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Military Cargo

What is Military Cargo?

Per the Military Cargo Preference Act of 1904, items procured for, intended for use by, or owned by military departments or defense agencies must be carried exclusively (100 percent) on U.S.-flag vessels, if available at reasonable rates for U.S.-flag commercial vessels. Essentially, any cargo shipped by or on behalf of the Department of Defense (DoD) is considered military cargo and is subject to the law.

Most DoD container cargo is booked on U.S.-flag vessels by the Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command (SDDC) for the various DoD shipper services as part of the Defense Transportation System (DTS). Shipping via DTS allows DoD shippers access to pre-negotiated ocean shipping contracts that already adhere to cargo preference laws and provide cost-and-convenience benefits.


MARAD's Office of Cargo and Commercial Sealift initiates and recommends regulations and procedures to help the Department of Defense (DoD) stay compliant with military cargo preference laws. Program efforts concentrate on meetings and discussions with DoD component commands, contractors, suppliers, freight forwarders, and shipping companies to focus attention on meeting the needs of all constituents within the context of U.S.-flag carriage requirements.

See our Cargo Preference Laws and Regulations page for guidance on military cargo.


For questions about military cargo, contact the Office of Cargo and Commercial Sealift

Updated: Wednesday, December 4, 2019