Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Navy-Chartered Ship Loads Mine Resistant Vehicles in Africa

DURBAN, South Africa (NNS) -- Military Sealift Command-chartered ship ITB Thunder/Lightning here loaded heavily armored mine-resistant vehicles destined for use by U.S. troops operating in Iraq Dec. 3-4.

The vehicles loaded in South Africa were RG-31s -- armored personnel carriers designed for use in urban combat environments with several of the same protection characteristics as mine resistant ambush-protected, or MRAP, vehicles.

This load is significant because it is one of the first sealift shipments of this type of blast-resistant vehicle to the Middle East. Previously, U.S. Central Command has relied solely on airlift assets to deliver such vehicles to warfighters on the ground.

ITB Thunder/Lightning is a U.S.-flagged integrated tug/barge chartered by MSC to carry out the strategic sealift mission of delivering 55 RG-31s and other combat equipment to U.S. forces in the Middle East. Thunder/Lightning is a unique ship with tug and barge components designed to operate independently of each other and together as a single vessel.

"Both Thunder, a tug, and Lightning, a barge, can operate alone. However to carry out big cargo missions, the bow of Thunder locks into the stern of the barge, so the two can operate as one ship," said Chief Operations Specialist Pawel Oscik, Sealift Logistics Command Europe (SEALOGEUR).

SEALOGEUR is the European arm of MSC and manages strategic sealift in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations.

"For this operation, the tug and the barge components will be connected and working together to deliver this important cargo," said Oscik.

"These types of vehicles have proven one of the most effective protections against IEDs and other explosive devices," said SEALOGEUR commander Capt. Nicholas H. Holman. "These vehicles are saving lives. At MSC, we take great pride in ensuring that this vital equipment is delivered in the quickest most efficient manner possible. Our ultimate mission is always to support the troops, and we take that very seriously."

MSC operates more than 110 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that deliver combat equipment to troops, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world, resupply Navy ships at sea, and perform a variety of other missions for the Department of Defense.