The USA’s Future Intermediate Research Fleet [AGOR]
The USA’s University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System conducts research throughout the world’s oceans, and their fleet has shifted to 4 basic research vessel types: Global, Ocean/Intermediate, Regional and Coastal/Local. From 2014 onward, new Ocean Class ships will replace aging Intermediate Class ships in current use, and serve alongside the new SWATH-hulled RV Kilo Moana [T-AGOR 26]. Growing trends towards larger, interdisciplinary science teams, using more sophisticated research equipment, means a need for larger and more sophisticated ships. They new Ocean Class will provide parties of up to 25 scientists with an advanced blue-water platform that can stay at sea for up to 40 days, and cover up to 10,000 nautical miles.
Can they be built affordably? The US Navy is managing the competition, construction, and chartering process, and the 1st build contract was issued in October 2011.
The Ocean Class
Despite their “intermediate” characterization, the T-AGOR-27 Ocean Class will be blue-water ships, and about 20-30 feet longer than the current ships they replace. The Scripps Oceanographic Institute at UC San Diego, CA has said that T-AGOR 28, their as-yet unnamed new ship, will be more than 200 feet long, and:
“The new vessel will be equipped with powerful ocean exploration equipment and instrumentation, including multibeam seafloor mapping systems for deep and shallow water, a sub-bottom profiler that will map sediments below the seafloor, acoustic doppler current profilers for mapping currents throughout the water column and precise navigation tools for tracking instruments in the water beneath the ship. An array of networked sensors will measure atmospheric and ocean properties.”
As blue water ships, they’ll be expected to sail into tough conditions. The program wants ships that can operate 75% of the time during the Pacific Northwest and North Atlantic’s winter months. The vessels need to be fully operational in Sea State 4, and be able to handle dynamic positioning relative to a fixed position in a 35 knots wind, in sea state 5 with a 2 knot current.
Just to make things interesting, the ship should be as acoustically quiet as possible in the choice of all shipboard systems, their location, and installation. A lot of ocean research involves listening, and a ship that gets in the way of that isn’t much use.
Up top, the scientists will need 2,000 square feet in the stern working area, which can handle a range of temporary equipment, plus 80 feet of clear deck area along one side rail, and and range of recovery equipment (winches, wires, cranes, frames, booms, etc.) to fish sensors and machines out of the water. The specifications aim to reduce the need for human handling in launch and recovery, and hence the odds of accidents. Other deck areas need to handle incubators, vans, workboats and temporary equipment.
Total variable science load is 100 – 200 long tons, some of which will be housed in up to 2,000 square feet of internal labs and facilities. This will include a wide variety of lab types, with reconfigurable benches and cabinetry, special electrical requirements, storage for hazardous materials, repair facilities for equipment, and systems that provide uncontaminated seawater.
Current plans call for 4-6 Ocean Class vessels, though to date only 2 have progressed to the contract stage, with a future operator selected. T-AGOR-27 will be operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, while T-AGOR-28 will be operated by the Scripps Oceanographic Institute at UC San Diego, CA.
The class’ biggest concern has been affordability, given the precedents the Navy has been setting with its own ship types, and growth in US shipbuilding costs.
Contracts & Key Events
US Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, DC is managing these shipbuilding contracts, on behalf of UNLOS.
April 12/13: Naming. AGOR 28 is among 7 ships named by Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who actually stuck to class naming conventions this time instead of veering into political partisanship. This ship will also be named after an astronaut, becoming the R/V Sally Ride. Pentagon.
Sept 24/12: AGOR 27 will be named after Neil Armstrong, who not only was the first man to walk on the moon, but was also a naval aviator during the Korean War. Pentagon.
Aug 20/12: Construction of AGOR 27 and 28 has begun. Delivery is scheduled for late 2014 for the 1st ship and early 2015 for the 2nd. US Navy.
Feb 3/12: Dakota Creek Industries, Inc. in Anacortes, WA receives a $71 million contract modification, exercising the option for detail design and construction of T-AGOR 28, the 2nd ship of class. This brings announced contract totals to $145.1 million.
Work will be performed in Anacortes, WA (41%); Seattle, WA (38%); Alpharetta, GA (9%); Hood River, OR (8%); Houston, TX (2%); and Molndal, Sweden (2%), and is expected to be complete by April 2015 (N00024-10-C-2201). ONR.
Oct 14/11: Dakota Creek Industries, Inc. in Anacortes, WA wins a $74.1 million fixed-price modification to their small Phase I contract. They’ll finish the Ocean Class detail design, then build, support, and supply initial training and training materials for T-AGOR 27, the lead Ocean Class Auxiliary General Oceanographic Research ship. This contract could rise to $145.2 million, if the Navy decides to exercise its option for T-AGOR 28.
Serving research vessels built by Dakota Creek include the 146′ coastal vessel RV Hugh R Sharp. Work will be performed in Seattle, WA (41%); Anacortes, WA (38%); Alpharetta, GA (9%); Hood River, OR (8%); Houston, TX (2%); and Molndal, Sweden (2%); and is expected to be complete by October 2014 (N00024-10-C-2201).
Aug 28/11: The US Navy announces that Scripps Oceanographic Institute at UC San Diego, CA will operate AGOR 28, the West Coast based Ocean Class research vessel.
SIO will work closely with the Navy under a <$4 million engineering consulting services contract during detail design and construction. The target delivery date for the vessel is by the end of 2015. FBO.gov | SIO.
May 18/10: The US Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR) informs the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in Woods Hole, MA that it will operate AGOR 27. WHOI will operate the future East Coast based Ocean Class research vessel under a Bareboat Charter Party agreement with the U.S. Navy.
The target delivery date for the vessel is mid-2014, and WHOI will work closely with the Navy during detail design and construction. WHOI.
- Global Security – AGOR Replacement Ocean Class. Starts at T-AGOR-27.
- Wikipedia – Research Vessel
- University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System – UNLOS Research Vessels (current)
- University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (Oct 3/11) – Revised UNOLS Ship Classes [PDF]. Dropped from 6 current classes to 4, reclassifying several ships along the way.
- US FBO (Sept 1/09, #09AGOR27-28) – Operator Selection for Two Auxiliary General Purpose Oceanographic Resesarch (AGOR) Ships (AGOR 27 and AGOR 28)
- Shipbuilders Council of America (Sept 23/08) – AGOR Industry Day Recap
- University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (2008) – Comparison of Intermediate / Ocean Class Ship Capabilities with Regional Class and Ocean Class SMRs [PDF]
- University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (March 2003) – Ocean Class Science Mission Requirements