February 2, 2011: The Indian Navy has received the first of two, 27,500 ton, fleet tankers. The second of these Italian built ships will be delivered in about ten months. Both ships have accommodations for 250 people (the crew is actually about half that) and a helicopter platform (that can handle aircraft up to ten tons). The ships have equipment that allows them to fuel four ships at once and have a top speed of 36 kilometers an hour. These tankers enable Indian warships to operate far from their bases. More of these fleet tankers are being built, as more navies seek the ability to send their ships to distant water. The current international anti-piracy patrol off Somalia is an example of this need. You can use most tankers for refueling warships at sea, after you add the special equipment and a crew trained to do the chore.
But there has been evolution in the design of fleet tankers. The U.S., for example, is in the midst of building 14 T-AKE fleet supply (fuel and much more) ships. Costing about half a billion dollars each, the T-AKEs are built mostly to commercial standards, which keeps costs down, and speeds up construction. The fourteen T-AKEs will replace 16 existing supply (separate ammo, cargo and fuel) ships that are reaching the end of their 35 year service life this year. The T-AKE is a 41,000 ton (displacement) ship that is 222 meters (689 feet) long and move along at 32 kilometers an hour. The basic crew consists of 99 civilians and eleven military personnel. There are berths for 209 people on the ship. The ship can carry 7,000 tons of cargo and 2,380 tons of fuel (nearly a million gallons). Two helicopters (CH-46 or MH-60) can be carried.
The T-AKE is the grandchild of the Servron, which was developed out of necessity during World War II, because of a lack of sufficient forward bases in the vast Pacific. There, the service squadrons (Servron) became a permanent fixture in the U.S. Navy. American warships still sometimes stay at sea for up to six months at a time, being resupplied at sea by a Servron. New technologies were developed to support the effective use of the seagoing supply service. Few other navies have been able to match this capability, mainly because of the expense of the Servron ships and the training required to do at sea replenishment. When a Servron is not available, ships must return to port for fuel and other supplies. Off Somalia, several nations have sent supply ships to keep their warships serviced while conducting anti-piracy patrols. In some cases, local shipping firms are contracted to bring supplies out to the warships. Passing the supplies while underway can be tricky, and those navies that practice this a lot (like the U.S. Navy) can do it most quickly and efficiently. The World War II Servrons also provided special services, similar to one T-AKE acting as a prison ship, while still providing supplies, off Somalia.