General Dynamics-National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO) has laid the keel for the US Navy’s future USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205) at the company’s shipyard in San Diego.

T-AO 205 is named after US Representative John Lewis. It is the navy’s first John Lewis-class fleet replenishment oiler.

The keel laying ceremony marks the start of a ship’s construction. During the ceremony, John Lewis, and the ship’s sponsor, actress Alfre Woodard, etched their initials into the keel plate.

Program Executive Office (PEO) ships support ships, boats and craft manager Mike Kosar said: “We’re honoured to have representative Lewis and Woodard with us today as we lay the foundation for recapitalising our nation’s critical fuel-replenishment-at-sea capabilities.

“These ships are steadfast, reliable and allow our warships to defend our freedoms for which Representative Lewis has dedicated his life to protecting.”

The John Lewis-class ships are intended to recapitalise the navy’s existing T-AO 187-class fleet replenishment oilers.

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Once they enter service, the ships will enable underway replenishment of fuel to the service’s ships at sea and jet fuel for aircraft assigned to aircraft carriers.

The boats are part of the US Navy’s Combat Logistics Force and will serve as the backbone of the fuel delivery system.

“These ships are steadfast, reliable and allow our warships to defend our freedoms.”

The US Navy’s Military Sealift Command will operate USNS John Lewis, which is anticipated to be delivered by the end of next year.

NASSCO started construction of John Lewis in September last year.

In June 2016, the company won a $3.2bn contract to design and build the first six ships of the John Lewis-class.

The service intends to buy 20 ships of the new class in three different contract awards.