During World War II, four separate government agencies controlled sea
transportation. In 1949, the Military Sea Transportation Service, renamed
Military Sealift Command in 1970, became the single managing agency for
the Department of Defense’s ocean transportation needs. The command assumed
responsibility for providing sealift and ocean transportation for all military
services as well as for other government agencies.
Only nine months after it’s creation, MSC, then named MSTS, responded
to the challenge of the Korean War. On July 6, 1950, only eleven days after
the initial invasion of South Korea by communist North Korean troops, MSTS
deployed the 24th infantry division for duty in Japan to Pusan, South Korea.
In addition to transporting troops and combat equipment to and from Korea,
command ships supplied U.S. bases and Distant Early Warning line construction
sites and supported U.S. nation building efforts in from Europe and Africa
to the Far East.
The 1960s brought the conflict in Southeast Asia. From 1965 to 1969 MSC
moved almost 54 million tons of combat equipment and supplies and almost
8 million long tons of fuel to Vietnam. The Vietnam era also marked the
last use of MSC troop ships. Now, most U.S. troops move primarily by air.
Through the 1970s and 1980s MSC provided the Department of Defense with
ocean transportation as part of U.S. determent efforts during the Cold
During the first Persian Gulf War, consisting of Operation Desert Shield
and Operation Desert Storm, MSC distinguished itself as the largest source
of defense transportation of any nation involved. Command resources were
tasked to deliver more than 12 million tons of wheeled and tracked vehicles,
helicopters, ammunition, dry cargo, fuel and other supplies and equipment
during the war. At the high point of the war, more than 230 government-owned
and chartered ships delivering the largest part of the international arsenal
that soundly defeated Iraqi aggression.
MSC was also involved in the second Persian Gulf War, Operation Iraqi
Freedom, delivering 61 million square feet of cargo and 1.1 billion gallons
of fuel by the end of the first year.
Today, Military Sealift Command has more than 10,800 employees worldwide,
approximately 80 percent of which serve at sea. MSC is the largest employer
of merchant mariners in the United States. Approximately 5,100 employees
are federal civil service, 660 are military personnel; and another 4,600
are employed by MSC contractors.
Transition to War
The transition from peace to war calls for a steady progression of increased
levels of sealift ships and personnel to meet contingency requirements.
The progression begins with prepositioning sealift.
MSC’s prepositioning ships are loaded with combat equipment for U.S. Army,
Marine Corps, Air Force and Navy, as well as fuel for the Defense Logistics
Agency. The ships are stationed in strategic areas around the world, close
to potential contingency areas. In wartime, prepositioning ships are usually
the first ships to respond.
In wartime and during other contingencies, the Sealift force can expand
dramatically to move the massive amounts of heavy armored combat equipment
and other war-fighter supplies from U.S. bases to the theater of operation.
MSC first looks to the commercial market to charter suitable U.S.- flagged
tonnage. If more tonnage is needed, foreign-flagged ships may be used.
MSC may also activate government-owned surge sealift ships, normally kept
in reduced operating status. In the event of a full mobilization, more
than 1,000 ships and 30,000 people would be employed in sealift missions
ashore and afloat.