The USS FLINT (AE-32), a Kilauea-class ammunition/cargo replenishment ship, was commissioned on November 20, 1971. She was the last of her class of eight and decommissioned in 1995 from the US Navy and immediately transferred to Military Sealift Command as T-AE-32. In this fashion, the USS Flint continues to serve with a civilian crew under Navy command while being charged with passing ammunition to fleet warships as needed. As far back as 1888, US Navy authorities began to show an interest in logistics and it was Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan who introduced the term and concept of resupply during a Naval War College presentation. Historically, need for replenishment began as soon as men and ships went to sea and the importance of naval logistics still plays a vital role in the operation of naval forces today.
The supply and replenishment of ships at sea had proven elusive for thousands of years. Despite it being a regular component of modern navies, it remains a dangerous and difficult work in progress. In 1803 The British Fleet was comprised of 871 vessels using 177 transport ships to which many of these were assigned to resupply. General provisions and war supplies were stockpiled at naval dockyards at the home port of ships as well as across foreign bases being supplied by transports. At times when sea conditions were right the transport ship could meet up at sea with warships to restock munitions, goods, food and water. During calm seas the transport and the warship needing resupply would simply come alongside one another, tied together for the process. Gang planks were set between the two vessels and supplies handed across or loaded onto cargo nets then hoisted by block-and-tackle.
However, if seas were uncompromising, supplies were lowered onto awaiting boats and transferred as necessary. Barrels would be dropped over the side of the boat (termed "floating the barrels") to which then they would simply be floated over to the side of the receiving vessel by a swimmer or pushed along by an oar. The receiving ship would then haul in the barrels by block-and-tackle. A cargo net could also be lowered down to the boat to be filled with goods to avoid them getting wet. Undoubtedly the primitive nature of replenishment at sea was a time consuming process and was the last resort when under sail. If an enemy ship appeared on the horizon, the transport ship and the warship would be at a decided disadvantage and open to enemy fire without return.
Replenishment and the American Civil War
Sail power eventually led to steam propulsion by way of coal as fuel. This now added the complexity of replenishing a vessel that burned up to 50 tons of coal per day. Large coal-burning ships and "Ironclad" vessels needed to refill their coal bins every 10 days. Coaler replenishment ships were quickly designed and constructed to resupply the coaling stations secured aboard receiving ships or on friendly shores. Variations of the process were attempted - ships towing coal barges fitted with a drag line capable of carrying 500 pounds sacks slowly from the coal barge to the ship. Supplies were stocked in all corners of the ship and coal supply depots were installed within allied forts along coastlines and upriver.
Replenishment During World War 1 and World War 2
World War 1 saw the beginning of the age of the big gun steel fighting ships which prompted many-a-navy to convert from coal to oil. The liquid nature of oil now required all-new concepts of replenishment at sea to be entertained. For the US Navy, the USS Maumee operated as an oiler and, in 1917, the US Navy was experimenting with Maumee to refuel and supply ships at sea while underway. Two ships would move within 50 feet of each other, steaming at the same speed while on a parallel course. A 10-inch thick rope would be passed from the tanker to the awaiting ship needing resupply and a three-and-half-inch bronze fuelling pipe attached to a derrick would swing out from the Maumee to the customer ship. Cargo was passed along by booms on the tanker and the entire process would take two hours or more.
During World War 2, the British Navy captured two German tankers outfitted with rubber hoses which were a leap forward over the copper tubes used previously. As the war in the Pacific Theater spanned thousands of miles of ocean and seas, its countless campaigns were one fought with logistics as much as shells and aircraft. As such, UNderway REPlenishment (UNREP) proved a necessity for the United States Navy attempting to remove the Japanese presence form various island chains. Operations involved the "island-hopping" concept in which one island chain was taken after a previous one was secured. This allowed for supplies to be delivered at captured ports and then forwarded as needed. American submarines were tasked with targeting enemy tankers to help reduce the Japanese resupply of its own naval forces and these operations eventually succeeded as expected. The US fleet crossed some 4,200 miles of the central Pacific to support warships covering close to 3,000 auxiliary ships off all types. The ever-changing replenishment needs ultimately developed at-sea repair ships, tugs, minesweepers, concrete fuel and general stores barges, ammunition lighters, fleet oilers and cargo ships of many sizes.
Replenishment During the Korean War
In June 1950, the Communist forces of North Korea (backed by China and the Soviet Union) invaded the South to begin the Korean War (1950-1953). Underway replenishment of combat ships was hard to come by in the western Pacific after the close of World War 2 as many forces were reduced in number and power. The great logistical fleet that was created to support the actions of the US Navy in World War 2 was all but gone. At the end of the war, the US Navy placed many of its ships in reserve and sold or donated hundreds of ships to friendly navies around the world. This placed American in the usual unprepared position for another far-off war, this one arriving so soon after World War 2. All suitable fleet oilers and cargo ships that were in service combined with UN allied warships would be needed. Until they arrived, warships had to withdraw to the friendly ports in Japan for ammunition and food resupply. The situation for warships to combat the invading Chinese from the north depleted ammunition so quickly that resupply was required every few days, taking away needed warships from the front. When the supply ships arrived on station they continued the underway replenishment techniques developed soundly in World War 2. The war eventually ended in an armistice though no formal peace treaty was ever signed.
Replenishment of Oil & Supplies Vietnam
While the roots of the Vietnam War lay in the post-World War years and throughout the 1950s, in 1964 the conflict expanded. Subic Bay became the focal point of the US Navy's 7th Fleet support activities. The vast distance from the United States to Vietnam required new types of supplies and the increased use of aircraft and helicopters for resupply was still a developing concept. As the war swelled with troops, supply shortages occurred regularly due to a lack of in-place trained logistical supply personnel and poor planning.
Navy supply ships would sail up and down the Vietnam coast day and night to replenish the fleet. The cargo ship will pull alongside the ship needing resupply to within 100 feet while making the same speed. The crews would then pass cable between them for supplying cargo. Underway replenishment was, is and will be the most effective type of resupply of ships. During the Vietnam War, 99% of all logistical support for aircraft carriers and their battle group requiring ammunition, bombs, missiles, ship oil, general supplies, aircraft fuel, food and even ice cream was delivered underway at sea using connected and vertical replenishment techniques. A new type of supply ship was therefore needed for modern times.
The Ammunition & Supply Ship
The USS Flint (AE-32) was ordered in 1968 during the Vietnam War and was the fifth of eight of the Kilauea cargo ammunition class. US Navy ammunition ships were named for origins of fire like volcanoes, or fire instruments like flint which, when struck against steel, would produce sparks and fire. Flint was built at the Ingalls Nuclear Shipbuilding Division, Litton Industries, Incorporated, at Pascagoula, Mississippi. The United States Navy received the USS Flint when she arrived at Charleston, South Carolina on August 30th, 1971. She then began her sea trials in 1971 in waters off of the East Coast. When completed she was sent through the Panama Canal to her first home port at the Naval Weapons Station in Concord, California.
Flint was still largely operated by an untested crew with veterans placed in key positions. As built, she was crewed by 28 officers and 375 enlisted personnel. The Vietnam War was raging and the Flint was needed on station as soon as possible. Thusly, she was loaded with 6,000 tons of munitions in her hold which was further divided into compartments for safety and stability - the ship had four cargo holds in all, these broken down into fourteen magazines. She was given seven 100,000 gallon fuel tanks which held a total of 2,500 tons divided between aviation and ship fuel. For easy loading and unloading the ship had seven (CONREP) replenishment stations onboard. For frozen and fresh foods, Flint had two (RAS) refrigerator storage holds. Fully loaded, her surface displacement was approximately 11,900 tons light and 20,500 tons heavy.
Dimensionally, Flint sported a running length of 564 feet (172 meters) with a beam measuring 81 feet (25.3 meters) across. The design drew 31 feet (10.3 meters ) of water below the water line. The vessel had a maximum speed capability in excess of 20 knots in ideal conditions, traveling being enhanced by the bulbous bow which allowing for good sea-keeping abilities in rough seas. The Flint was futher aided by her onboard Automated Propulsion System (APS) which permitted personnel in the Pilot House to control speed directly. The automated system also featured a mode that allowed personnel in the engineering station to "light-off" the three boilers and operate the propulsion plant by remote control. The ship featured 3 x oil-fired Foster Wheeler "D-Type" Boilers, each producing 87,900 pounds of steam. The main propulsion plant consisted of a high pressure steam turbine connected to a geared system which developed up to 22,000 shaft horsepower. The propulsion system was mated to a single shaft capped by a six-bladed, fixed pitch propeller measuring some 20 feet in overall diameter.
The Flint was outfitted with a Fleet Satellite Communication System, an arrangement less likely to suffer backlogs or delays due to interference or heavy radio message traffic. The modern facility helps to control ship operations during replenishment to keep all aboard aware of changing situational directives. Operational orders are processed in real time and Flint's systems could accept requests from other ships needing supply 24 hours a day.
As an ammunition ship, the vessel's primary mission was to transport and deliver bombs, rounds of all calibers, land and naval mines, missiles of all types, torpedoes and all explosive devices and incendiaries possibly used by the main fleet. As a secondary role, Flint provided limited quantities of fuel, water, and food stores to various ships while underway. Loading the Flint at the Naval Weapons Station, Concord, California was accomplished while tied up to the dock in port. Unloading at sea was accomplished while underway and in a variety of weather conditions during any hour of the day or night and often times in an active combat zone.
Connected Replenishment (CONREP)
Connected replenishment continues to be the method of choice when moving fuel. Cargo including general stores, fleet freight or ammunition are moved to the deck from the four cargo holds, broken down into fourteen magazines below deck using six high-speed elevators. Ships can receive fuel from the Flint at sea from any of the four stations along port or starboard. Flint can load and discharge ammunition or cargo from itself to a pier or barge using four cargo booms - two along port and two along starboard. The seven CONnected REPlenishment (CONREP) stations on Flint can all be rigged for the Standard Tension REplenishment Alongside Method (STREAM) System. The STREAM system employs a trolley riding on a high-tension wire from the Flint to the receiving vessel. Depending on the mission and resupply requests, any or all of the stations on both the port and starboard side can be utilized simultaneously. Using CONREP, one ship can be replenished underway alongside port while another ship can be serviced alongside starboard. While this replenishment is being accomplished simultaneously with two ships, Flint can still utilized VERTREP (Vertical Replenishment) via helicopter for a third or fourth ship in trail.
Vertical Replenishment (VERTREP)
The newest type of replenishment is "vertical" using Sea Knight (CH-46) tandem rotor transport helicopters lifting freight onto cargo nets from the aft flight deck of vessels like Flint. This cargo is there transported to the flight deck of aircraft carriers or aft decks of other surface warships. Flint has a heavy helicopter flight deck and can handle any US military helo as well as allied helicopters for joint operations. The two helicopters assigned to Flint use UNREP to conduct simultaneous vertical underway replenishment providing ammunition, stores, food supplies, mail and personnel if needed. Modern VERTREP adds a dimension new to the logistic support capability. Vertical replenishment using helicopters carrying ordnance cargo and combat stores can support Fleet ship units over-the-horizon from the supply ship. This new concept advances the development of replenishment to supply the fleet at sea.
Service of the USS Flint (AE-32)
Flint left Naval Weapons Station, Concord, California for her first deployment in October of 1972 during the Vietnam War (1955-1975). She would unload onto ships around the Vietnam War Theater and then return empty at flank speed to replenish in Concord, California. Flint made many round trips to Vietnam without incident and then scheduled for an overhaul to replace work machinery and elevators. In October 1973 until April 1974, she was assigned to support fleet shipping in the Western Pacific. However, the air war in Vietnam increased and Flint was again deployed to support carrier actions from December 1974 to June 1975.
Flint, needing repairs, was placed in dry dock until June 1976. When repairs were completed she returned to the Western Pacific from California until January 1979. The length of consistent duty left Flint in need of major repairs and she returned to dock for another 13 months. She needed work on her four cargo booms - two along the port side and two along starboard located on the main deck. Additionally, the seven connected replenishment (CONREP) stations needed major work on their rigging required of the replenishment lines used between the ships. When completed, she returned to "passing the ammo", now in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf, from February 1980 to October 1980. Flint continued to serve in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf and was once again was sent to war during Operation Desert Shield and the following Operation Desert Storm from January 1991 to October 1993. Flint's fifteenth, and last, deployment for the US Navy was to the Indian Ocean until December 1994. She was then decommissioned in April 1995. Flint was slated for upgrades before entering service with Military Sealift Command (MSC).
Service of USNS Flint (T-AE-32)
In her revised form, Flint is not a formally commissioned vessel though she resides under the command of the US Navy. The original USS Flint was decommissioned and turned over to MSC Pacific on August 4th, 1995 to commence an extensive rework of her crew areas. This overhaul conversion took place at Norshipco, Norfolk, Virginia. Flint, as built, needed 400 men to operate the ship's primary role as an ammunition ship. The main armament was removed and new upgraded automated systems were added so Flint could accomplish the same mission with a smaller crew of 125 civilians plus 55 naval personnel under a US Navy commander. The helicopter detachment became a mix of civilian and military aircrew.
The Military Sealift Command mission is to support our nation's active duty ships by delivering supplies and conducting specialized missions across the world's oceans. Flint, and half of the MSC's active T-AFS and T-AE fleet, is based in Guam in the Pacific Ocean. As of 2008, Flint and all MSC ships have delivered over 16 billion gallons of fuel and replenished 110 million square feet of ammunition and combat supplies to US and coalition vessels engaged in the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. Flint continues to "pass the ammo" as the only classified ammunition ship in the Military Sealift Command.
The "Military Factory" name and MilitaryFactory.com logo are registered ® U.S. trademarks protected by all applicable domestic and international intellectual property laws. All written content, illustrations, and photography are unique to this website (unless where indicated) and not for reuse/reproduction in any form. Material presented throughout this website is for historical and entertainment value only and should not to be construed as usable for hardware restoration, maintenance, or general operation. We do not sell any of the items showcased on this site. Please direct all other inquiries to militaryfactory AT gmail.com.
Part of a network of sites that includes GlobalFirepower, a data-driven property used in ranking the top military powers of the world, WDMMA.org, the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft, and SR71blackbird.org, detailing the history of the world's most iconic spyplane.