Established in 1976 to ensure the military’s continued access to cargo capacity, the Ready Reserve Force (RRF) is composed of 54 vessels.
Strengthened after the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the fleet’s vessels are kept in an elevated state of readiness at ports located on the Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts of the United States. Some ships also are kept in a prepositioned status overseas.
According to the Maritime Administration, which oversees the program, there were 91 activations of RRF ships between December 2002 and August 2005. During that time they carried nearly 15 million square feet of cargo.
Funded from the Navy-controlled National Defense Sealift Fund, RRF vessels are managed by private-sector shipping companies and crewed by civilian U.S. mariners. Ships enrolled in the fleet have a diverse array of militarily useful specialties. Types of vessels include breakbulks, roll on/roll offs, heavy lifts, tankers, LASH, hospital ships and crane ships.
Traditionally, RRF vessels have been used for the rapid deployment of military forces overseas. The 2005 Gulf hurricanes were the first time they were ever called to act during a domestic emergency. Eleven ships were deployed during and after the storms in Gulf ports to perform a variety of tasks and serve as medical, communications, warehousing and housing centers. According to Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, the nation owes the civilian mariners of the RRF fleet “a profound debt” for their performance during the crisis.