The Ready Reserve Force (RRF), a vital component of United States combat deployment capability, is set to receive some critically needed tonnage this year. The Honor and Freedom are expected to enter service this fall, according to an announcement by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration’s (MARAD).
The two ships, formerly part of the American Roll-On/Roll-Off Carrier (ARC) fleet, will be renamed the Cape Arundel and Cape Cortes, respectively, adding more than 432,000 square feet of total sealift capacity and 316,000 square feet of military cargo capacity, MARAD reported. Both vessels carried military cargoes (and SIU crews) for many years and participated in the Maritime Security Program (MSP). The two ships will replace older vessels retired in Fiscal Year 2022 and will be owned by the Department of Transportation.
“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.”
According to MARAD, “The Ready Reserve Force is a subset of vessels within MARAD’s National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) ready to support the rapid worldwide deployment of U.S. military forces. As a key element of Department of Defense (DOD) strategic sealift, the RRF primarily supports transport of Army and Marine Corps unit equipment, combat support equipment, and initial resupply during critical surge periods – the period of time before commercial ships can be secured for similar support.”
The current RRF is comprised of 41 vessels, which are required to be “at the ready,” defined by MARAD as “fully operational within their assigned five- and 10-day readiness status.” Most if not all of those ships include SIU crews, both during an activation as well as during periods of reduced operating status (ROS).
“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 Maritime Administrator Lucinda Lessley. “These vessels will provide reliable sealift capacity for years to come.”
These vessels were purchased using a vessel acquisition manager (VAM), an integrated program office that includes MARAD and Naval Sea Systems Command members and leverages commercial practices, according to MARAD. This 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,” the agency reported.
Previous Maritime Administrator RADM Mark Buzby, speaking in 2018, explained the importance of the RRF when he noted, “From 2002 to June of 2008, 118 ship activations were called for in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. In that period, there were 13,575 ship operating days with a reliability rate of 99 percent. Almost 25 percent of the initial equipment needed to support the U.S. armed forces operations in Iraq was moved by the RRF. By comparison, Military Sealift Command’s combined sealift fleet of large, medium-speed roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) and fast sealift ships carried 29 percent of the cargo required for the invasion.
“The RRF provides significant cost savings to the Department of Defense by maintaining shipping capacity in a reduced operating status until needed,” Buzby added. “These vessels also provide maximum flexibility to an already thinly stretched Navy.”