Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

The U.S. Navy has been concerned about the Chinese navy’s rapid development in recent years. Last year, in 2023, the U.S. Navy launched eight warships, including 50,000-ton ocean-going supply ships. This helped the U.S. Navy increase its total displacement to 138,000 tons, an important tonnage index.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

Last year, the Chinese Navy launched ships that weighed a total of 110,000 tons. This was the first time in the past ten years that the Chinese Navy launched fewer ships, with less gross tonnage, than the US military. However, it’s important to note that the US Navy’s tonnage was mainly due to the addition of an ocean-going supply ship.

When comparing supply ships’ capacity between China and the United States, Chinese supply ships have a total transportation capacity of 400,000 tons, which is significantly lower than the U.S. supply ships’ total transportation capacity of 1.57 million tons.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

Only China and the United States have the ability to design and build 50,000-ton naval supply ships. These ships are important for logistics and are equivalent in importance to 100,000-ton aircraft carriers. Although U.S. nuclear-powered aircraft carriers do not need as much fuel replenishment, carrier-based fighter aircraft do require fuel, and weapons and equipment require ammunition and missiles.

A ship at sea carries soldiers and staff who rely on regular supplies for their needs. Without these supplies, even a powerful warship like a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier can lose its effectiveness and become nothing more than a floating shell. It’s important to remember that a ship is essentially a large metal vessel, and it needs regular maintenance and care to function properly.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

Therefore, large offshore supply ships guarantee core combat capabilities for the ocean-going navy and are also an indispensable part of the aircraft carrier’s combat coordination.

So why doesn’t the aircraft carrier temporarily dock on the shore near the port to replenish various supplies?

Just like the United States has hundreds of military bases around the world, isn’t it for more convenient maintenance and supplies after a war breaks out?

During the voyage, the aircraft carrier fleet sails in a planned manner in order to perform combat missions and sail for combat goals. It is completely different from cruise ships at sea.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

The biggest difference is that cruise ships can dock at relevant cooperative ports at will, which is very convenient for supply and maintenance, but aircraft carriers are completely different. Aircraft carriers do not want any unnecessary targets to know their whereabouts.

When the sailing plan is made public, the enemy will become aware of it, and their chances of launching a surprise attack will be diminished. As a result, the aircraft carrier’s combat effectiveness will significantly decrease.

Even though the United States has several overseas military bases and ports and can get supplies from aircraft carriers during a war, it still prefers not to disclose itself to avoid being detected. This allows them to prevent the other party from taking early precautions.

Supply Ships
US Ford Aircraft Carrier

To keep the aircraft carrier’s location hidden when it’s close to the coast, it needs assistance from ships that can travel in the ocean. Finding the aircraft carrier can be tricky for satellites in the deep ocean due to waves and the environment. This can make it harder to know where the aircraft carrier is exactly and can lead to mistakes. The aircraft carrier can stay hidden at sea thanks to these uncertainties, making it easier to get supplies from supply ships without revealing its actual destination.

The United States currently has 32 large supply ships. This strength is also amazing because compared to the total number of U.S. aircraft carrier fleets, there are more than one to two. The U.S. supply ships are 50,000-ton class and can carry more than 160,000 barrels at a time—liquid cargo and more than 6,000 tons of dry cargo supplies, etc.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

U.S. military supply ships transport liquid cargo and dry cargo separately. 14 Lewis supply ships are transporting dry cargo, 16 Clark-class liquid cargo supply ships, and two supply ships capable of carrying attack weapons, with a total capacity of 500,000 people. Tons of supplies.

The Chinese Navy has several types of supply ships, all of which are in service. The total number is only 16, and there are more ships with smaller displacements.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

US Supply Ships

Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ships (T-AKE)
Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ships (T-AKE) PIc: Naval Technology
  1. Lewis and Clark-class dry cargo ships (T-AKE): These ships play a significant role in supporting aircraft carriers by replenishing them with essential supplies such as ammunition, food, spare parts, and fuel while they are underway. They ensure that aircraft carriers can maintain their operational readiness by supplying them with the necessary resources for sustained operations.
  2. Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers (T-AO): The primary mission of the Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers is to provide fuel replenishment to naval vessels, including aircraft carriers. These oilers deliver the fuel required to power the carrier’s propulsion systems and aircraft operations. Without the support of oilers like those in the Henry J. Kaiser class, aircraft carriers would have limited endurance and operational range.
Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers (T-AO)
Henry J. Kaiser-class oilers (T-AO). pic: Naval Technology

Chinese Supply Ships 901,903A,904 and 905

The 901 ocean-going comprehensive supply ship is currently used to provide necessary supplies to the aircraft carrier fleet at sea. It is a member of the establishment and an accompanying ship of the aircraft carrier fleet.

The ship can provide 6,000 tons of diesel, 8,000 tons of heavy oil and fuel oil, 2,000 tons of various explosives, shells and other weapons, and more than 70 tons of fresh water. This ensures that the aircraft carrier fleet operates smoothly.

The ship has a full water displacement of 45,000 tons and a speed of 25 knots per hour. The 905 supply ship, which is specially tasked with transporting oil, has a displacement of 37,000 tons and can transport nearly 10,000 tons of fuel at a time.

In addition, the Chinese Navy also has many types of supply ships, such as Type 903 and 903A. However, the speed is only 19 knots and cannot keep up with the aircraft carrier formation, and the full load displacement is 23,000 tons. The supplies it carries are limited and it cannot be used as an aircraft carrier supply ship. The Type 904 is smaller and is ready to be retired.

Supply Ships of US and Chinese Aircraft Carrier Fleet

The current transportation capacity of supply ships in the United States is 1.57 million tons, while in China, it is only 400,000 tons. This indicates that there is still significant room for improvement in the supply capacity of the Chinese Navy, and it has a long way to catch up with the United States.


The role of supply ships is essential to the naval capabilities of the United States and China. These ships ensure naval fleets can operate smoothly and be ready for combat in modern warfare. Although the United States has an advantage in supply capacity and fleet logistics, China is improving its capabilities. As both countries invest in naval modernization, the role of supply ships remains important for operational effectiveness and strategic advantage.