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AO Fleet Oiler

Current wartime underway replenishment concepts provide that oilers (single product ships) operate in a shuttle mode to directly supply to station ships (multiproduct ships). The multiproduct ships -- ships which supply ammunition, stores, and provisions, as well as fuel -- serve as station ships for the carrier task groups. The oiler in its secondasy mission operates as a backup station ship should a multiproduct or station ship be rendered nonoperational.

There are two scenarios which affect fleet oiler requirements. The first is the unilateral military action, under which it is assumed that convenient ports and sources of fuel will be denied. If petroleum, oil, and lubricants (POL) are to come from US ports, the longer pipeline between the POL source and the users will create a greater demand for oilers. There was no attrition assumption for oilers in this scenario; therefore, the controlling force of the requirement is the long transit distance. The second is NATO action against the Soviet Union and its allies, which assumes that ports of U.S. allies are available. Here the requirement is controlled by consumption rates rather than resupply distances. The oiler requirements for these scenarios are determined from daily fuel demand, cycle time (time reguired to load and unload plus the round-trip transit time), and the capacity of the new oiler.

The oiler's primary mission, which is to shuttle POL products from the supply source to multiproduct station ships, does not require , it to be fully capable. Fully Capable ships are those ships that are task force integrable. This means they should have speed and maneuverability characteristics compatible with the ships they serve, and they should be equipped with adequate command, control, and communication features. Additionally, these ships possess some degree of survivability (although not normally as extensive as warships) in the form of equipment and systems redundancy, damage control features, and weapon systems. Fully capable oiler also means that the ship is designed, equipped, and manned for direct interfact with customer ships at seap and can deliver products to these ships through the use of on-board transfer gear.

The shuttle ship mission is controlled by consumption and transit distance, which equates to efficient ton-mile productivity. This is not accomplished with the oiler, which has an acquisition cost of more than $160 million, operating costs of $12 million annually (1976 dollars), and a capacity of only 120,000 barrels. This makes the oiler uneconomical as well as inefficient when compared to other alternatives. Also, the lack of attrition estimates in the first scenario suggests that oilers would operate in a little or no threat environment -- further questioning the need for full capability.

The Navy's desire for full capability is essentially based on the oiler's secondary mission to replace multiproduct station ships if they become nonoperational. However, attrition estimates of station ships indicate that only a few backup ships would be required. Additionally, the oiler does not possess the same product carrying versatility as the station ship. This means that another ship, probably an ammunition ship, in addition to the oiler would be required to replace the station ship. As a result, the combat effectiveness of the combatants may be reduced because station ships are designed to minimize the alongside logistics time.

As can be seen from the contrasting wartime missions of shuttle ships and station ships, the Navy's new fleet oiler is too sophisticated for a shuttle ship and is an inferior substitute as a station ship. Some alternatives to the Navy oiler are available which offer comparable required capability at significantly lower cost.

A joint Navy/Maritime Administration (MarAd) design team, in early 1974, developed a cost and feasibility study for a merchant type tanker to be used for point-to-point POL delivery and consolidation of POL to other Navy underway replenishment ships. Based on input from the Navy, previously conducted studies, and comments on the studies, the design team developed a set of proposed characteristics. The ship designs developed were called MarAd Preliminary Designs 185 and 186, with each design having two capacity versions -- 180,000 / 220,000 barrels. Design 185 was a 16-knot ship, while design 186 was a 20-knot ship.

MarAd officials believed that these ships meet all mission requirements determined by the joint Navy/MarAd design team. The Commander, Naval Ships Systems Command, stated that the 20 knot, 220,000 barrel version offered the greatest naval support capability compared to the options. This particular design, which was fully modified to do the Navy underway replenishment mission, is essentially compatible with the oiler from a performance standpoint. Additionally, this design offers more efficient ton-mile productivity (220,000 barrels compared to 120,000 barrels for the Navy oiler).

Updated acquisition estimates provided in 1978 by MarAd showed that the cost of one design 186 ship with llO,OO0 or 223,300 barrel capacity was $77 million and $84 million, respectively. A series construction of five ships reduces the cost of each ship to $70 million and $78 million, respectively. In comparison to the Navy oiler, the MarAd 20 knot / 220,000 barrel replenishment tanker cost about half as much and was about twice as efficient in terms of ton-mile productivity. The primary reason for the large difference in the cost of the MarAd design versus the Navy's oiler is the deletion of many design specifications that would normally be found on a task force inteqrable ship.

It is unclear why the joint Navy/HarAd design team proposals never went beyond the preliminary stages. Navy officials did state, however, that they believed there would be a funding problem since the ship was a fragmented product that is neither Navy nor commercial.

A 1977 analysis of underway replenishment force level requirements done by DOD's Office of the Assistant Secretary, Program Analysis and Evaluation, suggested the replacement of some single product fleet support ships -- oilers and ammunition ships -- with a new design concept ship. The proposed ship was called a Mini-Multi-product oiler (MiniMulti), and would have the capability of the Navy's new oiler plus an ordnance delivery capability of 1,200 tons or about one-half the capacity of an ammunition ship.

The study determined that the minimulti would be an effective substitution in theaters of operation requiring the services of oilers and ammunition ships. Based on a 30-year oiler life, this would result in savings of over $530 million. This savings was determined from a comparison of the cost to build and operate one minimulti versus the cost to build and operate one oiler, the cost to operate one-half of an ammunition ship, and the replacement cost of one-half of an ammunition ship less residual value.

Other alternatives include placing shuttle ship capability in the National Defense Reserve Fleet and increasing National Defense Features put on commercial tankers to enhance their underway replenishment capability. Pursuant to title V of the 1936 Merchant Marine Act as amended, the Secretary of the Navy may suggest changes to the plans and specifications of proposed commercial vessels to be built with the aid of a construction differential subsidy. These proposed National Defense Features changes enhance the merchant ships' ability to function as a naval or military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency. Both of these alternatives would require further study by Navy and MarAd. The defense feature issue should be particularly studied since the Navy has criticized the commercial tankers underway replenishment capability. This criticism is essentially based on the commercial tankers' inability to effectively transfer fuel to any ship at a rate compatible with the Navy's oiler.

As of 1978 there were over 700 merchant tankers owned by U.S. companies, but more than 500 were registered and operated under a foreign flag -- primarily Liberia and Panama. In terms of tonnage, all U.S.-owned tankers totaled more than 60 million deadweight tons. However, about 80 percent of this tonnage was under foreign flag. The U.S.-flag tanker fleet consisted of about 250 ships, with only one-third (84) having some type of National Defense Features to enhance their capability to function as a military auxiliary.

To facilitate the tanker's underway replenishment role, most with defense features have alongside fueling at sea capability. This capability permits the tanker to function as a shuttle ship because it can transfer fuel to underway replenish ships which includes station ships. Additionally, the capability allows these tankers to transfer fuel directly to aircraft carriers. As of 1978 about 17 tankers had fueling at sea capability, which does not require the customer ship to have fueling rigs. This permits the tanker to transfer fuel to any Navy ship and those in the NATO fleet, but at a considerably slower rate than the Navy's oilers.

Although limited, the use of commercial tankers to deliver petroleum products to Navy ships has expanded since 1971 under a program called Charger Log. The program provided the merchant crews with the experience and skills needed to conduct underway replenishment tasks. Between 1971 and 1977, Military Sealift Command controlled tankers conducted more than 90 underway replenishment operations, with most of the tankers operated by contract union crews and many of the tankers chartered from the merchant fleet.

The first demonstration under the Charger Log program was conducted during a 2-month period in 1972. A chartered commercial tanker, the SS Erna Elizabeth, refueled 40 US and NATO combatant ships to show that merchant marine tankers can perform underway replenishment and can resupply naval forces at sea. During this test, the Erna Elizabeth delivered about 10 million gallons of POL without contamination, met all commitments on time, sailed more than 12,000 miles, maintained replenishment speed, did not experience any personal injuries, and --had no equipment or machinery casualties.

AO-62 Taluga completed her final deployment as a commissioned Navy ship at Long Beach on 13 November 1971. She conducted operations along the coast for another six months. On 4 May 1972, the oiler was decommissioned and turned over to the Military Sealift Command to participate in a pilot program designed to test the feasibility of reducing the number of Navy men serving in oilers. The operation, named "Charger Log II," was an unqualified success. For the next three and one-half years, her crew-made up of 105 civilians and 16 military men-maneuvered her through 875 underway replenishments in support of the 7th Fleet in the Far East.

Navy officials cite numerous reasons for their reluctance to expand the merchant tanker's role in the area of underway replenishment. At the top of the list was the tanker's inability to effectively transfer fuel to any ship in the fleet at a rate compatible with the Navy oiler. Other objections to the use of commercial tankers include the lack of features such as armament, greater compartmentation, and redundancy of essential components, systems, and equipment; the merchant tanker's inability to do 20 knots; lack of necessary communications equipment; less command and control compared to Navy ships; and the merchant crews inability to conduct operations requiring security clearances.

According to Navy officials, the oiler must be able to operate with the combatant fleet, replenish the fleet with clean fuel, and conduct this operation when required, in less than ideal sea states and/or in combat situations. Availability of commercial tankers in a contingency is questionable since there are not any provisions for obtaining this capability other than voluntary charter. Several alternatives have been suggested, but not acted on. One means of assured early tanker availability in a contingency is to resurrect an allocation plan, under which commercial tankers would be made available to DOD. Such a plan was last used during the Korean War. It has also been proposed that some tankers be placed in the National Defense Reserve Fleet, thereby reducing the burden that would be on U.S. merchant marines.

In wartime, the merchant tanker's primary task will be to provide point-to-point resupply of petroleum products. This requires no underway replenishment capability. Additionally, the tankers may be called on to provide consolidations with Navy underway replenishment ships, opportune underway replenishments with Navy ships when oilers or multiproduct replenishment ships are not available, and -underway replenishment of convoy escorts.

While the merchant tanker's role in strategic mobility is recognized, in the 1970s industry spokesmen believed this role should be expanded. For example, the astern refueling rig costs about $100,000, but few tankers have this capability. Although the method may be slow, it enhances the tankers' military auxiliary ability and adds flexibility to the Navy's operational capability. It is also believed that the communications on tankers could be upgraded to include secure systems. GAO discussions with industry officiais in 1978 revealed that there were currently no commercial tankers comparable to the Navy's fleet oiler. While such a vessel could be constructed, there would be little savings if any, when built with Navy oiler characteristics. It is questionable though, whether the characteristics demanded by the Navy are needed to accomplish the shuttle ship mission. However, construction of a commercial vessel with the Navy's performance criteria, but without many of the military features, can produce a less costly product. While spokesmen for the merchant marine industry recognize that the Navy should have some in-house underway replenishment capability, they also expressed interest in having the merchant marine, through tanker construction and enhancement of existing fleets, closely meet military needs.

In 1972, a study titled, "Role of Merchant Ships in Wartime Defense Mission," was issued by the Center for Naval Analyses. This study was jointly sponsored by the Navy and MarAd. Part of the study compared the merchant ship to the naval ship's capability to conduct underway replenishment missions. It did not examine all features related to wartime capability, but examined whether the merchant ships are sufficiently attractive to justify further study of these features. The study found that partially modified merchant designs greatly reduce costs ta tile tiwerwtent but would take mucn longer time to transfer at sea than would Navy ships and additional transfer facilities would permit merchant ships to replenish combatants almost as quickly as Navy ships.

The study also found that if these fully modified merchant ships were built or chartered by the Navy in peacetime, the Navy could save over $600 million in all operating areas over a 10-year period. The savings would be due to the larger size and simpler construction of merchant ships. Size and simpler construction, however, would create some operational problems and some features would be missing that are normally found on Navy ships. The study concluded that the potential savings from using merchant ships for wartime underway replenishment were large enough to justify further, more detailed analysis, and fleet testing.

In July 1975, a study sponsored by the Chief of Naval Operations was issued by a private research organization. The study, "UNREP Requirements and Forces Study -- 1984", determined the number and types of undervay replenishment ships needed to meet the fleet's requirement for fuel, food, ammunition, and other provisions under various scenarios. The study identified four methods of achieving cost savings in underway replenishment support to the Navy. They are use of less than fully capable shuttle ships, automation and reduced manning, use of civilian manning, and use of commercial ships which vould save acquisition costs plus operating expenses,

Major findinss of the study were that increased reliance on the commercial sector is required, and reliance on merchant marine and limited capability ships represents a moderate risk, but an effective UNREP force is possible. The study presented various force level options, and the one suggested called for a mix off fully capable oilers, and limited capability oilers. This force level also requires substantial augmentation from the merchant marine. The primary reason for fully capable oilers is their secondary mission as backup station ships.

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Page last modified: 11-01-2016 20:18:54 ZULU