General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company has started construction on a US Navy ship named after Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who served in the military.

The company marked the beginning of the construction on the future John Lewis-class USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206) replenishment oiler with a ceremony at its shipyard.

The first 100t of steel for the ship were cut during the event.

Program Executive Office Ships Support Ships, Boats and Craft programme manager Mike Kosar said: “This ship will have significant contributions as part of our Combat Logistics Force, serving as the primary fuel pipeline from resupply ports to ships at sea.

“Today’s ceremony marks an important milestone as our navy works to recapitalise our ageing fleet replenishment capabilities, ensuring our warfighters have the resources they need to keep them combat year for years to come.”

The class is designed to recapitalise the US Navy’s T-AO 187-class fleet replenishment oilers currently in service.

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The John Lewis-class ships will be primarily used to supply fuel to ships and aircraft during underway replenishment at sea.

The fleet oilers serve as the supply line for the navy’s surface combatant ships.

T-AO 206 will be operated by the Military Sealift Command and is the first US Navy ship to be named in honour of an openly gay leader.

Harvey Milk, who served in the US Navy in the 1950s, was forced to resign from the service in 1955 due to his sexual orientation.

He was later elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was assassinated in 1978.

The announcement to name the fleet oiler for Harvey Milk was made in 2016.

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