US Navy to close world’s largest underground bunker fuel tanks

by John Konrad (gCaptain) Today US Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin announcement the closure of the Red Hill fuel storage depot in Hawaii, which is the world’s largest underground fuel storage and ship bunker facility.

Unlike any other facility in the United States, Red Hill can store up to 250 million gallons of fuel. It consists of 20 underground storage tanks encased in concrete and built in cavities that were mined inside Red Hill. Each tank has a storage capacity of approximately 12.5 million gallons.

Before the United States entered World War II, Franklin Roosevelt became concerned about the vulnerability of the many aboveground fuel storage tanks at Pearl Harbor. In 1940 he decided to build a new underground facility that would store more fuel and be safe from enemy air attack. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor took place during the construction of Red Hill. As a result, part of the site was used to bury a large number of dead. Those not claimed by families were transferred to the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific when it opened after the war.

Because the Pacific Ocean is the largest in the world, many naval experts considered this depot essential for waging war in Asia, and in 2013 contractors completed a three-year overhaul of the tanks at the facility, but in 2014, the newly repaired tanks leaked and 27,000 gallons of jet fuel were lost somewhere underground.

In December last year, residents of nearby military housing began complaining of the foul smell of tap water with an oily sheen, along with symptoms including nausea, diarrhea and severe headaches. As of December 2021, more than 1,000 military families stationed in Hawaii were driven from their homes after an apparent contamination by jet fuel in Joint Base Pearl Harbor–Hickam’s water supply.

“After close consultation with senior civilian and military officials, I have decided to dump the fuel and permanently close the Red Hill Bulk Fuel Storage Facility in Hawaii,” Austin said in a statement. Press statement today. “Centralized bulk fuel storage of this magnitude probably made sense in 1943 when Red Hill was built. And Red Hill has served our armed forces well for many decades. But that makes much less sense now. The distributed and dynamic nature of our force posture in the Indo-Pacific, the sophisticated threats we face and the technology at our disposal require an equally advanced and resilient resupply capability. To a large extent, we already use dispersed supplies at sea and on land, permanent and rotating. We will now expand and accelerate this strategic distribution.

A Pentagon spokesperson provided an even less helpful statement that the Navy will replace tanks with a plan to send fuel to ships via “dispersal at sea.”

U.S. merchant marine experts say the move ignores the age and status of the U.S. Military Sealift Command’s tanker fleet, which are the vessels responsible for offshore refueling of ships and planes. . Shipbuilding experts say it is highly unlikely that Austin will be able to find the financing or that the shipyards will need to build a fleet of merchant tankers with an “equally advanced and resilient replenishment capability.” “.

During the Trump administration, U.S. Maritime Administrator Rear Admiral Mark Buzby repeatedly warned Congress that the U.S. Merchant Navy did not have enough tankers or qualified merchant seamen to fight even a limited war. In response, Congress passed an emergency measure in 2021 called the US Tanker Security Program. In this bill, the United States pays the two private companies like Maersk an allowance to change the American flag of their tankers.

“The tanker’s security measure was an emergency measure,” a MARAD gCaptain official said when interviewed. “It barely meets the most basic needs of our military and can in no way replace the capabilities of Red Hill. The Secretary of Defense is either completely misinformed or delusional if he thinks otherwise.

It’s not just US Navy and MARAD officials who have warned of serious tanker shortages. In 2020 Leutenant. General John Broadmeadow, while serving last year as deputy commander of US Transportation Command, told Congress “A 10 tanker program will be a good start to start bridging the gap in U.S.-flagged bulk fuel delivery.”

The secretary’s memorandum is available here; the information sheet can be found here.