Leased commercial sealift

The cost factors Ken Hansen outlines demonstrate the ongoing need for sealift. Indeed, with sealift costs being between one-tenth and one-seventieth the cost of airlift, coupled with the fact that many of our shipments to Afghanistan are routine in nature given the four year plus length of our current mission, it is somewhat of a mystery why commercial sea lift was not used earlier.

This commercial sealift proposal also nicely underlines why we also need dedicated military sea lift in the form of the Joint Support Ship (JSS) and, potentially, a 'Big Honking Ship'.

As the David Pugliese article makes clear:

  • this commercial charter sealift vessel cannot be sent into a "war zone" or "harm's way."
  • there are decreasing numbers of these valuable roll-on roll-off commercial vessels available worldwide. During times of tension the bidding for them becomes extreme and soon none are available at all.
  • the vessel will require "austere" commercial facilities to load and unload, while the JSS has lighters allowing it do without them.

To prevent a frustrated commercial ship's crew from hijacking the ship and its army supplies as we saw with the navy having to board the hijacked MV GTS Katie, the contract's Request for Proposal stipulates DND's right to have three military escorts aboard. Let us hope, therefore, future hijackers will also be few in number and easily deterred. Further, the actual Request for Proposal for this charter does not stipulate the vessel carry encrypted communications equipment allowing it to cooperate with our forces. Further, it does not require the vessel be able to defend itself at the most basic level - such as with small arms. Thus, this commercial vessel should not be sent to the waters off Indonesia, Somalia, Yemen or the Sudan where the risk of same was rated as a ‘major threat’ by the U.S. Maritime Administration. If an escort is thus required, it will need encrypted military communications.

I also expect the charter will cost significantly more than the fuel costs of a JSS. This suggests there could be an opportunity for the JSS to both get used to Army movements while also getting familiar with distant operational theatres should it occasionally be given a routine sea lift mission.