In the Harbour: USNS Zeus (T-ARC-7)

Since the summer of 2017, this ship has visited St. John’s a few times. With her unique design, she stands out among the regular run of supply, Coast Guard, and fishing vessels that frequent the harbour. Today we’re looking at the USNS Zeus.

Ship Stats

  • Nationality: American

  • Length: 156.5 metres

  • Beam: 22.4 metres

  • Draught: 7.9 metres

  • Weight: 6,963 tonnes

  • Complement: 51 Civil Mariners, 6 Naval Personnel, 32 Scientists

  • Speed: 15 knots

  • Year: 1981

The keel of cable supply ship T-ARC-7 was laid down on June 1st, 1981 in the shipyard of National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego, California. The first (and only) of her kind, she was designed by the Navy, for the Navy; every system was specifically designed to meet the Navy’s needs. Original plans were for two ships, set to be designated under the new “Zeus”-class, but that project was scrapped. As a result, Zeus remains the only one of her kind in the United States Navy.

The Zeus in St. John’s, October 2018.

 Zeus is one of 26 ships in the Military Sealift Command’s (MSC) Special Mission Ships program, a branch of the Department of Defence, and is assigned to the MSC Atlantic Special Mission Support Force. Established in July 1949, MSC is responsible for the operation of most of the U.S. Navy’s replenishment, transport, and auxiliary ships. They have a core fleet of Navy-owned vessels but will take on short- and long-term contracts with other vessels when the need arises. These vessels can be identified by the blue and gold on their smokestack and the prefix USNS (United States Naval Service), rather than the commissioned USS (United States Ship). Any contracted vessels maintain their commercial colours and prefixes while in service. The crews of these vessels are primarily manned by civilian mariners or contract crews, with some members of the Navy or Marine Corps personnel to carry out special mission functions, communication, or force protection.

Zeus was launched on October 30th, 1982 but would not join active service until two years later. She was designed to transport, launch, retrieve and repair submarine cables, and provide service to the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) – a network of strategically placed sonar sensors off the coast that warn when submarines are in the area. In addition, Zeus is equipped to conduct oceanographic surveys, with towed side scan sonars the ability to deploy and recover data buoys. Further, she can be fitted with a Heaving Overboarding System (HOV) and a 72,000 lbs. (33 tonnes) A-frame for the deployment of remotely operated vehicles (ROVs). Adding to her efficiency, she is a multi-mission ship – meaning she doesn’t need to be resupplied in between trips.

She is currently in Norfolk, Virginia, undergoing a $10.4 million refit that is expected to end in April 2019. The work includes a general servicing of the ship; inspection of her main propulsion engine, cable-laying equipment and sensors; freeboard and hull cleaning and painting; and further overhaul work.

I know when she was here two summers ago, she was performing maintenance in the lead up to some training exercises by the US and Canadian Navies. If anyone has any further info on the ship itself, or the systems she services, I’d be really interested in learning more.

Cheers for now!