National Security Cutter as Navy Patrol Frigate

Navy Times’ “Scoop Deck” asks what the Navy will do “After the frigates are gone” and suggest that variants of the National Security Cutter (NSC) might be a better solution than the Littoral Combat Ship (LSC).

Back in March, Defense News also suggested that the NSC might be the Navy’s best option.

This has been an on going discussion for a long time, fueled no doubt by Northop Grumman’s desire to sell more ships. But the suggestion has been taken seriously. In July 2009, the Congressional Budget Office Study did a study that included an upgraded 20 NSCs as an option to 25 of the LCS.

That study suggested that these 20 NSCs be upgraded as follows:

“For approximately $260 million, the Navy could replace the Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) currently used on the national security cutter with the SeaRAM Mk-15 CIWS. Unlike the former system, which consists of a rapid-firing gun designed to engage subsonic antiship missiles at close ranges, the SeaRAM CIWS would incorporate a rolling airframe missile on the same physical space but provide the ship with the ability to engage supersonic antiship cruise missiles out to 5 nautical miles. The SeaRAM system includes its own sensor suite—a Ku band radar and forward-looking infrared imaging system— to detect, track, and destroy incoming missiles.

“An additional layer of antiship missile defense could be provided by installing the Mk-56 vertical launch system with Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) along with an Mk-9 Tracker/Illuminator system to detect, track, and engage antiship missiles. The ESSM can engage supersonic antiship missiles at a range of nearly 30 nautical miles. Installing 20 sets of a 12-cell launching system (which would carry 24ESSMs), buying the missiles, and integrating the weapons with the ships would cost about $1.1billion.”

So these upgrades would cost $1.360B/20 ships or $68M/ship

With many more critics than supporters, there is a lot speculation that the Navy will not build anywhere near the 55 LCSs currently planned. The black-eye lean manning is getting in the Navy lately, and the fact that the LCSs are designed for lean manning with no apparent option for growing the crew, is adding to criticism of its limited weapons and poor endurance. The Coast Guard is looking smart for providing the NSCs and OPCs with both realistic crews and room for growth.

If the government wanted to open an option for the future, it might be smart to increase the CG buy of NSCs to 12, to make up some of the shortage of ship days that is certainly in our future and direct that the last 6 be made as a “B” class with a weapons fit including the systems sited above, a towed array sonar, and all necessary space and equipment for support of two MH-60Fs, with the marginal cost paid out of the Navy budget. The nation would have an additional capability and the Navy would have have a ready option in a mature design, that could take on the functions of the FFGs.

50 thoughts on “National Security Cutter as Navy Patrol Frigate

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention National Security Cutter as Navy Patrol Frigate - CGBlog.org -- Topsy.com

  2. Chuck,
    My Opinion the Navy should have scrap the LCS program long time ago and start putting their money into the US Coast Guard’s NSC program. What the US Navy should have done is buy a stretched version of the National security cutter and swap the engines for those engines in the LCS 2. Keep the same designs as the National Security cutter, but add Frigate like weapons and systems into the National security cutter and call it a National security Frigate. Heck they can even add the same systems that are on the Burkes to the National security Cutter, but the US Navy would have to stretch the National security cutter to accommodate the systems and weapons. This would have saved the US Navy tons of money and Headache and it would give them two types of systems, one for the US Coast Guard and one for the US Navy, based on the same hull design.

  3. I’m sure the Navy is just thrilled to have the uninformed and inexperienced recommendations of an Auxialirist of how they should be managing their shipbuilding programs.

    • Chuck,
      Didn’t one time the US Navy did something like this where they took the same hull design from the Spruance class destroyer and made them into the Ticonderoga class cruiser. I think the US Navy should do the same thing with the NSC as well. Take the same design from the NSC, stretch it out and turn it into the National security frigate.

      The way I would design the National security frigate, is to take the same design of the National security cutter and stretch it in order to accommodate the weapons and systems from the Burkes. I would swap out the NSC’s engines for those on the LCS -2. I would basically use the same hull design and same concept they did with the Spruance class destroyer and the Ticonderoga class cruiser Hulls.

      In the long run, it would save the voting Taxpayers money if you have a common hull design and a common ship system for both services. You have to remember, it’s the voting Taxpayers who are left holding the bill and are the ones who are gona be paying those ships so you can go out and play. All you would do is tailor it to meet the services requirements based on the common hull design. Plus, if you spread the work out into key congressional districts like the Air force did for the F-22 and C-17. You would get more congressional support for the NSC and NSF

  4. Chuck,
    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more. My only additional spur to dig into the Navy is that they should have supported the NSC more from the beginning and funded VLS and sensors to be on the first (only) 6 NSCs.

    The trouble with a lot of expansion plans is that there often is little to no time or opportunity to do the modifications after the bullets start flying… They should’ve been built this way from the beginning…

    • Sounds like the same problem the San Antonio Class (LPD-17) Class ships, built in the same yard, had. The engine mounts were not properly aligned.

  5. The reason the Coast Guard has problems in the design of cutters is that it does not know itself. In 1965, just at the start of the cultural “New Left” shift in the nation , Captain Walter C. Capron published his book about the Coast Guard. It is pretty much standard fare for Coast Guard history. In it he presented an idea that was as close to heresy in the Coast Guard as one could get. He asked how the Coast Guard came about and surmised there was a “gradual, with no obvious or well-defined cause.” In other words, the Coast Guard’s evolutionary track present more than the standard double helix DNA. The Coast Guard’s DNA appears more like a London Tube route map. Running off in all directions at the same time.

    The first job is to find out what is needed and not what is wanted. Alexander Hamilton found out quickly that building cheap vessels cost more in the long run. Look at the history of the first ten cutters. All were too small, undermanned, under officered, poorly constructed and required replacing even before the normal five-year mark. This is the DNA of Coast Guard ship building until the 1930s but was resumed in the 1960s and later in the 21st century.

    The proof of this was the pulling of spending authority for the Deepwater Program especially in the so-called 123-foot extension problems. I was personally assured that by a person intimately involved in this project that it had all been figured out and it would work. I had my doubts. (We do have to admit that the aviation side has been the only success of the program. It could be because the airdales knew what they needed.)

  6. Nicky,

    As noted, you are not alone in thinking you could build a frigate on the NSC hull. They are similar in size and speed to the Oliver Hazard Perry Class, and would have greater range and be cheaper to run because of their diesel cruise engines. Still the Navy hasn’t expressed any interest in building new frigates, claiming the LCS are actually a different type of warship, built for different purposes (even though the projected number of LCSs was predicated on one for one replacement of frigates as well as other types of ships).

    While they might have some weapons commonality with the Burke Class destroyers (DDGs), I don’t see the Navy trying to put Aegis on a NSC hull. The smallest Aegis equipped ships are the Norwegian Nansen class frigates, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nansen_class_frigate, and they are about 1,000 tons larger than the NSC. Probably a frigate sized Aegis ship wouldn’t cost much less than a Burke class DDG because most of the cost is in the sophisticated weapons and sensors. The greater hull size doesn’t cost much, as they say, steel is cheap and air is free. Significantly increasing the cost would defeat the purpose of building a frigate class, which would be would be to provide numbers of ships to perform missions that don’t require a DDG’s capabilities.

    I also don’t see any reason to replace the power plant with that from the LCS-2. The power plants both include the LM2500 Gas Turbine, two in the LCS-2 and one in the NSC. Both have two large diesels. Adding a second LM2500 might bump up the speed, perhaps to 33 knots, but it would require a major redesign of the reduction gear and would change the ship substantially. Also increasing speed that much would probably mean a different, narrower hull form, so you get into a completely different ship.

    The Navy did in fact build the Ticonderoga class cruisers, as well as the Kidd class guided missile destroyers, on the same hull as the Spruance class destroyer. The reason they were able to do that is because the Spruance class was exceptionally large being almost twice as large as their immediate predecessors, the Forrest Sherman Class (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forrest_Sherman_class_destroyer) which were only a little larger than the NSC.

    Unfortunately the Navy does not seem to see that while they may have adequate escorts for their carriers and ships to shoot down ballistic missiles, particularly after all the frigates are retired, their amphibs and supply ships sailing without escorts, will be terribly vulnerable to submarines. And there is virtually no protection for merchant ships.

    • Chuck,
      That’s why I am in favor of scrapping the LCS program and taking all the technology features of the LCS and try to incorporate them into the NSC. I think a stretched version of the NSC for the navy with room for frigate like weapons, systems and a room for a reduction gear. If you look at the Perry class frigates to the NSC, they do look similar and do similar jobs. I think the NSC is a logical next step for the Navy and that the US Navy would be money wise to spend their money on the NSC using the same hull from the NSC.

      See, what I was thinking, is that the US Navy could buy into the NSC and stretch the NSC hull to accommodate all the weapons systems that go into a modern frigate. Even put burke like weapons systems into the NSC like the SPY-1 radar, sonar systems and make room for expansion of technology. The Navy could share the cost of the NSC program and thus by reducing the cost per ship to both services.

      Also, I think the US Navy could do the same thing on the NSC like they did with the Spruance class destroyer and the Ticonderoga class cruisers. Using the same concept they did with the Spruance class destroyer and apply it to the NSC. It’s not only share the same ship design, it would also share in cost,, maintenance fees and even systems. I do think the US Navy should have another look at the NSC and see if it becomes a contender for their next LCS.

      • Frankly, I think where we will find commonality is on the OPC. The Navy is going to find it needs a small combatant, that is considerably cheaper than the LCS, and the OPC can fill that niche.

      • Chuck,
        I think the Navy is going to have no choice but to look at the NSC and OPC to fill their LCS goals. If Congress stops funding the Navy’s LCS program. If you look at how much LCS 1&2 is costing the Taxpayers. The Navy’s ultimately going to have look at the Coast Guards NSC and OPC program. As away of saving itself from Congressional stop writing the checks on a failed, expensive program

        The way I see it, the National security Frigate can fill the niche for the Navy when it comes to escorting their amphibs and supply ship. All they need to do is buy into the Coast Guard’s NSC program. Have another Shipyard build the Navy’s version of the National security cutter. Stretch the NSC out in order to install all the frigate systems and weapons.

        It would not only save the Navy money it would help off set the US Coast Guard’s bill for the NSC. In the long run both ships would share the same maintenance cost and same up keep. Parts for both of them would be interchangeable between the NSC and NSF. Which would reduce the cost for separate systems and separate parts for the ship and separate shipyard maintenance.

        If the Navy and Coast Guard shared the project and did the same thing that the Air force did with their C-17 and got funding and support from key congressional districts by spreading the work out in places where congressional support for the NSC and NSF is vital. The Navy and Coast Guard would not be in this mess they are in right now.

      • “It would not only save the Navy money it would help off set the US Coast Guard’s bill for the NSC. In the long run both ships would share the same maintenance cost and same up keep.”

        It may also provide some professional oversight and naval architects to prevent some of the problems that necessitate further shipyard availabilities to fix the things that should have been done in the first place.

      • The Navy has also had a lot of problems with their recent vessel procurements. LPD-17 class and LCS have all had significant problems. If anything it looks like the CG learned from its mistakes more rapidly, but hopefully the two organizations working together could create a better product.

      • If anything, I think the Navy should have scrapped the LCS and have gone with the US Coast Guard’s NSC program. Congress should have killed the LCS the minute the price tag started going up.

    • Chuck,
      Do you think the Navy will finally listen this time, knowing that Congress has the budget ax being sharpen and they are going to have an ax to grind with the Navy over the LCS fiasco.

  7. It’s doubtful. It seems more likely that there could be some cooperation around the OPC, since they should be much cheaper than either the NSC or the LCS, but still may be capable of performing some of the LCS missions.

  8. This comment came to me via E-mail from screen Name “MasterGunner.” He has been having a separate discussion on this topic:

    “One of the problems with the NSC to frigate program is the USN will absolutely never buy it. The USN is fixated on the LCS. Even worse, they will probably buy the LCS-1 design in numbers and not the better LCS-2 design.

    “If I was going to convert the NSC to a green water escort here’s what I would do:

    “1. ASW — install a good shallow water, hull mounted sonar on it and maybe a VDS if there’s one small and light enough. For the aviation department, use an SH-60R and two MQ-8B Fire Scouts. The Fire Scouts would be configured to carry gun pods or one or two Mk 50 or Mk 54 torpedoes. The SH-60R would carry an M240D 7.62 GPMG and a GAU-16/A .50 flex gun mount. The Fire Scouts could carry the FNH-USA M3P .50 gun pod (when not carrying torpedoes).
    “2. AAW — 32 (8×4) Mk 56 Mod 1 ESSM launchers (to deal with aircraft and missiles 8-20 miles); Mk 15 CIWS and SeaRAM to deal with missiles and aircraft 2-8 miles).
    “3. ASUW — Mk 110 57mm L70 gun (surface and air); two Mk 38 Mod 2 Chain Guns® with two rounds of Israeli Spike ER fire-and-forget missiles mounted (surface); two navalized CROWS (common remotely operated weapon systems) with .50 M2HB guns (surface).
    “4. Strike warfare — four (2×2) BGM-109 (Tomahawk) cruise missiles in racks similar to Mk 140 used by Harpoon.

    “Electronics suite for NSC including EW and ESM can stay pretty much as is.

    “All this is pretty academic because it will not happen nor will it be considered.”

    • Chuck,
      I think the Navy is not going to have any choice any way, with Gates and Congress going to Ram the NSC idea down the Navy’s throat. The Navy’s going to have to at least swallow their pride and buy into the NSC program. Congress and Gates are going to make the Navy one way or the other admit they screwed up on the LCS program.

      As for the Navalized version of the NSC, I would addition to what you wrote, such as room for a platoon of Marines or SEALS. I would stretch the NSC hull to accommodate weapons, systems and aircraft. Put the NSC in the length range of the Perry’s. I also think adding a second gun to the main Mk 57 such as the Typhoon Weapon System from the Armidale class patrol boat

  9. The current Navy leadership is wedded to the LCS because they bought into it earlier. It will take take a change of leadership and some disappointment with the product before the Navy changes their course. That will take some time.

    Perhaps we will be pleasantly surprised and it will work out. I do hope the OPC has some provision for using parts of the LCS mission modules–I like the concept, but have been disappointed with the execution.

    • Change may come in different ways, but costs will be the largest. Secretary Gates has already hinted at removing some of the so-called “component commanders.” I would not be surprised to see the CINCs return in some form just to save personal costs.

      As the Brit general (I forget his name) noted in the Long Island Campaign–where the Continental troops were routed–sometime you have to look at a map. Today’s map is the bulging military pay scale.

  10. The issue is really how to protect the supply lines and how to operate inshore. The DDG-51s will replace the DD/DDG-963s, the FFG-7s and the Ticonderogas. With 11/10/11 Carrier Strike Groups and 6/7 Expiditionary Strike Groups the blue water missions are covered with ships now under contract and the early DDG-51s are starting to modernize already. I wonder how the LCS handles in the open sea north of Iceland. I think the NSC would be good for everyone concerned but it is hard to get the Brass to admit a mistake. Think about the A-12 medium attack aircraft. That one only went away when Weinberger personally shot it down. There will have to be severe failures to see the end of LCS. Still, there will be problems adopting NSC or OPC because many in the Navy still look down on the Coast Guard. No reason, they just do. It will take someone with a little saltwater in his veins to make anything happen. Not in this administration.

    • Problem is that the number of ships in the navy (283) is already well below their stated requirement (313), and instead of getting closer, looks like the numbers will decline further. We may even see some carriers retired early. At the same time the number of Aegis ships required is going up, as they take on the anti-ballistic missile role. Expeditionary Strike Groups are no longer regularly formed. Amphibious Ready Groups sail unescorted. Replenishment ships sail unescorted and unarmed. No thought has been given to protecting merchant ships for almost 30 years. The US Navy is still way more powerful than any potential enemy, but no matter how good an individual ship is it can only be in one place at a time.

      Because it is going to take some time to make the realization, and because cost savings will be seen as the justification for stopping construction of the LCS, its not going to happen anytime soon. For that reason, I think the OPC has a much better chance of being painted gray than the NSC. Because the CG is planning to get 25 ships of the class, the economies of scale will already be there. Additional ships ought to be relatively inexpensive.

      (To ease the Navy’s trauma in accepting a CG ship, maybe we need to make sure the Navy has had their input in the design and “it was really their idea” all along.)

      Of course neither the CG or Navy really designs ships anymore. We publish requirements and the shipyards make their proposals.

      We have talked here about other cutter sized ships. I’ll just throw this link out. Its a frigate a bit smaller than the NSC that the Chinese built for the Pakistanis. They have ordered four and are expected to order four more:
      http://www.informationdissemination.net/search?updated-max=2010-08-09T12%3A00%3A00-04%3A00&max-results=10

    • Chuck,
      I have been advocating the NSC as a Patrol frigate ever since the price tag for the LCS has gone up. Even as an alternative for the LCS, they should have gone with a proven Frigate design from Europe and have it built in the US by US Shipyards.

  11. Bill Haimes wrote “Still, there will be problems adopting NSC or OPC because many in the Navy still look down on the Coast Guard. No reason, they just do.”

    There are plenty of reasons and most are historical and cultural. The Coast Guard’s lack of understanding of its own history continues to be a large stumbling block to its future.

    • It might be easier to get the Navy to go in with the Coast Guard on a design if the Navy participated in the preliminary design process.

  12. NavyRecognition has a video including interviews from the Navy League’s 2014 Sea-Air-Space Exposition that touches on a number of systems we have talked about here. I am going to post this same comment on each of the threads I think are related. The video can be found here:

    [youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-9mCsNe-zc&w=560&h=315%5D

    At minute 9:00 there is a discussion of the Brimstone missile.
    At minute 13:00 we see a model of Eastern’s proposal for the Offshore Patrol Cutter. Unfortunately, there is no accompanying comments.
    At 13:15 we get an about one minute of update on the Navy’s new 85 foot MKVI patrol boat
    About minute 15:03 they talk about a new hyper-velocity round being developed to be fired from the 5″ (and other) gun.
    About 18:35 they talk about HII’s proposal for a frigate developed from the National Security Cutter, but it doesn’t look like any new info.

    • would it be cost effective to use one of the Cutters that haven’t been built to be used as a prototype? This also tells us what they could be upgraded to in wartime or during FRAM.

      • The Navy has not made a selection yet, and the CG is not about to pay for an upgrade. Only the eighth and last has not been contracted yet.

      • Presumably the last NSC will be funded in FY2016 and the same year the Navy will fund design work on the LCS replacement, or Small Surface Combatant, as they are calling it.

  13. Here we are, four years later, and this is still a good idea. Perhaps even better, since the LCS is being terminated and the SSC program may start…

    I wonder how badly it would screw up the affordability aspect to enhance the design to the same survivability standard as the OHPs?

    As I’m watching the video, I can’t help but think of the Stark and Samuel B. Roberts, and, while terrible and crippling, neither ship sank, most of their crews survived, and both returned to service. I’m worried with too good of a weapons outfit, the heavier-firepower versions of the PF would be sent into higher threat environments, and then their commercial-grade ship-building standards may not show the same resilience as Stark and Roberts when the inevitable happens. Saving money is good, but there is false economy. Ask the Brits about the Falklands….

    • There is no free lunch and built to the same standards a larger ship is always more survivable. My understanding is that the OPC will built to a higher standard than the Bertholfs. The LCS are not built to the same standards as the FFGs but they are more survivable than the MCM ships and Patrol Craft that they also replace so it is a mixed bag. Frankly I think the OPCs (and the NSCs) are probably more survivable than WWII destroyers. Its going to be interesting to see what comes out of the SSC selection.

    • He used (some of) the right data to make the completely wrong argument. His conclusions are 180-degrees off course…

      He said (paraphrasing): “given our political system, we are destined to take the first blow in a war.” That is precisely why we owe it to our servicemen and women to give them a survivable platform. His example of the USS Arizona has a 70-year old layer of dust on it. (It could be argued it’s even more invalid than that, because the Arizona’s armor was specified in an age when air-deliverable bombs were non-existent, 30 years before 1941.) He goes on to argue modern missiles make modern designs very unsurvivable. He should (but didn’t, because it shows the invalidity of his argument) consider the Stark, Roberts, and Falklands; all examples of modern-day threats. Were the ships (operationally) killed? Yes, every time, BUT most ships returned to service, and, more importantly, crew survival rates have been VERY high (80-90%) in every modern case. The common factor? Survivability standards. The aluminum superstructures were a lesson learned, as was the folly of using commercial-standards (no combat survivability design) vessels in a war zone, during the Falklands.

      His argument of a “high-low mix” really exposes his philosophy: He’s an LCS guy. A program already shown to be (how to be kind?), “non-ideal”… The USN is trying, and needs to, get away from these folks’ line of thinking. It’s all wrong.

  14. With the year delay to the frigate compete I wonder if there will be an effort to extend the two LCS and Bertholf product lines. As it looks now all three lines will lay down the last of the current contract in 2018. Yet the frigate compete extending into 2020 adding a 10th Berthoff and one or two of each of the LCS hulls would assure a warm line is waiting.

    • The LCS will be going on for several years in any case. There was a block by for 24 that I think takes them through #28 maybe 30 and only eight have been commissioned.

      Funding for long lead time items for NSC#10 is in the 2017 budget. It will not be delivered until at least 2021.

      • By my count the executed LCS orders only go out to #26, with the last Austal hull expected to be laid down next spring. While Marinette has a few more months reprieve I can’t imagine the Speaker is going to allow a yard to go cold in his home state prior to the downselect. If only the Coast Guard had an unfunded priorities list to give cover for HII to get in the likely LCS extension.

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