A Time To Consider Alternative Sources of Quick-Response Sealift Capacity

LCD-78-244: Published: Feb 7, 1979. Publicly Released: Feb 7, 1979.

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In the event of hostilities, the Department of Defense (DOD) must be ready to ship hundreds of thousands of tons of military equipment, supplies, and subsistence items to overseas locations. Many commodities shipped are unsuitable for transporting in modern containerships, and many ports lack the sophisticated facilities needed to accommodate these containerships. Self-sufficient ships, with cranes and cargo handling equipment, are needed. However, the maritime industry is retiring most of these older self-contained ships and replacing them with with containerships which cannot be unloaded at many strategic ports. In order to fill this gap, some self-contained ships are being maintained in a reduced operational status at a unnecessarily high cost to DOD.

The Navy has required the Military Sealift Command (MSC) to make 10 self-sustaining dry cargo ships available to receive cargo within 10 days in the event of a contingency. In an effort to meet this requirement, MSC has begun a program of placing chartered commercial ships in a reduced operational status when not required for routine military sealift missions. A number of of self-sustaining ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) recently have been upgraded to provide quick-response capability. The cost to maintain quick-response capability in NDRF is far less than the cost to charter commercial ships, and the response time of reserve ships is within the time frame specified by the Navy. Planned further strengthening of NDRF, coupled with the commercial sealift capability pledged to DOD under its Sealift Readiness Program, are additional reasons to evaluate the costs and effectiveness of the various alternatives for providing standby shipping capability. Also, fluctuations in the number of ships in a reduced operating status (at times only a single ship) raise some question about the degree of reliance that can be placed on this alternative as a source of immediate response. Discontinuing the reduced operating status concept could save an estimated $3 million to $6 million a year and would not, in GAO's opinion, compromise sealift readiness.

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