GREGG K. KAKESAKO / GKAKESAKO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Aboard the USS Lake Erie, Capt. Ron Boxall, left, instructed Ensign Brittany Lynn on the duties of a conning officer, whose job is to keep the vessel a safe distance while it was being refueled yesterday by the oiler USNS Guadalupe.
250,000-gallon top off
The USS Lake Erie refuels at sea ahead of an anti-ballistic-missile test
Aboard the USS LAKE ERIE » It takes nearly two hours to top off the Pearl Harbor-based Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie with more than 250,000 gallons of diesel marine fuel.
And all that occurred yesterday afternoon about 100 miles northwest of Kauai as the 567-foot warship prepared for tomorrow's anti-ballistic-missile test.
Lt. Cmdr. Drew Bates, Lake Erie's operations officer, said the "underway replenishment" was just "to top off" the ship's 600,000-gallon capacity, which is needed to power its four jet gas turbine engines -- the same amount of power and thrust that propels a DC-9 commercial jet.
"If we were on station at sea," Bates added, "we would do this every three or four days just to stay topped off."
The floating gas station that resupplied the Lake Erie was the USNS Guadalupe, crewed by civilian merchant seamen. It stayed 160 to 180 feet from the Lake Erie, matching its speed during the fuel transfer.
A 6-inch hose running from the oiler to the Lake Erie steadily pumped the diesel fuel from the oiler, keeping the pressure within 40 to 80 pounds per square inch.
Before the refueling operation began, the crew of the Lake Erie took samples of the fuel, looking for undue amounts of water or sediment, Bates said.
The entire operation was supervised from the forecastle by Lake Erie's skipper, Capt. Ron Boxall, who allowed several of 18 embarked midshipmen -- most of them about to begin their senior year in college -- to direct the intricate maneuvers as conning officers.
As conning officers, they must maintain a safe distance between the oiler and the cruiser by keeping in constant radio contact with the bridge of the Lake Erie, Boxall added.
The two vessels traveled more than 20 miles before the cruiser broke off after topping its gas tanks.
"It's good training for our ensigns and midshipmen," Boxall said. "It always can get very dangerous since the ships are always so close together."
Boxall's crew also spent the morning going through drills to prepare for tomorrow's mission, when the Lake Erie will try to knock down a Scud-type missile fired from the decks of the decommissioned helicopter carrier Tripoli.
The Lake Erie will fire two missiles to intercept a single missile launched from the deck of the Tripoli, anchored more than 200 miles northwest of Kauai. This is the second time the Tripoli has been used as a mobile launch platform.
In October, the Tripoli, which was decommissioned in 1996, fired a Scud-type missile that was intercepted by a missile fired from Kauai's Pacific Missile Range Facility.
In the past, the Lake Erie has been able to hit a drone missile nine out of 11 times.
The two interceptor Standard Missile Block IV missiles will be fired less than three seconds apart from one of 61 missile silos located in the forward section of the Lake Erie.