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USS Frank Cable (back of picture), one of two submarine tenders maintained by the United States Navy. The attack submarine USS Salt Lake City (SSN-716) is in the foreground.

A submarine tender, in British English a submarine depot ship, is a type of depot ship that supplies and supports submarines.


Transfer of a Polaris submarine-launched ballistic missile between the submarine tender USS Proteus (AS-19) and the ballistic missile submarine USS Patrick Henry (SSBN-599) at Holy Loch, Dunoon, Scotland, in 1961.

Submarines are small compared to most oceangoing vessels, and generally cannot carry large amounts of food, fuel, torpedoes, and other supplies, or a full array of maintenance equipment and personnel. The tender carries all these, and either meets submarines at sea to replenish them or provides these services while docked at a port near the submarines' operations zone. In some navies, the tenders were equipped with workshops for maintenance, and as floating dormitories with relief crews.

With the increased size and automation of modern submarines, plus in some navies the introduction of nuclear power, tenders are no longer as necessary for fuel as they once were.


Canada's first submarine depot ship was HMCS Shearwater.


The term used in the Chilean Navy is "submarine mother ship", as for example the BMS (buque madre de submarinos) Almirante Merino.


China's Type 926 submarine support ship is capable of replenishing submarines and rescuing those in distress.[1]


During the 1930s and World War II, the French Navy and later the Free French Naval Forces operated the submarine tender Jules Verne.


Unable to operate a significant number of conventional surface tenders during World War II, Germany's Kriegsmarine used Type XIV submarines (nicknamed milk cows) for replenishment at sea.


Prior to and during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy operated submarine tenders. It also operated Nisshin, a seaplane tender designed and equipped to transport and support 12 midget submarines in addition to seaplanes, and a number of submarines designed to transport, launch, and recover midget submarines.

The Netherlands

The Royal Netherlands Navy has one submarine support vessel, HNLMS Mercuur (A900), commissioned in 1987, as a replacement of HNLMS Onverschrokken (M886), then known as HNLMS Mercuur (A 856). Commissioned in 1956, as an ocean going Aggressive-class minesweeper, built in the US, and later used as a submarine tender.


The Russian Navy decommissioned all its Don and Ugra-class tenders inherited from the Soviet Navy by 2001. The last remaining ship of this class was INS Amba (A54), initially sold to the Indian Navy in 1968 for use with their fleet of Foxtrot-class submarines. She was reportedly decommissioned in July 2006.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

In the Royal Navy, the term used for a submarine tender is "submarine depot ship", for example HMS Medway and HMS Maidstone. List of Royal Navy submarine depot ships

United States

Main article: List of auxiliaries of the United States Navy § Submarine Tenders (AS)

In the United States Navy, submarine tenders are considered auxiliary ships, with the hull classification symbol "AS". As of 2017, the U.S. Navy maintains two submarine tenders, USS Emory S. Land (AS-39) and USS Frank Cable (AS-40).


  1. ^ "Chinese Navy conducts naval exercise to perform submarine rescue missions". 25 May 2021.