MSC 2001 in Review

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Special Mission

Special Mission Ships - 27

(as of Sept. 30, 2001)

Oceanographic Survey - 7
USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62)
USNS Bruce C. Heezen (T-AGS 64)
USNS Henson (T-AGS 63)
USNS Littlehales (T-AGS 52)
USNS John McDonnell (T-AGS 51)
USNS Pathfinder (T-AGS 60)
USNS Sumner (T-AGS 61)
Ocean Surveillance – 8
USNS Able (T-AGOS 20)
USNS Assertive (T-AGOS 9)
USNS Bold (T-AGOS 12)
MV Cory Chouest (NHN)
USNS Effective (T-AGOS 21)
USNS Loyal (T-AGOS 22)
USNS Prevail (T-AGOS 8)
USNS Victorious (T-AGOS 19)
Counter-Drug Operations - 3
USNS Capable (T-AGOS 16)
USNS Indomitable (T-AGOS 7)
USNS Stalwart (T-AGOS 1)
Missile Range Instrumentation - 2
USNS Invincible (T-AGM 24)
USNS Observation Island (T-AGM 23)
Submarine Support - 4
MV Carolyn Chouest (NHN)
MV Dolores Chouest (NHN)
MV C Commando (NHN)
MV Kellie Chouest (NHN)
Acoustic, navigation and
missile test support - 2
USNS Hayes (T-AG 195)
USNS Waters (T-AGS 45)
Cable-laying/repair - 1
USNS Zeus (T-ARC 7)

SC's Special Mission Program ships provide diverse support to the Department of Defense and other U.S. government agencies.

Civilian mariners employed by companies under contract to MSC operate the majority of special mission ships
Support includes oceanographic survey, ocean surveillance, counter-drug operations, submarine support, missile range instrumentation (including Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty verification), acoustic research, underwater cable repair, submarine navigation testing and ballistic missile test support. Civilian mariners employed by companies under contract to MSC operate the majority of special mission ships; however, four ships are crewed by federal civil service mariners. Embarked civilian sponsor technicians and military personnel conduct the missions and perform specialized shipboard tasks such as communications.

Oceanographic Survey

Five oceanographic survey ships – USNS Pathfinder, USNS Sumner, USNS Bowditch, USNS Henson and USNS Bruce C. Heezen – studied the world's oceans using multi-beam, wide-angle, precision hydrographic sonar systems to collect bathymetric data. A sixth ship, USNS Kane, completed her almost 34 years of MSC service March 14 and was turned over to the Turkish navy and redesignated TCG Candarli.

Two coastal survey ships, USNS John McDonnell and USNS Littlehales, surveyed the sea bottom and collected data in the littoral area along coastlines.

A new oceanographic survey ship, USNS Mary Sears, was under construction as of Sept. 30, 2001.

USNS Impeccable
The twin hulls of USNS Impeccable are an impressive sight at Halter Marine Shipyard in Moss Point, Miss. Photo by Rebecca Rogers.

Ocean Surveillance

Seven government-owned ships and one chartered vessel supported the Navy's undersea surveillance needs in FY 2001. USNS Prevail, USNS Assertive, USNS Bold, USNS Loyal, USNS Victorious, USNS Able, USNS Effective and MV Cory Chouest worked directly with units from the Navy's numbered fleets. MV Cory Chouest, a privately owned and MSC-chartered ship, also continued to test a new sonar system. This new system will be installed on a new MSC surveillance vessel, USNS Impeccable, to provide both active and passive sonar capabilities. Impeccable was under construction as of Sept. 30, 2001.

Counter-Drug Operations

USNS Stalwart, USNS Indomitable and USNS Capable, three modified ocean surveillance ships, supported U.S. counter-drug efforts in the Caribbean Sea and the Eastern Pacific Ocean. They were under the tactical control of the Joint Interagency Task Force East.

Crew members from USNS Indomitable
Crew members from USNS Indomitable take supplies to the 149 stranded passengers aboard Ecuadorian boat Fortuna. Photo by Ellen Bye.

Designed to remain at sea for long periods, the unique mission of the ships involved monitoring and detecting illegal drug traffic in coordination with other federal agencies and law enforcement assets.

Counter-drug ships were designed to remain at sea for long periods of time.

USNS Persistent and USNS Vindicator, former ocean surveillance ships, supported U.S. Coast Guard counter-drug missions until funding for the program was exhausted. These ships embarked Coast Guard law enforcement personnel who used high-speed chase boats to apprehend drug traffickers. USNS Persistent conducted missions until March 2001 and USNS Vindicator operated until April 2001. Both ships were then transferred to the Coast Guard.

Missile Range Instrumentation

USNS Observation Island is the oldest ship in MSC service, with almost 48 years of service, and the second oldest operational ship in the Navy – USS Constitution is oldest. Observation Island tracks missiles and test launches and compiles telemetry data, as well as monitoring compliance with the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty. The ship also supports the U.S. Air Force's Technical Applications Center at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla.

USNS Invincible, another former ocean surveillance ship, performed as a seaborne platform for a U.S. Air Force radar system that collects telemetry data on theater ballistic missiles.

Submarine Support

Four chartered ships provided deep submergence support, salvage support, submarine escort/rescue assistance and support for the Navy's advanced swimmer delivery system. MV Carolyn Chouest and MV Dolores Chouest operated on the Atlantic coast, MV Kellie Chouest operated on the West coast, and MV C Commando operated out of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

C Commando also provided surface support for special warfare exercises, submarine sea trials/deep dives, mine recovery operations and unmanned vehicle operations and mother ship support for submarine rescue chamber operations. C Commando helped locate Japanese vessel FV Ehime Maru after its collision with a U.S. submarine by using the remotely controlled vehicle Scorpio and a side-scanning sonar.

MV Kellie Chouest operates off the Pacific coast. She is a chartered U.S.-flagged ship capable of launching and recovering deep submergence rescue vehicles.

Acoustic, navigation and missile test support

Acoustic research ship USNS Hayes conducted sound-measuring surveys in support of the submarine noise-reduction program. In FY 2001, Hayes supported several missions involving the new Seawolf-class submarine.

USNS Waters supported submarine navigation system testing for the Strategic Systems Program and served as the launch area support ship for ballistic missile flight tests.

Cable laying/repair

USNS Zeus, the Navy's only dedicated cable ship, operated worldwide in FY 2001, laying, repairing and burying submarine cables.