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What is the National Defense Reserve Fleet?

As MARAD maintains reserve fleet ships that are not in active service, these vessels are occasionally brought into drydock for hull work.
Most ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet are merchant vessels, like container ships, that can be used for logistical purposes during a military emergency.
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The National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) is a fleet of militarily useful merchant ships maintained by the United States Maritime Administration, known as MARAD. These ships are designed to be ready to deploy between three weeks and three months of the time they are ordered, and they can be used for a variety of tasks ranging from troop transport to shipping of materials vitally necessary for national defense.

In the 1950s, when the National Defense Reserve Fleet reached its height, almost three thousand ships were kept in reserve; today, less than 300 ships are generally held in reserve, with less than one hundred in Ready Reserve, meaning that they are prepared for immediate use. Most ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet are stripped for long-term storage and maintained by skeleton crews, who primarily focus on keeping humidity low to prevent rust and damage to the ships.

The National Defense Reserve Fleet was created in 1946, under Section 11 of the Merchant Ship Sales Act. Under the act, the ownership of merchant ships proposed for sale or retirement can be transferred to MARAD if they are deemed potentially useful, and the ships must be periodically evaluated to determine how useful they are. When ships become obsolete or so old that they are structurally unsound, they may be scrapped or donated to individual states for use in constructing artificial reefs.

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Today, ships in the National Defense Reserve Fleet can be found docked in California at Suisan Bay, in Texas at Beaumont, and in Virginia at Fort Eustis. At any given time, some ships in the fleet are also actively sailing, either because they are being used on missions or because they are being tested to confirm that they are still useful and valuable. MARAD invests around $19,000 US each year maintaining each ship in the National Defense Reserve Fleet.

Critics of the National Defense Reserve Fleet point out that most of the ships simply molder away, sucking money until MARAD finally decides to scrap or donate them. However, supporters argue that the National Defense Reserve Fleet could potentially be extremely useful, and since there is no way to predict when the fleet would be needed, maintaining it is crucial, despite the fact that maintenance can be very expensive. The trimming of the NDRF has been viewed by both sides as a generally good idea, as maintaining a fleet of thousands of ships was both impractical and extremely costly.

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Emilski
Post 6

@Izzy78 - I understand where you are coming from but the fact is the demand for the Navy is at its lowest point in history and this just shows how much technology has advanced over the years.

The money that is being used to finance expenditures incurred by the reserve fleet can be used to finance technology to be used in other areas of the military that would serve a much more applicable purpose.

I understand that the reserve fleet is just there if necessary, but there comes a point when one has to ask if it is really necessary considering that the United States has not been invaded by foreign forces since 1812.

With this fact one has to think that any invasion would be done through technology first and not through numbers in forces of the invading army. That is why they need to do away with the reserve fleet and put the money into technology that is applicable to the times we live in.

Izzy78
Post 5

@stl156 - It is easy to say that something like a reserve fleet needs to be disbanded simply because it has not been used, but the point of having a reserve fleet is to have a last line of defense against attacks when they occur and when they are needed.

Naturally attacks against the United States virtually never occur to the point that the reserve fleet would be used, but as unlikely as that possibility is to occur, it still can and that is why it needs to be continually funded and necessary.

I can understand that there is not as much of a threat for invasion to occur as in the past, and that is why the reserve fleet has gone down in numbers as of late. To say to totally disband a reserve fleet is simply an absurd idea and definitely not in the country's best interest.

stl156
Post 4

@TreeMan - I have to agree. I have heard people say that combat has eveolved so much that one does not have massive moments on the land as they did in the past and most battles are fought strategically with the technology being available and the soldiers are in essence the back ups.

I have even heard people say that there is absolutely no need for a Navy anymore as all fight that occur on the sea can simply be taken car of by aircraft and other technological advances like drones.

Of course, this is a bit absurd to think that Navies need to be disbanded, but in reality this does show that the navies of the world are on the decline and that there really is not a huge need for reserve fleets to be continually funded simply to have. I have to say that this is one part of the defense budget that needs to be cut out.

TreeMan
Post 3

An argument could be made that due to the technological advances of today there is not a real need for reserve fleets such as this just because of the way war has evolved.

Think back to the last time that a full scale naval battle occurred that would make naval commanders even think that they would have to deploy the reserve fleet.

I feel like this is a throwback to the cold war era and to be quite frank, simply a tradition that has been carrying on over the decades and does not have a lot of relevance concerning warfare today.

David09
Post 2

@SkyWhisperer - NDRF is not just protection against a nuclear attack. These are standby ships that can be deployed at a moment’s notice for any need; they send supplies to the Gulf Coast for example or shuttle stuff back and forth between different military supply centers.

Anyone who has studied war knows that if you can choke off the supplies you can kill the enemy. That’s why these ships are important.

Contrary to what you say, they are relevant to the 21st century, as we continue to have conflicts around the world. Whenever there is world peace (if ever there is world peace) we can retire these vessels, but certainly not before then.

SkyWhisperer
Post 1

Personally I think that the NDRF and other nuclear propulsion submarines on standby are throwbacks to the Cold War Era. During this time the United States was on high alert to the possibility of an imminent nuclear attack from the Soviet Union.

As the United States has since somewhat dismantled, I don’t see why taxpayer money should continue to be funneled away towards keeping these merchant ships around. $19,000 per year is a lot of money to spend on maintenance and I think we should direct our defense budget appropriations to causes that matter in the 21st century, not keeping old ships alive.

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