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Navy Develops New Class of Oilers

The U.S. Navy is surging through the early stages of development to build a new class of replenishment oilers able to replace the aging current fleet starting in 2020, service officials said.

Called TAO-X, the new fleet of oilers will include a new ship design engineered to accommodate the commercial-off-the-shelf technologies, said Frank McCarthey, program manager for Support Ships, Boats and Craft.

“The oilers re-supply Navy ships such as the combatants and the aircraft carriers. They provide jet fuel for the carriers and fuel for the engines on destroyers, frigates, auxiliary ships as well as the amphibious fleet,” said McCarthey. “Their job is to refuel at sea so that the ships do not have to interrupt their mission. Oilers have been part of the Navy since there were coal-fired ships.”

As a way to explore various design possibilities and examine the technologies most likely to increase ship performance, energy efficiency and integration, the Navy awarded three six-to-10 month industry study-contracts.

This will be followed by a formal request for proposal and full and open competition among bidders interested in building the oilers, with construction on the first of 17 ships slated to begin by 2016, said Lt. Kurt Larson, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command.

General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company, Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter Marine Incorporated  -- were each awarded firm-fixed price $1.7 million contracts, according to a Navy statement.

“We do have some flexibility to tailor additional studies as we move along. The idea is that we take their input after they conduct some trade studies. They may find things based on their expertise that are not evident to us,” McCarthey said.

The awarded contracts also include options for a ship integration study, inert gas system cost study, and the potential for additional special studies, analyses and reviews, Navy officials indicated.

The current procurement plan is for a total of 17 ships, with the lead ship scheduled to deliver in 2020, he added.

Although the Navy’s Capabilities Development Document is still pending approval from the Pentagon’s Joint Requirements Oversight Council, the service is currently maturing its plans to build a next-generation oiler equipped with state of the art capability, McCarthey explained.

Some of this includes intended areas of focus such as interest in incorporating environmentally sound engines optimized to minimize fuel consumption, utilizing coating systems on the outside of the hull to maximize corrosion resistance, and working with various control systems to optimize the use of on-board electricity, he added.

“We will look at products that were developed by the commercial marketplace to increase fuel efficiency, create a more efficient transmission system and improve the electrical and mechanical systems,” McCarthey said.

The Navy and the industry teams conducting trade studies are also likely to explore efforts to move toward electronic controls for the fueling systems which connect ships together, McCarthey added.

“There is an underwater line that runs from one ship to the next and cables and pulleys that suspend a fuel hose from the oiler to the customer ship. We’re moving toward electronic controls for the system that connects the two-ships together, instead of hydraulic controls,” he explained.

The TAO-X effort will also examine the possibility of variable speed electric drive for the ship, as well as ventilation approaches, air condition and a full range of commercial technology that is available today.

“Also, these ships will be double-hulled to protect the cargo. From an environmental perspective, if they were to suffer from a collision, they are much less likely to create an oil spill,” he said.

The new oiler will transport as many as 187,000 barrels of fuel, including jet fuel for the air wing on carriers and diesel fuel marine for other ships such as destroyers and Amphibious Ready Groups, McCarthey explained.

Plans for the new class of ships call for the vessel to function as what the Navy calls a station ship, meaning it will remain on-station with a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) or Amphibious Readiness Group (ARG) to provide fuel as required, Navy officials said.

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