Monday, December 16, 2019

Mobile Submarine Support

Here’s an interesting and encouraging bit of news …

The Los Angeles class submarine, USS Key West (SSN-722), exercised with a dry cargo logistics ship, USNS Richard E. Byrd (T-AKE-4), to demonstrate forward, mobile logistics support for submarines.  This is kind of the second half of what’s required for forward support of submarines with the other half being a submarine tender for mechanical support.

Apparently, this was a first of its kind event which seems hard to believe but, hey, better late than never! 

Dry cargo class ships are responsible for providing logistic lifts to deliver cargo (ammunition, food, limited quantities of fuel, repair parts and ship store items) to U.S. and allied ships at sea. (1)

The demonstration was performed to highlight the submarine’s ability to go safely alongside a dry cargo class ship, which could facilitate the transfer of weapons, stores, critical repair parts, and provide the ability to support crew rest. (1)

USS Key West is one of four Los Angeles class SSNs based in Guam along with the submarine tenders USS Frank Cable (AS-40) and USS Emory S. Land (AS-39).  The combination of submarine tenders and dry cargo logistics ships offers the ability to support submarines in a mobile, forward deployed setting, independent of a land base.  This offers a degree of resilience in the face of attacks against Guam naval base facilities.  Someone is beginning to think in terms of combat operations and that's a good thing!

USS Key West Alongside USNS Richard E. Byrd

Submarine Tender USS Frank Cable, AS-40


(1)Commander, US Pacific Fleet website, “USS Key West conducts mobile logistics demonstration”, Lt.j.g. Meagan Morrison, 11-Dec-2019,


  1. As the USS Frank Cable (AS-40) and USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) are the only two submarine tenders in active service, having the ability to resupply submarines with other types of support ships is important. But, this exercise appears to have been conducted in port as Guam appears in the background of the first photo. Are there plans to try this in the open ocean.

    And, at the same time, in terms of resupply, couldn't an L-class ship do the same? Maybe even an Expeditionary Fast Transport?

  2. I'm guessing they tried it first in Guam for variety of reasons but is there any reasons this cant be done in any other port later on?

  3. Nice start. Now do LCS and Destroyers.

  4. Guam is too close to China, which can hit them with IRBMs or surprise sub or commando attacks pierside. Best to move them all to Hawaii.

    Or build sub pens.

  5. Would these tender ships have any sort of self-defence set-up? Seems like a fat juicy target when stationary with a high-value sub tied up alongside.
    Maybe thats just being paranoid though - if they can do this in the middle of the ocean, perhaps the Big Sea theory applies & it would be too hard to find them.

    What is meant by the "facilitates crew rest"? do they have bigger, comfortable beds on board the tender that the sub crew can use while alongside?

    Lastly (combining things into a single post here), I've JUST finished reading Kevin Millers book Fight Fight, which I found an utterly gripping read. Given its focus on a peer-peer conflict with China, I thought it may be topical to mention here. Has ComNavOps read this, and if so, what did you think? I felt there was some parts of the US military that (convienently) didnt show up & prevent some plot points from occurring, but hey, thats story-telling for you. Certainly a really fun read.

    1. "Would these tender ships have any sort of self-defence set-up? Seems like a fat juicy target when stationary with a high-value sub tied up alongside."

      Bear in mind how tenders operate. They aren't cruising the front lines. They operate safely back. The sub would retire from a patrol and instead of having to go all the way back to, say, Pearl Harbor, they could go a few hundred miles back to some safe island anchorage for replenishment and service. With that in mind, there is no need for self-defense.

      I have not read that book. I'll have to see if I can find a copy.

    2. I understand, I guess they aren't exactly going to wander off into the middle of the ocean to meet up with a sub offshore from taiwan, true.
      My thoughts are probably influenced having just read that book to be fair. You've mentioned that you have studied Chinas military, etc extensively; that book may frustrate or entertain you depending on how realistic it is. The author ( is an ex-Hornet pilot, so I'm hoping the basic facts are fairly accurate at least. The book was pretty cheap on Amazon Kindle, fyi.

    3. "The author is an ex-Hornet pilot, so I'm hoping the basic facts are fairly accurate "

      We all have a tendency to automatically defer to an Admiral or a Hornet pilot under the assumption that they know what they're talking about. When it comes to weapon employment ranges or some such technical item then, sure. However, I'm finding, repeatedly that having served does not confer any special ability to anticipate peer war conduct. I mean, think about it. No serving or former service member, of any rank, has ever taken part in any combat even remotely approaching peer war. The Navy doesn't do strategy or even doctrine anymore. We never exercise at any significant level. So, why would these people know any more about war than any civilian. In fact, people who frequent this blog probably put more time into thinking about these issues.

      Consider all the problems and issues I've discussed on this blog. Clearly, the Navy and our professional sailors are not well informed and making good decisions. If they were, we wouldn't have the LCS, Zumwalt, Ford, F-35, EMALS, deferred maintenance, etc. Not only do I not accord service members any automatic professional credence, I'm kind of suspicious of them because they've been indoctrinated in a clearly broken system.

    4. I downloaded it and am 15% into it so far. $5 CDN on Amazon for the Kindle version. Its a good read so far. Tons of fog of war, and its set from the POV that no one has peer war experience and both sides of no idea at all what they are doing.

      Sounds about right so far. I really enjoyed Ghost Fleet, but there was a lot of Deus ex Machina going on.

  6. Replies
    1. That's a gimmick. A drone can't deliver the weight/volume of supplies needed to sustain a ship. As noted in the article, the drone delivered a 5 lb package.

    2. Truthfully it does seem like a solution in search of a problem, but hey, creative thinking.

      Aircraft couldn't carry useful payloads in the beginning, but look at what we have now.

      Let's not read toommuch into this, in either directiom.

    3. "Let's not read toommuch into this, in either directiom."

      Oh there's plenty to read into it. This is symptomatic of the mindset that's infected the US military - the desire for technology for its own sake.

      Hey, if the Navy has completely mastered naval warfare, has designed and procured the perfect fleet, is fully trained, and readiness is at 100% and the sailors are sitting around with free time on their hands then, sure, develop some useless gimmick just for the fun of it. However, until that mythical time comes, our every waking thought and action should be geared at basic level maintenance and training, not gimmicks. That we do not see this, as a Navy, is proof of the misguided (to be as polite as possible) mindset afflicting Navy leadership.

      So, yes, there is a lot that we should read into this.

    4. It's a proof of concept. If Amazon can use a drone to drop a package to your house, why not a submarine? It might not be a viable method to regularly supply a submarine at sea, but it could bring supplies when time is critical, such as medical supplies for an injured sailor or parts to repair a critical piece of equipment.

      The Army has been looking at drones to bring ammunition and repair parts to forward deployed units. It's a tougher challenge to land on a submarine as opposed to a small clearing in the woods or on a flight deck of a ship, but I'm sure we have enough smart people to figure that out.

    5. Yes but what sort of things can be effectively resupplied by drone? For the Army it's easy - send drones carrying food and ammo to troops engaged in combat (I'm reminded of Ia Drang valley now) so as not to risk helicopter crews. But even assuming best case a Seahawk-sized drone, what things does a sub need that can be drone delivered?

      The key things that a tender does is resupply a submarine with food and replenish expended weapons. You're not gonna be able to sling lift torpedoes from drones, that means the tender's cranes lowering ADCAPs and TLAMs into the SSN. You could resupply an SSN with food, I suppose, but you might as well just do that from the tender since you're gonna be tied alongside for a few hours reloading ammo.

    6. Like I said earlier, it's not a viable means to regularly supply a submarine. But, when time counts, like bringing medical supplies for an injured sailor or parts to repair a critical component or system, it makes sense in those instances.

    7. "But, when time counts, ... it makes sense in those instances."

      The problem is that we're developing a capability that would be applicable on the order of 0.01% of the time. It would be a strikingly rare situation where this would be needed and available.

      The military already spends far too much time on capabilities that have little or no applicability. We don't need more.

  7. The weapons reload is the critical issue here, I think. Im assuming that typically that only happens alongside the pier or a tender. Since piers are far away and tenders are few, do we or will we use other ships for weapons resupply??

    1. What other ships have weapons storage facilities (magazines) for Mk48 heavy torpedoes? None that I know of. This isn't quite like transporting boxes of MREs that any ship with room can transport.

  8. Our only two sub tenders were built in 1971! 800 crew each. No defensive weapons except for 2? 50 cal. OMG Where is the distributive lethality? Maybe we could put fake shipping containers
    on top to give it something...

    1. Minor point … They were built in the late '70s and commissioned in 1979.


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