Key milestones reached in US Navy logistic vessel programme
Warship Technology - Jul/Aug 2021
In the last six months the first John Lewis class auxiliary oiler for the US Navy has been launched and work has commenced on the fourth ship in the new class.
General Dynamics NASSCO launched the first ship in the new class of fleet oilers, the T-AO John Lewis class, in January 2021.
The vessels are designed to support the US Navy and transfer fuel to US Navy carrier strike group ships at sea. They have capacity to carry 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, aviation capability and up to a speed of 20knots.
General Dynamics NASSCO was awarded a contract by the US Navy to design the new T-AOs in 2016. The ships are based on commercial design standards and will recapitalise the current T-AO 187 class fleet replenishment oilers. They will become part of the Navy’s Combat Logistics Force.
GD-NASSCO is also currently in production with four other vessels of the type, and in May 2021 laid the keel of the fourth vessel, USNS Robert F Kennedy (T-AO 208).
The US Navy’s existing force of fleet oilers consists of 15 Henry J Kaiser (TAO-187) class ships that were acquired between FY1982 and FY1989 and entered service between 1986 and 1996. They have an expected service life of 35 years and the first ship in the class will reach that age in 2021.
The John Lewis class design will have capabilities similar to those of the Kaiser class ships and will rely on existing technologies rather than new technologies. To guard against oil spills, they are double-hulled, like modern commercial oil tankers, with a space between the two hulls to protect the inner hull against events that puncture the outer hull. The final Kaiser-class ships are double-hulled, but earlier ships in the class are single-hulled.
The US Navy eventually wants to procure a total of 20 TAO-205s, although the required number of oilers largely depends on the numbers and types of other surface ships (and their embarked aircraft) to be refuelled, and the projected operational patterns for these ships and aircraft, and the US Navy is moving to a new concept of ‘distributed’ operations that could affect the number of John Lewis class ships eventually required.