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TOKYO — A new multimillion-dollar contract authorized last month will continue the Air Force’s tactic of keeping a stock of munitions floating around the Pacific in case of a crisis.

The $46.2 million contract will pay for the MV Tech. Sgt. John A. Chapman, a container ship, to hold conventional weapons for the Air Force while churning around Saipan in the western Pacific Ocean for the next few years, according to Air Force officials from the weapons, missiles and munitions maintenance division at the Pentagon.

The roving supply is part of the military’s pre-positioning program that keeps munitions supplies at the ready around the world, according to Col. Steve LaVoye, the division chief for the munitions maintenance division.

It also means that, in a manner of speaking, the Air Force has two ships under its wing.

The Chapman will replace the MV Maj. Bernard F. Fisher, which will come off lease later this year for required inspections, according to the Air Force. The Air Force’s second container ship is the Capt. Steven L. Bennett.

"The idea is to keep them afloat until they are needed," said John Ray, deputy chief of the division. "This is an augmentation to assets that may already be in a theater."

The ships are part of the Air Force’s pre-positioning program, called a Munitions Movement Plan. The plan also calls for a periodic repositioning of about 15 percent of Air Force munitions worldwide.

The military has been using the technique since the Vietnam War, LaVoye said in a phone interview earlier this month.

The contract for the Chapman is with Sealift Inc., based in Oyster Bay, N.Y. The military will pay $6.7 million for the ship’s work from June to the end of September. The remaining $39.5 million will be paid over four subsequent years, though each year the military can review the contract, officials said.

The Navy’s Military Sealift Command actually contracts for the ships, which carry conventional weapons for Air Force fighters and bombers, LaVoye said.

The ship was named in April 2005 after Chapman, who was part of a reconnaissance mission in northeastern Afghanistan in March 2002. After the team’s helicopter crashed, Chapman fought off enemy fire and tried to locate a missing sailor. He died from multiple wounds and was posthumously awarded the Air Force Cross on Jan. 10, 2003, according to a Pentagon Web site.

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