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The Fast Combat-support Ship and Improved Techniques for Transfer at Sea

In September 1947, Capt. Edward E. Paré, then in command of the Atlantic Fleet's ServRon 2, delivered a comprehensive lecture at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, on the topic of mobile fleet support. Paré, as will be recalled from chapter 8, had been the first officer in the U.S. Navy to command an oiling group at sea. He had served with the Fifth Fleet during the conquest of the Marshalls, the Marianas, and Iwo Jima, first under Comdr. August H. Gray as chief of staff for ServRon 8 and later under Rear Adm. Donald B. Beary as his aide and chief of staff for the newly formed ServRon 6.1 Not only was Captain Paré the navy's leading authority on replenishment at sea, but he was also its leading proponent.

In his speech to the Naval War College, Paré introduced a new concept: the one-stop replenishment ship. Although the idea of maintaining a task force at sea via underway replenishment had first surfaced during the last months of the war in the Pacific, its development had been hampered by the need to adapt a number of conventional supply ships for this role. By war's end, the job of rearming and supplying carrier groups at sea had become an immense undertaking that required an entire squadron of support ships composed of oilers, ammunition types, stores ships, and provision ships. To maintain combat readiness, each combatant had to come alongside a succession of ships--each capable of dispensing only one type of cargo--in order to take on the proper amount of fuel, ordnance, food, and stores needed to maintain combat readiness. The problem was most acute for the carriers that had to make up to four stops during the course of a single replenishment day. As Paré pointed out in his lecture, much of the short time allocated for replenishment was wasted in the multiple approach, rigging, and breakaway times necessitated by the use of so many different ship types. "If one large ship could carry fuel, food, ammunition, and some stores, and could be so rigged as to pass rapidly all kinds of material," then a great deal of time could be saved.


The one-stop ship put forth by Paré would eliminate the need to come alongside more than one vessel. Specialized types would still be needed, but would be used for the most part to periodically top off the proposed multiproduct ship. When, and if, large quantities of any one item were needed, the single-cargo ships would still be available to come alongside any ship that needed a greater quantity of material than could normally be transferred by the one-stop type during a normal replenishment because of the limitations in the amount of transfer gear that could be deployed for a given commodity. The system, as conceived by Captain Paré, would work along the following lines: the single-cargo types would shuttle back and forth between the bases in the rear, their single cargoes facilitating quick turnaround, while the one-stop types remained close to the task force.2

As can be seen from the specifications that accompanied the lecture (see table 23), Paré's thinking was obviously influenced by the design of the Dithmarschen. Unlike the American policy that built supply ships for the general use of all combat ships, ergo the multiplicity of specialized auxiliaries in the U.S. Navy, supply ships in the German Navy were built to support certain specific combatant units. Although Paré's concept of a single high-speed combat support ship for battle group replenishment at sea would ultimately be affirmed, it would be

Characteristics for One-stop Ship

Proposed Specifications Dithmarschen
Length, overall 650'   660'
Beam 75'   78'
Depth 43' 6"   40' 5"
Draft 33' 6"   30'
Speed, sustained 20 knots 21 knots
  maximum 21.5 knots 21.87 knots
Pumping Capacity
  Fuel oil 105 bbls/hr N/A
  Avgas 105,000 gals/hr N/A
Displacement, full load 30,000 tons 22,000 tons
Cargo Capacity
  Fuel Oil 50,000 bbls 67,000 bbls
  Avgas 10,000 gals None
  Frozen 500 tons 16,000 cu ft
  Chilled 300 tons 35,000 cu ft
  Dry 500 tons
  Fresh -- 4.189 cu ft
Stores 500 tons 49,000 cu ft
Ammunition 500 tons 200 tons
Endurance 12,000 miles at 18 knots 15,000 miles at 10.5 knots

SOURCE: "Mobile Logistic Support," Lecture by Capt. E. E. Paré, NWC, 16 September 1947.


many years before this idea was implemented in the fleet. Unfortunately, Paré, who retired as a rear admiral in 1950, would not live to see this concept in action.3

By 1952, token support had developed within the Navy Department for the idea of one-stop replenishment and a decision was made to test the concept in operations at sea. Although $4 million was assigned for the conversion of the Conecuh, the moneys allocated were switched to other projects considered to be of higher priorities before any work could begin on the ship.4 Thus no funds were available to install or test new types of ship-to-ship transfer systems then being investigated. Nevertheless, the simultaneous transfer of liquid fuels and other stores demonstrated by the Conecuh in the spring of 1954 helped to overcome the persistent skepticism of the one-stop replenishment ship thereby leading to the recommendation to build a new type--one that would become known as the fast combat-support ship--in lieu of converting AOs to AORs.5

While the Conecuh was engaged in replenishment at sea trials with the ships of the Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean that spring, Cdr. Roman L. Brooks, an engineering duty officer (EDO) assigned to the ComServForLant was working out the details for a new type of support vessel, which he dubbed the "multiproduct ship." Dispensing ammunition, food, and critical supply items simultaneously with fuel, such a ship could potentially reduce the time needed for at-sea replenishment by as much as 67 percent. Combining several functions in one ship was also viewed as an economical savings in resources, since each one-stop multiproduct ship would serve the same function as three conventional replenishment ships.6

These points were submitted to the CNO as part of an official paper entitled "One-Stop Replenishment--A Promising Time Saver." Although the sea trials with Conecuh had produced favorable results, acceptance of the one-stop concept was not universal. Many officers still did not see the need for such a ship; others felt "it was simply not possible to build a ship large enough to carry all of the things that a task force needs." In July 1954, Commander Brooks prepared a note dealing with an approach to the design of a multiproduct ship that answered such questions as the allocation of space, flexibility of loading versus space usage, improvements in replenishment equipment, and number of stations necessary for the movement of cargo. After these ideas were reviewed by the officers serving onboard Conecuh and circulated within the Sixth Fleet, they were submitted to the Bureau of Ships and simultaneously forwarded to the Office of Naval Operations. The CNO was sufficiently impressed with the concept to request that design studies be undertaken for a ship having the characteristics proposed by Commander Brooks.7


At that time, the Bureau of Ships had a number of projects under consideration that were designed to improve the capabilities of the gear needed to transfer materials at sea. Early in 1956, the bureau tasked the San Francisco Naval Shipyard to establish a dedicated underway replenishment engineering group to concentrate on developing improvements to the existing jury-rigged systems.8 In December, the bureau asked the current CNO, Adm. Arleigh A. Burke, to convene a conference on replenishment at sea.9 Admiral Burke, who had been chief of staff to Vice Adm. Marc Mitscher during the air strikes conducted by Task Force 58 against the home islands in 1945, was well aware of the importance of underway replenishment and the value placed on the timely completion of this task.10

The Second Conference on Mobile Logistic Support

Admiral Burke responded to the bureau's request in July 1957 with a call to broaden the scope of the conference so as to cover the entire subject of mobile logistic support.11 Although he recognized the need to provide combat logistic support afloat, it was becoming increasingly clear that it would be necessary to reduce the expenditures for support ships if adequate numbers of modern combatants were to be procured in the coming years. How to achieve this dichotomy in an era of increasing costs and limited budgets was one of the objectives that Admiral Burke hoped the conference would address. Several weeks before the conference was scheduled to take place, he asked each of the various fleet commanders to prepare a fifty-minute presentation defining the future requirements for mobile logistic support needed by their respective commands in the 1965-75 time period.

When the conference opened on 4 November 1957, Admiral Burke, "a ruggedly handsome naval officer with a relaxed manner," was the first to speak. He opened the conference by telling the ninety-nine participants that they were responsible for improving underway replenishment in the U.S. Navy.12 Marvin Miller, then a young engineer representing the newly established UNREP (underway replenishment) engineering group from the San Francisco Naval Shipyard, recalls that Admiral Burke, whose remarks are summarized below, spoke with an "air of authority" when he stated:

  1. We do not want new and faster UNREP ships that have the same equipment and cumbersome transfer methods as our present UNREP ship.

  2. We need faster means and reduced time with fewer preliminaries and we must be able to UNREP in all weather.

  3. Only greatly improved UNREP performance will get the money.13

Among the officers participating in the Second Mobile Logistics Support Conference were the commander of the Second Fleet, Vice Adm. Robert B. Pirie; the commander of the Pacific Fleet Service Force,


Rear Adm. E. A. Solomons; and Rear Adm. I. H. Nunn, the commander of the Atlantic Fleet. The remarks of these important leaders, recalled here by Marvin Miller, provide invaluable insight into the problems then occurring at sea and the attitudes within the fleet toward their solution.

The first speaker, Admiral Pirie, talked about the recently completed Second Fleet NATO exercises off the coast of Norway. Weather conditions were so severe that his destroyers could not hold station alongside fleet oilers (AO-22 class and AO-143 class) because the oilers were yawing so severely. The only platform stable enough to fuel his destroyers was the task force's lone battleship. Admiral Pirie also explained that British submarines playing the part of the Soviets, stayed under the Underway Replenishment Group (URG) and just waited for the combatant ships to rendezvous for replenishment. In the future, he concluded, the carriers would have to stay in the center of the task force for protection and not break away, as was current doctrine.

Rear Admiral Solomons flatly condemned the navy's newest UNREP ships as inadequate and "just new versions of World War II jury-rigged merchant ships." He stated that it took ten hours every three days to replenish aircraft carriers and that this was unacceptable.

Rear Admiral Nunn stated that we had gotten nowhere since the end of World War II and called for a technological breakthrough in transfer rates at sea. As an unacceptable example, he cited his own experience with the guided missile cruiser Boston (CAG-1), which, during a recent exercise at sea, required eleven hours to rearm.

As the conference continued, it became obvious to Miller that the fleet was thinking major systems improvement while BuShips people were talking minor hardware improvements.14

At the beginning of each of the workshops conducted during the course of the three-day conference, Capt. T. A. Nisewaner, an EDO assigned to OP-04 (operations logistics) presented a concept dubbed the "Fast Combat-Support Ship," later designated the AOE. Nisewaner had been a party to, and had participated in, earlier talks that had taken place between Harold Robinson, then head of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Division, senior Pentagon admirals, and Admiral Burke. The discussions held between the individuals mentioned above ultimately led to a proposal, prepared by Bethlehem's Central Technical Office at Quincy, Massachusetts, for a one-stop replenishment ship that carried the fuel of an oiler and the ordnance of an ammunition ship. The design concept proposed by Bethlehem's specified a 30-knot ship 881 feet in length. The huge ship had to be fast since it was intended that she steam with the carrier task force and not as part of a separate underway replenishment group. This would eliminate the need to provide additional escorts and with one-stop service, the AOE


would be able to transfer ammunition and stores to the ships alongside while fuel was being pumped through the hoses connected to the receiving ship. Although there was a great deal of concern about how transferring of aviation fuel and ammunition would be handled simultaneously, there was little open criticism of the basic concept during the conference, perhaps because it had been blessed by Admiral Burke.

The Evolution of the AOE Design

The original design envisioned by Bethlehem called for a ship that would be carrying liquid fuels in the lower cargo holds and ammunition and stores in the upper decks. This arrangement was changed to allow stowage of ammunition within holds located within the center of the ship surrounded by outboard fuel tanks. This arrangement had two major advantages: first, the centerline holds were all rectangular with no odd shapes, which increased the density of stowing ammunition; second, the fuel tanks provided torpedo protection and shielded the ammunition from the possibility of direct hits from enemy fire. The design was sized so the ship could carry the liquid cargo of a fleet oiler, had the stowage of an ammunition ship, and contained the partial dry cargo capacity of a stores ship.15

Unlike other replenishment types, the fast combat-support ship was designed to operate with the strike force and not as a unit of the Underway Replenishment Group, which had been tasked under existing doctrine to provide logistics at sea. The fast, multiproduct replenishment ship would travel with an aircraft carrier task force and was designed to replenish combatant ships whenever needed and whenever operations and weather conditions permitted. To fulfill this mission required a much larger and more powerful ship than the Neosho-Cass oilers, which had just entered service.

The concept for this ship stemmed in part from operational experience with Iowa-class battleships when used to refuel carrier task forces. These operations demonstrated the battleship's superiority over conventional tankers during heavy weather. Though BuShips investigated the possibility of converting such ships to oilers, the studies indicated that the conversion would produce a substantially less efficient oiler than the AO-143 class. In view of these results, the bureau was asked to prepare a new design based on the sea-keeping qualities of the Iowa class, the fuel capacity of an AO-143 type, the ammunition load of an AE, and substantial amounts of refrigerated and dry provision.16

The ship characteristics that emerged from the Bureau of Ships for the new AOE type specified a ship 795 feet in length with a beam of 107 feet and a full-load displacement of 53,600 tons. The hull form was modeled after that used for the North Carolina-class battleships with particular attention paid to those ship-control features that would


enhance its maneuvering capabilities during underway replenishment. BuShips made sure that both the stern design and the arrangement of the propellers were extensively tested in the David Taylor Model Basin before finalizing the design.17 As in the layout proposed by Bethlehem, BuShips placed the propulsion machinery aft, but moved the bridge forward for better conning visibility and to provide protection for personnel and machinery at the UNREP delivery stations on the weather deck located between the bridge and the machinery uptakes. In addition, a secondary conning station was installed on the port side aft of the machinery uptake to insure excellent visibility during carrier replenishments, though operational experience proved it to be an unnecessary expense and it was relegated to emergency use in the event of battle damage to the main bridge.

Although the participants of the Mobile Support Conference of 1957 had recommended a 30-knot ship, 26 knots was the best that could be achieved on an economical basis. Even this modest reduction required a huge engineering plant. Like all previous fleet oilers, power was provided by dual sets of steam-geared turbines on twin shafts. Rated at 100,000 s.h.p., they were the largest engines installed on any fleet oiler and were almost four times greater than those of the 20-knot AO-143 class. The machinery for the first two ships to be completed was salvaged from the battleship Kentucky, which had been canceled before completion.18

Construction of the first ships was authorized in the building program of fiscal year 1961 and the keel for the first vessel was laid down on 30 June 1961. The first to be completed was the Sacramento (AOE-1), commissioned on 14 March 1964. She was followed by the Camden (AOE-2) in 1967, the Seattle (AOE-3) in 1969, and the Detroit (AOE-4) in 1970. To date, these are the largest and most expensive auxiliaries constructed for the U.S. Navy.19

The Development of Modern Ship-to-Ship Transfer Systems

From the beginning of the design process, it was understood that the AOE concept would require new methods of delivery if the transfer rates envisioned for the new ship were to be achieved. These required a technological breakthrough to minimize the time combatants spent during underway replenishment, one that could be utilized under any conditions, day or night in fair weather or foul.

Following the 1957 Mobile Logistics Conference, Admiral Burke directed the Bureau of Ships to push ahead with the following three tasks: (1) Complete installations of a newly developed counterweight tensioned highline/loadline rig for ammunition ships; (2) Initiate development of a highly automated missile rearming system eventually to be known by the acronym "FAST" (Fast Automatic Shuttle Transfer); and (3) Conduct a research and development, test and engineering


Built at a cost of $66 million, Sacramento (AOE-1) is the largest and most expensive auxiliary constructed by the U.S. Navy to date. (U.S. Naval Institute)
Built at a cost of $66 million, Sacramento (AOE-1) is the largest and most expensive auxiliary
constructed by the U.S. Navy to date. (U.S. Naval Institute)

program for a future system based on a pneumohydraulic ram tensioner.

In response to this directive, BuShips tasked the San Francisco Naval Shipyard to build and test a mockup of a ship-to-ship missile rearming system based on the counterweight rig just going into fleet AEs.20 Marvin Miller, then a young engineer assigned to the project, had a number of reservations about the proposed system. He had observed the prototype counterweight "ammo" rig during operations at sea aboard the Alestede (AF-58) in 1956 and was aware of its shortcomings. Miller was particularly concerned with the excessive pendulum action inherent in the design. This would cause the load to swing dangerously out over the bulwark and then come back hard against the kingpost. In a effort to search for a better method of controlling the load, Miller discovered a series of papers written at the turn of the century by a naval engineer named Spencer Miller (no relation). Published in the Transactions of the Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, they described Spencer's efforts to develop a method for transferring bags of coal between ships that could be used for coaling battleships at sea. Marvin Miller quickly recognized that the need to raise 3,500 pounds of coal, in bags, onto a highline so that


it could be hauled aloft several hundred feet, then lowered to the deck of a pitching battleship was very similar to the problem he was trying to solve. In his own words, he had "hit the jackpot," because in a matter of hours he was able to benefit from years of his namesake's trials and errors.21

One of Spencer Miller's schemes used two vertical spars to support a tensioned highline passed between ships. Both the trolley and its cargo were raised from the dispensing ship and lowered to the receiving ship using a block and tackle. This appeared to provide good control over the load and rigging. Marvin Miller used this information to work out the details for a new type of modern rig based on the notion of a "sliding block." With this idea in mind, he approached Cdr. Wayne Hoof (BuShips design coordinator for the new AOE-1 class) and Cdr. Paul Gisvold (BuShips UNREP officer) proposing that they build and test a prototype based on his idea. Commander Hoof had worked previously with Miller on underway replenishment while serving as ComServPac's maintenance officer. He was familiar with the problems of transferring cargo at sea and had similar concerns regarding the suitability of the counterweight tensioned design previously mentioned. Fortunately, ComServPac gave full support to the project, including extended use of the Vega (AF-59) for installation and testing of a prototype delivery station based on Miller's sliding block/sliding padeye concept. A major advance was the inclusion of a ram tensioner, which replaced the heavy lead counterweight previously used to maintain tension in the highline.22

The first tests of the new system were conducted in April 1960 between two light ships in heavy seas. Although successful, Commander Hoof held off approval. He was concerned about the economic impact of the new system, if adopted, since it would require the addition of new hardware--sliding padeyes--on every ship in the navy that had a receiving station.

Authorization of the new system was held in abeyance until further tests could be conducted with the Haleakala (AE-25) in order to evaluate her new rig. She was the first ship assigned to the fleet in the Pacific equipped with a counterweight tensioned highline/loadline and was, therefore, the ideal test bed for comparison with the system installed on the Vega. The tests were conducted in November along the following lines: first, thirty pallets were transferred from the forward deck of the Vega to the Haleakala using the sliding block/sliding padeye system; the pallets were then moved aft and transferred back to the Vega using the Haleakala's counterweight rig. The two ships were really ready for some hot competition, but it turned out to be no contest as the sliding block/sliding padeye system transferred the pallets at twice the rate of the counterweight rig. As a result of these tests, BuShips proceeded to incorporate the sliding block and ram tensioner highline delivery station into the new AOEs.23


The FAST Systems

Tight shipbuilding schedules forced shortcuts in the development of the FAST system bypassing many of the activities normally conducted during the research and development phase of any new system. To expedite delivery, commercial-type deck machinery was adapted to suit the performance specifications resulting in the adoption of numerous nonstandard machinery installations on a variety of ships outfitted with the FAST system. At least thirty-four different designs were fitted on twenty-seven ships making routine maintenance a nightmare. The FAST missile transfer system "soon became known in the fleet as the UNREP system that wouldn't work when needed."24 It was sometimes unsafe and was always extremely expensive to maintain.

As originally designed, the Fast Automatic Shuttle Transfer was intended to transfer surface-to-air missiles every ninety seconds in a shock-mitigated environment without being touched by human hands. Late in 1966, the commander, Operational Test and Evaluation Force, advised the CNO that FAST, as then installed, could not be maintained by the fleet.25 Although FAST, when it worked, was extremely effective even at night and in heavy weather, it had to be simplified--a process that would not be completed until the mid-1970s when a master plan was presented for backfitting UNREP ships with navy standard UNREP machinery. The biggest change involved the elimination of the complicated shock mitigation and the automated topside handling equipment. Instead, each missile was placed in a shock-resistant dolly, which had to be moved around on deck by hand. Automated below-deck machinery needed for rearming missile magazines was also eliminated to further reduce the complexity of the system. These changes did not increase the deck-to-deck transfer cycle, but did add significantly to the time needed to manhandle loaded and empty dollies on the receiving ship. This increased the time to rearm missiles from ninety seconds to five minutes, but reduced the complexity of the system by an order of magnitude on combatants and by a factor of at least five on the UNREP ship. Unfortunately the simplified system, called STREAM (Standard Tensioned Replenishment Alongside Method), made deck handling of missiles in heavy weather more hazardous. Nevertheless, the STREAM concept proved to be a highly reliable, easily maintained system.

Ship-to-Ship Probe Fueling

The use of the ram-tensioned highline was also adopted for use on fueling rigs as a means of keeping the supporting span wire at constant tension. Based on a hydropneumatic ram, the system as currently installed automatically compensates for ship motion due to roll, pitch, or yaw allowing the replenishing ships to increase or decrease separation by as much as eighty-one feet.

Another improvement was the development of the 7-inch, lightweight collapsible hose. Derived from a British design, it replaced the


rigid, wire-reinforced hose that had been introduced in the Second World War.

Although these and other technical improvements had eliminated many of the problems associated with fueling at sea, restrictions imposed by the end couplings and the time needed to rig and unrig them continued to contribute to the ongoing hazards and the relatively large number of people needed to man a fueling station.26 To eliminate these deficiencies, BuShips launched a program to develop a "probe" fueling device, having as its basis the techniques used by aircraft during inflight refueling. The first of four development contracts was let in March 1957 leading to an extensive prototype testing program that evolved over the next eight years. After evaluating designs for nine different probes and twenty-one receivers, a standardized system was approved by the CNO on 30 September 1965. In its final form, the probe system consisted of a male fitting attached to the terminal end of a 7-inch hose "flown" by the oiler. The fitting rides the span wire on a trolley, and mates with a swivel elbow on the receiving ship. Upon mating, the male fitting is sealed in the receiver and a poppet valve opens to permit the flow of fuel. The poppet valve prevents leakage of fuel when, at breakaway, the probe disconnects from the receiver.27

The adoption of the semiautomatic fueling probe was a tremendous improvement over the manual systems previously used to transfer fuel oil between ships. It reduced the manning requirements at each fueling station from six to two men, permitted fueling to be accomplished in bad weather without the need to wrestle with riding lines or line up recalcitrant couplings, and decreased the connection time to as little as three minutes from messenger passing to pumping--a 300 percent improvement over other rigs.28


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