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AFS-1 Mars Combat Stores Ship

The mission of the combat stores ship is to conduct underway replenishment in support of operating forces by providing refrigerated stores, dry provisions, technical spares, general stores, fleet freight, mail and personnel by alongside or vertical replenishment means. In the early 1980s the seven Mars class combat stores ships were augmented by three T-AFS 8 Sirius-class stores ships purchased from England.

These combat logistics force ships are specifically designed to deliver large quantities of frozen, chilled and dry provisions, ship's store resale items, technical repair parts, and general use consumables to fleet task forces operating at sea. Cargo stowage capacity exceeds 596,000 cubic feet. With this stowage capacity, the ship can provide the major portion of logistics requirements for modern naval vessels. This enables naval combatants to remain at sea for long periods of time conducting uninterrupted operations in support of our national military strategy.

The AFS-1 Mars Combat Stores ships conduct underway replenishment in support of operating forces by simultaneously providing refrigerated stores, dry provisions, technical (including aviation) spares, general stores, fleet freight, mail, personnel and other items from five station (two starboard and three port) for periods normally not to exceed 32 hours per week. UNREP hours are considered to commence with "first line over" and terminate with "last line clear." They conduct vertical replenishment in support of operating forces by providing refrigerated stores, dry provisions, technical (including aviation) spares, general stores, fleet freight, mail, personnel and other items from other units or temporarily assigned by periods normally not to exceed 32 hours per week. This includes the time from the setting of flight quarters to securing from flight quarters.

Combat stores ships have been described as floating supermarkets, and they carry virtually every type of food and supply needed by our Navy ships. Military Sealift Command combat stores ships carry spare and repair parts for other ships and aircraft and also have a limited capability to transfer fuel to other Navy ships at sea. Combat stores include dry stores, frozen and chilled products, spare parts and consumables, but not fuel or ammunition.

Each Carrier Battle Group [CVBG] includes as its station ship a (T)-AOE, or a T-AO paired with a T-AE or T-AKE. Fleet oilers, for instance, shuttle fuel from fuel storage sites back to the battle group, and can resupply individual units of the battle group, as well as any accompanying combat stores ship. Supplies and fuel are transferred to other ships using lines and hoses suspended above the water to another ship as the ships move forward at the same speed and sometimes less than 50 feet apart. These ships are capable of replenishing two ships at the same time, one on either side, using this side-by-side technique.

Dry stores are also transferred by using helicopters to lift large cargo nets and pallets loaded with supplies and parts. T-AFS have elevators and mobile equipment for handling stores internally on the ship. Helicopters are not assigned to these ships on a full-time basis, but fly aboard for extended periods of time while the ship is at sea.

These ships are outfitted with standard Navy communications equipment which is operated and maintained by assigned U.S. Navy personnel. Theoutfitting is maintained current under the Fleet Modernization Program. It is essential that the exterior communications systems be installed and maintained in accordance with current Navy standards to ensure proper performance, reliability, and compatibility. Navy installation and maintenance practices also apply to standard Navy radar, IFF, NAVAIDS, and test equipment.

In 1990 the Chief of Naval Operations approved the transfer of the MARS class combat logistics force ships to the Military Sealift Command (MSC). Because MSC ships are manned with predominantly civilian crews, the total personnel assigned decreased from approximately 446 to 175 (135 civilian mariners and 40 military), resulting in an annual savings of $9.8 million per ship transferred.

USNS Concord (T-AFS 5) became the first of five Navy Mars class ships to be transferred to Military Sealift Command on Oct. 15, 1992. Mars followed on Feb. 1, 1993, USNS San Diego on Aug. 11, 1993, USNS San Jose on Nov. 2, 1993 and USNS Niagara Falls on Sept. 23, 1994. San Diego was deactivated on Dec. 10, 1997, and Mars was deactivated on Feb. 12, 1998.

MSC's combat stores ships provided logistical support to deployed carrier battle groups and amphibious ready groups, in addition to resupplying several U.S. embassies. During 1999 USNS Niagara Falls and USNS San Jose coordinated fuel and stores replenishments for carrier battle groups USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, USS John C. Stennis, USS Abraham Lincoln and USS Enterprise while in the Persian Gulf. In addition, Niagara Falls supported efforts that were key to the successful U.S. strikes against terrorist targets in Afghanistan and Sudan. She also provided maritime assistance to ocean tug Ruby II, which needed fresh water and medical services. San Jose rescued 18 crew members from a sinking Panamanian vessel near Okinawa. Finally, USNS Concord provided contingency support off the Florida coast for the Space Shuttle Discovery launch.

The Military Sealift Command acquired a new class of combat logistics ships, hull designator T-AKE, named the Lewis and Clark class. The T-AKE auxiliary dry cargo carrier acquisition program consisted of 12 ships with a budget of approximately $4 billion. The T-AKE replaced the existing T-AE 26-class of ammunition ships and the T-AFS 1 and 8-classes of combat stores ships. Also, when a T-AKE operates with a T-AO 187-class oiler, it can also replace the AOE 1-class fast combat stores ship.

Originally slated for retirement by the end of 2003, delays int he T-AKE program kept some of these ships in service more than five years longer than originally projected. A shipboard ceremony was held Dec. 18 at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to mark the end of service for the USNS San Jose (T-AFS 7), the last of seven Mars-class ships that entered service between 1963 and 1970.



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