Technical research ship

Technical research ship

Technical research ships were used by the U.S. Navy during the 1960s to gather intelligence by monitoring the electronic communications of nations in various parts of the world. At the time these ships were active, the mission of the ships was covert and discussion of the true mission was prohibited ("classified information"). The mission of the ships was publicly given as conducting research into atmospheric and communications phenomena. However, the true mission was more or less an open secret and the ships were commonly referred to as "spy ships".


These ships carried a crew of U.S. Navy personnel whose specialty was intercepting electronic communications and gathering intelligence from those communications (see SIGINT, COMINT, ELINT). In the 1960s those personnel had a U.S. Navy rating of Communications Technician, or CT.

In order to transmit intelligence information that had been gathered back to United States for further processing and analysis, these ships had a special system named Technical Research Ship Special Communications, or TRSSCOM (pronounced tress-com).Holhaus, H. L., CDR USN "Comment and Discussion". "United States Naval Institute Proceedings", September 1977.] The system used a special gyro-stabilized 16-foot dish antenna, which can be seen aft of the main superstructure in the accompanying photographs of the "Belmont" and "Liberty". Radio signals were transmitted toward the moon, where the signals would bounce back toward the Earth and be received by a large 64-foot dish at the Naval Communications Station in Washington, D.C. Communications could occur only when the moon was visible simultaneously at the ship's location and in Washington. The gyro stabilization of the antenna kept the antenna pointed at the moon while the ship rolled and pitched on the surface of the ocean.

These ships were classified as naval auxiliaries with a hull designation of AGTR, which stands for Auxiliary, General, Technical Research. Five of these ships were built with hull numbers of 1–5. The first three ships of this type ("Oxford", "Georgetown", and "Jamestown") were converted from World War II-era Liberty ships. The last two ships ("Belmont" and "Liberty") were converted from Victory ships. The former Liberty ships' top speed of 11 knots limited the first three AGTRs to missions of slow steaming on station with a minimum of transits. Victory ships' sustained speed of 18 knots enabled "Belmont" to shadow Mediterranean Sea operations of the Soviet helicopter carrier Moskva in 1969. All of the technical research ships were decommissioned and stricken by 1970 except the USS "Pueblo", which is still technically in commission [ [ Naval Vessel Register webpage on USS Pueblo - AGER-2] ] although it has been held by North Korea since its capture in 1968.

The best-known of these ships were the USS "Liberty", which was attacked and severely damaged by Israeli aircraft and ships in the Mediterranean on June 8, 1967, resulting in the deaths of 34 Americans, and the USS "Pueblo". See USS Liberty incident.

For specifications of these ships, see Liberty ship and Victory ship.

hips of the AGTR type

:(dates of commissioning–decommissioning)
*"Oxford" class (Liberty ship type)
**USS "Oxford" (AGTR-1) • 1961–1969
**USS "Georgetown" (AGTR-2) • 1963–1969
**USS "Jamestown" (AGTR-3) • 1963–1969

*"Belmont" class (Victory ship type)
**USS "Belmont" (AGTR-4) • 1964–1970
**USS "Liberty" (AGTR-5) • 1964–1968----

There were also three smaller ships (former Army AKL hulls) with a similar mission. Those ships were "environmental research" ships, of type AGER. The best-known of those ships was the USS Pueblo (AGER-2), which was attacked and captured by North Korea on January 23, 1968. In contrast to the high freeboard of the AGTR Liberty and Victory hulls, the AGER decks were low and vulnerable to boarding from small craft.

hips of the AGER type

*USS "Banner" (AGER-1)
*USS "Pueblo" (AGER-2)
*USS "Palm Beach" (AGER 3)

Three of the technical research ships were operated as USNS ships. This meant that a civilian crew operated the ship and a Navy detachment conducted the research operations.

hips of the AG type

*USNS "Pvt Jose F. Valdez" (T-AG 169)
*USNS "Lt. James E. Robinson" (T-AG 170)
*USNS "Sgt. Joseph E. Muller" (T-AG-171)

ee also

*Spy ship


External links

*Unofficial ship pages:
** [ USS "Oxford"] — Navsource Online
** [ USS "Oxford"]
** [ USS "Georgetown"]
** [ USS "Jamestown"]
** [ USS "Jamestown"]
** [ USS "Belmont"]
** [ USS "Liberty" memorial]
** [ USS "Liberty"]

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