RFA: What is the Royal Fleet Auxiliary?

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

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

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

The RFA supports numerous operations, from war-fighting and counter-piracy in hostile environments, to relief and evacuation in devastated climates.

Military operations during every major conflict since the First World War have made use of 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 has the vessel for the occasion:

  • Six tankers, including four Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) tankers, provide supplies and fuel for military ships. These MARS vessels offer a vital refuelling capability. 
  • One of their latest additions 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.
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).
  • Three vessels within the Landing Ship Docking Auxiliary facilitate amphibious operations, dropping troops safely into dangerous conditions – an important role in providing humanitarian aid.
  • One Primary Casualty Reception Facility, RFA Argus, operates within the fleet. Argus is 175 metres in length, fits 100 beds on board – essentially making it a hospital-at-sea for wounded personnel. This is the vessel you hope will never be needed but, if it ever is, will not be able to miss.

In August, the crew of RFA Argus helped to clean a Caribbean beach on a mission to save the lives of endangered sea turtles.

Personnel were in the region as part of a task group, providing hurricane relief, maritime security and countering illicit trafficking operations.

In September 2020, a new head of the Royal Fleet Auxiliary was announced.

Commodore David Eagles, whose official title is Commodore RFA and Deputy Director Royal Navy Afloat Support, has served with the RFA for more than 30 years.

Cdre Eagles took over from Commodore Duncan Lamb, who assumed the role in 2015, at the end of October.

Cover image: RFA Argus crew train in preparation for storm season (Picture: Royal Navy).