DLA expands refueling capability and Pacific resiliency

By Irene Smith DLA Energy Public Affairs

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In support of Pacific Command warfighter requirements, Defense Logistics Agency Energy and Military Sealift Command revived a long-standing capability for delivering fuel to the fleet for the first time in more than a decade.

USNS Rappahannock pulled alongside the U.S.-flagged tanker MT Maersk Peary, and completed a refueling at sea of 10,000 barrels of diesel fuel May 18. Maersk Peary is under a long-term charter to MSC and is one of four MSC charters that have been specially outfitted to be able to conduct consolidated cargo capability operations with fleet replenishment oilers.

“This consolidated cargo exercise is an example of how DLA is working directly with our warfighters to enhance sea-based logistics,” said Air Force Brig. Gen. Mark McLeod, DLA Energy commander. “This capability creates a direct operational link to our commercial suppliers, decreases reliance on fixed petroleum infrastructure-our ports and storage facilities; and significantly enhances redundancy and resiliency across the full spectrum of operations.”

CONSOL capability is when a specially outfitted Military Sealift Command-controlled tanker conducts underway refueling operations, transferring cargo to a fleet oiler at sea.  CONSOL operations save oilers like Rappahannock time by not having to enter ports and refuel. The direct delivery of fuel to the fleet achieves cost avoidance associated with fleet oiler round trips to a port for replenishment and increases on-station-time.

“CONSOL operations capability give greater flexibility to support DLA in the distribution of fuel to the fleet,” said John Joerger, MSC tanker project officer. “The competence and professionalism of MSC’s commercial partners and their mariners have proved key to our success with CONSOL operations over many years, and we are proud to reinstitute this important capability.”

The CONSOL exercise between Rappahannock and Maersk Peary stemmed from a simulated DLA Wargame Pacific 2014 designed to stress the Pacific fuel capabilities. The Pacific wargame tested the strategic fuel network from source of supply to distribution to storage facility in the U.S. Pacific Command area of responsibility.  The ability for DLA to support fleet fuel demand at sea using Military Sealift Command CONSOL capability proved to be a significant enabler.

Military Sealift Command point-to-point tankers have conducted CONSOL operations worldwide since the 1940s as a core capability.

“Refueling and consolidating cargo from fuel tankers with the Navy’s replenishment oilers while underway was widely practiced from the West Coast throughout the Pacific  in the 1980-1990s timeframe but as operations shifted to the Central Command with Desert Shield and Desert Storm, CONSOL operations decreased and fell out of favor,” said Linda Barnett, DLA Energy Customer Operations deputy director.

“One takeaway from the wargame was how DLA and (U.S. Transportation Command) may need to utilize Consolidated Cargo capability to support the fleets. Using a prepositioned tanker to deliver Navy fuel allows CONSOLs to be conducted where ever the mission demands, regardless of the availability of port facilities or other fuel infrastructure.”

Military Sealift Command uses commercial tankers in their controlled fleet to support DLA Energy ability to establish accelerated resupply early on, versus using reserve supplies, Barnett said.  The exercise allowed us to resurrect a flexible operational tool and assess that tool against warfighter demands in very challenging scenarios.  

“Completing the CONSOL is a milestone for DLA Energy in expanding the Pacific region refueling capability,” McLeod said. “This is a game changer for fuel distribution in the Pacific.”

 In preparation for the at sea replenishment, Maersk Peary and Rappahannock crews practiced a cross dock hook up of fuel cables while in port in Okinawa, followed by at sea training where the two ships practiced station keeping – maintaining position while sailing alongside.  

Rappahannock is a Henry J. Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oiler operated by Military Sealift Command to support other Navy vessels. Its mission is to provide underway replenishment of fuel, fleet cargo and stores to customer ships at sea. Rappahannock can carry up to 180,000 barrels of fuel oil and jet fuel – enough to fuel a carrier battle group for several days.

Maersk Peary is a U.S.-flagged tanker operated by the Maersk Line Limited shipping firm and is on a long-term charter for the movement of DLA Energy POL worldwide. Maersk Peary has an ice-strengthened hull designed for working in the Polar Regions and is used by MSC for a variety of DLA-E cargo missions as well for the annual supply of fuel to  Thule Air Force Base, Greenland and McMurdo Station, Antarctica.