A new class of towing and salvage vessels, will join the U.S. Navy’s Military Sealift Command (MSC) in fiscal year 2021.
“The new Navajo class replaces the Powhatan class T-ATF fleet tugs, which provide towing, diving and standby submarine rescue services for the U.S. Navy, and the Safeguard class T-ARS rescue and salvage vessels, which mission includes, salvage, diving, towing, and heavy lift operations,” according to Tim Schauwecker, MSC Towing and Salvage Project Officer.
“MSC and the Fleet commanders will benefit by having new, state-of-the-art and highly capable platforms that can perform a wide range of missions ranging from towing and salvage, diving operations and submarine rescue,” he said.
The primary mission of the fleet tug is towing and submarine rescue with the secondary mission of salvage. Rescue and salvage ships conduct salvage with a secondary mission of towing. According to Schauwecker, the Navajo class will combine the capabilities of both classes into a single class for greater efficiency.
“The major improvements include a significant bollard pull increase that will enable the ship to tow virtually any ship currently in the USN inventory. The new ships include additional deck space to account for the requirements of the submarine rescue diving and recompression system, including transfer under pressure, a 40-ton heave compensating crane to assist with underwater salvage operations such as lifting aircraft wreckage out of the water, dynamic positioning which provides the ability to automatically maintain position and heading in the water by using its propellers and thrusters despite the environmental conditions, and berthing for an additional 42 personnel (other than crew) in 2-6 person staterooms. The ship will also have modern automation and engineering systems that include environmentally friendly main propulsion diesel engines,” he said.
MSC search and rescue vessels have contributed greatly to a variety of missions around the world including recovery efforts for John F. Kennedy Jr.’s plane crash, the USS Guardian grounding, TWA flight 800, Hurricane Katrina and the SS El Faro sinking. The introduction of dynamic positioning will greatly enhance the ship’s capabilities.
“During the search for EL Faro by USNS Apache, the tether for the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) had to be cut and re-terminated nearly every day because the ship was not able to hold a fully stable position manually. The search depth was around 15,000 feet and the umbilical would get twisted due to the ships movement. It took four hours for the ROV to get to the bottom and another four hours to get back to the surface. A dynamic positioning ship can hold heading and position within a couple of degrees and a few meters, making it a much more stable platform to operate from,” said Schauwecker.
MSC took delivery of the Powhatan class of fleet ocean tugs between 1978 and 1981. These ships were designed and built based on commercial offshore towing vessels, and manned by civilian mariners. Salvor and Grasp were commissioned in 1985 and 1986 and were sailed as USS ships by U.S. Navy Sailors. The Navy decommissioned the Safeguard class of salvage ships 2006-2007, and transferred them to MSC where they were re-designated as T-ARS and manned by civilian mariners.
According to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2019 ship building analysis, the procurement of the new Navajo class is in alignment with the Navy’s plan to expand the fleet to 355 ships.
“This new ship class will bring a significant capability increase to the U.S. Navy and Military Sealift Command, and eventually restore the towing and salvage fleet to an end strength of eight hulls,” said Schauwecker.
Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer announced in March, the new class of ships will be named Navajo, in honor of the major contributions the Navajo people have made to the armed forces.
“The Navajo people have fought and served our armed forces with honor and valor in nearly every major conflict since the birth of our nation, so it is fitting and right to name a new class of ship in their honor,” said Spencer.
The lead ship, the future USNS Navajo (T-ATS-6), will start construction in May of this year, with delivery of the first five ships in fiscal 2021 and 2022, followed by one ship per year through 2025.
Shevonne Cleveland, Military Sealift Command