US Navy reserve fleet
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Inside US Navy two huge reserve fleets


The US Navy’s strength surpasses all rivals thanks to its large and modern standing force, but their reserve fleet is also extremely formidable.

The US Navy is large and powerful, almost completely mastering the world’s oceans based on 11 aircraft carrier strike groups, but not everyone knows that this force can also rapidly strengthen power through the reserve fleet.

According to the assessment, the US won a sea victory over Japan in World War II thanks to its relatively safe geographical location and the defense industry that can quickly build a large number of warships. But when the war ended, the question was what to do with this entire fleet, their size was too large for peacetime. The Americans did not want to sell the good warships or scrap them, but decided to keep them for future use.

United States Navy reserve fleets - Wikipedia

Thus, the reserve fleet was established, not one but two, including: the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF) and the reserve fleets of the US Navy. Apparently they did not do so in vain.

Even during the Korean War, the Pentagon was able to immediately use 540 ships from the national reserve to rapidly transfer large numbers of troops and equipment to the Korean peninsula.

Between 1951 and 1953, a worldwide crisis broke out, and more than 600 ships from the United States transported grain to India and coal to Europe. These transports were then used as floating warehouses for grain storage.

In 1956, the reserve fleet was used after the closure of the Suez Canal and in 1961 the Berlin Crisis. Transport ships were also widely used by the Americans during the Persian Gulf incident.

Even in recent events, the reserve fleet has proven useful through relief missions following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that hit the US in 2005 and the 2010 Haiti earthquake.

The U.S. Navy destroyers
The U.S. Navy destroyers

In general, it would be useful to have additional resources for use in wartime or transport in an emergency. But what exactly are America’s two reserve fleets?

The first was the National Defense Reserve Fleet (NDRF), which was created under the Ship Sale Act of 1946 to meet the needs of the United States in an emergency, as well as to transport military and civilian cargo. The NDRF is administered by the US Maritime Administration (MARAD). After the end of the Second World War, in 1950 this defense reserve fleet had an astonishing number of 2,277 ships, but then gradually decreased.

The fleet consisted mainly of Liberty-class high-speed transports, built to deliver weapons across the Atlantic to Great Britain and the Soviet Union. The backup ships are deployed at eight locations in California, Virginia, Texas, Alabama, New York, Oregon, Washington and North Carolina.

To this day, only three NDRF sites remain – James River, Virginia, Sesun Bay, California, and Beaumont, Texas. Most of the ships have been decommissioned, but the rest can be brought back within 20 – 120 days of receiving the appropriate order.

Next is the US Navy’s reserve fleet, also known as “Naphthalene”. The most famous ships were the Iowa-class battleships that were actively used in Korea, Lebanon, and Iraqi war

How many aircraft carriers are currently mothballed which can be brought up  to shipshape at a moment's notice? - Quora

Currently the US battleships have been turned into museums, but they can be returned to service within 3-4 months. The naphthalene fleet is operated by the Maritime Systems Command (NAVSEA).

Some other notable ships are the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk (CV-63) awaiting its turn for disposal. In 2017, the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy (CV-67) was decommissioned in Pennsylvania, they tried to raise money to turn it into a museum, but so far have not been successful.

USS Iowa and Mothball fleet, Suisun Bay, California | Flickr

In the reserve fleet, there are also 2 amphibious assault ships USS Tarawa (LHA-1) and USS Nassau (LHA-4), 5 amphibious transport ships (LKA-113 – 117), 5 amphibious assault ships (LPDs) -7 – 13) and 1 rescue tug USS Mohawk (ATF -170). If necessary, they can all be brought back into service quickly. In addition, the US Marine Corps can be added 72 cargo ships, 6 oil tankers, 2 ocean ferries and 1 military transport… in a very short time.

The US reserve fleet is clearly a very lean approach and respects resources, they do not let it go to waste like some other countries where the Soviet lesson is typical. After the breakup of the Soviet Union, the Russian Navy sold off or dismantled many large warships, so that until now they have to struggle to refurbish ships that are decades old to try to limit the shortage.


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