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Support the sailors!

These craft also play an important part in moving cargo across the oceans to where it is needed in theatre, either for war fighting or humanitarian purposes. These ships even have a secondary role supporting amphibious landings alongside dedicated Landing Platform Dock (LPD) and Landing Helicopter Dock (LHD) craft.

The US Navy is in no doubt regarding the vital role that the mission support ship plays. In 2003, Turkey's refusal to allow US forces to open a second front through that country into Iraq highlighted the need to be able to move large formations of troops and armour, and their supplies, across the seas, and if necessary to base them in international waters as the jump-off point for action on land.

With this concept in mind, the US Navy has embarked on a major programme vis-a-vis the rejuvenation of the force's mission support ship fleet. In October 2001, the navy placed an order with the National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (Nassco) for the first two Lewis and Clark class T-ake vessels, which has since increased to a total order for 14 vessels. In 2007 construction of the USNS Wally Schirra began, and she was delivered in September 2009 to the US Navy from General Dynamics Nassco shipbuilding. She is to be deployed with the US Navy's Military Sealift Command (MSC). This latest T-ake example joins the first vessel of the class, the USNS Lewis and Clark, which was launched in 2003. The Wally Schirra was then followed by another nine ships, the last of which, the USNS Matthew Perry, is currently under construction. In February 2008 the US Navy supplemented these nine vessels with an additional three T-ake ships; the USNS Charles Drew, USNS Washington Chambers and USNS William McClean; all of which should be delivered by January 2013. In terms of the capabilities of the Lewis and Clark ships, these vessels can transport 6005 tonnes of dry cargo and 2390 tonnes of fuel, including aviation fuel.

As well as building the Lewis and Clark class T-ake ships. Nassco was also responsible for the Supply class of fast combat support craft. Construction of these began in the mid-1990s with all four examples commissioned by 2004. Designed to support a US Navy aircraft carrier battle group, the Supply class can transport and supply the equivalent of 20,000 gallons of water, 2,620,800 gallons of JP-5 aviation fuel and up to 1,965,600 gallons of diesel. The dry cargo storage area on the ships allows for the accommodation of 800 bottles of gas, 360 tonnes of general freight plus 1950 tonnes of ammunition. All of this cargo can be transferred to an aircraft carrier using cargo booms, the six replenishment-at-sea stations or the five fuel-at-sea positions that furnish the ship. Meanwhile, the helicopter deck can accommodate up to three Boeing UH-46E Sea Knight helicopters for vertical replenishment operations.

Perhaps as a reflection that they may become targets for attack, given the importance of the mission that they undertake, the Supply class ships also carry Raytheon Rim-7 Sea-Sparrow surface-to-air missiles, along with a pair of Raytheon Phalanx Close In Weapons Systems (CIWS). In terms of performance a pair of General Electric (GE) LM2500 gas turbines give the ships a range of up to 6000 miles when travelling at 22 knots. Together with the T-ake vessels, the Supply class comprise part of the 40-vessel strong US Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force (Nfaf), and receive the prefix USNS which translates as 'United States Naval Ship' and is given to vessels which are part of the MSC and crewed by civilians.

The Lewis and Clark and Supply class ships will join the Roll-On/Roll-Off (ro-ro) vessels of the Watson class in the Nfaf. These ships are specifically tasked to transport large equipment such as helicopters or Main Battle Tanks. Despite their large size, displacing 29,465 tonnes, they are able to navigate through the Panama Canal. A total of eight ships comprise the class, the first of which, the USNS Watson, entered service in 1998. The vessels can carry up to 13,208 tonnes and up to 150 troops and, in addition to their ro-ro capabilities, can also perform lift-on/lift-off of cargo by using their cranes: functions that these vessels can perform in up to sea state three. In terms of performance, their two General Electric LM2500 gas turbine engines give the Watson class a range of around 22,208 km when travelling at 24 kt.

One of the latest additions of the MSC fleet is the Bob Hope class of ro-ro cargo vessels. Construction of the Bob Hopes commenced in September 1993 at Avondale Industries (now Northrop Grumman Ship Systems), with the USNS Bob Hope delivered to MSC in November 1998. The final example, the USNS Benavidez, entered MSC service in 2003. The Bob Hope class have much in common with ships in the Watson class (see above) as regards their construction, although the former are powered by diesel engines rather than gas turbines. In terms of their fully loaded weight, these ships displace 62,994 tonnes, are crewed by 75 personnel and can be made ready to perform resupply missions in four days. Although the ships carry a pair of cranes for lift-on/lift-off operations, their ro-ro design allows them to convey up to 1000 vehicles, the ramps for which can be slewed to achieve the best position to unload the mobile cargo. Since entering service, these ships have played a major role in delivering materiel to US forces stationed in the Gulf and the Balkans, and also performing humanitarian missions to Cyprus in 1999 after the island suffered an earthquake.

The US Navy is not the only service in the United States using mission support ships; the US Army operates scores of landing craft, cargo, tug and range instrumentation vessels. These ships were recently supplemented by an additional two examples; the SSGT Robert T. Kuroda and MGen Robert Smalls, both of which had been delivered by 2006. The primary mission of these vessels is to be able to disgorge liquid and dry cargo to coastlines where port facilities may be spartan at best, and non-existent at worst. This can even include coastlines with a meagre 1.2-metre depth. Moreover, these ships are also completely self-sufficient in terms of loading and unloading and there-fore do not require dockyard facilities, as they carry their own PH 6250 cranes and have a ro-ro capability for vehicles.

Although somewhat smaller than the mission support ships discussed above, landing craft are nevertheless vital components of any navy, particularly those with an amphibious capability. In 2009 Abu Dhabi Shipbuilding began the construction of two 42-metre-long landing craft for the Royal Bahrain Naval Force. These craft displace 420 tonnes and can accommodate up to 136 troops. They also have a range of up to 2220 km when operating at 8.5 kt. Both craft are expected to be delivered by 2011.

The Royal Navy has joined the Royal Bahrain Naval Force in updating its landing craft fleet, awarding a contract to Babcock Marine in 2001 for the construction of twelve LVCP Mk 5 vessels which have a range of 387 km and a 24-kt top speed. Two years after the award of the contract for the Mk 5 craft, BAE Systems won an order to construct two Wave Knight class fleet tankers to be operated by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA). The two vessels in the class, the RFA Wave Knight and the RFA Wave Ruler, had both entered service by April 2003 as replacements for the RFA Olna and RFA Olwen which entered service in the late 1950s and mid-1960s. The Wave vessels possess a Raytheon Phalanx close-in weapon system and can host a helicopter which can operate in conditions of up to sea state six. Underway replenishment (unrep) can be performed either abeam or abaft, the latter being particularly useful when refuelling is occurring during rough seas. As well as assisting the unrep of Royal Navy vessels, the Wave Knight vessels have also been used for humanitarian support, with the Wave Ruler performing humanitarian relief missions in 2004 in the wake of Hurricane Ivan. The Wave Knights offer up to 500 square metres of dry cargo space and can power up to eight refrigerated 20-foot containers. In terms of performance, the vessels have a 14,816-km range and a maximum speed of 18 kt.

Joining the Wave Knight vessels are the RFA Fort Victoria and RFA Fort George. Since their launch in the mid-1980s, these two ships have been used to support British military operations in Iraq, and also the evacuation of foreign nationals from Lebanon in 2006 during Israeli anti-terrorist operations in the country. Like the Wave Knight class ships, these vessels can also perform unreps and are capable of refuelling abeam and abaft. Moreover, the Fort Victoria can perform vertical replenishment (vertrep) operations, as she is outfitted with a helicopter deck that can accommodate up to two aircraft, along with a hangar and maintenance area. In an emergency, these flight decks can even be used to operate BAE Systems Harrier GR7/GR9 aircraft. For self-defence, the ships are equipped with Oerlikon KCB 30-mm cannon, along with a pair of Raytheon Phalanx CIWS weapons. Meanwhile, two Crossley-Pielstick diesel engines can propel the ships to a 20-kt maximum speed.

The most recent additions to the RFA fleet have been the four Bay class Landing Ships Dock (LSD), all four of which had entered service by 2007. Designated as Alternative Landing Ships Logistic (ALSL) by the Royal Navy, these vessels were procured as a replacement for the four remaining ships of the Round Table class, which entered RFA service in the 1980s. The design of the Bay class borrows heavily from the Enforcer class, which were constructed for the Royal Netherlands Navy by Damen Naval Shipbuilding. The rationale behind the design of the Bay class vessels is for them to be stationed up to 19 km from the shore and to support amphibious operations, notably to act as a base from which a second wave of troops and materiel can be landed after the initial assault.

The Bay class ships can also be used as cargo vessels and can carry up to 24 MBTs or up to 150 'jeep'-sized vehicles. In addition, up to 350 fully equipped troops can be housed, and the ships' walkways have been deliberately widened to allow the easy movement of Royal Marines with their full kit. The Bay class vessels have a helicopter deck that can support an aircraft of either Boeing CH-47F Chinook or Bell Boeing MV-22 Osprey rotorcraft size. Although the Bay class have been constructed without an aircraft hangar, this does remain as a retrofit option. Along with the helicopters, the vessels can also accommodate a pair of LCVP Mk 5 (see above) landing craft operating from the craft's well deck.

While other navies around Europe may not be procuring the quantity of mission support ships that are being acquired by the Royal Navy and the US Navy, they have nevertheless made some important investments. Over the last decade the Spanish Navy has received a trio of new mission support vessels, the Patino replenishment vessel, Contramaestre Casado logistics ship and Marques de la Ensenada fleet tanker. With a range in excess of 11,687 nm and a top speed of 20 kt, the Patino was procured as a replacement vessel to support the replenishment of the force's carrier battle group, following the decommissioning of the Teide oiler in the late 1980s.

The Patino was commissioned in 1994 and has a complement of less than 170. As well as having a fully equipped medical centre, the ship also includes a flight deck capable of accommodating up to three Sikorsky SH-3D Sea King helicopters, along with an aircraft maintenance area. The helicopters can be used for vertrep, while the ship can offload up to 1660 tonnes of aviation fuel or 6820 tonnes of diesel. This is in addition to the 500 tonnes of fuel and ammunition that the Patino can carry. Furthermore, the ship comes equipped with a Meroka 20-mm CIWS. Spain's Navantia shipbuilders, which was contracted to build the Patino, has also been tasked with constructing the Cantabria combat replenishment vessel, which was conceived as a larger version of the Patino displacing 19,91.4 tonnes.

The Spanish Navy has also invested into a landing craft force. Navantia has constructed twelve LCM (1E) landing craft, the last of which was delivered in 2008. These vessels have a ro-ro design and can carry an MBT or up to 100 tonnes of equipment. When operating at twelve knots, these craft have a maximum range of 296 km. The Spanish Navy has procured these new vessels for deployment with the service's Galicia class LPDs, and also the Juan Carlos I strategic projection vessel.

The Italian Navy has joined Spain's example in accepting new mission support ships, and in the late 1990s took delivery of the Etna, Stromboli and Vesuvio squadron replenishment ships from Fincantieri. The Etna was designed with a similar mission to Spain's Patino, namely the underway replenishment of an aircraft carrier battle group. A helicopter up to the size of an Agusta Westland EH-101 Merlin can use the single-spot flight deck, and the helo hangar can be used to accommodate either an aircraft or up to four standard 20-foot shipping containers. In terms of liquid cargo, the Etna can transfer up to 160 tonnes of potable water, 1200 tonnes of aviation fuel and 4700 tonnes of diesel. Furthermore, a desalination plant also allows the ship to produce up to 40 tonnes of potable water per day. In terms of performance, the ship has a range of up to 14,073 km at speeds of 18 kt.

The plethora of ongoing and recently completed mission support ship and landing craft projects indicates that these vessels continue to experience a strong demand across the world. Their appeal, particularly in the case of the larger mission support ships, is no doubt due to the fact that they cannot only be used for underway replenishment, but can also support amphibious and humanitarian operations. This provides a level of flexibility hitherto unseen in the legacy replenishment vessels that these ships are replacing.
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Title Annotation:Naval: support
Author:Withington, Thomas
Publication:Armada International
Date:Apr 1, 2010
Words:2377
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