The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy operates a large fleet of auxiliary ships that provide logistics and combat support in all areas including the frontiers of the South China Sea, as they made a rare, concentrated public appearance in a recent media report.

These vessels play vital roles in modern warfare and reflect the PLA Navy’s growing capabilities, analysts said on Tuesday.

Ported in an undisclosed naval base operated by an auxiliary ship detachment affiliated with the navy of the PLA Southern Theater Command, the auxiliary vessels include comprehensive replenishment ships with displacements of dozens of thousand tons, as well as landing ships, hospital ships, oil tankers and water tankers with displacements of several thousand tons.

There are also degaussing ships and remote-controlled target ships with displacements of several hundred tons, China Central Television (CCTV) reported on Monday.

It means that this auxiliary ship detachment has a large number of vessels of different types that have a variety of missions, as it safeguards the lifeline of support in the frontline of the South China Sea, CCTV said.

The mission of the Nanshui 978 water tanker is to replenish fresh water to islands and vessels. A single replenishment can fulfill the fresh water demand of an island with hundreds of people.

Designed to transport personnel and goods to islands and reefs rapidly, the Nanyun 831 passenger and cargo transport ship has a large bay under its front deck that enables the vessel to conduct supply missions under complex conditions.

The Jinchengshan landing ship has a large deck allowing it to carry tanks in amphibious landing missions. It can also participate in disaster relief and maritime search and rescue missions.

Despite being a small vessel, the Nanqin 205 degaussing ship plays a key role in giving stealth to other warships. Magnetic fields are inevitably generated by the Earth’s magnetic field around vessels as they sail. These magnetic fields make the vessels vulnerable targets to some weapons, and the degaussing ship’s mission is to cleanse other vessels of their magnetic fields.

The naval base is also the home port of the comprehensive replenishment ship Weishanhu, which is currently on an escort mission in the far sea. It is the PLA Navy’s record holder in terms of escort mission participation, cumulative range sailed and replenishment-at-sea operations conducted.

While auxiliary ships are not direct combatants, they are crucial in modern naval warfare, as they provide vital support to combat ships, a Chinese military expert told the Global Times on Tuesday, requesting anonymity.

A large navy must have a large fleet of auxiliary ships in addition to combat vessels, the expert said, noting that the PLA Navy is expected to commission more auxiliary ships of different applications as it grows comprehensively.