Military Afloat Prepositioning:

Wartime Use and Issues for the Future

NSIAD-93-39: Published: Nov 4, 1992. Publicly Released: Nov 9, 1992.

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Mark E. Gebicke
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Department of Defense's (DOD) Mobility Requirements Study, focusing on: (1) the use of afloat prepositioning during the Persian Gulf War; (2) post-war improvements in afloat prepositioning; and (3) issues related to expansion of afloat prepositioning.

GAO found that: (1) maritime prepositioning ships began arriving in Saudi Arabia 8 days after the beginning of Operation Desert Shield, compared to 20 days for fast sealift ships and 30 days for Ready Reserve and chartered ships departing from the United States; (2) two Marine brigades using equipment from prepositioning ships and an airborne division were the only combat units that were at full strength one month after the beginning of Operation Desert Shield; (3) after unloading, ships were used for additional sealift or storage duties, and one was reloaded and returned to the Pacific in case of a crisis there; (4) in addition to its ships, the Air Force had some equipment prepositioned in Saudi Arabia; and (5) after noting problems in the Gulf War deployment, the Marine Corps initiated improvements in its afloat prepositioning, such as better matching inventories to its needs, matching a ship's cargo to a specific combat unit type so all ships would not have to be deployed in every crisis, revising doctrine and personnel training for ship unloading, and fielding improved automated inventory systems at all fleet marine force locations. GAO also found that: (1) DOD is planning to expand its sealift capabilities, including designing new prepositioning ships, and increasing the Army contingent to 15 ships; (2) the DOD study considered less expensive land prepositioning near potential conflict sites, but DOD opted for the greater flexibility of afloat prepositioning; (3) DOD has not identified new sites for its expanded fleet; (4) the study did not consider the advantages of owning ships, such as greater fleet stability and specifically designed ships; and (5) the Army needs to identify and procure the additional equipment for prepositioning, develop a periodic maintenance program for equipment and ships, and determine how to fund its sealift operation and support costs.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: DOD has relied increasingly on prepositioned stocks of military equipment and supplies stored on ships and on land in various regions of the world to respond rapidly to developing conflicts. GAO has reported on a number of long-standing problems with prepositioned stocks programs, including unreliable requirements determinations, inadequate oversight efforts, and inefficient inventory management practices. GAO is currently reviewing this activity. Key questions: (1) What is the status of current inventory levels, maintenance conditions, and reconstitution of prepositioned stocks? (2) What are the contributing factors to long-standing problems with prepositioned stocks and how can they be addressed?

    Recommendation: As DOD continues planning for the expansion of afloat prepositioning, the Secretary of Defense should determine whether: (1) additional land prepositioning could reduce afloat prepositioning requirements; (2) prepositioning sites for the additional ships will be available; (3) the plan represents the best mix of owning and chartering the ships; and (4) the Army has plans and resources for providing and maintaining the additional prepositioned equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense


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