I quite unexpectedly saw the USNS Laramie coming into Portsmouth Harbour today. She is in the UK supporting US warships taking part in a NATO exercise in Scotland recently.
The Laramie is a 31,200 ton tanker of the Henry J Kaiser Class. He role is to support US warships at sea by providing fuel oil and aviation fuel. They can also carry a small amount of dry and frozen food. She has a capacity for 159,000 barrells of fuel oil and aviation oil, 7,400 square feet of cargo space, 8 20 foot refrigerated containers and room for 128 pallets. The high gantires enable her to refuel ships while underway, a process known as Replenishment at Sea, or RAS. With gantries on both sides, she can RAS with two ships at once.
The US Navy’s support vessels – oil tankers, supply ships, hospital ships and container vessels – actually come under the Military Sealift Command, hence the USNS prefix and not USS. This is a designation that is also used by the Royal Navy, whose non-fighting support ships come under the Royal Fleet Auxilliary and have the designation RFA. Both the MSC and RFA’s ships are manned mainly by civilians.
The US Navy have 14 ships in the same class, which makes it possible to support and replenish a large number of warships, at sea, around the globe. In comparison the Royal Fleet Auxilliary, only has four oil tankers. The two ships of the new Wave class have a similar size and capacity, but the two ships of the Rover class are only 11,000 tons.