General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) has started building the US Navy’s future USNS Robert F Kennedy (T-AO 208) ship.

The first steel of the ship was cut by NASSCO’s long-time employee Francisco Medina and the Start of Construction honouree.

T-AO 208 is the fourth of six vessels in the US Navy’s John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler programme.

It will be operated by the Navy’s Military Sealift Command. The ship is named after the Navy veteran, former US Attorney General and US Senator from New York.

Fleet oilers will serve as the backbone of the fuel delivery system of the US Navy.

Last September, NASSCO laid the keel for the second John Lewis-class fleet ship Harvey Milk (T-AO 206). NASSCO started construction on USNS Harvey Milk in December 2019.

The keel of the first John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler, the future USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205), was laid in May 2019.

The class’ first replenishment oiler (T-AO 205) was named the USNS John Lewis.

General Dynamics NASSCO president Dave Carver said: “Today, we celebrate a time-honoured tradition that marks the beginning of production for the ship and to celebrate the life and service of the ship’s namesake Robert F Kennedy.

“This ship represents the thousands of men and women who have worked hard to make this ship class a success.”

John Lewis-class fleet ships are designed to transfer fuel to US Navy carrier strike group (CSG) ships operating at sea.

The 742ft vessels have a full load displacement of 49,850t.

They have a capacity of 157,000 barrels of oil, a significant dry cargo-carrying ability, aviation capability, and can travel at speeds of up to 20k.

Due to restrictions owing to the ongoing pandemic, NASSCO representatives and the US Navy gathered for a ‘hybrid virtual and in-person ceremony’.