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AGOR Replacement Ocean Class

AGOR Replacement Ocean Class is a general-purpose oceanographic research vessel operating in coastal and deep ocean areas. As part of the nation's University National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS) vessels, ship designs include both Small Water plane Area Twin Hull (SWATH) and Monohull variants. The SWATH design allows for minimum exposure of the ship to the lifting forces of the waves. SWATH is based on the principal of semi-submersible offshore rigs that are designed to provide a working platform with diminished motions in open seas, significantly reducing the ship's pitch and roll, making for superior sea keeping and increased operational capabilities. These vessels were initially expected to be from 180 to 230 feet in length and will have greater capabilities than the currently existing Intermediate Class vessels. Four new Ocean Class AGORs were initially planned for development over the next 10 years.

The design for a high-latitude Ocean Class ship, the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV), was near completion by 2005. The ARRV is a potential candidate for funding from NSF's Major Research Equipment-Facilities Construction account. The US Navy was in the process of identifying a single-hull form for Ocean Class vessels and was contemplating construction of four vessels starting in FY2006, depending on overall Navy program priorities and hull selection. Estimated replacement cost per vessel ranged from $70 million for a Global Class vessel to $25 million for a Regional Class vessel.

The National Oceanographic Partnership Program [NOPP] a collaboration of fourteen Federal agencies to provide leadership and coordination of national oceanographic research and education programs. The policy-making body of NOPP is the National Ocean Research Leadership Council (NORLC), comprising the heads of federal departments and agencies with ocean-related interests. The NORLC created the Federal Oceanographic Facilities Committee [FOFC] in 2000 to advise NORLC on policies, procedures, and plans relating to oceanographic facility use, upgrades, and investments.

FOFC's December 2001 report, "Charting the Future of the National Academic Research Fleet: A Long Range Plan for Renewal" commonly referred to as the "Fleet Plan." The Fleet Plan was written by an Interagency Working Group Oceanographer of the Navy's Office, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with input from the UNOLS Council, UNOLS Fleet Improvement Committee, UNOLS Office, the oceanographic scientific community, NOPP Ocean Research Advisory Panel and the FOFC member agencies. The report defines a federal interagency renewal strategy for the national academic research fleet. With many of the existing 28 research vessels approaching the end of their design lifetimes, the Plan calls for at least ten new ships (up to 13 if optimistic budget scenarios were realized].

Four basic vessel classes were identified: Global, Ocean, Regional and Local. The "Ocean" Class vessels were a new class defined by the report that will replace the aging "Intermediate" Class ships in the existing fleet. Ocean Class ships will fulfill a critical need in fleet modernization by replacing the currently aging "Intermediate" Class ships with vessels of increased endurance, technological capability, and number of science berths. While these vessels will be ocean going, they will not be globally ranging. Future Global and Regional Class vessels will continue to fulfill existing Class functions but with improved technological capabilities and, in some cases, increased number of science berths. These capabilities will be necessary to meet the growing trends towards larger, interdisciplinary science teams that use increasingly sophisticated research equipment. The Plan does not address the "local" class vessels, which were under 40m (130 ft) and, for the most part, were not federally owned.

By 2020 at least one Global, six Ocean, and three Regional Class ships will be needed to maintain current fleet capacity and reinvigorate the fleet as aging and less capable ships retire. However, should optimistic budget scenarios enable new scientific thrusts outlined in the Plan to move forward, fleet size and composition may need to increase up to 13 new ships.

The FY2006 budget request included $356.9 million in PE 61153N, for defense research sciences, including $4.0 million for design of the next generation of Ocean research vessels for the University National Ocean Laboratory (UNOLS) fleet. The academic research community uses UNOLS to conduct experiments and research for the Navy. The Navy planned to fund the construction of academic research vessels in the basic science account in fiscal year 2007. While the Ocean Class Research Vessel, a key research tool, provides the Navy with a robust understanding of its battlespace, the Senate Armed Services Committee was concerned that such diversion of research funds would adversely affect the goals of the innovative research account. The Senate Armed Services Committee authorized the $4.0 million requested in PE 61153N for design of the new research vessel in fiscal year 2006, but directed the Navy to request the planned $25.0 million in fiscal year 2007 for ship construction funds in the Navy Shipbuilding and Conversion account. The committee expected that the Navy will continue to use the Shipbuilding and Conversion account to provide for the recapitalization of ocean class research vessels in the Future Years Defense Program.

As of 2002 it was planned that NSF would procure the Ocean-class Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV) and the Regional Vessels, and Navy would be responsible for the Ocean Class ships. A ship in the price range of the ARRV (~$75M) would normally be funded from NSF's Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction (MREFC) account. NSF had stated publicly that they will bring this ship forward through their MREFC decision process for acquisition "after FY04", with an implied intent to strive for FY05. However, the MREFC line and associated rules and mechanisms were in a strong state of flux, and until the future of that account is settled the ARRV acquisition is problematic, in spite of NSF's verbal commitment to the ship.

The 2007 National Science Foundation budget proposed new research-related construction start on the Alaska Region Research Vessel (ARRV). ARRV is a ship that will provide dramatically improved access to Alaskan waters, enabling further research and exploration throughout a greater period of the year. As scientists strive to understand a variety of complex regional and global ecosystem and climate issues, the need to conduct research at the ice edge and in ice up to three feet thick has become increasingly urgent. With an operating year of up to 300 days, this ship could accommodate upwards of 500 scientists and students at sea annually. The Budget request provided $56 million to initiate ARRV construction.



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