Sea vessels

Versatile And Vital: Who Are The Royal Fleet Auxiliary?

We explored the Navy's uniformed civilian branch supporting military operations.

A Chinook and a Royal Marine hovercraft embark RFA Lyme Bay during Exercise Catamaran (Picture: Royal Navy).

Ready for rapid deployment anywhere in the world, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) delivers worldwide logistic and operational support to Royal Navy and Royal Marine operations.

It is staffed by merchant sailors and is the civilian branch of the Naval service.

They support a variety of operations, from war-fighting and counter-piracy in hostile environments to relief and evacuation in devastated climates.

RFA Mounts Bay has recently completed a ten-day aid mission in the Bahamas following Hurricane Dorian, highlighting the RFA's support to those inside and outside of the military. 

Military operations during every major conflict since the First World War have utilised the civilian crew's mixed background experience and a variety of RFA vessels.

From replenishing warships on-the-move to dropping Royal Marines into hotspots, the RFA have the ship for the occasion...

Boat being deployed from RFA Mounts Bay 040919 CREDIT RFA Mounts Bay.jpg
RFA Mounts Bay crew deploy a boat during disaster relief in the Bahamas (Picture: RFA Mounts Bay).
  • Six tankers, including four Military Afloat Reach & Sustainability (MARS) tankers, provide supplies and fuel for military ships. These MARS vessels offer a vital refuelling capability.  The latest addition is RFA Tideforce, a 39,000-tonne fleet replenishment vessel capable of 'underway replenishment' - on-the-move refuelling - for two aircraft carriers simultaneously. 
  • Three Fleet Solid Support Ships are able to carry and store food, ammunition and explosives - keeping military operations well-stocked, anywhere and everywhere.
  • Three vessels within the Landing ships Docking Auxiliary facilitate amphibious operations, dropping troops safely into dangerous conditions - an important role in providing humanitarian aid. RFA Mounts Bay has recently demonstrated its value during disaster relief in the Bahamas, whilst RFA Lyme Bay has visited London to display its assets.
  • One Primary Casualty Reception Facility, RFA Argus, operates within the fleet. 175 metres in length, Argus fits 100 beds onboard - essentially making this a hospital-at-sea for wounded personnel. This is the vessel you hope you will never need but, if they ever do, will not be able to miss.