USS Kearsarge UnRep Requires Steady Hands at Helm

The huge red digital readout atop the USNS Laramie, a civilian-crewed supply and tanker ship, read out the distance, in feet, between the massive ship and the USS Kearsarge assault ship as the two vessels nervously edged together on the rolling Atlantic on Wednesday afternoon.

It was an “underway replenishment,” or UNREP, the Navy’s term for connecting two moving ships on the high seas to swap fuel and supplies. Plowing ahead at 15 miles per hour through unpredictable water currents, the two ships can stray dozens of feet in seconds. The goal is to hold them just 180 feet apart for a couple hours, as sailors on the receiving ship fire lines across the water to the supply ship then haul across huge hoses for transferring fuel. Meanwhile, helicopters can hop from deck to deck to bring aboard ammo and supplies. It’s a delicate and dangerous couple’s dance –- and one of the keys to U.S. dominance on the high seas.

Amateurs study tactics; professionals study logistics. That’s the old military adage –- and nowhere is it more true than at sea. The distances are vast, the requirements for gas and supplies huge and the waves and weather complicate everything. The difference between a true “blue-water” navy with global reach like the U.S. Navy, and a glorified coastal protection force like most navies, is the former’s UNREP capability. It’s because of our logistics ships … and our skill in using them … that we as a nation can deploy military forces anywhere in the world at short notice.

Logistics underpin Kearsarge’s entire “soft power” deployment to South America. Read David Axe’s entire report at the “Danger Room” blog.

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