An artist’s rendering of the US Navy’s John Lewis-class (TAO-205) replenishment oiler ship. Credit: General Dynamics NASSCO.
The next-generation US Navy oilers will be powered by Fairbanks Morse MAN 12V 48/60 CR four-stroke engines. Credit: General Dynamics NASSCO.
The John Lewis-class (TAO-205) replenishment oiler is designed to supply fuel and dry cargo to the US Navy surface ships. Credit: General Dynamics NASSCO.

John Lewis-class (TAO-205), previously known as TAO(X), is a new class of replenishment oiler ships designed to replace the US Navy’s existing fleet of Henry J Kaiser-class (TAO-187) tankers.

In September 2018, construction began with the first steel cut for the lead ship in the class. The first ship in the class was launched in January 2021, following the completion of construction. The christening of the future USNS John Lewis (T-AO 205) is expected to take place in the second half of 2021.

Construction of the second vessel, USNS Harvey Milk (T-AO 206), started in September 2020, while construction of the third in the class, the future USNS Robert F Kennedy (T-AO 208), began in May 2021. The next-generation oilers will be operated by the US Navy’s Combat Logistics Force (CLF) of the Military Sealift Command (MSC).

The ships will be used to transfer fuel to combat support ships during an underway replenishment (UNREP) at sea to extend the endurance of the ships and aircraft. The tankers can also supply ammunition, fresh water, lubricants and dry cargo.

John Lewis (TAO-205) programme details

The US Navy plans to procure a total of 20 TAO-205-class oilers under the John Lewis or TAO-205 programme, which is named after American civil rights leader John Robert Lewis.

The ships are expected to cost about $650m a ship when the procurement rate is two ships a year and slightly more when it is one ship a year.

A request for proposal (RFP) for the design and construction of the first six ships was issued in June 2015. Funding for the first and second ships, which are estimated to cost $1.05bn, was approved in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

The US Navy awarded a block-buy contract to General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding (NASSCO) to perform detailed design and construction (DD&C) of the first six TAO-205-class ships in June 2016.

The next eight ships will be procured between 2019-2023, while the procurement of the remaining vessels will take place by 2048.

John Lewis-class design and capacities

The John Lewis-class design is based on the Henry J Kaiser-class replenishment oiler ships. The double-hull design concept of the ship will provide a high level of protection against damage to the inner hull. The 745ft-long vessel has a full load displacement of 49,850t.

The new replenishment tankers will have the capacity to carry 156,000 barrels of oil, including biofuels, and will be fitted with a helideck with the capacity to conduct refuelling for helicopters. The new ships will also be able to hold more dry cargo than their predecessors.

The John Lewis-class will meet the Oil Pollution Act 1990 and international marine pollution regulations.

Armament and self-protection

The ship can be armed with a close-in weapon system (CIWS) or SeaRAM (Rolling Airframe Missile) anti-ship missile defence system for detecting and destroying anti-ship cruise missiles. An Anti-Torpedo torpedo defence system (ATTDS) will also be fitted to provide protection against torpedoes.

The John Lewis-class can also carry crew-served weaponry to offer protection against fast-attack craft.

The oilers will be armed with a Nixie torpedo countermeasure system to counter torpedo attacks. An advanced degaussing system (ADS) will be installed to protect the ship from modern magnetically fused sea mines.

Propulsion and performance of TAO-205 class ships

Fairbanks Morse was awarded a contract by the US Navy to supply engines, propulsion control systems, auxiliary equipment and commissioning services for the lead ship in August 2016. An order for an additional 34 engines was placed in March 2017.

Each replenishment oiler will be powered by a pair of 19,000bhp Fairbanks Morse MAN 12V 48/60 CR four-stroke diesel engines.

The engines will be outfitted with an exhaust after-treatment system, common rail fuel injection and engine control systems to provide improved fuel efficiency.

The propulsion system will provide a speed of 20k.