NATO member countries have pooled their resources to assure access to special ships, giving the Alliance the capability to rapidly transport forces and equipment by sea.
This multinational consortium finances the charter of up to 15 special “roll-on/roll-off” ships (commonly Ro/Ro, so called because equipment can be driven on and off the ships via special doors and ramps into the hold). The Sealift Consortium includes 11 NATO Allies, namely Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
The Sealift Consortium provides the Alliance with access to the Sealift Capability Package (SCP), with a total capacity of about 33,700 lane metres as listed below:
- three Ro/Ro ships on assured access;
- residual capacity of five Danish/German ARK Ro/Ro ships on full-time charter;
- residual capacity of two French Ro/Ro ships;
- residual capacity of four UK Ro/Ro ships; and
- one Norwegian Ro/Ro ship on dormant contract.
The three assured access ships are covered by an Assured Access Contract (AAC) through the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA), based in Luxembourg. Finance is provided by six of the eleven signatories (Croatia, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal and Slovenia).
As an example of the capacity of the ships, the Danish/German ARK ships and UK ships can each carry around 2,500 lane metres of vehicles and equipment – in other words, if the vehicles and equipment were parked one behind the other in single file, the line would stretch for 2.5 kilometres.
To overcome the shortfall in Alliance strategic sealift capabilities, a High-Level Group on Strategic Sealift was established at the NATO Prague Summit in 2002. NATO countries agreed to increase their multinational efforts to reduce the strategic sealift shortfalls for rapidly deployable forces by using a combination of full-time charter and multinational assured access contracts.
In June 2003, at the meeting of NATO Defence Ministers in Brussels, 11 ministers signed a letter of intent on addressing the sealift shortfalls on behalf of Canada, the Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and Turkey.
At the December 2003 meeting of NATO Defence Ministers, nine countries (Canada, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain and the United Kingdom) signed an agreement to implement the letter of intent, which resulted in the formation of the Multinational Sealift Steering Committee (MSSC).
In February 2004, the consortium, led by Norway, signed a contract with the NATO Maintenance and Supply Agency (NAMSA) – now known as the NATO Support and Procurement Agency (NSPA) – for the provision of the sealift capability.
The countries pursued an incremental approach, using 2004 as the trial year, with the aim of developing further capacity for subsequent years.
At the 2004 Istanbul Summit, the defence ministers of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Romania and Slovenia signed a supplementary letter of intent on strategic sealift, where they declared their intent to improve strategic sealift and to provide additional sealift capacity for rapidly deployable forces.
During the period 2004-2020, seven nations left the strategic sealift initiative whereas Croatia, France, Germany and Turkey joined. To date, the consortium includes 11 NATO nations: Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Slovenia, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
The SCP has been coordinated by the Sealift Coordination Centre (SCC) since its establishment in September 2002. Since July 2007, this role has been taken over by the Movement Coordination Centre Europe (MCCE). Through improved coordination, the SCC and, now, the MCCE have managed to establish many sealift requirement matches between nations. By making more efficient use of available assets, these nations have made, and are making, significant financial savings.
The activation of the Assured Access Contract can be undertaken by either an authorised national representative, or by NSPA, under bilateral arrangements between the activating nation and NSPA.