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USNS Robert F. Kennedy Christened as MSC’s Newest Ship

30 October 2023

From Sarah Cannon

Fleet replenishment oiler USNS Robert F. Kennedy (T-AO 208), the Military Sealift Command's newest ship, was christened during a ceremony at the General Dynamics NASSCO shipyard in San Diego, Calif., today.

The event was attended dignitaries including The honorable Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House Emerita, U.S. House of Representatives; Carlos Del Toro, Secretary of the Navy; U.S. Rep. Darelle Issa, California 48th District; U.S. Rep. Sara Jacobs, California’s 51st District; Dolores Huerta, civil rights activist; Rear Adm. Brendan McClain, Special Assistant wo Commander, U.S. Third Fleet; Steven Cade, Executive Director MSC; Capt. Micah Murphy, commander, Military Sealift Command Pacific, and Commander Task Force 33; as well as executives and employees of NASSCO San Diego and members of the Kennedy family.

“When we christen this ship, we are recognizing the tenacity and the spirit of Robert Kennedy,” said Pelosi.

The ship honors Robert F. Kennedy, an American lawyer and politician who served as the 64th United States Attorney General from January 1961 to September 1964, during his brother John F. Kennedy’s presidency, where he advocated for the civil rights movement, fought against organized crime and the Mafia, and involvement in U.S. foreign policy related to Cuba. Following his tenure as Attorney General, he served as a U.S. Senator from New York. In 1968, Robert Kennedy was considered a frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. During a campaign event in Los Angeles, in June of that year, he was assassinated. A prominent member of the Democratic Party, Robert Kennedy has come to be viewed by some historians as an icon of modern American liberalism.

“Like the other great American Leaders honored by the ships of this class, Robert F. Kennedy contributed much to the freedoms we enjoy today,” said Cade during his remarks. “A champion of equality who sought to eliminate disparity and close opportunity gaps that plagued our nation during his lifetime. We are very proud to be associated with and eagerly look forward to sailing a ship in his name.”

The ship was officially christened, when Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, Robert Kennedy’s oldest child and ship’s sponsor, broke the ceremonial bottle of champagne against the ship’s hull.
“The Navy is a fighting force and a force for peace,” said Kennedy Townsend. “It is fitting that the Secretary of the Navy named a class of ship after civil rights leaders like my father.”

The 746 foot Kennedy is the fourth ship in the John Lewis-class previously known as the TAO(X). This class of oilers has the ability to carry 162,000 barrels of diesel ship fuel, aviation fuel and dry stores cargo. The upgraded oiler is built with double hulls to protect against oil spills and strengthened cargo and ballast tanks, and will be equipped with a basic self-defense capability, including crew served weapons, degaussing, and Nixie Torpedo decoys, and has space, weight, and power reservations for Close In Weapon Systems such as SeaRAMs, and an Anti-Torpedo Torpedo Defense System. The Lewis-class of oilers will replace the current Kaiser Class fleet replenishment oilers and they age out of the MSC fleet.

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