BY NATHAN HODGE
The military campaign in Iraq would not have succeeded without a major
contribution from private shipping contractors, according to the three-star
admiral in charge of Military Sealift Command (MSC).
In an interview last week with Defense Week, Vice Adm. David
Brewer said MSC moved over 20 million square feet of equipment to the
Persian Gulf in less than four months.
"To use a football analogy, there are 119 NCAA 1A football teams
in the country, [and] we delivered enough equipment to fill all NCAA
1A football fields three times," Brewer said. "In the course
of about four months."
The massive sealift operation in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom
began in earnest at the beginning of this year. At the peak of the operationMarch
24MSC had 167 ships at sea. That equals one ship every 72 miles
from the continental United States to Kuwait.
According to Brewer, the surge in sealift would not have been possible
without the private sector.
"The lion's share of everything delivered was delivered by contractor-operated
ships," he said. "Period. Now some of these [ships] are government
owned, but they're all contractor-operated."
Brewer's command operates a fleet of 120 noncombatant ships to deliver
military hardware and supplies to U.S. forces around the globe. In event
of a major war, ships controlled by MSC would move more than nine-tenths
of the military's needs for ammunition, fuel, supplies and spare parts.
But with terrorists targeting shipping laneslast year, for instance,
a small craft laden with explosives crippled the French supertanker
Limburgthose supply lines are more vulnerable. And protecting
the sealift force has become a much bigger concern for the military.
"Force protection to protect shipping was not necessarily a mission
during Desert Storm," said Brewer. "It is a major mission
The Navy currently has plans in the works to create a mobility security
force to provide better security for cargo ships. But according to Brewer,
that force was not yet in place in time for the Iraq campaign.
"There were several things we had to do to make this work,"
he said. "During the initial surge, we had to man the ships with
force-protection teams from the deploying units" such as the Third
and Fourth Infantry Divisions.
In addition, the Defense Department activated the 92nd Infantry Brigade,
a National Guard unit based out of Puerto Rico.
"We called this team the Guardian Mariners: 1,300 shooters plus
300 command elements," Brewer said. "The Guardian Mariners
took on the lion's share of FP [force protection] in the latter part
of the war, and will be the FP teams that we will embark during redeployment."
The lesson learned, Brewer said, is "in the future, we will need
a dedicated FP surge organization ... element to man our ships."
The Guardian Mariners unit, he added, was more of an improvised solution:
"It was really an emergent requirement rather than a built-in requirement."
However, the activation of the Puerto Rican guard unit and the posting
of troops as armed cargo supervisors helped remedy one issue of concern
for MSC: control of sensitive military cargo.
In the past, MSC's occasional reliance on foreign contractors and foreign-flagged
ships for military sealift has prompted concern from oversight.
Last year, the General Accounting Office suggested in a report that
the Defense Department "relinquishes control" of sensitive
military cargo when it contracts out to foreign ships. The auditor noted
that, on a number of the shipments it reviewedincluding those
carrying helicopters, armored vehicles and artillery piecesno
armed cargo supervisors were on board.
According to Brewer, his command was less dependent on foreign-owned
vessels during the build-up to Iraqi Freedom than it was during Desert
"84 percent of the dry cargo moved went on U.S. government-owned
or chartered U.S.-flag [ships]" during recent operations, Brewer
said. "Only 16 percent of it went on foreign. Our reliance on foreign
flag was significantly less than it was during Desert Storm in terms
of total cargo moved."
Still, force protection remains a manpower-intensive job. In budget-planning
documents, MSC anticipates investing in security upgrades such as hull-perimeter
lighting and intrusion detection systems for its ships. However, many
of those upgrades could not be performed before the war started, Brewer
"Unfortunately, the war happened before we got all of the technology
inserted," he said.
While major combat operations in Iraq may be over, the workload for
MSC promises to be intense in the coming months as the military repositions
As widely reported, plans to rotate units such as the Third Infantry
Division back to the United States has been put on hold while security
on the ground in Iraq is reinforced. Currently, around 30 MSC ships
are waiting in the Persian Gulf to start moving military hardware out
of theater. Of those ships, 19 are large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off
ships, or LMSRs.
According to Brewer, the LMSR "proved to be the star" of
"Here's an analogy," he said. "During Desert Storm,
the average speed [of MSC ships] was approximately 13 knots. When we
borrowed the LMSRs that had a top speed of 24 knots, our speed of delivery
increased overall to approximately 17 knots. Now four knots equals about
three to four days earlier delivery from CONUS [the continental United
States] to Kuwait."
Noting that an LMSR carries the equivalent of 3,000 SUVs, Brewer said:
"The LMSR provided us with more speed and more capacity, and less