The Navy has awarded contracts to three shipbuilders to conduct studies for the design of the next fleet of oiler vessels, the service said Wednesday.

A T-AO-187-class oiler. Photo by U.S. Navy

Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) awarded $1.7 million contracts to

General Dynamics [GD] National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (NASSCO), Huntington Ingalls Industries’ [HII] Ingalls division and VT Halter Marine for the work on the T-AO(X) program.

The T-AO(X) fleet replenishment oilers program is intended to replace the T-AO-187-class of 14 legacy oilers, which provide fuel and cargo delivery in support of operations.

It is envisioned that a T-AO(X) ship will work with a T-AKE 1-class ship to accompany aircraft carrier battle groups and Marine amphibious groups to meet fuel requirements.

The contracts include options for a ship integration study, inert gas system cost study, and the potential for additional special studies, analyses and reviews, NAVSEA said.

The studies are expected to take six to 10 months. The next phase of the program includes an award for detailed design and construction, with the lead ship of the T-AO(X) class planned for fiscal 2016 and delivery in 2020. The program of record is 17 ships.