PACIFIC OCEAN -
Long gone are the days when U.S. Navy warships had to pull into friendly ports to take on the ammunition, stores, repair parts, and fuel they need to undertake operations. Since World War II, these necessities have been transferred ship-to-ship in a complex evolution known as replenishment-at-sea (RAS). In today’s Navy, the evolution has become routine as a primary way ships refuel and Sailors get the mail, food, parts and supplies they need to get the job done.
However, a RAS is a vulnerable time for ships operating in contested maritime areas. To mitigate that vulnerability in potential real-world situations, surface combatants from Commander, Task Force (CTF) 70 and Military Sealift Command (MSC) fleet logistics ships from CTF 73 participated in an opposed RAS Sept. 20 as part of Valiant Shield 2014.
“Logistics is a capability that makes our armed forces one of the most unique armed forces in the world,” said Rear Adm. Mark Montgomery, commander, Battle Force 7th Fleet. “Our ability to deliver weapons, fuel, food and repair parts at great distances from our fleet concentration areas in a timely and efficient manner enhances our combat readiness. This is really what makes the global reach
of our Navy effective. Here in the 7th Fleet area of operations we have a close relationship with Task Force 73, which provides logistics for 7th Fleet assets. Complex exercises like the opposed RAS allow us to work closely with CTF 73 assets as we operate in a tactically challenging environment; whether it’s from air, surface or sub-surface threats. This enhances the combat readiness of both CTF 70 and 73 units.”
Being able to conduct underway replenishment is key to ensuring U.S. forces in the region can remain ready and prepared to rapidly respond to crises across the spectrum of operations from humanitarian assistance and disaster relief to armed conflict.
“Ships need to conduct RAS evolutions on a routine basis,” said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Chapman, Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15 Valiant Shield 2014 lead planner. “Usually, it is something that is done in a benign environment with no enemy threats. An opposed RAS is conducting a RAS in a threat environment.”
During a RAS, surface combatants are connected to MSC ships by wires and fuel hoses, matching course and speed, transferring fuel and stores over the lines that run between them. Helicopters also airlift pallets of stores from ship to ship.
“When the ships are alongside each other and connected, they are much more vulnerable,” said Chapman. “In this Valiant Shield event there was a submarine threat present. The carrier strike group was in a position where they were trying to complete the replenishment while evading submarine detection and attack.”
This simulated submarine threat helped assure that a complex yet routine evolution such as a RAS can be executed even in a contested area.
Although opposed RASs are rehearsed on a regular basis, Valiant Shield provided an opportunity to make this one a little more unique and challenging.
“We do practice opposed replenishment’s at sea in the 3rd, 5th, 6th and 7th Fleet areas of operation,” said Montgomery. “We are conducting this RAS in a reasonably high threat environment where the blue forces are relatively localized due to the geometry of the exercise, therefore making it easier for the simulated adversary forces to localize and track us. As a result this opposed RAS was a challenging one for our surface combatant escorts.”
Tactics were employed to assure that assets from the strike group could be protected if an opposed RAS had to be conducted in a real-world scenario.
“The escort ships must ensure, during the RAS, that the aircraft carrier is defended,” said Chapman. “Instead of being dispersed throughout the water space conducting independent RAS, we have built the scheme of maneuver to ensure ships are positioned in such a way to protect the aircraft carrier. The ships will also practice tactics to protect the replenishing ships from threats, as well as react to a more complex environment than that of a normal RAS.”
On the decks of the surface combatants, training and teamwork made all the difference in the scenario’s execution.
“It was a lot more than we’re used to, but the crew really stepped up and made it work,” said Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Jacob Bashiom, from Winchester, Virginia. “We probably conduct a RAS weekly when we’re underway, and we’ve done it in all types of conditions, so I feel like that training and practice really helped us out.”
Valiant Shield is a U.S.-only exercise integrating an estimated 18,000 U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps personnel, more than 200 aircraft and 19 surface ships, offering real-world joint operational experience to develop capabilities that provide a full range of options to defend U.S. interests and those if its allies and partners.