UK Royal Navy’s Second Tide-class Replenishment Tanker RFA Tiderace Enters Service

The UK Royal Navy’s second Tide-class replenishment tanker, RFA Tiderace (A137), was officially accepted into operational service during a dedication ceremony in Portland.

In a half-hour ceremony, attended by the ship’s sponsor, Lady Anita Lister, the head of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) Commodore Duncan Lamb and crew, RFA Chaplain Mike Hills welcomed the new tanker to the naval service. Lady Lister completed proceedings, cutting the dedication cake with the youngest sailor, Apprentice Chef Shania Burns – the apprentice chef of the year.

The dedication marks the end of a busy week for the tanker, which started off Plymouth with her maiden helicopter trials when a Merlin Mk2 from 814 Naval Air Squadron ‘Flying Tigers’, based at Royal Naval Air Station (RNAS) Culdrose in Cornwall, touched down on the flight deck for the first time. Merlins – or the Fleet Air Arm’s smaller Wildcats – will be expected to ferry supplies to and from Tiderace in giant string sacks slung beneath the helicopters (known as VERTREP, or vertical replenishment).

And aside from being the mainstay of carrier operations, providing fuel for HMS Queen Elizabeth and the rest of her battle group, the tanker will also be expected to conduct operations in her own right, with Merlins or Wildcats and specialist boarding teams – RFA ships have been used to this end extensively in the Indian Ocean.

As well as Culdrose fliers, the flight deck team on Tiderace is drawn from the Cornish airbase, 1700 Naval Air Squadron provide handlers and other personnel required to safely operate naval helicopters.

The name Tiderace was briefly used in the 1950s… but confusion with her sister Tiderange led to the wrong ship returning from deployment once… and prompted a name change to Tideflow for the majority of her 20-year career.

Tiderace has some final training to complete before operationally pumping fuel from her cavernous tanks into waiting warships.

Tide-class tankers

Tide-class tanker (formerly the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) project) is a class of four fast fleet tankers that will enter service with the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) from 2017.

The tankers are based on the AEGIR design from Britain’s BMT Defence Services but are being built by South Korea’s Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering Co., Ltd (DSME) with final outfitting in the UK.

The 39,000-tonne tankers will provide fuel, food, fresh water, ammunition and other supplies to Royal Navy vessels around the world. They are specifically designed to support Royal Navy’s newest aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and her sister HMS Prince of Wales.

The tankes are capable of carrying up to 19,000 cubic metres of fuel and 1,400 cubic metres of fresh water. They can deliver more than 1,500 cubic metres of fuel every hour – nearly 400,000 gallons, or 1½ million litres… enough to fill the tanks of more than 27,000 family runarounds.

The Tide Class has a flight deck able to accommodate a Chinook heavy-lift helicopter and offers significant improvements over previous RFA tankers such as double hulls and greater environmental protection measures.

Britain ordered four ships in February 2012 at a cost of £452m, causing controversy for being built abroad. The lead ship of the class, RFA Tidespring (A136) is already heavily engaged supporting operations and training around the UK. The third of the class, the future RFA Tidesurge (A138), is being fitted out at A&P Group’s Falmouth yard while fourth tanker, the future RFA Tideforce (A139), is on her delivery voyage from South Korea ready to receive British military communications kit and weaponry.

All four ships are designed to be at the heart of a Royal Navy carrier strike group, supporting HMS Queen Elizabeth or Prince of Wales, a Type 45 destroyer, Type 23 or 26 frigate and an Astute-class hunter-killer submarine.

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