October 30, 2020 – Military Sealift Command Far East’s Henry J. Kaiser-class underway replenishment oiler USNS Tippecanoe (T-AO 199) routinely conducts replenishments at sea (RAS) for both U.S. ships and those from partner and ally nations – almost on a daily business.
“USNS Tippecanoe’s officers and crew have shown fortitude, skill and dedication while providing much needed food, fuel, supplies and cargo to U.S. Navy, coalition and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships operating in the 7th Fleet,” said Capt. Kylie Howard.
“They have created a culture of safety and professionalism that is second to none, working tirelessly to ensure that the needs of our customers are met anytime and anywhere.
“Tippecanoe maintains a heavy workload ensuring warfighter readiness, earning her nickname – ‘The Beast of the East.’ USNS Tippecanoe: ready, willing and able,” Howard added.
During a recent busy three-day period, Tippecanoe replenished fuel and supplies for ships from Canada and Japan – not to mention three ships from the U.S. Navy.
The resupply of the international ships took place just before Keen Sword, a biennial exercise designed to increase combat readiness and interoperability of the Japan Self-Defense Force and U.S. forces. This year, the exercise, which has taken place since 1986, includes the Canadian ship. Tippecanoe will also participate in this year’s Keen Sword.
“Our schedule stays pretty full,” said Christopher Bosch, operations officer on Tippecanoe.
“It’s all part of our commitment to deliver on-station logistical support so partner and ally countries’ ships conducting maritime security operations can stay on task, without worrying about when and where they will receive critical supplies.”
Tippecanoe launched a hectic 72-hour period of underway replenishments with a RAS alongside HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), a Halifax-class frigate in the Royal Canadian Navy fleet. During the evolution, the ships were tethered together by fuel lines and steamed together with just a couple hundred feet between them while gallons of fuel were transferred from MSC’s oiler to the Canadian frigate.
In addition to resupplying Canadian partners, Tippecanoe delivered fuel to four Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) ships, including three destroyers, JS Shiranui (DD 120), JS Makinami (DD 112) JS Yamagiri (DD 152), and IS Mashu (AOE 425), Japan’s lead replenishment ship in a class by the same name.
U.S. and Japanese forces have a long history of training together and learning from each other while improving the readiness of forces involved. Exercises like Keen Sword provide the Japan Self-Defense Force and U.S. military opportunities to train together across a variety of mission areas in realistic scenarios, enhancing readiness, interoperability, and building credible deterrence. The global maritime environment is too large and too complex for any one nation to safeguard. Including Canada in this bilateral exercise helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans.
The underway replenishments took place in advance of the exercise, optimizing the time the navies will spend training.
While Tippecanoe provided necessary support to a longstanding international partner and an ally in Asia, the crew also kept United States ships afloat, resupplying the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76), and two Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruisers, USS Antietam (CG 54) and USS Shiloh (CG-67).
“We are proud to support not only our own ships but our allies and partners as well who are operating in this vast region,” said Emmett Meyer, watch officer.
“The logistical support we provide to U.S. Navy and other ships from around the world demonstrate our longstanding commitment to security and stability in the region.”
Each RAS can take up to several hours to complete. During underway replenishments with the fleet oilier, the two ships involved steam alongside each other while Tippecanoe transfers fuel via connected fuel lines.
It’s an afloat gas station, so to speak, but it’s much trickier than just pulling up to the pump. The underway evolution requires the ships to cruise alongside one another only yards apart, all while maintaining the same speed and course. If one of the vessels makes the slightest move, it could present challenges for either crew.
Safety is paramount.
“Each time we conduct a RAS, we have to be on our A-game, with absolutely no errors,” said Chief Mate Arne Plathan.
“Our crew is top-notch, maintaining professionalism and adhering to strict protocols.
“This is a very risky business. If one ship changes course of speed, it could result in someone getting hurt, a collision at sea or a fuel line breaking away.”
That’s why Plathan and the crew take extra precautions and strictly follow all safety guidelines and requirements.
Despite the inherent challenges, Operations Chief Eddie Richard said the fuel transfer with Winnipeg, the JMSDF vessels and the U.S. ships went well.
“I am proud of the crew who stayed focused during the replenishment. We look forward to working with other partners and allies who are currently conducting operations in this region.”
MSC Far East is responsible for the execution of strategic sealift missions throughout the Indo-Pacific region and serves as a direct link to MSC ships, providing maintenance oversight, logistics coordination and other needed services.
MSC operates approximately 125 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.
Keen Sword 21 is a biennial, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command-scheduled, and U.S. Pacific Fleet-sponsored field training exercise (FTX). The joint/bilateral FTX runs through Nov. 5.