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Research Questions

  1. Is the sealift fleet ready to execute National Defense Strategy assigned missions?
  2. Are there sufficient ready ships and crews?
  3. How long would it take to reach the achieved readiness?
  4. What is the gap between the requirement and the provided capability?
  5. Do the organizational approaches yield different results?
  6. What is the relative cost of each approach?

The U.S. military must be able to move large amounts of military cargo on time lines dictated by the operational plans of combatant commanders when fighting in areas far removed from U.S. territory. To meet these transportation requirements when the need arises, the U.S. Navy maintains a fleet of 61 commercial-standard ships — the strategic sealift fleet. This fleet must be maintained to a certain level of readiness to respond when the need arises.

The Office of the Chief of Naval Operations (OPNAV) was interested in whether the readiness targets for the fleet are being achieved and how the management of this fleet affects readiness. Strategic sealift is maintained by two different organizations — the Military Sealift Command (MSC) and the Maritime Administration (MARAD) — under different readiness management constructs. The ships in both fleets are held to the same readiness standard. Although these two fleets are held to the same standard, they report different readiness levels.

The authors addressed six questions that apply to sealift readiness requirements and the mechanisms for generating this readiness. To conduct this analysis, they used a mix of data reported in various systems and the assessments of subject matter experts. They determined that, though organizational management plays a role, many other factors also have a substantial effect on strategic sealift readiness — including requirements determination, material readiness, and personnel readiness. The research team concluded that each of these areas can be improved in ways that could collectively increase strategic sealift readiness and makes recommendations toward that end.

Key Findings

Operational requirements need to be stated clearly and reflect all constraints in the delivery system

  • Current sealift readiness requirements for arrival times are sooner than what the rest of the delivery system can reasonably support.
  • Strategic sealift should not be required to be readier than the rest of the system.

Turbo activation (TA) practices do not accurately reflect what a vessel and crew would need to do to accomplish their mission

  • While the number of vessels in the strategic sealift fleet has been relatively constant, the number of TAs has varied over time.
  • Some ships have done several TAs while others have had few or none.

Specified capability requirements are outdated for strategic sealift vessels

  • Nevertheless, equipment needed to meet these requirements must be maintained to readiness standards even though it is no longer in use.
  • Money, time, and resources are wasted.

The material condition of the many ships that have not recently activated is a major unknown

  • Investments are needed in many areas of material readiness to better ensure ships are ready and capable of executing their missions.

A national shortage of qualified personnel directly affects the ability to man the fleet

  • Mariner manning may be sufficient for initial activation, but activation crews may have long waits for a replacement crew.

The dual management structure of the fleet does not appear to have originated from a clear decision

  • Maintaining two management structures results in different reporting methods and maintenance tracking systems, among other differences.


  • Formally revise the readiness requirement for sealift.
  • Align readiness requirements to deployment needs as specified in operational plans, and realistically account for potential delays from other components.
  • Revise the TA practice to regular activation of multiple units for multiple days underway to align with missions.
  • Ensure that all ships receive a TA within a time frame to ensure operational readiness of that particular unit (and not as a representative test that the system generates ready units).
  • Review required operational capability / projected operational environment statements for ships to ensure relevant requirements.
  • Improve stability and capability of sealift crews.
  • Conduct more frequent and longer underway periods.
  • Review compensation packages.
  • Refocus MSC attention to U.S. Transportation Command component issues and away from day-to-day management of equipment and personnel.
  • Assign the man, train, maintain, and equip functions of MSC vessels to MARAD, consistent with the U.S. Code Title 10 responsibilities of the OPNAV.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Navy and conducted within the Navy and Marine Forces Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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