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General Dynamics NASSCO starts construction of USNS Robert F. Kennedy replenishment oiler ship for US Navy

According to information published on May 21, 2021, General Dynamics NASSCO started construction of the future USNS Robert F. Kennedy (T-AO 208), the fourth of six John Lewis-class replenishment oiler ships for the U.S. Navy.
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Russian Vyborg Shipyard laid the Purga ice class coastguard ship of project 23550 925 001 Artist rendering of future USNS Robert F. Kennedy (T-AO 208) replenishment oiler ship for U.S. Navy.  (Picture source U.S. Navy)

According to a U.S. Congress report, the U.S. Navy procured its first John Lewis (TAO-205) class oiler in FY2016 (Fiscal Year), and a total of six have been procured through FY2021, including the fifth and sixth in FY2020.

The U.S. Navy wants to procure a total of 20 TAO-205s. The ships have an estimated unit procurement cost of roughly $650 million when purchased at a rate of two ships per year, and something more than that when purchased at a rate of one ship per year. The ships are being built by General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (GD/NASSCO) of San Diego, CA.

The U.S. Navy’s existing force of fleet oilers consists of 15 Henry J. Kaiser (TAO-187) class ships, commonly called Kaiser-class oilers for short. These ships were procured between FY1982 and FY1989 and entered service between 1986 and 1996. They have an expected service life of 35 years; the first ship in the class will reach that age in 2021. The ships are about 677 feet long and have a full load displacement of about 41,000 tons, including about 26,500 tons of fuel and other cargo.

The TAO-205 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, TAO-205s are to be 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 John Lewis-class replenishment oiler for the U.S. Navy has a length of 227.4 m, a beam of 32.4, a draft of 10.2 m, and a full load displacement of 49,850 tons. The ships can carry 156,000 barrels of oil and have increased dry cargo storage over the Henry J. Kaiser class. There will be stations on both sides of each ship for underway replenishment of fuel and stores and will have two dry cargo transfer rigs.

The John Lewis-class will be powered by two medium-speed Fairbanks-Morse MAN 12V48/60CR diesel engines driving two shafts. She will be able to reach a top speed of 20 knots (37 km/f) with a maximum cruising range of 6,147 nautical miles (11,384 km). The ship will have a flight deck for one helicopter.