Sept. 4 (UPI) -- The keel for the future USNS Harvey Milk, a fleet replenishment oiler ship, was laid at General Dynamics' NASSCO facility in San Diego.
The formal start of construction began on Thursday without the usual ceremonial aspects because of problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the initials of the ship's sponsors, transgender activist and former Navy nurse Paula Neira and Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., were welded into the keel, an action known as authentification, continuing a Navy tradition.
It is named after Harvey Milk, a Navy veteran who became the first openly gay elected official in California in 1977. The ship's designation is the first honoring an openly gay American.
It will be the second of six vessels in the Navy's John Lewis-class program. The first, the 746-foot-long USNS John Lewis, is under construction at NASSCO's San Diego shipyard and is scheduled to be completed in November.
"I worked with Harvey, I know his dedication to human, civil and gay rights, and he was an exceptional figure," Feinstein said. "I think it really is fitting and proper that this great ship be named after him."
The new class of ships will provide logistical support for carrier strike groups, delivering, fuel, food, spare parts and other items.
"The ship will significantly contribute to our Combat Logistics Force, serving as the primary fuel pipeline from resupply ports to ships at sea," said Rear Adm. Tom Anderson of the U.S. Naval Sea Command. "This ship will ensure our warfighters stay supplied at sea, keeping them in the fight and combat ready."