USNS Lewis & Clark completes first deployment
T-AKE 1 returns from freshman deployment
By Bill Cook, MSFSC Public Affairs
On Feb. 8, dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Lewis and Clark - the first ship in Military Sealift Command's newest class of ships - returned to Naval Station Norfolk, Va., after its first deployment.
The ship successfully completed a six-month tour to the U.S. Central Command area of operations to resupply U.S. Navy ships - providing logistics support in the Persian Gulf, around the Horn of Africa, along the length of Somalia and beyond the equator.
The ship's maiden voyage was reminiscent of the explorers for whom the ship was named and their famous journey.
At the beginning of the original Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804, William Clark wrote in his journal, "' all in health and readiness to set out. Boats and everything complete, with the necessary stores of provisions."
Like those boats 204 years ago, MSC's Lewis and Clark was well provisioned as it headed out on its first deployment.
Delivered to MSC in June 2006, today's Lewis and Clark is designed to replenish the Navy's underway carrier strike groups and other naval forces, alleviating the need for them to constantly return to port for supplies.
Lewis and Clark and other ships of the T-AKE class, each crewed by 124 civil service mariners and 11 military personnel, are replacing aging, single-mission underway replenishment ships. This includes ammunition ships and combat stores ships that are, on average, 40 years old and near the end of their service lives.
Like the initial ship of any class, Lewis and Clark's first year focused on post-delivery tests and trials. For the ship's civil service master, Capt. Randall Rockwood, the stakes were high, since the success of the tests would influence not only his ship, but many other existing and future ships of the class.
"Lewis and Clark's test period was chock-a-block with artificial, abstract cargo movements," said Rockwood. "There were loads of clipboard-toting testers observing and timing the choreography of fork trucks and cargo slinging needed to accomplish a given event. Though that phase was completed in May 2007 with flying colors, this first-ever deployment was when we collectively learned the real-world capability of T-AKE logistics support."
During its deployment, Lewis and Clark provided 73 underway and 28 in-port replenishments, delivered 5,856 pallets of food and supplies, and transferred nearly 15 million gallons of fuel to USS Enterprise and USS Harry S. Truman carrier strike groups and USS Bonhomme Richard, USS Wasp and USS Kearsarge expeditionary strike groups. Lewis and Clark also resupplied coalition naval forces from Pakistan, Germany, France, Australia and the United Kingdom.
Lewis and Clark transferred ammunition, provisions, stores, spare parts, potable water and petroleum products. Though T-AKEs were designed to carry 700,000 gallons of diesel fuel in their available stores, the crew was also able to use fuel from their own bunkers to provide up to 1.2 million gallons to their customers.
"It was interesting to be employed as a 'light' oiler for much of our deployment," offered Rockwood.
He added that the ship outperformed in its fuel provision capacity, which came in handy for vessels in need.
Rockwood also noted that with Lewis and Clark's large flight deck, unobstructed cargo deck and pre-stage areas, modern high-speed cargo elevators and the large freeze and chill boxes, the ship's being serviced could never keep up with Lewis and Clark's capabilities.
"Our state-of-the-art design is focused on logistics support, and for that, a better ship has not been built," said Rockwood. "With every resupply evolution, we demonstrated that our standard of support was far-and-away better, faster and safer than any previous logistics ship."
"Customers at the end of the ship's long supply route were always pleased to see Lewis and Clark rendezvous with fresh fruits and vegetables, more fuel and, of course, much sought-after mail," mused Rockwood. "That's one of the joys of operating a logistics ship: Our customers always want to see us."
In August 2007, Sealift Logistics Command Central Commander, Navy Capt. Anthony Dropp, responsible for logistics in the Middle East, experienced Lewis and Clark's capability firsthand. Dropp was aboard to see the ship in action as it replenished Bonhomme Richard and amphibious dock landing ship USS Rushmore.
He was impressed by the performance of the ship.
"Lewis and Clark is a substantial improvement over prior [combat logistics force] designs," said Dropp.
During another part of the deployment, Lewis and Clark visited Djibouti, and while there, Rockwood met with the U.S. ambassador to that country, W. Stuart Symington.
"The ambassador impressed upon us the importance of logistics support in his region and the explosive growth of Djibouti - plus how we aboard Lewis and Clark were benefiting from that expansion," said Rockwood.
During the deployment, Lewis and Clark's engineers, under Chief Engineer Timothy Nesbitt's supervision, made constant discoveries about new mechanical functions, software and technical updates.
"Although the effort and work on the first in class is greater, Lewis and Clark's engineering department takes great pride in knowing that we on the first deployment will share responsibility for the successes of all the T-AKEs that follow," said Nesbitt.
Discoveries and improvements also spread above decks. A major enhancement accomplished early in the deployment was the installation of the commercial version of the electronic chart display and information system on the bridge. The commercial system provided accurate charts and was easy to use. Using the system, one watch officer could hold the navigational picture and maintain situational awareness while operating in heavy commercial traffic. This capability increased ship safety and efficiency while voyage plans were calculated and executed without misstep.
In addition, as a result of this deployment, Rockwood has requested the installation of an additional international maritime satellite antenna to improve communication capability.
Continuing the legacy
Lewis and Clark was replaced in-theater by dry cargo/ammunition ship USNS Sacagawea - the second ship of the class. These ships are the first of a projected class of 14 ships, the first 11 of which will serve as combat logistics force ships. The remaining three T-AKEs will be part of MSC's Maritime Prepositioning Force.
At the conclusion of this first of many deployments to come, the ship brings to full circle a legacy reaching back more than 200 years when the two men bearing the names Lewis and Clark emerged from the wilderness to complete their historic deployment.
President Thomas Jefferson wrote to Congress in December 1806 of the successful completion of the expedition that, "Messrs. Lewis and Clark, and their brave companions, have by this arduous service, deserved well of their country."