The Chinese Navy just launched its fourth at-sea replenishment ship, hot on the heels of its third:
The Type 903 is similar to the twelve American T-AKE replenishment ships in service. These 40,000 ton ships service a much larger fleet than the four Chinese Type 903s and are part of a larger replenishment fleet required by American warships operating worldwide.
Meanwhile China has, over the last two decades, trained more and more of its sailors to resupply ships at sea. It’s now common to see a Chinese supply ship in the Western Pacific refueling two warships at once. This is a tricky maneuver and the Chinese did not learn to do it overnight. They have been doing this more and more over the last decade, first refueling one ship at a time with the receiving ship behind the supply ship and then the trickier side-by-side method. This enables skilled supply ship crews to refuel two ships at once.
This is all part of a Chinese navy effort to enable its most modern ships to carry out long duration operations. In addition to the ships sent to Somalia, the Chinese have been sending flotillas (containing landing ships, destroyers, and frigates) on 10-20 day cruises into the East China Sea and beyond.
China has been operating much more in the Indian Ocean in recent years, and they just increased their ability to do so about 33%. This is on top of a huge infrastructure effort in Tibet, which allows China to rapidly move many more troops into the Himalayas, and properly support them, than India can.
Nervous times in New Delhi, I imagine.
AND ANOTHER THING: The Chinese Navy is now simply called “The Chinese Navy.” The old name was The People’s Liberation Army Navy, which was a lot more fun to say.