vital equipment, fuel and supplies to support U.S. military forces in the event of a major theater war, humanitarian operation or other contingency. MSC prepositioning ships are located in three strategic areas: the Mediterranean Sea and eastern Atlantic Ocean, the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific Ocean.
The Sealift Program provides ocean transportation for the Department of Defense and other government agencies using commercially chartered and government-owned dry cargo ships and tankers. Sealift ships carry DOD cargo to ports not served by regularly scheduled U.S. commercial ocean liners. MSC also has access to the U.S. Maritime Administration's Ready Reserve Force.
Following World War II, all U.S. ocean transportation related to national defense was placed under the U.S. Navy, centralizing a mission that was formerly divided among various military services and civilian agencies. Military Sea Transportation Service was established in 1949 and was responsible for ocean transportation for the Department of Defense. In 1970, MSTS was renamed Military Sealift Command.
The Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement, or VISA, a partnership between the U.S. government and the maritime industry, provides joint planning and assured access to commercial shipping at pre-agreed rates during a national emergency. In return, participating maritime companies receive a subsidy from the federal government or are awarded peacetime defense cargo movement contracts.
The transition from peace to war begins with prepositioned ships loaded with combat cargo and fuel. From strategic locations around the world, prepositioning ships are usually the first ships to respond to a contingency. Sealift Program operations can expand dramatically to move massive amounts of heavy armored combat equipment and other war-fighter supplies from U.S. bases to the theater of operation. MSC first looks to the commercial market to charter suitable U.S.-flagged ships. If necessary, foreign-flagged ships may be used. MSC may also activate government-owned surge sealift ships, normally kept in reduced operating status.
As the United States continues to draw down the size of its land-based military presence overseas, our military's readiness and rapid response capabilities will depend increasingly on MSC's presence maintaining "Forward . . . From the Sea."
MSC, with its wide array of ocean transportation resources and its highly trained personnel, performs vital missions around the clock and around the globe. MSC delivers!
For more detailed information, visit MSC Overview