MSC 2000 in Review

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Special Mission

MSC's Special Mission ships carry out diverse assignments for DOD sponsors.

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.

Oceanographic Survey

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.

USNS Bruce C. Heezen
USNS Bruce C. Heezen, MSC's newest Pathfinder-class oceanographic ship, gathers underwater data used to chart the world's coastlines and seabeds. Heezen was delivered to MSC in January.
Heezen was delivered in January 2000. After initial trials, Heezen conducted survey operations in the North Atlantic and hosted a week-long voyage from Florida to Texas for 14 high school teachers as part of the Sea Scholar Program, an effort aimed at heightening teachers' and students' interest in oceanography. The ship served as the platform for a reception in honor of a Congressional Ocean Caucus delegation in port Alexandria, Va., in July, and also supported a series of public events during port visits to Newport and Providence, R.I., and New York.

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.

USNS Bruce C. Heezen Bridge
USNS Bruce C. Heezen master, Capt. Andrew Diamond (second from right), hosts high school teachers on the ship's bridge. Their visit was part of the Sea Scholar Progam, an effort aimed primarily at increasing educators' interest in oceanography.
USNS Silas Bent was deactivated in Singapore Oct. 28, 1999, and transferred to the Republic of Turkey, where she was renamed TCG Cesme. The Turkish Navy will continue to operate her as an oceanographic survey ship. Bent was delivered to the U.S. Navy in July 1965, specially designed to conduct survey work in both Arctic and tropic waters.

Ocean Surveillance

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.

USNS Victorious
USNS Victorious is MSC's first surveillance ship to have a twin hull design for increased stability in rough seas.
MSC operates these ships for the U.S. Coast Guard. The ships each carry a crew of 18 contract mariners, a USCG law enforcement detachment of 17 and two civilian-contractor electronic technicians. Each ship also embarks two 38-foot deployable pursuit boats. The highly-maneuverable pursuit boats can reach speeds of more than 55 miles per hour.

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.

Submarine Support

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.

Flight recorder in arms of Scorpio tethered unmanned work vehicle
The flight data recorder from Alaska Airlines Flight 261 rests in the mechanical arms of Scorpio, a tethered unmanned work vehicle, aboard MV Kellie Chouest, an MSC contract research and salvage ship. (Photo by PH1 Spike Call)
MV Kellie Chouest assisted in the recovery operations of Alaska Airline Flight 261 voice and flight data recorders. Using the remote controlled vehicle Scorpio and a side-scanning sonar, which can be lowered to the ocean floor to scan for objects such as debris, Kellie Chouest was able to retrieve the voice and flight data recorders in about 700 feet of water.

Acoustic Research

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.