Navy Needs New Tenders

by admin on August 7, 2013

Samuel GompersDefunded during the business-minded nineties, humble tenders enable every single one of CNO Greenert’s key tenets–“Warfighting first! Operate Forward! Be Ready!”

To be perfectly blunt, there are no ships in the Navy today that do a better job of supporting the CNO’s orders than the aged, 35-year old USS Emory S. Land (AS 39) and the 33-year old USS Frank Cable (AS 40).

Nobody in that “Green Eyeshade Era” of the ’90s ever liked a tender–they usually had a huge, pricey complement and, by the nineties, most of those World War II-era fleet support ships were in their dotage and needed replacement.  But we had kept a lot of them around, and in the Gulf War, those motley tenders (and repair ships) kept the Fleet ready to fight forward.

Look at the record–In 1993 the Navy maintained nine destroyer tenders, one repair ship and eleven submarine tenders on the rolls.  In 1970 the Navy employed nine sub tenders, fifteen destroyer tenders, seventeen repair ships and 20 LST repair craft.  Today, we have two sub tenders.  That’s it. 

As the Navy pushes new platforms farther forward than ever (and as technology at sea continues to rapidly evolve), mobile tender and repair services will become quite useful.

Like it or not, the Navy must rebuild the service fleet.  Here’s why:

First, the Navy cannot continue to rely upon the tender mercies of host nations and, oh, UPS/FedEX for “just-in-time” supplies.  Filling out the customs forms (and I won’t even mention the State Department’s Export Control forms and the wait for processing there and the cost–oh the costs!–incurred in handling that bureaucratic goat rope) is a process that would drive our next “Fighting Bull” Halsey to an early grave.  The logistical support system have now for LCS is a recipe for keeping our ships out of the fight and safely tied to a pier someplace.  Tenders, on the other hand, can carry needed equipment (and techs–AND CREWS) forward without fear of a huge bureaucratic burden and delay (by either the host country…or our own).

Second, the Navy cannot count on guaranteed access to forward-deployed services.  No diplomat in the world can guarantee such a thing.  Did leadership forget the lessons learned when the US Navy got kicked out of Subic?  Just imagine–for example–an ugly UK/Spain mixup on Gibraltar.  A rational person might think that access to Rota might get a tad, uh, impacted by such a happenstance.  And how long will the lid stay on in Bahrain? Wouldn’t a mobile maintenance/crew swap/mission module/refuel/rearm component be a useful addition?  Surely we have done enough work on seabasing to acknowledge the advantages of forward, in theatre logistical support…

Third, the cost of such investments is relatively low.  The Navy does not need a return of the big “old school” tenders–an LST-like utility platform might do fine, for now (the logistical-support history of PT Boat deployments in the Pacific might be a useful guide).  But as more ships head out to Darwin, Singapore, the Philippines, Bahrain and beyond, tenders must be included if America is really serious about meeting CNO Greenert’s tenets of “Warfighting first!  Operate forward!  And be ready!!”

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jim Van Natta May 23, 2020 at 8:42 pm

The Fleet and MSC needs a new tender fleet, floating drydocks capable of handling the largest ship afloat, and berthing barges suitable to mess and berth the crews of both USS and USNS assets.


John E McAvoy July 23, 2019 at 8:02 pm

The process to eliminate tenders from the fleet actually started in the 1960s. Navy Class “A” schools were opened up to civilian personnel who worked for the shipyards. Even though the number of tenders was being increased at the time, the ground work was being laid to transfer the servicing to shipyards. No one profits if Naval personnel perform the service (except those receiving the service). The cost never left us, it was just turned into a profit for contractors. By the way, I served on that ship with the 4 destroyers tied alongside. It is the USS Samuel Gompers, AD-37. She is buoyed up in Subic Bay serving the ships that provided fire support for our troops in Vietnam. She later went to Vietnam.


Bill Cockerham Lt USN (ret) September 9, 2018 at 3:16 pm

Great article and all good comments. Capabilities of the current fleet plan of “Just in Time” and “Out Sourcing” look great on paper, and may be good for the commercial fleet but not for a Defense Force fleet expected to provide global projection. The military, particularly the Navy readiness and response time requires a flexibility unlike any other fleet. Global projection is critically dependent upon replenishment and repair. Without in theater repair capability the fleet must either rely on foreign country assets or running the ship stateside for repair. Lessons learned during the past and present conflicts need to be given serious consideration or as with so many other lessons relearned the hard way. A real detailed review of the cost and effectiveness of the Out Sourced, GOCO and VOO programs would be very eye opening and likely interesting reading. The Armed Forces have done too much for too long without the funding needed to be truly battle ready.


Bernard Shaw MRC USN Ret. August 30, 2018 at 8:48 pm

It’s a out time Navy got off it’s political correctness worries and strengthened our fleet. Wake up congress put refurbishing our fleet first. Before the enemies of our country kick our ass.


admin January 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm

Yep….And thus adding a real, honest-to-goodness Sea Base to that woefully overcooked Sea Base Concept!


leesea January 10, 2014 at 2:45 pm

Yes the Navy needs a ship to support small combatants and other littoral ops. BUT…
the problem is using the term tender puts thing into the WRONG mindset. The US Navy does not need a miniaturized AS or AD. It needs a forward logistics ship with capacity to lift multiple products and discharge them to ships alongside. The ship needs more cargo gear to interface with both warships and sealift ships. It needs better speed than a traditional tender (even the old LST conversions were on the slow side). It needs to move up forward and to the littorals with ships it support.

Feature needed include a flight deck for VERTREP and UAV ops. Sensors to help the small boys. Boat launch & recovery as well as M&R shops.NO WET WELL waste of space and money, but instead several modern crane of various sizes. And accomodation spaces for relief crews as well as support dets


Chuck Hill August 12, 2013 at 4:52 pm

And where are the floating drydocks?


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