The first piece of steel has been cut for the US Navy’s lead John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler, marking the start of the vessel’s construction.

The vessel is being built by General Dynamics’ (GD) wholly owned subsidiary National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) at its shipyard in San Diego.

Named T-AO 205, the first of six John Lewis-class replenishment oilers are being designed and developed for the US Navy under a fixed price incentive block buy contract.

GD NASSCO president Kevin Graney said: “These oilers are critical to the navy’s ability to operate around the world.

“We are honoured to build the lead ship of this class and have worked with our navy and industry partners to ensure the design, planning, material and facility are ready to begin construction.”

“These oilers are critical to the navy’s ability to operate around the world.”

Construction work on the future USNS John Lewis is slated for completion in November 2020.

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The double-hulled John Lewis-class vessels are designed to transfer fuel to the US Navy carrier strike group ships operating at sea.

Program Executive Office Ships (PEO Ships) support vessels and craft programme manager Mike Kosar said: “As the first ship of its class, the future USNS John Lewis will play a vital role in the mission of the navy and Marine Corps, just like its namesake John Lewis’ vital role as a national leader in the movement for civil rights and human dignity.”

To be deployed as part of the US Navy’s Combat Logistics Force, the replenishment oilers will have the capacity to carry 157,000bpd of oil, a significant dry cargo capacity, and can travel at speeds of 20k.

Based on commercial design standards, the new vessels will help recapitalise the currently used T-AO 187-class fleet replenishment oilers.

Once complete, the future USNS John Lewis will be operated by the US Navy’s Military Sealift Command.