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USNS <I>Harkness</I> (T-AGS 32).

USNS Harkness (T-AGS 32).
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Design: SCB Project Nos. 193, 708.65, 723.65, and 723.66 (large type)
Displacement (tons): 3,670
Dimensions (feet): 393' x 54' x 14'
Armament: none
Accommodations: 171 crew, 12 scientists
Speed (kts.): 15
Propulsion (HP): 3,100
Machinery: Geared diesel, 1 screw

29CHAUVENET19 Aug 1966Fairfield, Glasgow, UK24 May 196713 May 196813 Nov 1970
32HARKNESS19 Aug 1966Fairfield, Glasgow, UK30 Jun 196712 Jun 196829 Jan 1971

AGSNameTInactStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale
29CHAUVENETT7 Nov 199230 Nov 199216 Feb 1994MA/T--
32HARKNESST15 Mar 199315 Mar 199316 Feb 1994MA/T15 Sep 2017

Class Notes:
On 4 March 1958 the staff of the Ship Characteristics Board circulated for comments its proposal for characteristics for a Surveying Ship (AGS) SCB Project No. 193. This was a large commissioned ship of 5,200 tons measuring 335 x 52 feet, with facilities for two helicopters and a crew of 265 men. BUSHIPS responded on 17 April 1958 with some suggested changes and added that consideration should be given to the conversion of a merchant type hull, noting that SCB Project 179, the earlier conversion of a VC2-S-AP3 hull to a similar but special purpose AGS (AGS 21-23), cost about $5 million per ship less special equipment compared to an estimated $13 million for the new ship. The SCB approved the revised characteristics for the new ship on 13 August 1958 except for the twin screw main propulsion system (later changed to a single screw). By this time the ship measured 4,700 tons and 380 x 53 feet and had a crew of 329 men (all naval except 8 scientists). As of 29 July 1958 there was one Project 193 surveying ship in the draft FY 1960 program, but it was not in the program as passed by Congress in 1959.

The SCB 193 ship became part of the proposed National Oceanographic Program of the Federal Council for Science and Technology in 1959. This design had been intended to fill special military needs of the United States, and specifically was to be the prototype for the eventual replacement of TANNER and MAURY (AGS 15-16). The objective of the design was to develop a ship capable of conducting complete military hydrographic-oceanographic surveys in strategic coastal waters and/or potential amphibious objective areas. Approved characteristics for a large Surveying Ship (AGS), SCB Project No. 193, were promulgated on 11 June 1959 for a ship in the draft FY 1961 program. The dimensions were the same as in the August 1958 draft but the displacement had been reduced to 4,100 tons and crew to 303 men. However once again the ship was not in the building program as passed by Congress. In April 1960 the SCB validated the characteristics of 11 June 1959 with one minor change for a ship in the proposed FY 1962 program, and on 9 May 1961 a preliminary design was prepared for a 380-foot, 4,100 ton ship with a layout closely resembling the AGS 29 type as built, but the new large surveying ship soon slipped to FY 1964. The SCB 193 project was re-established by the SCB and revised characteristics were forwarded on 21 May 1962. On 20 November and 5 December 1962 the SCB took into account changes proposed by the Oceanographer of the Navy including a change in mission and tasks, an increase in accommodations to carry a Marine Corps Coastal Survey Team and other additional personnel, facilities for smaller helicopters, and a revised boat allowance. The SCB 193 characteristics were updated for FY 1964 on 30 April 1963 but the ship was again deferred.

The preliminary design history of the ship dated 28 February 1963 notes that surveying ships like this, unlike deep sea oceanographic research ships, were required to tow only smaller equipment at or near their endurance speed of 12 knots. They also did not have anti-roll tanks, low speed propulsion equipment, bow steering, or deep sea anchoring features. For the limited research work done in the open ocean, a reasonably dry and still ship when underway was sufficient. On the other hand, surveying ships required fast and frequent handling of boats, which in this ship as of 1963 included four sound boats (tentatively 36' LCPLs), two LCVP landing craft, a DUKW for reconnaissance trips ashore and inland, and a 26' motor whaleboat as an emergency lifeboat. The ship also had to handle two Marine Corps jeeps, two weapons-carrying trucks, and three trailers.

After slipping for five successive budget years, two large surveying ships were finally funded, one in FY 1965 and one in FY 1966. The characteristics for the large AGS were updated for FY 1965 and renumbered SCB Project No. 708.65 on 12 February 1964. The FY 1965 and 1966 program brochures (dated 30 April 1964 and 15 June 1965) listed the two ships as SCB 708.65 and 708.66. The specifications were then updated as for a Surveying Ship (T-AGS), SCB Project Nos. 723.65 and 723.66, on 1 November 1965 with a single change on 7 June 1966. This modified the design for civilian manning by MSTS instead of commissioned service with a Navy crew. It also followed a decision in late 1965 to procure some support ships (ultimately the AGS 29 and ATS 1 classes) in British yards while the British were to reciprocate by procuring some military goods in the U.S., the main initial candidate being the F-111 fighter aircraft.

CHAUVENET and HARKNESS entered service a little over a year after the Navy's then-largest surveying ships, the converted World War II AKAs TANNER (AGS-15) and MAURY (AGS-16), were decommissioned and struck, TANNER on 1 Aug 1969 and MAURY on 19 Dec 1969. These large survey ships initially performed combat chart surveys overseas, CHAUVENET replacing the much smaller USNS KELLAR (T-AGS 25) in coastal survey work in the western Pacific and HARKNESS performing gravity surveys for several months enroute to her initial charting assignment in the Mediterranean. The two large hydrographic survey ships were replaced in 1992-93 by the much smaller coastal hydrographic survey ships USNS JOHN McDONNELL (T-AGS-51) and USNS LITTLEHALES (T-AGS-52).

In service there were difficulties in maintaining the ships of the AGS 29 and ATS 1 classes because of their foreign-manufactured components, a problem that MARAD later addressed by retaining HARKNESS as a source of spare parts when it loaned CHAUVENET in 1996 to the Texas Maritime Academy as a training ship. The Navy in 1966 also had to deal with the predictable political fallout from overseas procurement.

In 1994-95 the Maritime Administration had CHAUVENET converted by Stevens Technical Services, Brooklyn, N.Y., into a 260 berth training ship for Texas A&M University, Galveston, Texas, to replace TEXAS CLIPPER (ex SS EXCAMBION, ex USS QUEENS, APA 103). The former AGS 29, now named TEXAS CLIPPER II, returned to the Beaumont Reserve Fleet (BRF) from conversion 2 Oct 1995 and custody of the ship was transferred by MARAD on 25 May 1996 upon her arrival at Galveston. TEXAS CLIPPER II ran sea trials 28-30 May 1997 and on 3 June 1997 began her first summer cruise as a training ship. The last cruise was completed 16 July 2005 and ten days later the ship entered the BRF. She was briefly reactivated 7 October 2005 for Hurricane Rita relief at Lake Charles, Louisiana. She began her second major conversion in March 2006, this time to a mobile sensor platform to be operated by MARAD for the Missile Defense Agency to track both test interceptors and target missiles. She was renamed PACIFIC COLLECTOR on 24 Aug 2006.

HARKNESS was renamed STATE OF MAINE in Mar/Apr 1993 and conversion to a training ship for the Maine Maritime Academy began in 1994 at the former Brooklyn Navy Yard. Performance however was unsatisfactory and the contract was terminated in 1995. The conversion was then abandoned when a more suitable vessel, ex-TANNER (AGS 40), became available. Thereafter until 2017 HARKNESS was retained in the NDRF as a source of spare parts for her British-built sister ex-CHAUVENET except for a period from January to June 2001 as a substitute static training ship, first at SUNY Maritime while their EMPIRE STATE was on loan to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy (MMA) and then to MMA while SS CAPE BON was being prepared to serve as the school's seagoing training vessel. (CAPE BON began her refit 14 Jan 2001 and entered service in late 2003 as T.S. ENTERPRISE, later KENNEDY.) In August 1997 MARAD assigned the design designations S3-M-MA153a and b to ex-AGS 29 and 31.

Ship Notes:
29CHAUVENETFY 1965. Delivered to the Commandant, First Naval District, at NSY Boston on 13 Nov 1970. To MSTS 5 Mar 1971. To MA custody in BRF 7 Nov 1992. Converted to training ship TEXAS CLIPPER II 1994-95 and to missile tracking ship PACIFIC COLLECTOR 2006. Based at Portland, Ore, with PACIFIC TRACKER (ex BEAVER STATE, ACS 10).
32HARKNESSFY 1966. Delivered to the Commandant, First Naval District, at NSY Boston on 29 Jan 1971. To MSTS 30 Apr 1971. To MA custody in JRRF 29 Mar 1993. Departed JRRF 8 Jan 2001 for use as static training ship, returned 6 Jun 2001. Departed JRRF 19 Oct 2017 under recycling contract, BU complete 16 Feb 2018.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 19 Oct 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Special sources: NARA: RG 19 Entry P 62 Box 73, RG 19 Entry P 26 Box 14