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Integrated Replenishment Ships

An underway replenishment (UNREP) rendezvous of a transport with a client ship (or simultaneously with more than one) demands superb seamanship to approach, rig transfer lines and hoses, convey commodities and, perhaps, personnel, unrig, and depart company. Transports also use helicopters for vertical replenishment (VERTREP) of client ships that may be some distance away. The special hardware and procedures for these operations have been developed and improved in America since the 1930s, and permit the US Navy to operate continuously for extended periods at sea without returning to any port.

In the US Navy, replenishment ships fill one of two roles: a station ship accompanies a Battle Group [BG] of customer ships, acting as a local storage facility for the BG, while a shuttle ship transits between BGs and replenishment ports. A station ship may not be fast enough to keep up with its BG customers at their top speed, but it needs to be fast enough to periodically rendezvous with and resupply these customers. In contrast, a shuttle ship does not have a need for speed, and thus may be built to a simpler design, a less expensive design which permits construction of sufficient numbers to support the station ships. The standard term for a shuttle ship UNREP of a station ship, or serving an entire BG through several UNREPS, is a consolidation, or CONSOL.

When China began to develop the ocean-going supply ship in the late 1970s, it could develop rapidly and smoothly. Thanks to the small Nordic country of Finland at the time. Russia’s severe sanctions have secretly transferred these key technologies to China. The Chinese navy can make a major breakthrough in the replenishment ship because of the key deficiencies. The level of the ship has also become more sophisticated and has become a big country. the development of China's large supply ships began in the late 1970s. As the number of large ships increased, the demand for ocean-going supply ships emerged.

Prior to this, China was not familiar with the technology in this field. For example, the high-speed special oil-water supply system can only rely on foreign imports. Therefore, although China wanted to develop such a large supply ship by itself around 1970, it was not able to stand up because of lack of technical experience and insufficient parts.

The Sixth Machine Ministry responsible for shipbuilding sent a person to Finland to learn from it, hoping to solve the difficulties encountered in the development of the domestic oil-water supply system. Unexpectedly, the Finnish side was very enthusiastic, actively took a large number of Chinese people to exchange visits, and even led the Chinese delegation to board the Russian supply ship. The result was discovered by the Russians who raised serious protests, threatening to cancel the order.

Finland forced strong pressure from Russia and finally did not export related equipment to China, but privately gave the Chinese delegation a full set of research and development information on the supply system. Due to the generous transfer of key technologies and related parts of China's oil and water supply system, Finland's R&D personnel, who were technically embarrassed at the time, were able to use the power of the Finns to fill the gaps in their own research and development and get out of chaos. These important turning points allowed China to avoid a lot of detours on the road of R&D ship development. Finland was still willing to secretly help China's research when it was subjected to Russian protests.

In 1980, a huge naval fleet comprised of convoys, survey ships, and logistical support ships, for the first time sailed out of Chinese territorial waters, passed island chains, and entered the Pacific Ocean. This taskforce guaranteed China’s launching of carrier rockets to designated sea areas in the South Pacific. Its voyage covered four time zones, spanning 8,000 nautical miles.

En route, the fleet did not stop. The first generation of ocean-going supply ships, domestically developed and manufactured, replenished ships during the expedition up to 58 times. Every resupply maneuver attracted foreign planes and ships to observe and photograph operations. After analyzing the images, foreign naval forces determined that Chinese naval forces could handle such resupply and were now capable of ocean navigation.

Since then, Chinese sea power has carved out many new channels on the ocean.

In December 1997, the guided missile destroyers Harbin and Zhuhai, and the supply ship Nancang sailed across the Pacific. They not only visited the United States, Mexico, Peru, and Chile for the first time, but also accomplished the fleet’s first voyage circumnavigating the Pacific. In July 2000, the guided missile destroyer Shenzhen and the supply ship Nancang for the first time traversed the South Indian Ocean, skirted round the Cape of Good Hope, and visited Tanzania and South Africa.

On May 20, 2002, the guided missile destroyer Qingdao and the supply ship Taicang set sail from Qingdao to circumnavigate the globe. The voyage took more than four months and covered a total of more than 30,000 nautical miles.

On December 26, 2008, a surface fleet comprised of the guided missile destroyers Wuhan and Haikou, and the supply ship Weishanhu, set sail from Sanya and headed towards the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters for escort missions. The fleet’s main task was to safeguard Chinese civilian vessels and crews, and to protect international vessels transporting humanitarian relief supplies passing these waters. By February 1, 2009, 15 such escort missions were successfully completed.

From November 18, 2005, China’s guided missile destroyer Shenzhen and the supply ship Weishanhu visited Pakistan, India and Thailand. They held joint maritime search and rescue exercises with Pakistani, Indian and Thai counterparts, respectively. Since then, China’s navy began to hold joint maritime exercises with foreign forces on foreign waters, gradually expanding the cooperative scope and areas of operation. To date, in their respective territorial waters, the Chinese navy has conducted search and rescue exercises with more than 10 nations, including the United States, Canada, Australia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, and New Zealand.

The 901-type integrated supply ship that is replenished with the domestic aircraft carrier is the latest generation of super-large ocean-going integrated supply ship of the Chinese People's Liberation Army. On September 1, 2017, the naval commander Shen Jinlong presided over the ceremony, and the naval commander rarely attended. The entry ceremony of the military auxiliary ship can be seen from the navy's emphasis on the new supply ship. The Hulun Lake ship has a displacement of 50,000 tons. There are 4 supply stations on the left side and 3 on the right side. One more supply station on the left side is a dedicated carrier supply station to replenish the starboard side of the aircraft carrier. The ship can not only replenish marine fuel, but also replenish aviation fuel, ammunition and dry goods.

Previously, the Navy's 903-class supply ship had a displacement of only 20,000 tons and a speed of 18 knots. No matter the number of supplies and the speed of the supplies could not meet the needs of the aircraft carrier formation, the 901-type supply ship was also nicknamed : "aircraft mother".

In October 2019 a detachment of the Northern War Zone Navy conducted actual combat training in a certain sea area. They followed the "theory of training, the basis of the command, the determination of the command drill, the ability of the actual inspection and exhibition, and the review and evaluation." On the basis of the overall thinking of the exercise, the basic steps of the exercise are to evaluate the situation of “learning, teaching, seeking, guiding and evaluating” one by one from the aspects of receiving orders, carrying out planning, determining plans, implementing military arguments, and analyzing effectiveness.

During the period, the formation of the ship demonstrated more than 10 training contents on seven issues such as ship damage, anti-terrorism and anti-piracy, and air-to-air shooting. Throughout the whole process, wartime political work and post-installation support drills were carried out, and the training tasks were fully combined. In the actual combat environment, the guiding plot was released, and the "back-to-back" guidance ratio was increased. Through flexible tactical application, fine data calculation, and precise force control, the commander strategy level of commanders at all levels was maximized, and the combat was tested. The feasibility of the program and the results of the tactics would improve the actual combat capability of the troops.

They also prospectively explored the "secondary supply" training. For the first time, the supply ship provided marine replenishment for the Type 901 Hulun Lake integrated supply. It not only innovated the safeguard method for prolonging the continuous combat time of the maritime combat formation, but also helped to remove the reserve reserve for the supply ship. The new way of replenishment is to contribute to the transformation and development of naval forces.

On September 1, 2017, the first ship of the Chinese Navy's 901 large-scale integrated supply ship, Hulun Lake, was named for the flag-raising ceremony. Type 901 class 965 Hulun Lake is a super large-scale integrated supply ship independently developed by China. It is the largest supply ship of the PLA Navy. It can be deployed flexibly with the aircraft carrier fleet to provide the best offshore ocean formation supply. In addition to the huge increase in volume, the 901 type integrated supply ship has a quantitative change, that is, the speed. The new 901-type integrated supply ship is much larger than the 903-type integrated supply ship, and may be more than twice as large (the type 903 has a displacement of about 23,000 tons, while observers believe that the displacement of the 901 type may be as high as 48,000 tons). The 901 type integrated supply ship has such a huge tonnage upgrade because its service target is the carrier battle group. Although the 903 has a speed of about 20 knots, if the fleet needs to sail at a higher speed, the 903 will not keep up; the 901 will increase the speed a lot, and observers think it will not be lower than 25 knots or higher. In this way, the 901 can be driven at high speed with the fleet or aircraft carrier battle group.

The identity of the smaller vessel that performed the "shuttle ship" role in this evolution is a bit of a puzzle. The 965 Hulun Lake is frequently photographed in the company of a much smaller 3,500-ton Type 640 Fubai class AOT [ie, transport oiler]. Chinese media reports on the pathbreaking October 2019 replenishment evolution include a photograph of two ships along side, one of which is almost certainly a Type 640 Fubai class AOT, although it is not identified in Chinese media, and is a class that is not particularly well characterized in the open literature. The puzzle is compounded by the hull number - 567 - not previously associated with this class [units have been reported as 640, 968, 971 and 972].

The US Navy has two types of underway replenishment ships. The station ships remain on station with the Battle Group, while the shuttle ships replenish the replenishment ships, shuttling between loading at friendly ports and unloading onto a larger consolidating replenishment station ship which stays with the Carrier/Expeditionary Strike Group. In the operations of the US Navy, the operational concept for T-AKE is to serve as a shuttle ship or as a station ship. The primary mission of T-AKE 1 is to provide logistics lift from friendly ports or from specially equipped merchant ships to the battle group replenishment station ships. The T-AKE 1 is capable of remaining on station with the battle group to fill the station ship role in conjunction with a T-AO (Oiler)-class ship.

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