At-sea rearming has been a capability brought time and time again by Del Toro in the past. With the challenges, the U.S. Navy faces against adversaries, such as China, ports and other facilities traditionally used for the rearming of the fleet’s vessels have come under threat.
The Indo-Pacific was noted specifically for these challenges, with Del Toro stating “We must pay attention to the logistics side for our fleet in the Pacific in particular.”
In a wartime scenario, ports may not be accessible or safe to permit the reloading of vertical launch system (VLS) cells, leaving Navy warships empty in a high-end fight. This is of concern in the Western Pacific, where key installations for keeping vessels supplied and maintained are few and within adversary striking range. With these challenges in mind, SECNAV is pursuing new practices and the technologies needed to keep warships firing.
“Winning will require [keeping] our assets in the fight. Rearming our warships’ vertical launch tubes at sea is amongst the clearest example of sustaining capacity and increased persistent combat power from the current force.”
Del Toro detailed the Navy’s efforts in at-sea rearming, noting recent tests of new concepts:
“When I traveled to San Diego recently, I visited the USS Spruance. We got briefed on a new concept for at-sea rearming using an articulated crane. I’ve also been seeing a demonstration of a connected replenishment technique pioneered by distinguished ASNE (American Society of Naval Engineers) member, Marvin Miller, considered by some to be the Rickover of underway replenishment.”
This connected replenishment technique has been seen in various concepts and reports on at-sea rearming. At SNA 2023, one of NASSCO’s concepts for the Expeditionary Strike Base involved a method similar to the one described by SECNAV. It was also stated that the technology being used in their At-Sea Precision Lift concept was also being examined for at-sea VLS reloading.
A new concept for at-sea reloading was brought up by SECNAV called Transferable Rearming Mechanism (TRAM). This seems to be the first mention of such a system, explored by the late Marvin Miller. Miller was an influential figure on underway replenishment in the Navy throughout the Cold War, and it seems his concepts are being explored once more by the fleet as it re-enters another era of high-end competition.
“I recently reread this landmark article on the Transferable Rearming Mechanism, called the TRAM. I saw the key relative motion challenges that presents one of the most promising solutions to field the capabilities suited for rapid reload in high sea states.”
While early at-sea VLS rearming failed with the notorious Mark 41 VLS Strikedown crane, new challenges have reinvigorated efforts to find a solution.
“Today, I want to reiterate to this audience that advancing our rearming at-sea capabilities are a major priority for me.”