Royal Fleet Auxiliary
The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a vital service that provides support to the RN, allowing ships to stay at sea for extended periods by providing fuel, stores and ammunition. This is transferred at sea by helicopter or by Replenishment at sea (RAS) where 2 ships steam parallel and fuel is passed by hose and stores passed across on cables. RFA ships are crewed by civilians and rated as merchant ships although some carry self-defence weapons. Increasingly they are having to taking on roles normally done by warships although the RFA is suffering similar cuts to strength as the RN.
Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) is the ridiculous acronym for the programme to replace the ageing RFA fleet. Many of the RFAs are in need of replacement, particularly the tankers which don’t conform to modern double-hull safety standards. After as series of delays the original £2.5 Billion plan for 12 ships was abandoned. In February 2012 it was announced amid much controversy, that a £485 million contract to build 4 new RFA tankers had been awarded to a British company but the construction would be sub-contracted to South Korea. In November 2012 it was announced the 4 tankers will be named RFA Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce.