Tracking ship

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Missile Range instrumentation Ship USNS Range Sentinel
U.S. Army tracking ship (1958-1964) USAS American Mariner docked at Chaguaramus, Trinidad
The Monge (A601) of the French Navy, 1999.
Timber Hitch being supplied with additional fresh water from USAS American Mariner, December 1961.
Kosmonavt Yuri Gagarin underway, 1987.
USNS Vanguard underway.

A tracking ship, also called a missile range instrumentation ship or range ship, is a ship equipped with antennas and electronics to support the launching and tracking of missiles and rockets. Since many missile ranges launch over ocean areas for safety reasons, range ships are used to extend the range of shore-based tracking facilities.

In the United States, the initial tracking ships were constructed by the U.S. Army and then the U.S. Air Force to support their missile programs. They were generally built on a surplus Liberty ship or Victory ship hull. By 1964, the U.S. Navy took over all the range ships and introduced more.

In some Navies, such a ship is also given the Type Designation "Vigilship" or "Veladora"[1], with the Designation Letter "V" or Letters "VC".

Missile range instrumentation ships[edit]

Chinese PLA Strategic Support Force[edit]

The Chinese ships were purpose built vessels for their role in the navy and the space program.

  • Yuanwang class
    • Yuanwang 1, 1977 – present
    • Yuanwang 2, 1978 – present
    • Yuanwang 3, 1995 – present
    • Yuanwang 4, 1999 – 2010
    • Yuanwang 5, 2007 – present
    • Yuanwang 6, 2007 – present

French Navy[edit]

The Poincaré was a converted tanker, but the Monge was a purpose built ship.



  • Monge, 1992–present[3] — purpose-built

Russian Navy / Soviet Navy[edit]

The Soviet and later Russian ships were purpose built vessels for their role.

United States Navy/United States Air Force[edit]

There are currently only two active Instrumentation Ships in the U.S. Navy inventory: USNS Invincible (T-AGM-24)[4] and USNS Howard O. Lorenzen (T-AGM-25).[5] The latter was delivered in January 2012[6] to replace USNS Observation Island (T-AGM-23) in 2014.[7] Most of the USN and USAF tracking ships were converted into their role. Some ships were in service with NASA.



See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^, Poincare
  3. ^, Monge
  4. ^ "Military Sealift Command Fact Sheet". Retrieved 2008-02-10.
  5. ^ "Range Instrumentation Ship Photo Index". Retrieved 2009-04-04.
  6. ^ "Navy Accepts Delivery of USNS Howard O. Lorenzen". 12 January 2012. No. NNS120112-16. Retrieved 2 February 2012.
  7. ^ "SIU - Keel laid for future USNS Observation Island replacement (8/25)". Retrieved 2009-04-04.