The Navy has been given the go-ahead to replace its ageing fuel tanker, HMNZS Endeavour.
The ship will reach the end of its service life in 2018 and will also no longer comply with international maritime regulations.
Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman said on Wednesday that having a refuelling tanker is crucial, because of the size of New Zealand's maritime zone.
Dr Coleman said the new tanker will be able to store a large amount of fuel, including aviation fuel for Navy and Air Force helicopters.
He said the new ship may also be able to operate in very cold conditions, meaning it could re-supply bases in Antarctica.
The request for tender will be issued early next year and Cabinet will consider a final recommendation in 2016.