By Tim Schnoor
Office of Naval Research
It’s a great day for the U.S. Navy and the ocean science community—I just witnessed the christening of the Navy’s newest research vessel at the Dakota Creek Industries shipyard in Anacortes, Washington, about 70 miles north of Seattle.
Named after the first man to walk on the moon, the research vessel (R/V) Neil Armstrong will assume its place among the Office of Naval Research (ONR) fleet of six research ships next year. Each is assigned to a U.S. oceanographic institution or university, and is operated by a 20-person university crew. Up to 24 scientists can be accommodated on Armstrong for research missions lasting up to a month. ONR will assign Armstrong to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a replacement for the R/V Knorr, which is being retired after an impressive 45 years of global research, making numerous ocean discoveries, including finding the wreckage of the Titanic.
With open, flexible, state-of-the-art laboratory spaces and modern ocean sensors, the Armstrong will set sail for new discoveries of the deep.
Because naval forces operate below, upon and above the seas, understanding the ocean environment is critical to successful operations, and keeping Sailors and Marines safe. Enter the research fleet.
ONR, along with other federal research partners (such as the National Science Foundation and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) support and maintain research vessels that include the historic deep-submergence vehicle Alvin, and the Floating Instrument Platform, or FLIP, and more. Every day, somewhere on the global seas, U.S.-sponsored ocean-going scientists pursue their quest for new knowledge of the oceans.
I am awed by the capability of our research vessels and the men and women who crew them. Managing these vessels for ONR is a responsibility and challenge that I look forward to each day.
In fact, I travel quite a bit. These vessels regularly operate far from their U.S. homeports for months and even years at a time. Replenishment, maintenance and voyage repairs take place in foreign ports, both large and small. Planning for the logistics of scientific research cruises takes place years in advance, and requires constant communication between the ship, crew, science teams and home institutions. International cooperation in ocean science research is a frequent occurrence, and assists the U.S. in achieving science objectives.
So what will the Armstrong bring to the fleet? Its specs are impressive:
- 238 feet in length, beam 50 feet
- Cruise speeds of up to 12 knots with a range 11,500 nautical miles
- Mission durations of up to 40 days
- Advanced sonar technology to map the deep, and monitor currents to better understand ocean and atmosphere interaction
- Hull designed to reduce bubble sweepdown from the sonar area, and to enhance the performance of its acoustic sensors
- Propulsion provided by four diesel generators that produce 1044 kW each
- Advanced over-the-side sampling equipment handling systems enable safe work conditions in high seas states
- Deep sea winches and marine cranes support unmanned systems, including remotely operated vehicles autonomous underwater vehicles and unmanned aerial vehicles
At the completion of their time at sea, scientists return to their home institutions to analyze the samples and ocean data they have collected and publish their findings. Last year, they published more than 1,500 scientific papers.
Additionally, the Oceanographer of the Navy, naval meteorologists and the National Hurricane Center benefit from data collected aboard these ships, and from many ocean sensors they moored at sea. This knowledge helps make accurate daily weather predictions and improve computer forecasting models. More than 25 operational prediction systems are actively used by Navy oceanographers that range from global weather to local riverine currents.
Recently, a new atmospheric model for tropical cyclones went operational for the Navy. It works so well, in fact, that the National Hurricane Center credited it as the most significant advance in cyclone intensity prediction in 30 years.
Looking forward, new research will help us better understand and predict the impacts of the changing Arctic, the creatures inhabiting the oceans, and the safety of mariners who travel its vast surface.
I have high expectations for the Armstrong, not just for its design and unique attributes, but for the spirit of discovery its namesake will bring to its mission and crew. Neil Armstrong’s famous words when stepping onto the moon—“This is one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”—will guide this ship’s work: It is one ship of many in our Navy, but its impact is for all humankind.