I have had an opportunity to look a bit more closely at the Department of Homeland Security Cutter Fleet Study, “Options for the Future USCG Cutter Fleet Performance Trade-Offs with Fixed Acquisition Cost,” by Alarik Fritz • Raymond Gelhaus • Kent Nordstromr (.pdf).
I highly recommend at least the synopsis, which is the first thirteen pages. I think the study is an honest attempt to determine the best mix for the Coast Guard fleet; it is quite well done. Basically it holds cost constant and looks at possible alternatives to build the most effective fleet possible. It builds on work done for the earlier Coast Guard Fleet mix studies, but unlike the CG studies, it looks at alternatives to the program of record. It looks at where the missions are being performed and considers the effects of weather on mission performance in four regions, the Northeast, Southeast, West, and Alaska.
The study considers:
- trading National Security Cutters (NSC) for more Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) (Approx. two OPCs per NSC)
- trading OPC as currently described for OPCs that have reduced capabilities but retain the seakeeping and endurance of the OPCs (This was postulated but not explored in depth. It did not appear to make much difference.)
- trading OPCs for a modernized version of the 270 (approx. four mod-270s for three OPCs)
- trading OPCs for an equal number of LCS (This was seen as a non viable choice because of the higher cost and lower seakeeping and endurance of the LCS)
The problems (and these were recognized by the study) are:
- Further delays in beginning building ships severely impacts near term capability
- A major Cutter fleet of only NSCs and mod-270s does not meet the needs for heavy weather capability where it does exist.
- Because the Mod-270s have as large a crew as the OPCs, a larger number of ships would add to the operating cost of the fleet.
What comes through loud and clear, from this study is that
- We need ships with the capability to do boat and helicopter ops in State Five Seas particularly in the Northeast and Alaska.
- In the Southeast and West, where the primary missions are Drug Enforcement and Migrant Interdiction, we are a long way from a point of diminishing returns, that is, mission performance is most directly linked to the number of cutters, increasing in in almost direct proportion to the number available.
- The cutters ability to launch boats and helicopters in State Five conditions are much less important in the West and Southeast where most of the cutters are normally deployed.
In simplistic terms, while we need some highly capable hulls, we also need even more hulls on patrol, but the additional hulls don’t need to be particularly sophisticated. This leads me to the conclusion to the we really need another option, another class of ship, I’ll call it “Cutter X.” Think of this new class as taking the crew and equipment of a Webber class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) and putting them in a larger hull with more endurance and seakeeping, while accepting lower top speed than the FRC. We can take advantage of the training and corporate experience with the FRCs, if we add similarly equipped larger cutters.
I am going to talk about one possible fleet mix including this additional class. It is not necessarily the optimum mix, I’ll leave that for further analysis, but I think it may illustrate the advantage of including this additional class. For this proposed new mix I believe we can hold acquisition and operating costs constant, ie the same as the program of record. The proposal would trade 24 units in the program of record (2 NSCs, 4 OPCs, and 18 FRCs) for 22 units of this additional class (depending on cost we might get more) and could allow us to:
- avoid the worst of the disastrous drop in the number of major cutters that appears likely in the 2020s,
- field more major (cruising) cutters (49 vs 33),
- while proceeding with the OPC program as currently planned.
I’ll compare this possible fleet mix to the Coast Guard Fleet as it existed in 2000/2001 and the fleet in the Program of Record (POR). on the basis of cutter days available and crewing requirements using both conventional and augmented crewing.
Before we do that, what would “Cutter X” look like? The design that I think comes closest to what I have in mind is the French built L’Adroit (also here and here). It is four times as large as the FRC at 1,450 tons but even with far less horsepower than the FRC (7,500 vs 11,600) it still does 21 knots. With the FRCs engines it would likely do about 24. It might be thought of as a modernized 210, in that unlike the 270 it has no medium caliber gun, fire control system, or ESM.
(There are other similar ships that could be used as examples, see the addendum at the end of the post.)
As we have noted earlier, increased size doesn’t necessarily add much to the cost of a ships. Adding only volume, storage, and larger fuel and ballast tanks, I think these ships can be produced for no more than three times the price of the FRCs, perhaps less than twice as much. I don’t have prices for other examples, but for one, BAEs “Port of Spain” class, the original price for was only $80M each, less than twice the cost of a FRC and that figure included continued maintenance and training for the crew.
Basically my assumption is that the tradeoffs would work something like this:
1 NSC = 2 OPCs = 4 Cutter Xs = 12 FRCs
This equates to approx. prices of: $700M/NSC, $350/OPC, $175M/Cutter X, and $60M/FRC.
Lets compare the Fleets
As a baseline, take a look at the CG fleet as reported in the 2000/2001 Combat Fleets of the World (I happen to have a copy). It included:
- 12 Hamilton class 378s
- 13 Bear class 270s
- 16 Reliance class 210s
- Alex Haley
- 49 Island class 110s
or 93 vessels including 44 “cruising cutters” to use the old generic term.
The Program of Record if completed will include:
- 8 NSC
- 25 OPC
- 58 FRC
or 91 vessels including 33 cruising cutters.
The proposed alternative mix would include:
- 6 NSC
- 21 OPC
- 22 Cutter X
- 40 FRC
or 89 vessels including 49 cruising cutters.
Cutter Days AFHP and Crew Requirements:
For the analysis below I have used the following as the personnel allowances for the new classes:
- NSC 113
- OPC 90 (still to be firmed up)
- FRC 24 (includes two extra junior officers assigned to gain experience)
The personnel allowance for new class could be as little as 30 but is likely going to be more, if only as an opportunity to provide more at sea experience. Using the assumed personnel allowances and the trade-off identified earlier, the proposed mix would require no more personnel than the program of record unless the personnel allowance for “Cutter X” is more than 46. At most the personnel allowance should not be more than that of the 210s. My figures may be out of date, but at least at one point that was a crew of 62. I’ll use this as the upper limit.
The 2000/2001 fleet theoretically could have provided 8,140 cruising cutter days away from homeport (AFHP) (44 cruising cutters x 185 days) and would have required a total personnel allowance of 5,509.
Without augmentation, the program of record would theoretically provide 6,105 cruising cutter days AFHP (33 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of 4,526.
With Augmentation (increasing their personnel allowance by a third and running the cruising cutters 230 days/year) the program of record would theoretically provide 7,590 cruising cutter days and require a total personnel allowance of 5259.
Without augmentation, the proposed mix would theoretically provide 9,065 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 4,188 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X) and 4,892 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X).
With Augmentation (increasing their personnel allowance by a third and running the cruising cutters 230 days/year) the proposed mix would theoretically provide 11270 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 230 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 5264 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X) and 6203 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X).
What about the loss of FRCs? The proposal would trim 18 FRC from the POR. They are projected to operate up to 2500 hours per day. If we assumed that all 2500 hours were devoted to offshore cruising for the 18 additional units, that would add 1875 days AFHP to the POR for a total of 7,980 days AFHP for the un-augmented fleet and 9,465 days AFHP for the augmented POR. (disregarding the 40 additional FRC that are included in both proposals).
In summary Cutter Days Available:
- ————————————————–Un-Augmented———Augmented by 1/3
- 2000/20001 (cruising cutters only) 8,140 N/A
- ROR (cruising cutters only) 6,105 7,590
- POR (w/1,875 additional FRC day AFHP) 7,980 9,465
- Proposed Mix w/Cutter X (cruising cutters only) 9,065 11,270
It looks like this alternative provides an improvement of at least 13% over the program of record, possibly as much as 48.5% depending on how you view the FRCs as a patrol asset. It appears that the un-augmented version may be superior to the augmented version of the program of record while using far fewer people.
Is it doable? What is the timing? How would it mess with other programs?
Cutter X production could ramp up as FRC construction trails off. If we are unable to increase the FY2013 from the current two units, that will put the program at 20 units funded. With no NSCs planned for FY 2014 and 2015, hopefully there will be funding for six in FY2014. Out-years, beginning in FY2015 will require a new contract to complete the additional 14 units proposed. Assuming six units a year, in FY 2015 and 2016, the last two would be funded in FY2017.
If the CG starts soon they could fund the prototype unit of Cutter X in FY2017. L’ Adroit was completed in approximately 13 months, so it is at least theoretically possible the first unit could be delivered well before the first OPC (expected FY2020). Replacing the FRC in the budget, two units a year could be funded in parallel with OPC construction.
Addendum: Other Patrol Vessels similar in concept:
HMS Clyde, 267x45x12, 8,250 HP 21 knots, crew 42 + accommodations for 20 more, endurance 7,800 nmi @ 12 knots, 1x30mm, Flight deck for up to Merlin (16 ton helicopter)
BAE’s Port of Spain class (Brazil and Thailand) (more here), 264x44x12, 1700 tons, 9,700 HP 25 knots, crew 34+5 trainees, endurance , 1x30mm, 2x25mm, Helo deck, but no hangar (Thai version HTMS Krabi has a 76mm Oto Melara and 2x30mm)
Italian Ship Vega, Cassiopia Class, Nov. 2001, by Antoio Munoz Criado
Cassiopea class (Italy), 262x39x12, 1,475 tons fl, 8,800 HP 21 knots, crew 60, endurance 35 days, 3300 nmi @ 17 knots (probably 5,000 at 12 or 13 knots) 76mm gun and FCS helo deck and hangar.