Tugs & Salvage Ships

Fleet tugs are used to tow ships, barges and targets for gunnery exercises. They are also used as platforms for salvage and diving work, as participants in naval exercises, to conduct search and rescue missions, to aid in the clean up of oil spills and ocean accidents, and to provide fire fighting assistance.

Before the Navajo class came into being, the Navy had a wide variety of older tugs. Some were unique civilian ships pressed into military service. Sixteen of them were Bird-class World War I minesweepers that were built on tug-type hulls, while some were one-of-a-kind naval vessels. During World War II, these ATs were reclassified as ATOs, with the "O" meaning old. A total of 36 ships carried the ATO designation.

The smaller cousins of the ATFs and ATOs were the auxiliary tugs called ATAs. ATAs were a new class of tugs designed for action during World War II. Thirty-eight ATAs of the Sotoyomo class were built. At 143 feet, they were smaller than the ATFs, and usually had a crew of five officers and 50 men. They were also less capable than ATFs, but were able to conduct major towing operations, thus freeing up ATFs for more crucial and specialized duties.

ATAs also had long legs, but they lacked the salvage or fire-fighting abilities of the fleet tugs. They drew less water, had half the horsepower, and carried lighter armament. ATAs were envisioned to relieve ATFs of vessels retrieved from combat areas, allowing the ATF to return to the action while the ATA brought the damaged vessel to a safe repair facility.

While ATAs were steel vessels powered by diesel engines, their close cousins, the ocean-going rescue tugs, ATRs, were mostly wooden-hulled ships with steam power plants. They, too, were built expressly for the war, to rush to the scene of a disabled vessel, such as one torpedoed by an enemy submarine in coastal waters. They did not have the same endurance as the other ships, but did possess considerable fire-fighting capabilities. The steam-driven ATRs were hot. You couldn't sleep in the crew quarters when the ship was in the tropics. The steam line ran right through the berthing spaces.

The ATR was 116 feet long, displacing about 1,200 tons with a wide 34-foot beam. She was crewed by three officers and 50 men. The armament on the ATR included a 3-inch, .50-caliber gun, two sets of 20 mm machine guns, and some extras.

The fleet tug's primary wartime mission is to salvage and tow battle-damaged and nonoperational units of the fleet. Additional wartime tasks may include-harbor clearance operations and retrieving beached amphibious assault vessels. Peacetime services include target towing, drone and torpedo recovery, towing inactivated or nonoperational units of the fleet, search and rescue operations, limited salvage operations, and other support functions.

The preamble of the 1936 Merchant Marine Act states that: "It is necessary for the national defense and development of its foreign and domestic commerce that the United States shall have a merchant marine ... capable of serving as a naval and military auxiliary in time of war or national emergency ... . It is hereby declared to be the policy of the United States to foster the development and encourage the maintenance of such a merchant marine." While this declaration of policy does not place the burden of achievement on the Navy, it is obvious that the Navy can do a great deal to enhance the merchant marine's ability to serva, as a naval auxiliary.

One such area would be to let the merchant marine provide more fleet support services. Navy officials, however, have been reluctant to expand peacetime use of commercial tug services because of the Navy's substantial in-house capability. They believe it is necessary to maintain a nucleus of fleet ocean tugs to have ready in the event of war.

As of 1978 the Navy had 20 fleet ocean tugs including those in the Naval Reserve Force. At that time, GAO identified over 3,000 U.S.-flag support vessels which could be used to satisfy some of the Navy's tug requirements. In addition to pure ocean tugs, GAO included oil exploitation vessels (such as offshore supply vessels) because of their versatility and because the Navy's new tug is an adaptation of the offshore supply vessel. Although the present Navy fleet ocean tug was rated at 3,000 horsepower and the new fleet ocean tug had 4,500 horsepower, GAO used 1,500 horsepower based on comments by Navy officials that this is sufficient to accomplish many of the tasks now done by fleet ocean tugs. In addition to those vessels rated at 1,500 horsepower and above, there were more than 1,lO0 tugs and oil exploitation vessels that are rated at 1,000 to 1,499 horsepower. Although these vessels would be more limited in their application by the Navy, it is possible that they would be suitable for less demanding tasks.

Some of these vessels may not be suitable to perform tasks done by the Navy's fleet ocean tug, but such vessels were not identifiable because vessel characteristics were too general. However, based on GAO's review and discussions with tug operators, it seemed likely that a substantial portion of this commercial capability would be suitable for doing Navy tasks.

The Navy claims that its new tugs have capabilities which are not found in commercial ocean tugs. Specifically, the Navy maintains that its tugs have: better towing capability and more room for personnel and equipment, better response and reaction for search and rescue operations, naval communication systems, appropriate equipment and beaching gear for salvage operations, facilities for transient personnel, greater readiness for oil spill clean up operations on the high seas, the ability to maneuver and adjust to a four point deep sea moor laid by another ship, the ability to dewater other ships and greater fire fighting capability, the ability to refuel at sea, and space and weight provisions for armament.

The Navy's assessment of commercial capability was to tugs only. However, merchant marine vessels of other types -- such as the off shore supply vessel-- cannot only do point-to-point towing, but can also tow target sleds, retrieve drones and exercise torpedoes, tow -ships that are to be used for targets, provide cable laying support, and provide limited salvage capability.

Commercial operators related that numerous commercial ocean tugs and offshore supply vessels have the capability to spend 25 days or more at sear attain speeds of over 15 knots, and have an endurance of over 8,000 miles. Additionally, many commercial vessels are equipped with radar and other navigational equipment similar to that of the Navy. Other capabilities exist in the-merchant marine, although not routinely found on board commercial vessels due to a lack of demand or because another sector of merchant marine provides that particular service. For example, fire fighting, dewatering, and salvage capability exists in the merchant marine, but not every tug and offshore supply vessel has it tin board. Such capability could be placed on board if required.

Although the merchant marine had the capability to satisfy considerably more of the Navy's peacetime demands, it is not necessary to find a commercial replacement for the Navy tug. Since the Navy would still have substantial towing and salvage capability inhouse without acquiring the tugs requested in fiscal year 1978, it became a matter of determining which tasks are to be done commercially and which by Navy assets. Employment scheduling for Navy fleet ocean tugs is done every quarter, with the exception of such tasks as emergency tows, salvage, and other unplanned tasks. Even though this employment schedule is subject to change, and sometimes on short notice, merchant marine officials believe they could accommodate the Navy in most requests.

The overall effect on the merchant marine by having additional demand placed on it by the Navy is expected by industry spokesmen to be negligible. There are hundreds of commercial vessels and the Navy would only require the equivalent of a few. Many of the U.S.-flag ocean tugs and offshore supply vessels are dispersed worldwide and many are located at ports in close proximity to major naval installations. Industry officials expressed the view that the multitude of vessels and their geographical locations could add flexibility to the Navy's ability to meet both peacetime and wartime requirements.

Based on discussions with numerous commercial operators, GAO determined in 1978 that most of the various tasks done by fleet ocean tugs could be done commercially for about $3,600 to $5,000 daily. At these rates, it would cost between $700,000 and $900,000 for the same level of service (182 shipdays) that is planned for the first new Navy tug. In contrast, GAO estimated the new tug will cost about $2.0 million annually to operate and maintain. GAO's computation of the operating cost of the new tug was based on a Navy estimate of $1.8 million plus the cost of (1) a four-man Navy communication detachment and (2) personnel and maintenance of the portable diving / salvage systems. The cost of these two items increases the annual operating expense to about $2.0 million.

There are two major factors that account for the lesser cost in commercial use. First, the merchant marine has a wide-range of vessel type & with different capabilities and can better match a vessel to specific tasks. Hany of the capabilities inherent in the Navy tugs are not needed on each mission. Secondly, the Navy would only pay for the days the commercial ship is actually used: whereas, the cost of the Navy vessel would continue whether or not it is productively employed. In addition to savings in procurement and operating costs, the phase-up cost of the new tugs would be avoided if commercial tugs were employed. This one-time expense of about $665,000 for each tug covers the period several months after delivery where the ship and crew are prepared for service.

In assessing its towing capabilities, the Navy did not consider several sources. In addition to the fleet ocean tugs, there are other types of Navy ships that have peacetime and wartime towing capability. For example, ships designed for salvage and rescue operations can perform many operations generally assigned to ocean tugs. At the end of fiscal year 1977, the Navy had 15 such ships in service and another 2 chartered to a commercial salvage company.

Another possible source of towing capabiiity would be to use a combatant ship to tow another combatant ship. Although this detracts from the combatant's primary mission, it does provide a source for emergency use. Still another source would be the commercial and military fleets of NATO ccuntries. The Navy assumes these vessels will be providing support for their respective navies. However, at times, these NATO vessels would probably be available for short-duration missions.

The Navv has estimated that it will requirer a number of vessels with towing capability in wartime. Navy officials told GAO in 1978, however, that the estimate were not very reliable. A study directed by the Chief of Naval Operations, and done by the Center for Naval Analyses, indicated a significantly higher requirement. But the Navy Program Planning Director, in the accompanying transmittal letter, stated: "The development of wartime requirements used in the study provide for only a preliminary investigation of this requirement and is not considered a credible analysis for development of wartime force level requirements. The assumptions and estimates must be reviewed and modified as necessary to incorporate the best judgment of all concerned."

This review and modification process had not been initiated as of 1978. The Navy has stated that force levels should support wartime over peacetime requirements. Accordingly, the Navy should determine accurate or reasonable wartime requirements before beginning any new construction program. It is questionable, whether the current estimate of wartime towing requirements, based on the methodology used, is adequate to support the current force level objective.

Some of the areas that need to be evaluated or reevaluated are battle-danaged combatants required to be towed. The provided data referred GAO in 1978 to a review of World War II Dattle-danaged destroyers that resulted from underwater weapons. In light of the advanced technology, different warfare tactics, modern weaponry, and modern warships, GAO believed the evaluation needs restudy. Attrition assumutions that apply to towing and salvage ships, like data provided by the Navy, applied the attrition rate used for combatants in the Navy study. Navy officials were not satisfied that the same factors for combatants should be applied to support vessels. Although mentioned as a requirement and mission of towing and salvage ships in the data provided, Amphibious task group support was not quantified. Requirements for harbor clearance operations needed to be determined, as did the level of augmentation that can be expected from other sources (e.g., U.S. merchant marine, allies, etc.

The use of commercial assets in wartime wes anticipated by the Navy, but the capability required had not been evaluated. The major missions of Navy towing and salvage assets include towing battle-damaged ships, recovering beached amphibious assault ships, and harbor clearance operations. But much support, if any, that could be provided by the merchant marine in support of these missions had not been addressed by the Navy. Use of commercial assets for harbor clearance and towing battle-damaged ships are two distinct possibilities recognized by the Navy, but never evaluated. One possible method of use follows: A battle-damaged ship is towed by a Navy asset out of the immediate battle area and transferred to a commercial vessel. The commercial vessel proceeds to tow the damaged ship to its destination. Meanwhile, the Navy vessel is free to provide whatever combat support may be required, as opposed to possibly being involved in a tow that would exclude it from activity during a critical time.

Navy testimony in 1977, supporting the request for the new tugs, indicated that historically it has had an ocean tug requirement of 4,400 ship-days annually. The testimony was based, however, on somewhat dated analyses of demands during the period of the Vietnam conflict. The part of that 4,400 shipday demand actually supplied by the 24 tugs then in service amounted to 3,122 days. The remainder represented tug services supplied by salvage and rescue vessels and demands for support rejected,

More recent data supplied by the Navy suggests that current peacetime requirements are substantially less, Eowever, GAO was unable to ascertain from the Navy data the amount of work fleet ocean tugs actually did, The information showed that the 20 tugs and 15 salvage and rescue vessels combined supplied about 3,900 shipdays of support services in 1977. By 1981, the Navy would have fewer operating tugs and salvage/rescue ships, but did not experience a commensurate decrease in level of service capability. The newer tugs already being constructed will be far more productive than those they are replacing. Commercial augmentation will most likely be required, however, and a need for the Navy to accurately establish and monitor its requirements for tug services became more important.

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