The U.S. Navy would not be able to do what it does without its fleet of non-commissioned auxiliary vessels, especially its fleet oilers and resupply ships. USNS Kanawha refuels the cruiser USS San Jacinto and the destroyer USS Roosevelt while underway in this photo, with the USS Nitze and USS Mason awaiting their turn at the pump.

The USNS Kanawha not only provides fuel for these guided missile destroyers and cruisers’ own propulsion but also for their aviation detachments. In total, the Henry J. Kaiser Class, which the Kanawha is one of, can hold a whopping 7,800,000 gallons of fuel oil or jet fuel. It can also move spare parts, food stuffs, munitions and even personnel to its “customers” while executing an underway replenishment.

Without these humble but crucial ships and their crews, the U.S. Navy would be tethered to ports, making ship operations much more vulnerable and predictable—not to mention, less effective. As such, bringing the supplies to the fleet makes a lot more sense than the alternative. Still, bringing two huge ships close together while underway is not an easy affair. Suction between the two ships wants to draw them together while in formation and emergency break-away procedures are practiced just in case a problem or threat emerges.

There are some rumblings within the Navy that these ships could one day be armed with offensive weaponry under the “distributed lethality” model of naval warfare. In fact, Marines have already been deployed aboard them to test the basic concept of using some USNS ships for more than their originally intended purposes. Although this blurs the lines between logistical ships and surface combatants, it could provide the Navy with many more tactical options when sudden threats and or crisis pop up.

Contact the author Tyler@Jalopnik.com

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(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Bill Dodge/Released)