Navy Decommissioning Ships Commonly Used In Drug Enforcement

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

Seapower Magazine is reporting that the Navy is planning to decommission nine ships in FY2021, including four LCS three of which have made deployments to the Eastern Pacific drug transit zones and three Mayport based Cyclone class patrol craft that frequently patrol the Caribbean and have patrolled the Eastern Pacific with CG teams embarked.

The recent surge in Navy assets to the Eastern Pacific, while welcome, has been made possible primarily because four escort vessels that were part of a Carrier Strike Group were freed up when the Carrier remained in port to deal with COVID-19. Have to wonder if they will continue a commitment to the mission?

Cyclone-class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC 8) crew conducts ship-to-ship firefighting to extinguish a fire aboard a low-profile go-fast vessel suspected of smuggling in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean April 7, 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney


Philippines’ New 94 Meter Cutter and the Japanese Kunigami Class Cutters

The MRRV has a length of 94 meters, a maximum speed of more than 24 knots and a range of more than 4,000 nautical miles. PCG image.

Naval News has provided computer generated images of new cutters being built in Japan for the Philippines. The first is expected to be delivered in 2022. These will be the largest ships in the Philippine Coast Guard.

Naval News earlier reported there are to be two of the new class

The deal signed on February 7, 2020, is part of the second phase of the joint Japanese-Philippine Maritime Safety Capability Improvement Project (MSCIP). The contract value is 14.55 billion Japanese yen (132.57 million dollars) with financing via the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

The Philippine Coast Guard:

The Philippine EEZ is slightly less than 20% the size of that of the US. ThePhilippine Coast Guard (PCG) is a bit unusual. In terms of personnel, if we exclude the Philippine Marine Corp, the Philippine Coast Guard, with 17,000 members, is actually larger than the Philippine Navy (25,000 including 9,500 Marines). The PCG seems to have a large number of small craft, but relatively few aircraft (reportedly two fixed wing and three rotary wing ) and until recently, no large patrol ships.

Currently, all their aircraft are based in Manila. Inclusion of a hangar and flight deck on these new ships suggest they will get more helicopters.

Until the French built 84 meter (275.5′) Gabriela Silang was commissioned in April 2020, the Philippine Coast Guard had no Offshore Patrol Vessels of more than 1000 tons. Their largest ships were buoy tenders. Their largest OPVs were four 56 meter 540 ton full load San Juan class SAR vessels.  These two ships will triple the Philippine CG large OPV fleet.

Interestingly the Philippine Navy also has a current requirement for Offshore Patrol Vessels, that look a lot like coast guard vessels. These vessels, unlike the PCG cutters, will be armed with medium caliber guns.

The Philippine Coast Guard was moved out of the Department of National Defense to the Department of Transportation in 1998. It has prospered as a civilian agency, though one with military ranks and provision for wartime operation with the Philippine Navy. Its civilian nature has allowed the PCG to continue to receive aid from US, France, and particularly Japan, while aid to the Philippine military has been limited due to international reservations about the Philippines human rights record under President Duterte. The Philippine Coast Guard has been enjoying rapid growth. My 16th edition of Combat Fleets of the World, published in 2013, indicated only 3,500 members. If the reported figure of 17,000 is correct, that is a nearly 400% increase in size in seven years.

Japan Coast Guard: 

The Japanese EEZ is about 39.5% that of the US EEZ. The Japan Coast Guard has about 14,000 members, about 34% of that of the USCG. Unlike the USCG their responsibilities also include Hydrographic and oceanographic surveying.

The Japan CG (JCG) is a civilian agency, perhaps even more so than the PCG. Their cooperation with the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (the Japanese Navy) appears limited.

Their air wing is a little more than 1/3 the size of that of the USCG and actually includes more different aircraft types than are used by the USCG.

The JCG actually has more large patrol cutters than the USCG.

The Parent Design: 

The Parent design for the new Philippine cutters is the Kunigami class patrol vessel. This class is sometimes referred to as the Kunisaki class, since the first of class was renamed Kunisaki. This class is among the most numerous large coast guard cutters in the world. The first two were commissioned in April 2012 and while there are already 19 in commission, at least two more are planned. While they have a number of larger cutters, the Japan Coast Guard considers these large patrol cutters (PL).

These might be considered examples of Cutter X, relatively simple but sea worthy ships of a type I proposed for those missions that don’t require a 4,500 ton National Security Cutter or Offshore Patrol Cutter, but that would benefit from better endurance and seakeeping than available from the Webber class WPCs. 

Japan Coast Guard patrol vessel PL82 Nagura at the Port of Ishigaki. Photo from Wikipedia Commons, by Yasu. More photos here.

The notable differences between the Japanese vessels and the new Philippine vessels are that the Philippine cutters have the funnel spit into two separate uptakes to allow for the addition of a helicopter hangar on the centerline, and there is no weapon other than water cannon apparent on the Philippine ship. I have not seen any indication that any Philippine Coast Guard cutters are armed with anything larger than the ubiquitous .50 cal. M2. The Philippine Coast Guard may want to reconsider this, in view of their continuing insurgency, and the rapid growth and militarization of coast guards in neighboring states, particularly China.

Choice of weapons: 

The Japan Coast Guard has been armed since its inception, initially with manual 3″/50s (that used to arm most USCG WMECs) and 40mm guns, but as these became obsolete, they were generally replaced by the 20mm JM-61 Gatling Gun.

The Battle of Amami Oshima in December 2001 suggested that the 20mm was not adequate for stopping even the small vessel encountered in this incident. Still the JCG was not particularly aggressive in moving to a more powerful weapon. Early versions of the Kunigami class were armed with the 20mm M-61 while those ordered in FY2013 and later were armed with 30mm guns. The guns are compared below:

  • The 20mm JM-61 Gatling Gun fires only one type of projectile, a 0.22 lbs. (0.10 kg) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot rounds at 3,650 fps (1,113 mps) at a rate of 450 rounds/minute out to an effective range of 1,625 yards (1,490 m)
  • The 30mm Bushmaster II fires three types of service projectiles and two types of training rounds, including a 0.94 lbs. (0.425 kg) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot at 3,225 fps (983 mps) and a 0.79 lbs. (0.362 kg) high explosive incendiary round at 3,543 fps (1,080 mps). Maximum rate of fire is 200 rounds/minute. Effective range about 2,200 yards.

For comparison our 25mm Mk38s can fire a 0.225 lbs. (0.102 kg) Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot that is only slightly larger than the Japanese 20mm round found inadequate at the Battle of Amami Oshima, although it does have a higher muzzle velocity, 4,410 fps (1,345 mps).

While there is no reason the PCG could not use an even larger weapon while retaining its essentially civilian character, after all lots of Coast guards use weapons of up to 76mm; they could certainly follow the example Japanese Coast Guard.

Will the Philippine design become a new Japanese standard?

The design used for the Philippine Coast Guard appears to offer more flexibility than the parent Japanese design. While their larger cutters already have hangars, I have to wonder if follow-on Japanese cutters of this size will also add a hangar?


“Australia improving rescue efforts with artificial intelligence” –Indo-Pacific Defense Forum

RAAF C-27J conducts machine learning.

The Indo-Pacific Defense Forum is reporting that Australia is attempting to apply Artificial Intelligence (AI) to the visual search part of the SAR problem.

“Our vision was to give any aircraft and other defense platforms, including unmanned aerial systems, a low-cost, improvised SAR capability,” Wing Commander Michael Gan, who leads AI development for RAAF’s Plan Jericho, said in a news release from Australia’s Department of Defence. Plan Jericho, which was launched in 2015, is an RAAF 10-year blueprint to become one of the world’s most technologically advanced air forces.

It is a collaborative effort of the RAAF Air Mobility Group’s No. 35 Squadron, the Royal Australian Navy’s Warfare Innovation Branch and the University of Tasmania’s Australian Maritime College.

“There is a lot of discussion about AI in [the Department of] Defence, but the sheer processing power of machine learning applied to SAR has the potential to save lives and transform SAR,” Lt. Harry Hubbert of the Navy’s Warfare Innovation Branch, who developed algorithms for AI-Search, said in the news release.

I have to wonder if this is related to VIDAR, which has been included in the Coast Guard Scan Eagle UAVs, and can this be applied to Minotaur?

“Cutting Coast Guard funds threatens our security, at home and in the Pacific” –The Hill

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (left) moves in formation with Philippine coast guard vessels Batangas (center) and Kalanggaman during an exercise on May 14. U.S. Coast Guard/Chief Petty Officer John Masson

The Hill argues for increased Coast Guard presence in the Pacific including greater interaction with the nations of the Western Pacific.

After explaining why China is a greater threat than Germany, Japan, or the Soviet Union ever were, the author, Seth Cropsey, explains:

“The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is uniquely situated to act as a bridge between U.S. combat forces and their allied counterparts precisely because of its dual political-legal role. Its engagement in answering grey zone challenges is also a helpful encouragement to the maritime services’ cooperation that allows each service to perfect its unique skills.”

He argues for the 12th NSC.

“As it stands, the Coast Guard’s long-range cutters have been cut from ten in the Pacific to only six (actually we still have six NSCs and two WHECs–Chuck). If Congress does not fund the 12th National Security Cutter, it will undermine the Coast Guard’s mission in the Western Pacific and weaken U.S. security.”

Most importantly, as we have done several times here, he calls for a reevaluation of the services needs and recurrent long term planning.

Even more broadly, U.S. policymakers – within the Coast Guard, the Armed Forces, and the Pentagon – must consider the Coast Guard’s strategic role. The USCG has not produced a fleet plan, termed the “Fleet Mix Analysis,” since 2004. Even in 2008 and 2012, when it revisited the document, it concluded that its fleet could only meet three-fifths of its missions. In 2004, Chinese fighter aircraft seldom conducted night operations, North Korea had not yet tested a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. had toppled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein just a year before; Hamas was a small but noted Palestinian terrorist organization, while al-Qaeda in Iraq was still consolidating power.

After 16 years, any service’s missions and equipment must change as it adapts to new threats; the same is true for the Coast Guard. A robust force review is in order, potentially modeled off the Navy’s 30-year plan which will generate a new fleet capable of meeting the demands of great-power competition, especially in the Asia-Pacific.

Manned boats too–“Sealartec Demonstrates Autonomous Launch & Recovery System for USV” –Naval News

Boat operations, launching and recovering small boats from cutters, are one of the most frequent, and most dangerous, routine coast guard operations. Naval News reports successful sea trials of a system designed to allow fully autonomous launch and recovery of both manned and unmanned craft. It appears to include a cradle.

“Based on a patented technology in the fields of robotics and algorithmic, Sealartec has developed an innovative robotic system for the launch and recovery of unmanned vessels. The system is capable of recovering any manned or unmanned vessel up to sea state 6. It includes an innovative, hydrodynamic floating structure with robotic capture device and an autonomous processes control decision making algorithm. This combination allows safe recovery at severe sea conditions while in motion, with higher safety standard.”

New Addition to “Recommended Blogs” –Indo-Pacific Defense Forum

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL 752) sales alongside the Indian coast guard ships Abheed and Shaurya (16) Aug. 23, 2019, while transiting in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of Chennai, India. The Stratton is participating in a professional exchange with the Indian coast guard that includes operational exercises at sea and on shore. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Stephen Esterly)

I have made an addition to my “Recommended Blogs” page (which is also my daily reading list) that you may find interesting, the Indo-Pacific Defense Forum.

Below I have duplicated the self description from their “About Us” page. The page also includes contact information not duplicated here.

In addition to English, this site is also published in Chinese, Indonesian, Thai, Korean, and Japanese.

Not all the content is Coast Guard related, but it seems much of it is.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.

About Us is the online version of Indo Pacific Defense Forum magazine and is sponsored by the United States Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM).

Our Mission

Indo-Pacific Defense Forum is a professional military magazine published quarterly by the Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command to provide an international forum for military personnel of the Indo-Pacific areas. The opinions expressed in this magazine do not necessarily represent the policies or points of view of this command or any other agency of the United States government. All articles are written by IPD Forum staff unless otherwise noted.

The site features articles from the IPD Forum magazine staff as well as news from across the region and analysis, interviews and commentary by paid correspondents and contributors.

The Secretary of Defense has determined that publication of this magazine is necessary for conducting public business as required of the Department of Defense by law.

Swedish Patrol Boat ASW System

Photo: Tapper-class Fast Patrol Boat, displacement of 62 tons, 22 meters (72′) in length (Credits: Swedish Armed Forces)

Naval News reports that the first of six Trapper class fast patrol boats has completed an upgrade that will allow these small vessels to hunt submarines. At 62 tons full load, these vessels are about 2/3s the size of the Coast Guard’s 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs (91 tons). 

Sweden has a history of suspected or known intrusions by submarines, midget submarines, and/or swimmer delivery vehicles, presumably from the Soviet Union/Russia.

What they seem to have done here is to use technology similar to the Sono-buoys used by airborne ASW units. While surface units do not have the speed of aircraft in getting to the scene, they are potentially more persistent, and because the buoys themselves do not have to fit within ejection tubes, they can be made larger with batteries that provide longer life. 

Photo: Tapper-class enhanced ASW capabilities mainly rely on new sonobuoy integration (Credits: Swedish Armed Forces)

The post makes no mention of weapons or hull mounted sonars. When built in the 1990s, this class, originally of twelve vessels, based on a Swedish Coast Guard vessel design, had a searchlight sonar and small Anti-Submarine mortars that went by the designation RBS-12 or ASW600. The mortar projectiles were relatively small, only 100mm (3.95″) in diameter, weighing 4.2 kilograms (9 pounds 4 oz.), far smaller than the 65 pound (29.5 kilo) Hedgehog or Mousetrap weapons of WWII, but, unlike those systems, they did have a shaped charge. Apparently the weapon was removed at some point, but reportedly the weapon was reintroduced in 2018 on the Koster-class mine countermeasures vessels so it is possible it has been reintroduced here as well. 

Anti-submarine mortar system Elma LLS-920 (SAAB RBS12 ASW600) on the Swedish patrol boat HMS Hugin. Rearview with some mortars unattached. Photo by Dagjoh

While the post seems to emphasize passive detection, the last paragraph suggest there is an active component.

“The Kongsberg Maritime sonar selected for this upgrade is being used for Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Mine and Obstacle detection and Navigation (emphasis applied–Chuck), and is designed for use in shallow water.”

“SEAOWL TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS completes sea trials of its IPD aboard La Confiance-class patrol vessel” –Naval News

We talked about this device earlier here and here. I have to believe these devices have more uses than just target designation including navigation and man-overboard recovery. It quickly, quietly, and accurately passes information to the bridge, CIC, or remote weapons operator.

Both the text and video talk about 3D designation. I have to assume that means range and elevation as well as bearing. They also claim to have solved the potential parallax problem (differences in target bearing when taken from different locations on own ship).

This could be particularly useful for the Webber class going to PATFORSWA where they might be confronted with the asymmetric threat of large numbers of fast inshore attack craft.

“National Security” –Proceedings of the Marine Safety and Security Council

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

A new issue of the Proceedings of the Marine Safety and Security Council has been issued, and it is a bit unusual in that it is themed “National Security.” You can down load it here.

It is 80 pages, and I have just quickly glanced through it, but looks well worth some time.

France Allocates One Billion Euros to Build Ten Offshore Patrol Vessels

Marine Nationale photo, FS Lieutenant_de_vaisseau_Lavallée, one of seven 80 meter (263′) 1,270 ton D’Estienne d’Orves-class avisos or corvettes being used as Offshore Patrol Vessels that are to be replaced.

France has been building a lot of Coast Guard Cutter like vessels recently and it looks like they will be building more. Naval News reports:

Ten new generation OPVs will replace the A69 type (D’Estienne d’Orves-class) PHM (formerly Aviso / light frigates and then reclassified as patrol vessels) based in Brest (Atlantic Coast–Chuck) and Toulon (Mediterranean- Chuck) and the PSP patrol boats based in Cherbourg (English Channel-Chuck).

Cormoran (P677), one of three 23 knot, 54 meter (177′), 477 ton French navy PSP patrol boats. Brest, Finistère, Bretagne, France. Photo by Gary Houston (Notice the striping similar to that carried by USCG cutters)

The one billion Euro contract awarded to Naval Group (formerly DCNS) would mean a unit cost of approximately 100M Euros ($112M).

Rendering of the future “POM” OPV of the French Navy.

Apparently, based on price, they will be larger than the six recently contracted 70 meter, 22knot “POM” patrol vessels. (224 million euros, 37.3 Euros or about $42M each)

Not long ago Naval Group and ECA group was given a 2B Euro contract to produce twelve 2800 ton Mine Countermeasures ships for the Dutch and Belgium Navies. Given that ship yard prices for similarly complex ships tend to be proportional to their displacement, and that these ships are probably less complex than the MCM, I would suspect that the new OPVs will be about 1,680 tons. That would make them similar in size to the WMEC 270s. Given the ships they are replacing and the character of recent construction, they will probably a bit longer and faster than the 270s, probably about 90 meters long, at least 20 knots but probably more, with a flight deck for a medium helicopter like the NH90, a hangar for a smaller helicopter similar to the H-65 and probably the 700 kilo rotary wing unmanned aircraft planned for POM. There will probably be space for containers. The crew will be small by Coast Guard standards, maybe less than 50, but will likely have additional accommodations for about 30 in addition to the crew.

Weapons: It will almost certainly have the Nexter Narwhal 20 mm cannon and .50 caliber machine guns, but there is no indication if they will have anything larger. French Navy vessels that wear the “Coast Guard Stripe” apparently have no weapons larger than .50 cal. (12.7mm). The seven A69 corvettes to be replaced have 100mm guns, but these ships were not originally designed as law enforcement vessels, and once also had Exocet anti-ship cruise missiles, so a medium caliber gun may not be seen as a requirement. If they wanted to put a medium caliber gun on these at small cost, the French Navy almost certainly has numerous, surplus, still very effective 100mm guns, but their newer ships mount the Super Rapid 76mm, which weighs less than half as much. The quoted French Ministry of Armed Forces statement might suggest they see a need for stronger armament.

“In a context marked by the increase in maritime traffic and the toughening of threats at sea, patrol boats fulfill a very broad spectrum of missions: support for deterrence, presence in areas of sovereignty and interest, evacuation, protection, escort and intervention in the framework of State action at sea.”

The linked Naval News post mentions the European Patrol Corvette program as a possible basis for this program, but given their projected displacement of 3000 tons, they would be beyond the projected budget.

There is a good chance these ships will emerge as an upgraded version of the the 87 meter (285′), 1450 ton L’Adroit (above) which was sold to Argentina along with three similar ships. The Naval News post indicates that the projected cost of the new OPVs is almost twice the cost so of the L’Adroit class, but they were designed for export. Meeting Navy standards with better equipment and improved survivability can substantially increase cost. When the Royal Navy built their River Batch II OPVs it was based on OPVs originally ordered by Trinidad and Tobago. Modifying the design to meet Royal Navy standards caused a great increase in price. The three vessels were built for Trinidad and Tobago cost £150M pound (US$237.8 M). When the Royal Navy contracted for three ships that met their standards, the outwardly almost identical ships came in at a fixed price of £348 million–a few years later, but more than double the price.