Royal Fleet Auxiliary

The Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) is a naval auxiliary fleet owned by the United Kingdom's Ministry of Defence and is one of the five fighting arms of the Royal Navy.[2] Its purpose is to support the Royal Navy[3] 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, anti-drug smuggling, and humanitarian operations.

Royal Fleet Auxiliary
CountryUnited Kingdom
TypeAuxiliary force
RoleReplenishment & Operational Support
Size1,900 personnel[1] 337,000 tonnes
RFA HeadquartersLeach Building, Whale Island, Portsmouth, England, UK
ColoursBlue and gold          
DecorationsQueen's Colour
WebsiteRoyal Fleet Auxiliary
Commodore in ChiefThe Earl of Wessex
Commodore RFACdre Duncan Lamb
Royal Fleet Auxiliary Ensign
Royal Fleet Auxilllary Jack

The RFA counts an Aviation Training ship/Hospital Ship and landing vessels amongst its assets. RFA personnel are employees of the Ministry of Defence, and since 2003, special members of the Royal Naval Reserve deemed sponsored reserves, which are civilians who must be part of the Armed Forces in some capacity, in order to carry out specialist civilian jobs in a military capacity. Although RFA officers wear Merchant Navy rank insignia with naval uniforms, they are classed as a part of the naval service and are under naval discipline when the vessel is engaged on warlike operations. RFA vessels are commanded and crewed by these officers and ratings, augmented with regular and reserve Royal Navy personnel to perform specialised military functions such as operating and maintaining helicopters or providing hospital facilities. Royal Navy personnel are also needed to operate certain weapons, such as the Phalanx, however other weapons (such as the Bushmaster 30mm cannon, Oerlikon 20mm cannon, GPMG and the 7.62 minigun) are operated by RFA personnel.


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. World War II 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 World War II.

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]


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 warfare ships
Replenishment ships
Miscellaneous ships

Ships in RFA service carry the ship prefix RFA, standing for Royal Fleet Auxiliary, and fly 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.

The most important role provided by the RFA is replenishment at sea (RAS), therefore the mainstay of the current RFA fleet are the replenishment ships.[7] The Wave-class are 'Fleet Tankers', which primarily provide under way refuelling to Royal Navy ships, but can also provide a limited amount of dry cargo. The Rover-class that were decommissioned in 2017 are being replaced by the new Tide-class 'Fast Fleet Tankers' that were ordered in February 2012. The four new tankers have been ordered from DSME, South Korea with design support from Britain's BMT Defence Services, the first of which Tidespring entered service in 2017.[8] The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review has confirmed that three "Fleet Solid Support" Ships will be built and bidding for the contract will start in late 2016.[9]

Fort Victoria is a 'one-stop' replenishment ship, capable of providing under way refuelling and dry cargoes (I.e rearming, victualling and spares). The older Fort Rosalie-class ships provide only dry cargoes. The Wave-class, Fort Victoria and the Fort Rosalie-class have generous aviation facilities, providing aviation support and training facilities and significant vertical replenishment capabilities. They are capable of operating and supporting several Merlin and Lynx Wildcat helicopters, both of which 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 tasked with the role of supporting Royal Navy amphibious operations through its three Bay-class dock landing ships (LSD). Typically one Bay-class is also assigned as a permanent 'mothership' for Royal Navy mine countermeasures vessels in the Persian Gulf.

The unique support ship in the fleet is the aviation training ship Argus, a converted roll-on/roll-off (RoRo) container ship. She 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.[10]

The Point-class sealift ships were acquired in 2002 under a £1.25bn private finance initiative with Foreland Shipping known as the 'Strategic Sealift Service'. These ships are Merchant Navy vessels leased to the Ministry of Defence as and when needed. Originally six ships were part of the deal, allowing the MoD use of four of the ships with two being made available for commercial charter, these latter two were released from the contract in 2012.[11] The Ministry of Defence also maintains a single commercial tanker under permanent charter, the Maersk Rapier.[12] The ship 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.[12] The MoD charters the vessel to commercial companies during periods where she is not in use for defence purposes.[12][13]

As of 2019, there are 13 ships in service with the Royal Fleet Auxiliary with a total displacement of approximately 376,000 tonnes. These figures exclude the five merchant navy vessels under charter to the Ministry of Defence.


Class Ship Pennant No. Entered service Displacement Type Note
Tide-class RFA TidespringA136201739,000 tonnesReplenishment tanker[14]
RFA TideraceA1372018[15]
RFA TidesurgeA1382019[16]
RFA TideforceA1392019[17]
Wave-class RFA Wave KnightA389200331,500 tonnesFast fleet tanker[18]
RFA Wave RulerA3902003[19]
Fort Victoria-class RFA Fort VictoriaA387199433,675 tonnesMulti-role replenishment ship[20]
Fort Rosalie-class RFA Fort RosalieA385197823,384 tonnesSolid replenishment ship[21]
RFA Fort AustinA3861979 [22]

Dock landing ships

Class Ship Pennant No. Entered service Displacement Type Note
Bay-class RFA Lyme BayL3007200716,160 tonnesDock landing ship auxiliary[23]
RFA Mounts BayL30082006[24]
RFA Cardigan BayL30092006[25]


Class Ship Pennant No. Entered service Displacement Type Note
RFA ArgusA135198828,081 tonnesAviation training & primary casualty receiving ship[26]

Ministry of Defence

Class Ship Owner Entered service Displacement Type Note
Point-class MV Hurst PointForeland Shipping200223,000 tonnesRo-Ro Sealift[27]
MV Eddystone2002[27]
MV Hartland Point2002[27]
MV Anvil Point2003[27]
MV Maersk RapierA.P. Moller–Maersk Group200337,000 DWTTanker[28]

Rank insignia


Rank insignia of RFA officers are the same as for the Royal Navy; however, the RFA makes use of the diamond used by merchant shipping rather than the loop used by the RN. The rank of commodore is the most senior in the RFA.

RFA Officer Ranks and Insignia
Rank Commodore Captain Chief Officer First Officer Second Officer Third Officer Cadet
Abbreviation Cdre Capt C/O 1/O 2/O 3/O Cdt
Analogous RN Rank* Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant


Lieutenant Sub Lieutenant Midshipman

Department Colours

The RFA uses distinctive cloth to distinguish the branch of its officers. The Royal Navy ceased this practice for most officers in 1955, with the exception of medical and dental officers who are denoted by red and pink cloth respectively.

Deck (X)Logistics and Supply (LS)Marine Engineering (ME)Systems Engineering (SE)Communications

Marine Engineers may also have maroon coloured cloth in place of purple.



Ofiicers and Ratings of the RFA wear similar uniforms to the Royal Navy with RFA distinguishing marks.

No. 1 Dress

This is the formal uniform worn on ceremonial occasions. For all commissioned officers it consists of a double-breasted, navy blue reefer jacket with four rows of two RFA buttons; matching trousers; white shirt and black tie; peaked cap; and black leather shoes. Rank insignia is denoted on the lower sleeve.

For ratings this uniform is a single breasted tunic fastened with four RFA buttons, with flapped chest pockets and hip pockets; white shirt and black tie, peaked cap for Petty Officers and above and a light blue beret for other ratings; and black leather shoes. Rank insignia is denoted on the lower sleeve.

No. 2 Dress

Number 2A dress is the formal evening dress for ceremonial dinners; it consists of a navy blue mess jacket with a white waistcoat (black cummerbund for female officers) with miniature medals. 2B is "mess undress" for other mess functions, and is worn with either a black cummerbund or navy blue waistcoat and miniature medals. 2C, "red sea rig", is worn for informal evening wear on board ship; it consists of a white short sleeved shirt, worn with shoulderboards, without medals and with black trousers, black shoes and a black cummerbund.

No. 3 Dress

This is worn all year round for general duties. It consists of a white shirt with rank insignia on the shoulders, and appropriate headgear. For officers 3A dress includes a long-sleeved shirt and tie, while 3B includes a short-sleeved shirt worn with hard shoulder boards. 3C is the same in all respects as 3A but with the addition of a navy blue woollen jersey. This is the same as for Officer's No. 3 dress but with the relevant rate insignia and beret. Junior rates are only issued with short-sleeve shirts and are not issued with ties. Thus No.3 dress is divided into 3B (without jersey) and 3C dress (navy-blue jersey worn over the shirt with the shirt collar out). There is no equivalent of 3A dress for junior ratings.

No. 4 Dress

Number 4 dress is the working uniform of the RFA. It is referred to as Royal Fleet Auxillary Personal Clothing System (RFAPCS); it consists of a navy blue fire-retardant jacket (worn tucked in and with the sleeves rolled up), navy blue beret, navy blue stable belt, navy-blue fire-retardant trousers, dms boots, navy-blue T-shirt and an optional navy-blue microfleece. Number 4R dress is the same only without the jacket and with an optional baseball cap. RFAPCS is distinguished from its RNPCS counterpart by the RFA blue ensign and 'ROYAL FLEET AUXILLARY' tape replacing the white ensign and 'ROYAL NAVY' tape worn on the left arm and left chest pocket respectively. Junior ratings may also wear an RFA badged baseball cap in this order of dress, whilst undertaking courses at Royal Navy establishments.

No. 5 Dress

Number 5 dress is the collective category for all specialist working uniforms. They are worn as required for duties.

Recruitment and Training

The RFA recruits rates either directly from industry (or where they are suitably trained to allow direct entry), or as apprentices whilst undertaking training.

Officers are recruited in one of three ways[29]

  • direct from industry (or where they are suitably trained to allow direct entry)
  • via the RTO (rate-to-officer) programme
  • as cadets

All new officers take part in a 10 week Initial Naval Training Officers (INT-O) course at BRNC Dartmouth that is designed to familiarise new officers to the RFA and develop leadership skills.

See also

Lists of ships operated by or in support of Her Majesty's Naval Service


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