This 564-foot Kilauea-class ammunition ship was laid down by Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Mississippi on April 8, 1971 and launched on March 11, 1972. She was commissioned on December 16, 1972 and remains one of the five ammunition ships operated by the Military Sealift Command. The 9,340-ton Kiska is also one of the 41 ships that make up the Naval Fleet Auxiliary Force.
After commissioning into the U.S. Navy force in 1972 as the USS Kiska AE-35, she served during the Vietnam conflict. She also was deployed to the Arabian Gulf from 1990 to 1991 in support of Operation Desert Storm. On August 1, 1996, the Kiska was decommissioned, entering service with the Military Sealift Commander with a new designation, USNS Kiska. She is the final of the eight Kilauea-class ammunition ships. She was deployed to support Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. She is scheduled for decommissioning in 2012.
The USNS Kiska has served the Navy Fleet for nearly 40 years, spending the last 10 years serving as the U.S. 7th Fleet’s principal vessel for transporting ordinance around the Pacific and Indian Oceans, which is made up of 48 million square miles. This service saw the Kiska provide all types of ammunition replenishment to Navy ships at sea, from missiles to bullets.
However, the Military Sealift Command’s fleet of Kilauea-class, as well as Mars-class, combat store ships is being replaced by a new fleet of vessels. This new fleet is being formed by what are known as Lewis and Clark-class, T-AKE dry cargo/ammunition ships. These vessels will effectively consolidate both the Kilauea and Mars-class ship missions by providing multi-product, combat-logistic support to U.S. Navy vessels at sea. The T-AKE program’s primary goal is to provide effective at-sea fleet replenishment capability at the lowest life cycle cost. This program calls for up to 14 ships and has a budget of over $6 billion.
Asbestos in Navy Ships
Although an essential component of the naval fleet, some auxiliary vessels also posed a lasting health risk to soldiers serving on them. Unfortunately, products containing asbestos were common, especially on older ships, because of the material’s high resistance to heat and fire. Despite its value as an insulator, asbestos fiber intake can lead to several serious health consequences, including mesothelioma, a devastating cancer without cure. Current and former military personnel who came into contact with these ships should seek immediate medical attention in order to detect possible health consequences associated with asbestos exposure.