Tuesday, September 26, 2006
The Navy is giving away some of its Cold War secrets - for free. The Sea Shadow, an experimental stealth ship, and the Hughes Mining Barge, built for the CIA in a failed super-secret scheme to raise a sunken Soviet missile sub, could become a tourist attraction near you. As part of its ship donation program, the Navy will hand over the once top-secret vessels to a state, local government or non-profit group willing to open a floating museum with the vessels. Ships "are really wonderful platforms for education," said Jeffrey Nilsson, executive director of the Historic Naval Ships Association, based in Smithfield.
Sea Shadow (IX 529)The Navy has given away 47 aircraft carriers, battleships, destroyers, submarines and other vessels since World War II. They are spread around 21 states from North Carolina to Hawaii and as far inland as Omaha, Neb. "Donations are done to preserve naval history and educate the public," said Katie Dunnigan, a Navy spokeswoman. Currently, 12 warships are available, including two carriers and two battleships. Sea Shadow, built during the early 1980s, incorporated stealth technology to make it virtually invisible to radar. For years, the Navy tested it only at night to stymie prying eyes and Soviet satellites. With its sloping sides, engines placed in submerged pontoons and painted black, the 164-foot-long Sea Shadow looks like no other ship afloat. In 1995, federal agents arrested a civilian engineer selling its secrets. He went to prison. The Sea Shadow was so secret it was built and housed inside the Hughes Mining Barge.The barge has its own secret past. At the CIA's behest, reclusive billionaire Howard Hughes built the barge during the early 1970s to hold a sunken Soviet sub that the spy agency hoped to recover from the seabed. The recovery was unsuccessful. The submarine broke apart while being lifted by the Glomar Explorer, a specially designed ship also built by Hughes at CIA expense. Sea Shadow and the barge, both anchored near San Francisco, come as a package deal, the Navy says, two-for-one. Despite the Navy's free offer, it can cost several million dollars to tow, renovate, paint, berth and maintain a donated warship. "This isn't the easiest thing to do," Nilsson said. "It separates the men from the boys." If the Navy doesn't get any takers? They could be scrapped, turned into an artificial reef or used for target practice. Hughes Mining Barge