USNS Kingsport (T-AG-164)

USNS Kingsport (T-AG 164) under way, 29 January 1963. The photo shows the 53-foot white plastic dome that protects the 30-foot stabilized parabolic antenna.
United States
  • Kingsport Victory
  • Kingsport
Namesake: Kingsport, Tennessee[1]
Ordered: as type (VC2-S-AP2) hull, MCV hull 20
Builder: California Shipbuilding Corporation, Los Angeles, California
Laid down: 4 April 1944, as SS Kingsport Victory
Launched: 29 May 1944
Sponsored by: Mrs. George O'Brien
Completed: 12 July 1944
Acquired: 12 July 1944
In service:
  • WSA: 12 July 1944
  • Army: 8 July 1948
  • Navy: 1 March 1950
Out of service: 31 January 1984
Renamed: 14 November 1961, Kingsport
Refit: Philadelphia Naval Shipyard, Philadelphia, PA. from 1 June 1962 to 1 December 1962
Struck: 31 January 1984
Honors and
1 x battle star for World War II service
Fate: Withdrawn from the reserve fleet on 21 January 1992 for scrapping in India
General characteristics
Class and type: as T-AK-239: Greenville Victory-class cargo ship
Tonnage: 7,653 GRT[2]
  • 4,420 metric tons (4,350 long tons) (standard)
  • 10,680 metric tons (10,510 long tons) (full load)[1]
Length: 455 ft 3 in (455.2 ft) LOA[1]
Beam: 62 ft (19 m)
Draft: 28 ft 6 in (8.69 m)[1]
Installed power: 8,500 shp (6,300 kW)
  • 1 × Cross compound steam turbine
  • 1 × shaft
Speed: 16.5 knots (30.6 km/h; 19.0 mph)
Complement: 52
Armament: none
Aviation facilities: Helicopter deck added

USNS Kingsport (T-AG-164) was built as SS Kingsport Victory, a United States Maritime Commission VC2-S-AP3 (Victory) type cargo ship. During the closing days of World War II the ship was operated by the American Hawaiian Steamship Company under an agreement with the War Shipping Administration. After a period of layup the ship was operated as USAT Kingsport Victory by the Army under bareboat charter effective 8 July 1948. When Army transports were transferred to the Navy's Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service the ship continued as a cargo transport as USNS Kingsport Victory (T-AK-239). On 14 November 1961, after conversion into the first satellite communication ship, the ship was renamed Kingsport, preclassifird as a general auxiliary, and operated as USNS Kingsport (T-AG-164).

Assigned to duty supporting the U.S. Army Satellite Communications Agency USNS Kingsport was further modified and, in August 1963 while in Lagos harbor, transmitted the first satellite voice call between heads of state when John F. Kennedy and Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa aboard Kingsport spoke in a two-way call. A demonstration of transmission of oceanographic data was made between a research vessel off Africa via the ship and satellite to Washington. The first air to ship satellite communication took place when Navy aircraft off Virginia established voice communication with Kingsport which was off Morocco. Further satellite communications work took place in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Kingsport then supported Project Gemini into March 1966. After conversion from satellite configuration, particularly removal of the large and very visible dome, Kingsport was engaged in acoustic work for the Navy supporting undersea surveillance programs.


Kingsport Victory, a United States Maritime Commission VC2-S-AP3 (Victory) type cargo ship, was laid down 4 April 1944 with launch on 29 May and completion on 12 July 1944 with delivery to the War Shipping Administration (WSA) on the same day at Los Angeles.[3][4] Basic dimensions, not counting modifications for satellite communications, were length 436 feet 6 inches (133.0 m) (LBP), 62 feet (18.9 m) beam and 7,653 GRT.[2]

War Shipping Administration & Army service

Kingsport Victory was immediately placed under operation by the American Hawaiian Steamship Company under WSA's general agency agreement until taken out of service and placed in the reserve fleet at Lee Hall, Virginia on 29 September 1947.[3] On 8 April 1948 the ship was taken out of reserve and bareboat chartered to the War Department for operation as the USAT ''Kingsport Victory. During this time the ship was involved in a legal case, Johansen, v. United States, involving rights of an Army civil service employee crewmember in personal injury cases.[5]

Kingsport Victory was among large Army ships transferred to the Navy's Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) with Kingsport Victory being transferred effective 1 March 1950.[3] The ship carried military cargo for the next eleven years as USNS Kingsport Victory (T-AK-239). Kingsport Victory is seen in an Air Force documentary film on the construction of the Dew Line loading supplies at Norfolk, Virginia and unloading at Halifax, Nova Scotia.[6]

Satellite communications ship Kingsport

On 24 September 1961, she was delivered to the Portland, Oregon facilities of Willamette Iron & Steel Company where she underwent conversion to become the first satellite communications ship.[1][7] On 14 November 1961 she was renamed Kingsport and reclassified AG-164.[1]

Designed for use by the United States Army Satellite Communications Agency in the defense satellite communications programs, Project ADVENT, USNS Kingsport underwent extensive alteration during conversion. A special high frequency radio station was installed for ship-to-shore communications. She received advanced tracking and telemetry equipment and anti-roll stabilization tanks. In addition, a 30-foot, gyro-stabilized, computer-oriented, triaxial, parabolic antenna was installed on her afterdeck. Housed in a 53-foot, plastic, air-pressurized radome, this antenna permitted precision tracking of a high altitude satellite at any angle above the horizon.[1]

Kingsport sailed to Lagos, Nigeria after Syncom 2 had been successfully launched on 26 July 1963 to serve as the terminal control station during testing and evaluation of the satellite.[1] On 23 August 1963, President John F. Kennedy in Washington, D.C., telephoned Nigerian Prime Minister Abubakar Balewa aboard the Kingsport docked in Lagos Harbor via Syncom 2, the first geosynchronous communication satellite. It was the first live two-way call between heads of state by satellite.[7][8] Syncom 2 and Relay 1 linked Nigeria, Brazil and the United States with Kingsport transmitting through Syncom 2 to New Jersey and New Jersey via Relay 1 to Rio de Janeiro.[9] During this period Gulf of Guinea oceanographic data, composed of depths temperature and salinity from a 1,000 metres (3,300 ft) station, were transmitted from the RV Geronimo to the National Oceanographic Data Center via Kingsport and Syncom 2.[10]

Kingsport departed Lagos 23 September and during transit off Morocco on 2 October demonstrated the first satellite communications between an aircraft in flight when a Navy aircraft off the Virginia coast made voice contact with the ship via satellite.[1][11] The ship reached Rota, Spain on 3 October, staying until 6 October, then sailed supporting communication tests in the Mediterranean from 7 to 25 October.[1] Tests of voice and teletype links between the United States and ships of the 6th Fleet successful with the ship visiting Leghorn, Italy and Beirut, Lebanon during the voyage.[1] After arriving in Rota 26 October and completing additional experiments she sailed for Norfolk 9 November and arrived 21 November.[1]

Kingsport departed for the Pacific 17 February 1964 via Puerto Rico and the Panama Canal stopping at San Diego 13 March and reaching Pearl Harbor on 25 March 1964. For the next ten months the ship operated between Pearl Harbor and Guam supporting further communication experiments including those related to the evaluation of SYNCOM 3 after its launching 19 August 1964. Further experiments extended throughout the Western Pacific and into the Indian Ocean until July 1965.[1]

She then provided support for NASA's Gemini manned space shots serving as on station communications ship between Okinawa and the Philippines for Gemini 5 from 21 to 29 August. She supported three more Gemini flights between 4 December and 16 March 1966 before returning to the West Coast in April. She remained at San Francisco from 18 April to 27 October in a ready reserve status. During November she steamed to the East Coast, and in early 1967 was at New York undergoing repairs and alterations.[1]

Survey ship

After completion of her communications support role the USNS Kingsport became a bathymetric and acoustic survey ship supporting undersea surveillance.[12][13] Among the now published reports, declassified in 2006, of the ship's work is a description of the Indian Ocean exercise code named BEARING STAKE that took place from January to April 1977.[14]


Kingsport was placed out of service on 31 Jan 1984, transferred to the Maritime Administration for layup on 29 August 1984 then transferred back to the Military Sealift Command for scientific research on 1 March 1990.[15] The ship was withdrawn from the reserve fleet on 21 January 1992 for scrapping in India.[2]



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