The US Navy has authenticated the keel for its fourth John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler vessel, the future USNS Robert F Kennedy (T-AO 208).

The new milestone, which represents the beginning of construction for T-AO 208, was marked by a keel-laying ceremony held at General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company’s (GD-Nassco) shipyard in San Diego on 5 December.

The event involved the joining of the new ship’s modular components together to authenticate the initials of oiler vessel’s sponsor, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, onto a ceremonial keel plate.

Auxiliary and Special Mission Shipbuilding Programme Office deputy programme manager Jana Polzin said: “We are excited to celebrate this milestone as we work to bring another oiler to fleet to support at-sea operations.

“The USNS Robert F Kennedy will bring significant contributions to fleet as primary fuel pipeline to refuel ships at sea.”

Named after US Navy veteran Robert Kennedy, the fourth of six oiler vessels is being constructed in accordance with commercial design standards.

Once constructed, the John Lewis-class ships will replace the US Navy’s existing T-AO 187 or Henry J Kaiser-class fleet replenishment oilers.

Each vessel has a substantial oil capacity, a significant dry cargo capacity, as well as aviation capability to complete replenishment tasks at a speed of 20kt.

The ships feature double hulls that strengthen cargo and ballast tanks and avoid oil spillage.

The vessels will boost Combat Logistics Force’s capabilities by providing fuel for the ships and jet fuel for aircraft assigned with different aircraft carriers at sea.

NASSCO delivered the first John Lewis-class ship, USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205), to the US Navy in July this year, while construction of the next oiler ship, USNS Lucy Stone (T-AO 209), is currently underway.