Royal Fleet Auxiliary

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Royal Fleet Auxiliary
Blue Ensign
Abbreviation RFA
Formation 1905 (1905)
Purpose Auxiliaries
United Kingdom
Owner Ministry of Defence
Commodore RFA
Cdre Robert Dorey[1]
1,850 personnel[2]
Fleet 13 ships
Queen's Colour
RFA Queens Colour.png

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a civilian-manned fleet owned by the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence.[3] The RFA enables ships of the Royal Navy to maintain operations around the world. Its primary role is to supply the Royal Navy with fuel, ammunition and supplies, normally by replenishment at sea (RAS). It also transports Army and Royal Marine personnel, as well as supporting training exercises, and engaging in anti piracy and anti drug smuggling operations.

The RFA counts a forward repair ship and landing vessels amongst its assets. RFA personnel are members of the Ministry of Defence civil service, and sponsored reservist members of the Armed Forces, who wear Merchant Navy rank insignia with naval uniforms and are under naval discipline when the vessel is engaged on warlike operations. RFA vessels are commanded and crewed by these civilians, augmented with regular and reserve Royal Navy personnel to perform specialised military functions such as operating and maintaining helicopters or providing hospital facilities.


The RFA was first established in 1905 to provide coaling ships for the Navy in an era when the change from sail to coal-fired steam engines as the main means of propulsion meant that a network of bases around the world with coaling facilities or a fleet of ships able to supply coal were necessary for a fleet to operate away from its home country. Since the Royal Navy of that era possessed the largest network of bases around the world of any fleet, the RFA at first took a relatively minor role.

The RFA firstly became heavily relied on by the Royal Navy during World War II, when the British fleet was often far from available bases, either due to the enemy capturing such bases, or, in the Pacific, because of the sheer distances involved. WWII also saw naval ships staying at sea for much longer periods than had been the case since the days of sail. Techniques of Replenishment at Sea (RAS) were developed. The auxiliary fleet comprised a diverse collection, with not only RFA ships, but also commissioned warships and merchantmen as well. The need for the fleet to be maintained was unambiguously demonstrated by WWII.

After 1945, the RFA became the Royal Navy's main source of support in the many conflicts that the Navy was involved in. The RFA performed important service to the Far East Fleet off Korea from 1950 until 1953, when sustained carrier operations were again mounted in Pacific waters. During the extended operations of the Konfrontasi in the 1960s, the RFA was also heavily involved. As the network of British bases overseas shrank during the end of the Empire, the Navy increasingly relied on the RFA to supply its ships during routine deployments.

The RFA played an important role in the largest naval war since 1945, the Falklands War in 1982 (where one vessel was lost and another badly damaged), and also the Gulf War, Kosovo War, Afghanistan Campaign and the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In July, 2008, the RFA was presented with a Queen's Colour, an honour unique to a civilian organisation.[4][5][6]


Typically one Bay class ship (Cardigan Bay in this 2012 photo) is assigned as a permanent "mothership" for the minehunters in the Persian Gulf.

Ships in RFA service carry the prefix RFA, standing for Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and wear the Blue Ensign defaced with an upright gold killick anchor. All Royal Fleet Auxiliaries are built and maintained to Lloyd's Register and Department for Transport standards. Most RFA ships are armed, typically with at least two 20 mm GAM-B01 anti-aircraft guns and a number of 7.62 mm L7 GPMGs.

The most important role provided by the RFA is replenishment at sea (RAS),[7] therefore the mainstay of the current RFA fleet are the tankers and replenishment ships. There are three classes of tankers (oilers), one of combined oiler / replenisher and one class of replenisher in service. The newer fast fleet tankers of the Wave class, the small fleet tankers of the Rover class and the support tankers of the Leaf class provide under way refuelling facilities to the RN. The Leaf class are occasionally tasked with the bulk movement of oil between terminals and MoD facilities. The Rover and Leaf classes are nearing the end of their active lives and will soon be due for replacement. Furthermore, their single hulls mean that they can't support operations in the Caribbean and Persian Gulf. The two classes will be replaced by four tankers (originally six), to be ordered in 2012 under the Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability programme (MARS).[8] The four new tankers have been ordered from DSME, South Korea with design support from the UK's BMT Defence Services. They have been allocated the names Tideforce, Tiderace, Tidespring and Tidesurge.

The Fort Victoria class are "one-stop" replenishment oilers, capable of supplying refuelling, rearming and victualling services while the older Fort Rosalie class provide only rearming and victualling of "dry" cargoes. The Wave and both the Fort classes have generous aviation facilities, providing aviation support and training facilities and significant VERTREP (vertical replenishment) capabilities. The Fort class ships are capable of operating and supporting up to four helicopters such as the Royal Navy's Merlin and Lynx. Modern naval helicopters are significant weapons platforms, the presence of aviation facilities on RFA ships allows for them to be used as 'force multipliers' for the task groups they support in line with Royal Navy doctrine.

The RFA is also tasked with a role supporting British amphibious operations and so contains the three Bay class Landing Ship Dock (LSD).

Two unique support ships in the fleet are the repair vessel Diligence and the aviation training ship Argus. Both of these ships are converted former merchantmen. Diligence is a former North Sea oil industry support ship tasked with fleet repairs and maintenance. In 2007 she underwent a major refit intended to extend her operational life for ten years. Argus, a converted roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) container ship, is tasked with peacetime aviation training and support. On active operations, she becomes the Primary Casualty Receiving Ship (PCRS); essentially a hospital ship. She cannot be described as such - and is not afforded such protection under the Geneva Convention - as she is armed. She can, however, venture into waters too dangerous for a normal hospital ship. Argus completed a refit in May 2007 intended to extend her operational life to 2020.[9]

Recently, two fast sealift ships were also in the fleet, Sea Crusader and Sea Centurion. They were merchant Ro-Ro ships chartered as a stopgap measure to increase the strategic lift of the RFA, enabling faster deployment of British forces. Sea Centurion was returned to its owners in 2002 and Sea Crusader in 2003, after performing cargo hauling duties for the campaign in Iraq. They have been replaced by newly built Point class vessels operated under a Private Finance Initiative; these vessels will be ordinary merchant ships leased to the Ministry of Defence as and when needed, and not in the RFA.

The Ministry of Defence also maintains a single commercial tanker under permanent charter, the MV Maersk Rapier.[10] Maersk Rapier is tasked with supplying fuel to the United Kingdoms various naval establishments at home and overseas, as well as providing aviation fuel to RAF stations at Cyprus, Ascension and the Falklands.[10] The MoD charters the vessel to commercial companies during periods where she is not in use for defence purposes.[10][11]

Active ships[edit]

As of 2014, there are 13 ships in service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with a total displacement of approximately 290,000 tonnes.[12] In addition to those ships, the MoD also has available a further four Point class sealift ships under a long term Private Finance Initiative and a single commercial tanker, the Maersk Rapier, under permanent charter.[10] The displacement of the four Point class is approximately 92,000 tonnes, while Maersk Rapier has a tonnage of 35,000 DWT. In February 2012 it was announced that four Tide-class tankers had been ordered by the MoD.[13] The ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary contribute to the available seagoing assets of the Royal Navy and augments its amphibious warfare capabilities through its three Bay-class landing ships.

Class Picture Type Ships Entered Service Displacement[N 1] Note
Royal Fleet Auxiliary (13 in Service)
Wave-class RFA Wave Knight (A389) Replenishment oiler RFA Wave Knight (A389)
RFA Wave Ruler (A390)
31,500 tonnes
Rover-class RFA Black Rover (A273) Replenishment oiler RFA Gold Rover (A271)
RFA Black Rover (A273)
16,160 tonnes To be replaced by Tide-class tankers from Oct 2016.
Leaf-class RFA Oakleaf (A111) Replenishment oiler RFA Orangeleaf (A110) 1979 37,874 tonnes To be replaced by Tide-class tankers from Oct 2016. Currently laid up in Birkenhead as of Dec 2014
Fort Victoria-class RFA Fort Victoria (A387) Replenishment oiler RFA Fort Victoria (A387) 1994 33,675 tonnes
Fort Rosalie-class RFA Fort Austin (A386) Replenishment ship RFA Fort Rosalie (A385)
RFA Fort Austin (A386)
23,384 tonnes
Argus RFA Argus (A135) Aviation training & hospital ship RFA Argus (A135) 1988 28,081 tonnes
Diligence RFA Diligence (A132) Forward repair ship RFA Diligence (A132) 1984 10,853 tonnes
Bay-class RFA Lyme Bay (L3007) Dock landing ship (LSD) RFA Lyme Bay (L3007)
RFA Mounts Bay (L3008)
RFA Cardigan Bay (L3009)
16,160 tonnes
Merchant Navy (5 Chartered)
Point-class[N 2] MV Longstone Sealift MV Hurst Point
MV Eddystone
MV Hartland Point
MV Anvil Point
23,000 tonnes[N 3] Four remain available for use by the MoD.[N 4]
Maersk Rapier MV Maersk Rapier Tanker MV Maersk Rapier 2003[N 5] 35,000 DWT Under permanent charter.[10]

Rank Insignia[edit]


Department Colours[edit]

With the exception of the executive (deck) department, RFA officer rank slides use a colour identification system for the different departments on ship.

Logistics and Supply Marine Engineering Systems Engineering Communications


See also[edit]

RFA Blue Ensign

Ships of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary

A - B - C - D - E - F - G
H - I - J - K - L - M - N
O - P - Q - R - S - T - U
V - W - X - Y - Z

Amphibious assault ships
Replenishment ships
Miscellaneous ships
Lists of ships operated by or in support of Her Majesty's Naval Service
Related articles


  1. ^ Full-load displacement.
  2. ^ Commercially owned vessels that are leased to the Ministry of Defence; they were the result of the 1998 Strategic Defence Review and are designed for the strategic transport of military cargoes and vehicles in times of need; a contract between the MoD and their owners means they can be called upon at short notice for military use.[14][15]
  3. ^ 23,000 tonnes.[16] 13,300 Deadweight tonnage.[17]
  4. ^ The original six ships were purchased in a £1.25bn PFI deal with Foreland Shipping in 2002 with the agreement lapsing in 2024. The deal was structured to allow the MoD use of four of the ships with two being made available for commercial charter, although the latter two were released from the contract in 2012.[18]
  5. ^ Estimate. Maersk Rapier was built in 2000.[19] Earliest known record of being under permanent charter with the MoD is in 2003.[11] Still in service as of 2014.[10]


  1. ^ Our organisation - Royal Fleet Auxiliary,
  2. ^ MoD - Quarterly Civilian Personnel Report, table 2 page 5, October 2014
  3. ^ Royal Fleet Auxiliary, Retrieved 10 October 2014.
  4. ^ Journal of the Flag Institute, Issue 128, p. 20
  5. ^ Gunline, April 2008, p. 7
  6. ^ Gunline, Sept 2008, p. 1
  7. ^ Britain's Modern Royal Navy, Paul Beaver, Patrick Stephens Limited, 1996, ISBN 1-85260-442-5
  8. ^ "Daily Hansard - Written Answers". UK Parliament. 23 January 2012. 
  9. ^ BBC News | England | Cornwall | Refit of navy ship RFA Argus ends
  10. ^ a b c d e f Bush, Steve (2014). British Warships and Auxiliaries. Maritime Books. p. 50. ISBN 1904459552. 
  11. ^ a b Hired Tankers Hansard Written Answers - House of Commons,, 27 October 2003
  12. ^ Royal Navy — Royal Fleet Auxiliary
  13. ^ "Britain’s Navy: Supplies are From MARS". Defence Industry Daily. Retrieved 23 February 2012. 
  14. ^ Official Royal Navy handbook (2003)
  15. ^
  16. ^ The Royal Navy Handbook, 2003, Ministry of Defence, page 104
  17. ^
  18. ^
  19. ^ Shipping Intelligence Network - MV Maersk Rapier,


The Royal Fleet Auxiliary - A Century of Service. Adams/Smith. London 2005. Chatham Publishing. ISBN 1-86176-259-3.

External links[edit]