SC's Special Mission Program manages, operates and maintains ships that carry out diverse assignments for Department of Defense sponsors. Missions include oceanographic survey, ocean surveillance and counter-drug operations, submarine support, missile range instrumentation, Strategic Arms Limitations Treaty verification, acoustic research, cable repair, submarine navigation testing and ballistic missile test support.
While civilian mariners employed by companies under contract to MSC operate the majority of special mission ships, four ships are crewed by federal civil service mariners. Embarked civilian-sponsor technicians and military personnel conduct the missions and perform shipboard communication tasks.
Eight ships supported oceanographic surveys worldwide in FY 2000: USNS Kane, USNS Pathfinder, USNS Sumner, USNS Bowditch, USNS Henson, USNS Bruce C. Heezen, USNS John McDonnell and USNS Littlehales. Survey ships study the world's oceans using multi-beam, wide-angle, precision sonar systems to collect data that helps improve technology in undersea warfare and enemy ship detection. Two of the ships, McDonnell and Littlehales, survey the sea bottom and collect data to chart coastlines. This year, McDonnell and Littlehales continued surveying the territorial waters of Egypt, Jordan, Oman and Qatar.
February found USNS Henson, an MSC oceanographic survey ship, towing a disabled cargo boat, adrift and low on food and water, from 70 miles off shore to a Colombian coast guard ship near Puerto Bolivar.
During March, oceanographic survey ship USNS Bruce C. Heezen rescued two Cuban fishermen whose boat had overturned more than 22 miles from the coast of Cuba.
Seven ocean surveillance ships supported the Navy's undersea surveillance needs in FY 2000, working directly with the numbered fleets: USNS Prevail, USNS Assertive, USNS Bold, USNS Victorious, USNS Able, USNS Effective and USNS Loyal. An eighth ship, USNS Impeccable, is under construction in Pascagoula, Miss., and is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in 2001.
MV Cory Chouest, a commercially owned and operated MSC chartered ship, has supported the ocean surveillance mission since 1995, testing the low-frequency active sonar system that will ultimately deploy on Impeccable. The new system will replace the current passive sonar used by MSC surveillance ships. The low-frequency signals provide better penetration of the ocean waters and less distortion.
USNS Stalwart, USNS Indomitable and USNS Capable, three additional ocean surveillance ships, supported U.S. counter-drug efforts in the Caribbean and eastern Pacific, under the tactical control of the Joint Interagency Task Force East.
USNS Persistent and USNS Vindicator, former ocean surveillance ships, were converted to support the Coast Guard counter-drug mission.
The mission of the surveillance ships is unique. Not only can they monitor and detect illegal drug trafficking, they can conduct law enforcement operations using the embarked Coast Guard detachments and pursuit boats. The ships are designed to stay at sea for long periods of time.
USNS Invincible, a former ocean surveillance ship, was reclassified during FY 2000 to T-AGM 24 to better reflect her new mission as a seaborne platform for a U.S. Air Force dual-band radar system. The radar is a mobile surveillance and tracking system that could augment or replace other shipboard or ground-based radar for accurate monitoring of space, missile or weapons test events that may pose hazards or threats to air or surface navigation.
A new contract was awarded in August 2000 to operate and maintain the ocean surveillance ships of MSC's Special Mission Program. The three-year, fixed-price contract was valued at $186.7 million, including a two-year extension option. Contract reimbursable costs in the amount of $95.7 million are projected. The contractor will provide personnel, operational and technical support (ashore and afloat), equipment, tools, provisions and supplies to operate the 14 vessels.
The Special Mission Program manages the operation of four chartered ships used for deep submergence support, salvage support, submarine escort/rescue assistance and the Navy's advanced swimmer delivery system. MV Carolyn Chouest and MV Dolores Chouest operate on the Atlantic coast, MV Kellie Chouest operates on the Pacific coast and MV C Commando operates out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
A new contract for operation of MV Kellie Chouest was awarded in June 2000. Kellie Chouest is a purpose-built commercial U.S.-flagged ship capable of launching and recovering deep submergence rescue vehicles. She also provides surface support for special warfare exercise missions, submarine sea trials/deep dives, mine recovery operations (inert mines only) and unmanned vehicle operations and mother ship support for submarine rescue chamber operations. The contract was valued at $19.9 million for four years if all options are exercised.
USNS Hayes conducts sound-measuring acoustic surveys in support of the submarine noise-reduction program. In FY 2000, Hayes supported several Naval Surface Warfare Center acoustic testing missions involving the new Seawolf-class submarine.
Navigation Testing & Ballistic Missile Support
USNS Waters supports submarine navigation system testing and ballistic missile flight-test support services. In FY 2000, Waters provided launch area support ship services to the British submarine HMS Vengeance during her first launch of a Trident II D5 missile.