The U.S. Navy Military Sealift Command’s (MSC) fleet replenishment oiler USNS Rappahannock (T-AO 204) conducted a replenishment-at-sea (RAS) with a foreign vessel in the Philippine Sea, Feb. 3.
The Rappahannock transferred fuel to the French frigate FS Vendémiaire (F734), a light patrol frigate. USNS Rappahannock is a Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler operated by Military Sealift Command (MSC).
MSC conducts hundreds of replenishments-at-sea a year supporting the U.S. Navy and partner nations. Despite a vast experience in RAS operations, the procedure is inherently dangerous.
“While we don’t RAS with our partner nations as routinely as our own (U.S. Navy) ships, we’re always happy to work with them,” said U.S. Navy Capt. John D. Wilshusen, commodore of MSC Far East in Singapore. “Events like these provide excellent opportunities to hone skills that would be vital in a crisis situation.”
The two ships steered side-by-side while the Rappahannock transferred fuel to the Vendémiaire. When the ships are side-by-side, one of the ships will shoot a shot line to the other in order to send a messenger and span wire across to the other vessel. Once the span wire is connected, the process of deploying the fuel hoses are set in motion.
During a RAS, the delivery ship, in this case the Rappahannock, takes tactical control of the receiving ship. The receiving ship pulls up from behind of the delivery ship and positions herself abreast and about 200 feet away from the delivery ship.
Underway replenishments of allied partners also present a unique opportunity to strengthen partnerships and exercise compatibility of logistics systems.
“Working alongside another vessel is inherently riskier than many operations we do, so it’s important to take every opportunity to practice and hone skills whenever we can,” said Wilshusen. “The communication skills and sense of teamwork that we develop in these events can be the deciding factors somewhere in the future and we take that responsibility very seriously.”
During the approximately four-hour RAS, the procedure was conducted by the Rappahannock crew with precision and the FS Vendémiaire departed with fuel as scheduled.
“MSC motto is ‘United We Sail’ and this doesn’t only apply to the U.S. Navy ships,” added Wilshusen. “We are also united with our allies as we support their presence in the region.”
The USNS Rappahannock is currently operating in the U.S. Navy 7th fleet area-of-responsibility.
MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
Grady Fontana, Military Sealift Command Far East