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USNS Sea Lift (T-LSV 9).

USNS Sea Lift (T-LSV 9).
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Class: SEA LIFT/METEOR (T-LSV 9/AKR 9)
Design: SCB Project Nos. 236 and 712.65 and MA C4-ST-67a
Displacement (tons): 9,154 light, 21,480 full
Dimensions (feet): 540' e, 499' wl x 83' e/wl x 29' max nav
Armament: none
Accommodations: 33 civilian
Speed (kts.): 22
Propulsion (HP): 19,400
Machinery: 2 steam turbines, 2 boilers, 2 screws

Construction:
LSVNameOrdBuilderKeelLaunchSvc
9SEA LIFT/METEOR25 Jun 1963Lockheed SB19 May 196417 Apr 196519 May 1967

Disposition:
LSVNameTInactStrikeDisposalFateMA Sale
9SEA LIFT/METEORT30 Oct 1985None?1 Sep 1985MA/T25 Jun 2015

Class Notes:
Navy acquisition of roll-on, roll-off (ro-ro) ships lapsed after COMET was ordered in 1955. On 15 June 1961 the U.S. Army rear services command in Europe reported to the Army Chief of Transportation in Washington that for the past 18 month a portion of the critical supplies for the European theater had been shipped in trailer-van services via the two roll-on, roll-off vessels then in service (COMET and TAURUS). This had resulted in a reduction in the average time from CONUS to USAREUR from 60-90 days to 25 days and a reduction in the Army's air movement requirement. The only drawback was the current 10-15 days spread between vessel arivals. USAREUR recommended that additional ships be procured to reduce this gap to a guaranteed weekly service. On 10 August 1961 the Chief of Staff of the Army informed CNO that the current peacetime express service, shipped in trailer-vans via the two roll-on, roll-off vessels then in operation between CONUS and Army forces in Europe, had developed into a useful, economical and indeed indispensable form of support to the Seventh United States Army. It also enhanced the Army's ability to respond to emergency situations. He expressed the Army's interest in Navy plans for the construction of additional ships of this type, which would be a substantial step toward assembling a rapid means of uniting air transported combat forces with their supporting equipment in an overseas area. The new Kennedy administration was interested in improving U.S. strategic mobility, and on 22 August 1961 CNO replied that the funding program recently submitted by the Navy to DOD included procurement of five additional ro-ro ships, one per year from FY 1963 to FY 1967, with each ship becoming operational two years after funding. The first of these was included in the FY 1963 Shipbuilding and Conversion Program, the new Secretary of Defense, Robert McNamara, having directed that appropriations for new construction to replace ships of the MSTS nucleus fleet be included with the the regular Navy Department appropriations rather than in a separate part of the appropriation act as had been done with COMET in FY 1955. MSTS intended to operate her between Brooklyn, New York and St. Nazaire, France, supplementing COMET which was then operating between those ports.

On 7 December 1961 the Ship Characteristics Board circulated preliminary characteristics prepared by the commander of MSTS for a repeat COMET (SCB Project No. 236) for working level discussion on 14 December 1961. The new ship was to be about 30 feet longer than COMET, have a sustained speed of 20 knots with a full vehicle load in place of COMET's 18 knots, and have an additional limited capability of trimming down her stern and launching amphibian vehicles into the water over the stern ramp under favorable weather conditions. The full load draft was not to exceed 28 feet and, to assure access through the regular locks at St. Nazaire, France, her extreme beam was not to exceed 78 feet. At the December meeting the reference to the St. Nazaire locks was removed and the beam was increased from 78 to 83 feet with the full load displacement increasing from 17,000 to 21,900 tons and a full load draft with general cargo of 29 feet. (The draft with a full vehicle load was 24.6 feet, soon reduced to 24.0 feet.) These increases were necessary to accommodate the larger engineering plant for the increased speed along with increased deck heights and a beam to depth ratio adequate for stability. Shortcomings observed in COMET also led to increased clear deck heights in the hold areas and decreased ramp inclinations to facilitate the passage of vehicles. The new characteristics were circulated on 6 June 1962 for concurrence not later than 22 June 1962 so that a contract for design services could be let. Approved characteristics for a Vehicle Cargo Ship (T-LSV RO/RO), SCB Project No. 236 (SEA LIFT), applicable to the Vehicle Cargo Ship (T-LSV RO/RO) in the FY 1963 program and for planning purposes in subsequent programs, were promulgated on 23 July 1962 and updated for FY 1964 on 4 April 1963 and as SCB Project No. 712.65 for FY 1965 on 5 December 1963 with a final change to SCB 236 on 8 May 1964. George G. Sharp, Inc., of New York, who had designed COMET, was brought in in June 1962 to serve as design agent and to develop the contract design and plans for the repeat ship. One of the many detailed changes proposed by Sharp, this one approved by BUSHIPS in August 1962, was the lengthening of the ship from 530 to 540 feet overall to reach more efficiently her 20 knots speed.

SEA LIFT (T-LSV 9) was accepted by the Navy from her builder on 29 April 1967 for an availability to correct deficiencies and was accepted by MSTS at Seattle on 19 May 1967. On 25 September 1968 effective 1 January 1969 T-LSV 9 was reclassified to T-AKR 9. On 12 September 1975 SECNAV changed the name of T-AKR 9 from SEA LIFT to METEOR. (The nine SEALIFT tankers of the T-AO 168 class entered service in 1974-75.) METEOR served in commission in MSC with a Navy crew to 1985, then was transferred to MA custody (RRF) on 30 October 1985. The Naval Vessel Register reported title transfer to MA on 1 September 1985 but she remained in the NVR to at least January 1995.

Navy plans to build more ships like COMET and SEA LIFT were frustrated by political obstacles and by a competing program (the FDL) developed by the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD), although one similar ship with experimental gas turbine propulsion was built commercially. The updated SCB 236 characteristics for the T-LSV in the FY 1964 program distributed on 4 April 1963 were essentially identical to those for the FY 1963 ship (SEA LIFT) that had been distributed in 1962. However the Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the FY 1964 ship pending results of an operational evaluation between COMET and a fast freighter, AMERICAN CHALLENGER, which used conventional offloading. Reportedly commercial interests had opposed construction. Characteristics for a FY 1965 ship, SCB Project No. 712.65, were approved on 5 December 1963 and on 27 January 1964 Secretary of Defense McNamara told the House Armed Services Committee that, on the basis of the recent CHALLENGER-COMET tests, he had included funds in the FY 1965 budget for a new ro-ro ship with additional ships in later years, but added that he had initiated efforts to develop a new design with twice the capacity, additional speed (25 knots), and lower procurement and operating costs. The Senate Appropriations Committee rejected the FY 1965 ship until this new design could be studied. The Ship Characteristics Board helped begin this study by distributing on 23 March 1964 characteristics without a project number for a 25-knot vehicle cargo ship (T-LSV) for which gas turbines were to be considered, but in the meantime development of the T-LSV 9 design continued with the objective of making it a more useful and economical ship. The Navy was supporting in November 1964 a ro-ro ship program that would provide for the phased replacement of the aging general-purpose cargo ships (T-AK) in the MSTS fleet and take the Navy from 3 ro-ro's and 13 large T-AKs in FY 1966 to 12 ro-ro's and 5 large T-AKs in FY 1973. OSD approved the inclusion of one gas turbine T-LSV in the FY 1966 program, and the SCB circulated characteristics dated 2 December 1964 for a 24-knot gas turbine updated version of the 23 March 1964 design as SCB Project No. 712.66. On 11 December 1964 BUSHIPS forwarded to OSD a detailed report on its studies of 15 new designs for MSTS ro-ro ships. However at about the same time in December 1964 SECDEF added to the FY 1966 budget request four modified ro-ro ships called Fast Deployment Logistic Ships (FDL) as part of a Sealift/Airlift Program to enhance Army strategic mobility that also included R&D funds for a new Air Force heavy lift aircraft (the C-5A). The DOD acceptance of the FDL for the FY 1966 program caused the SCB to cancel its preliminary characteristics of 2 December 1964 for the follow-on to T-LSV 9.

On 8 December 1964 SECDEF issued a decision/guidance memo on the MSTS Nucleus Fleet Program directing that MSTS should on an expedited basis charter a non-existent commercial ro-ro ship (i.e. one to be built) of a design similar to those planned for construction by means of appropriated funds (i.e. the T-LSV 9 follow-on). On 15 February 1965 the SECDEF's Director for Transportation and Warehouse Policy, OASD(I&L), restated these instructions by telephone and directed in a follow-up memo that "the ship was to be powered with gas turbines of such design and have a hull of such size and potential speed as may be determined by the Secretary of the Navy to provide operating experience helpful in the design of naval ships powered by gas turbines." On 16 February 1965 MSTS accordingly issued a request to private firms for expressions of interest in a build-charter arrangement under which one of them would build a gas turbine powered 25-knot ro-ro ship and then charter it to MSTS on a long term basis. The request included a list of characteristics based on the SCB characteristics of 2 December 1964 but without some military features like the ability to handle amphibian vehicles and to accommodate troops for the embarked vehicles. As the proposed ship would be of unconventional design, specifications were to be be developed with industry representatives and approved by the chief of BUSHIPS. Procurement was to follow Navy procurement procedures. The result was GTS ADMIRAL W M CALLAGHAN, built by Sun SB&DD Co. at Chester, Pa. for Sunexport Holdings Corp. of Wilmington, Del., and delivered to them and simultaneously time chartered to MSTS on 19 December 1967.

In 1965 BUSHIPS produced a design for the FDL which became SCB Project No. 720.66. Two of the FY 1966 FDLs were approved by Congress, but no FDLs were requested for FY 1967 and those requested for FY 1968 and 1969 were deleted by Congress along with the two FY 1966 ships. The program was a victim of the fiscal austerity and anti-war sentiment caused by the buildup in Vietnam in the late 1960s, and the Navy did not get its next ro-ro's until it acquired T-AKR 10-11 in 1980.

Ship Notes:
LSVNameMANotes
9SEA LIFT/METEOR167FY 1963. Ex T-AK 278 1 Jun 1963. On 25 September 1968 effective 1 January 1969 SEA LIFT (T-LSV 9) was reclassified to T-AKR 9. Renamed METEOR 12 Sep 1975. To RDF 3 Apr 1980, deployed to the Indian Ocean in mid-1980 with Marine equipment as a near-term prepositioning ship. To MA custody 30 Oct 1985 (RRF at Los Angeles, RRF Hunters Point, RRF Oakland CA Oct 1996, to SBRF as RRF homeport 29 Feb 2000). From RRF to NDRF retention Jul 2006, to non-retention Jan 2008. Scrapping contract with All Star Metals LLC, Brownsville effective 25 Jun 2015, signed by company 29 Jun 2015. Departed SBRF 29 Jul 2015 for Brownsville. BU completed 4 Apr 2016.

Page Notes:
Compiled: 13 Aug 2021
© Stephen S. Roberts, 2021
Special sources: NARA: RG 19 Entry P 26 Boxes 33-35; Norman Friedman, U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft, (Annapolis, 2002).