DOT, DOD, and Maritime Industry Work to Strengthen Ready Reserve Force

Mar 29, 2022 | Partner News

For the first time in over thirty years, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) announced the purchase of two vessels to continue modernizing the Ready Reserve Force (RRF).  

The RRF, a subset of the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), which MARAD manages, was founded to support U.S. military deployments, while also supporting natural disaster relief and mariner training. MARAD is in its 76th year of maintaining the Nation’s reserve of sealift ships.

The two ships, the M/V Freedom and M/V Honor, were purchased from American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier Group. The ships will join the U.S. flag fleet as Cape Arundel and Cape Cortes, adding more than 432,000 square feet of total sealift capacity and 316,000 square feet of military cargo capacity.

Both vessels were previously enrolled in the Maritime Security Program (MSP) as well as the related Voluntary Intermodal Sealift Agreement (VISA) program, during which time they provided invaluable commercial sealift capacity for the Department of Defense (DoD), a variety of other U.S. government agencies, and other customers.

The sister ships will now provide modern capacity to the RRF fleet, helping ensure our Nation’s ability to deploy forces in support of global operations. The acquisitions are pursuant to Congressional authorizations and appropriations and represent the culmination of many years of efforts by MARAD, the U.S. Transportation Command, U.S. Navy, and various Congressional champions.

“We selected these ships to continue the RRF recapitalization because each meets criteria set forth in the National Defense Authorization Act and provides a standard set of capabilities that we identified with the U.S. Navy, Military Sealift Command, and U.S. Transportation Command,” said Acting Administrator Lucinda Lessley. “These vessels will provide reliable sealift capacity for years to come.” 

While some equipment and personnel can be transported via aircraft, major DoD movements overseas are dependent on shipping. The government-owned strategic sealift fleet consists of Military Sealift Command (MSC) and MARAD operated ships that, along with the U.S.-flag commercial fleet, have the capability and capacity to accommodate 90 percent of the required military equipment expected to deploy during a major conflict.

The RRF provides nearly 50 percent of government-owned surge sealift capability. However, with vessels in the RRF averaging 46 years of age, there is a continuing need to recapitalize the fleet. The acquisition of ARC’s two vessels improves the RRF fleet profile considerably as both vessels will be the youngest in the RRF fleet providing strategic roll-on/roll-off capabilities for surge sealift.

“Sealift is important to deploying a combat-credible force, and USTRANSCOM provides a strategic advantage through the efficient use of our nation’s strategic sealift fleet,” said Air Force Gen. Jacqueline Van Ovost, USTRANSCOM Commander. “The purchase of these ships is a critical step towards a stabilized program of sealift recapitalization that will maintain the advantage we currently enjoy.”

“The internationally trading U.S.-flag fleet supported by MSP provides global logistics capabilities and employs many of the American-citizen merchant mariners that also crew government reserve fleet ships in time of need,” said Eric Ebeling, President & CEO of ARC Group. “We also recognize the continued importance of the government-owned surge sealift fleet and are pleased to be able to support the recapitalization of the RRF with the sale of these proven assets that have a record of successfully supporting the U.S. Government’s sealift requirements.”

Vessel Acquisition Manager (VAM) Crowley facilitated the purchase. A VAM is an integrated program office that includes MARAD and Naval Sea Systems Command members and leverages commercial practices. Partnering with a VAM enables the Departments of Transportation and Defense to partner with the industry to effectively and more quickly replace aging sealift vessels with newer ships to meet national security requirements.

Crowley utilized its proprietary software SHIPFAXTM in carrying out the agreement, which allowed for a strategic and data-driven identification of the initial two vessels best suited for conversion to Ready Reserve service. The platform, which will be used in Crowley’s future acquisitions, is able to analyze a vessel’s lifecycle history, develop a condition summary and estimate ongoing operation requirements for optimal vessel acquisition and management execution. 

Crowley manages acquisition and conversion under a 2021 federal contract that calls for more vessels to be brought into the fleet. The company will also oversee any modification and maintenance required to ensure the two vessels are fit for service in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard, American Bureau of Shipping, and DoD requirements. Following the completed purchase of Freedom and Honor, Crowley will maintain and operate the two vessels on behalf of MARAD. Plans are for both vessels to be ready for tasking by early Fall 2022. 

The Freedom and Honor will help revitalize the Ready Reserve Force, a fleet critical to our national security,” said Miles Spratto, Crowley’s Program Manager for Vessel Acquisition. “We look forward to continuing the momentum with additional opportunities to acquire, manage, and operate vessels on behalf of MARAD and the U.S. government.

“The Ready Reserve Force is an essential element of U.S. national security,” said Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “We are proud to use this innovative method to more quickly acquire two additional vessels and ensure America’s Ready Reserve Fleet is always ready to answer the call.”

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