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

USNS Harkness (T-AGS 32).
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Class: CHAUVENET (T-AGS 29)
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

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

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

Class Notes:
In April 1959 a 3,440-ton, 292-foot surveying ship named SURVEYOR was launched for the U.S. Coast and Geodetic survey, prompting the Navy's R&D community to consider its need for a similar large surveying ship. At that time BUSHIPS was developing the the characteristics for the medium sized surveying ship (SCB 226) that ultimately became the AGS 26 class. A memo on the SCB 226 design dated 28 August 1961 prepared in the Preliminary Design section of BUSHIPS for the Assistant SECNAV (R&D) was highly critical of the SURVEYOR design for naval use but expressed interest in a new 3,300 ton design then under development by C&GS (although apparently not built). Unlike SURVEYOR it included scientific installations required for oceanographic studies with some features taken from BUSHIPS designs. The main reason for the larger size of the ship compared to SCB 226 was that it had three times as many crew accommodations, although it had fewer accommodations for scientists, making it highly inefficient for oceanographic operations as designed. Approved characteristics for a large Surveying Ship (AGS), SCB Project No. 193, were promulgated on 11 June 1959 and a 380-foot, 4,100 ton preliminary design was dated 9 May 1961 with a layout closely resembling the two SCB 723 ships as built. After completion of the 2,596-ton medium SCB 226 AGS design in mid-1962 the characteristics for the large AGS were updated as SCB 193 for FY 1964 on 30 April 1963 and as SCB Project No. 708.65 on 12 Feb 1964. The FY 1965 program brochure, dated 30 April 1964, described the FY 1965 ship as "a Fleet ship designed to conduct coastal hydrographic and oceanographic surveys, and also to act as a tender for smaller survey craft, helicopters, and Marine Corps survey teams. It has the capability for compiling and printing finished charts on the spot to meet Fleet and landing force requirements."

The FY 1965 and 1966 program brochures (the latter dated 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 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. Subsequently there were difficulties in maintaining the ships of these two 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.

Preliminary designs were prepared in 1966 or 1967 for a much larger AGS for FY 1968 in three variants, a 7,225 ton ship with a well deck, a 7,600 ton ship without the well deck, and an 8,500 ton catamaran, but no such ship was proceeded with. CHAUVENET and HARKNESS entered service a little over a year after the Navy's then-largest surveying ships, the converted World War II assault transports TANNER (AGS-15) and MAURY (AGS-16), were decommissioned and struck, TANNER on 1 Aug 1969 and MAURY on 19 Dec 1969. These large coastal survey ships initially performed combat chart surveys overseas, CHAUVENET replacing 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).

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 begun 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 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 but was later reassigned.) In August 1997 MARAD assigned the design designations S3-M-MA153a and b to ex-AGS 29 and 31.

Ship Notes:
AGSNameMANotes
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