America has the most powerful military in the world, but the world is an awfully big place.  Even with our sprawling Navy protecting most of the world’s largest bodies of water and military installations in more than seventy countries; there are vast swabs of the planet that we may be able to scramble aircraft to fairly quickly, but couldn’t possibly relocate thousands of troops and their equipment to in a short period of time.

That’s where the American military’s Prepositioning Program comes in.

The United States currently employs twenty-seven prepositioning ships in support of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and the Defense Logistics Agency. These huge ships don’t look like aircraft carriers or missile cruisers, though, they look like the container ships you would usually see transporting commercial goods from China or the like.

Maritime Prepositioning Force Ships are used to house all of the equipment, supplies, and ammunition a force of 16,000 Marines and Sailors would need for thirty-days’ worth of independent combat operations.  They carry everything from heavy vehicles like tanks and armored personnel carriers, to rations, to the petroleum products needed to fuel and maintain the fleet of vehicles contained within.  For all intents and purposes, each MPFS ship could equip and sustain the entirety of Lithuania’s national military – and the Marine Corps keeps ten of them afloat at all times in various places all over the world, just in case we need them.

These ships offer American forces with an incredible advantage over some of the world’s most powerful military forces.  China, for instance, boasts a massive active duty military of 2.3 million soldiers, with another half million in reserve.  However, China lacks the equipment necessary to mobilize such a sizeable force, making their army’s best asset, its size, only truly valuable as a means of defense.  The Chinese military regularly utilizes the nation’s railroad infrastructure to move troops and equipment around their country, but would find such methods of transportation unfeasible for offensive operations outside of their borders.

Conversely, America’s fleet of MPFS ships could deploy anywhere from one to six ships to a trouble spot on the planet with relative ease, then simply fly thousands of troops to meet the ships as they arrive, already stocked full of the equipment necessary to commence combat operations.  It alleviates the need to rapidly deploy each battalion’s own equipment from their varied locations, leaving it only necessary to transport personnel to a trouble spot and hit the ground running.

These ships were designed internally to permit easy loading and unloading, which means rapid deployment in the event of an emergency.  The Navy reports that one of the Marine Corps MPFS ships contains more than three hundred vehicles, five hundred gear containers, and a hundred full-time crew members that can unload the entire lot in under sixteen hours.

The MPFS ships come equipped with the means by which to dock at port and unload equipment traditionally, or they can simply drop anchor and use floating lines to relay fuel to equipment on shore.  Shallow-draft watercraft on board the vessels allow them to deploy land-based vehicles to shore without the need to unload in a traditional sense; while other MPFS ships have been designed specifically for rapid loading and unloading of heavy vehicles at ports. These specially designed vessels, called LMSRs (large, medium-speed, roll-on/roll-off ships) each have a cargo capacity of more than 300,000 square feet and were designed with internal ramps and cranes to permit the expedited deployment of vehicles onto any port, regardless of the equipment found on site.  These ships allow MPFS vessels to be supplemented by Army wheeled and tracked vehicles, as well as other outsized Army equipment.

Two additional LMSRs carrying only ammunition are also maintained at all times as a supplement for Army supplies if ever needed.  Two offshore petroleum distribution system ships can supplement Army or Marine forces with fuel from as far away as eight miles from the beach and all of this does not account for the U.S. regular military presence in the region in question, which is likely to have naval vessels nearby regardless of the location on Earth, as well as American military bases somewhere in the region.

Having this kind of hardware on standby serves as a force multiplier of sorts, as it would take a great deal more people and infrastructure than the United States currently has to work with, in order to deploy so much firepower so quickly without them.  Because the MPFS ships are split into two squadrons, a serious threat in the Eastern hemisphere such as a war with China could feasibly be met with as many as six of these ships, each equipped for 16,000 Marines, allowing for a force of 96,000 troops to arrive in a matter of days or weeks, rather than months.  Army pre-positioning ships equipped with heavy wheeled and tracked vehicles could arrive simultaneously, allowing the American military to launch an offensive operation with a force that would dwarf the military of many entire nations… all at the drop of a hat.

The world’s an awfully big place.  Lucky for us, we’ve got some awfully big ships.


Image courtesy of the U.S. Navy