Monday, July 28, 2008

New Ship Class Begins Operations in 7th Fleet

Military Sealift Command dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE 4) entered the waters of the U.S. Navy's 7th Fleet July 24, marking the first Lewis and Clark-class multi-product combat logistics support ship in service in the 52 million-square-mile region.

Byrd replaces MSC combat stores ship USNS Niagara Falls (T-AFS 3), which has been forward deployed supporting 7th Fleet since 1994.

Though the entry into the fleet's territorial waters was unceremonious, it signals a significant change for Logistics Group Western Pacific, also know as Commander Task Force 73, which will operationally control the ship while in theater.

"This ship will enable our command to provide the warfighter with a level of support that is unprecedented," said Rear Adm. Nora Tyson, CTF 73 commander. "It brings a much more robust capability to the fight."

The 689-foot-long underway replenishment vessel, known as a T-AKE, replaces the current capability of the Kilauea-class ammunition ships and Mars-class combat stores ships, and it also possesses the capability to refuel ships at sea.

"The combat stores ships are extremely capable and have developed a real 'can-do' culture for any mission in 7th Fleet. However, having the T-AKE as a one-stop logistics ship in the Navy's largest theater will significantly improve the flexibility of our operations," said Capt. Jim Smart, CTF 73 assistant chief of staff for logistics.

"While we say a sad farewell to Niagara Falls and honor her many years of fine service and her reputation for professional excellence, we welcome and are glad to have Byrd and its crew on the Navy team in the Western Pacific."

Byrd has a crew of 124 civil service mariners working for MSC as well as a military detachment of 11 Sailors who provide operational support and supply coordination. When needed, Byrd can also carry a supply detachment.

MSC operates approximately 110 noncombatant, merchant marine-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.