As the US Navy modernizes its fleet, the time has come for the venerable Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oilers to make way for the advanced and capable John Lewis class. With enhanced fuel capacity, cargo storage, and speed capabilities, these new vessels are poised to take naval logistics and replenishment operations to new heights.

In this article, we explore the remarkable features and advancements offered by the John Lewis class and its role as a vital asset in sustaining naval operations, including USN carrier strike groups, amphibious ready groups, and other surface forces.

Preceding Henry J. Kaiser-Class

The development and design of USN’s newest replenishment oiler represents a significant milestone in evolving naval logistics capabilities. While still in good shape to serve, the need for a new fleet of oiler ships arose as the US Navy recognized the limitations of the aging Henry J. Kaiser class. The growing demands of modern naval operations, coupled with advancements in technology and evolving mission requirements, necessitated a more capable and versatile replenishment vessel.

The new generation of replenishment oilers will retain some capabilities similar to its predecessor, with an improved emphasis on fuel capacity and cargo-carrying capabilities. Speed and efficiency were also included while integrating sustainable and environmentally friendly features. Furthermore, lessons learned from the Henry J. Kaiser class and other fleet replenishment vessels provided valuable insights into operational challenges, maintenance requirements, and crew accommodations.

T-AO 187
The amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5), left, conducts a replenishment at sea with the fleet replenishment oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187) in the Pacific Ocean, 2012. (Image source: DVIDS)

The US Navy has set its sights on procuring 20 TAO-205-class oilers as part of the John Lewis or TAO-205 program, paying tribute to the late American civil rights leader, John Robert Lewis. These oilers are essential for supporting naval operations by providing fuel and logistical support to the fleet.

The estimated cost for each TAO-205-class ship is approximately $650 million when procured at a rate of two ships per year. The price may slightly increase if the procurement rate decreases to one ship per year. The affordability of these vessels plays a crucial role in ensuring the Navy’s ability to acquire an adequate fleet of oilers to meet operational demands. The funding for the initial two ships, estimated at $1.05 billion, was approved in 2016 and 2018, respectively, demonstrating the Navy’s commitment to progressing with the program.

In June 2016, the US Navy awarded General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding (NASSCO) a block-buy contract for the detailed design and construction (DD&C) of the first six TAO-205-class ships. This contract ensured that the program advanced to the construction phase, solidifying the partnership between the Navy and NASSCO.

The subsequent eight ships are planned for procurement between 2019 and 2023, as the Navy aims to gradually expand its fleet of TAO-205-class oilers. The remaining vessels will be procured over a longer timeline, with the program set to acquire all 20 replenishment oilers by 2048.