Progress (or lack of it) on the National Security Cutters

Over at I got into an off topic discussion of the NSC deliveries, when another poster, “RhodeIslander,” asked me why the contract for the for the fourth  National Security Cutter had not been awarded.

He shared this with me,
“Chuck, one of my old co-workers down in Mississippi sent me an interesting Build Schedule for NSC. Evidently this is only for… (STRATTON) 752 which is next to be finished off for USCG.

“At the moment of Contract start, there begins a 4 year cycle for WMSL-752:

“FIRST YEAR: Pre-fab begins down in Mississippi yard. While down in Washington D.C. the USCG orders long lead time stuff, like engines, generators, gears, etc. After about 2 months, “Start Fabrication” commences. And scattered all around the large Mississippi shipyard, many various modules are being constructed.

“SECOND YEAR: Keep is “laid” which now-a-days means the shipyard starts moving all those modules slowly down to the waterfront and welds them all together. This erection process goes fairly quickly and the cutter is all put together outwardly in less than 7 months. Production continues inside the cutter while on land.

“THIRD YEAR: The cutter is “launched” with really means “float off” in modern yards like the one in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Production continues in the water, electrical cables and Command and Control soon start testing. Then diesels engines get lite off, followed by generators and gas turbine.

“FOURTH YEAR: Sea Trials and Dockyard Trials are conducted at the beginning of Year #4, and the cutter is soon delivered to the Coast Guard. The crew moves onboard, trains up, does a few short underway periods. The Mississippi shipyard corrects some deficiencies and finally the new cutter sails away for California. Once in their permanent homeport, the ship gets a short post shakedown overhaul period, where the Mississippi Northrop Grumman yard does Warranty work. At the very end of the fourth year, the Warranty period expires and the Cutter is no longer ever associated with DEEPWATER INC. again.”

“RhodeIslander” was disappointed in the time required from award to completion. My concern was more that we were falling behind on even a one per year delivery schedule. If we awarded a contract every year and we were using the four year cycle as a routine, you would think there would be four or at least three ships in the pipeline. That does not seem to be happening.

Acquisition directorate says “The U.S. Coast Guard commissioned the second National Security Cutter, Waesche (WMSL 751), on May 7, 2010. Stratton (WMSL 752) was christened on July 23, 2010 and is 59% complete.”

It appears that the NSC2 is in the last 2 months of the cycle (although it has lasted more than four years) and that NSC3 is in the third year. This means we have more than a two year gap (instead of only one year).

Here are some of the milestones for the first three ships. All three were nominally ordered in 2001 and were/are being built at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi:

NSC 1: Bertholf
Laid down:     March 29, 2005
Launched:     September 29, 2006
Christened:     November 11, 2006
Commissioned:     August 4, 2008
Formally Accepted: May 8, 2009

NSC 2: Waesche
Laid down:     September 11, 2006
Launched:     July 12, 2008
Delivered:   Nov. 6, 2009
Commissioned:     May 7, 2010

NSC 3: Dorothy C. Stratton
Contract awarded: Aug. 8, 2007
Laid down:     July 20, 2009
Christened:     July 23, 2010

From Wikipedia, “‘On 7 July 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported that delays in the NSC program are likely to result in “the loss of thousands of cutter operational days for conducting missions through 2017.’ The GAO also that month reported that problems in the NSC program have delayed the OPC program by five years.”

Frankly I think we will continue to see the ripples of this disaster until at least 2027 when it looks like the last OPC might be finished. By that time the newest 270 will be 39 years old. When the youngest 210 is replaced it will likely be at least 54 years old. And if the Acushnet can last until she is replaced by the first OPC she will be 75 years old.  (While the average Navy ship  is something like 14 years old.)

Here is RhodeIslander’s latest comment, “…WAESCHE NSC-2 is evidently in California getting her post delivery overhaul and last of warranty. Stratton is supposed to Deliver towards end of next summer. That means NSC-4 Hamilton, if and when they ever commence her, will break up the “assembly line” of NATIONAL SECURITY CUTTERS that has finally started to look pretty good down at the Pascagoula yard. So NSC-4 will gap and some expertise will be lost forever, early retirement, taking jobs on other Navy ships, moving to the offshore oil well industry, etc. Even worse than breaking up the “assembly line”, will be the big gap between delivery of NSC-3 and NSC-4 to USCG…Too bad that NSC-4 is not already under construction, and finishing her first year, and beginning to start KEEL LAYING. It’s both a mystery and a shame for the Coast Guard sailors on those ancient High Endurance cutters.”

What really bothers me is that I don’t see that there is any attempt to play catch-up on the part of the Administration, the Congress, or the Coast Guard.  I hope I’m wrong, but at the rate we are going, the eighth NSC will not be operational for at least nine years and possibly longer, meaning the newest 378 will be at least 47 years old when it is replaced. We really ought to be awarding a multi-year contract and building more than one ship a year. If we want to award contracts for the OPCs in FY2014 and we don’t want to have to award a contract for NSC(s) in the same FY, it means that we will need to contract for NSCs 5-8 in FY 2012/2013. (Perhaps more evidence we ought to be looking at getting other ships to fill the gap.)

I know Acquisition Directorate is still getting their feet on the ground, and they are short of people, but I hope we will recognize the urgency and that we will get some support from the Administration and Congress. We have to do a lot better than we have so far.

13 thoughts on “Progress (or lack of it) on the National Security Cutters

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Progress (or lack of it) on the National Security Cutters - --

  2. Not certain about Coast Guard ships, but for US Navy destroyers, like DDG-110, roughly half of the money funded by Congress actually gets to the individual shipyard building the warship. So, Bath Iron Works up in Maine, or the old Ingalls shipyard down in Mississippi, would received ballpark $600,000,000 to build each AEGIS destroyer. The other half goes via NAVSEA to purchase Lockheed Martin combat system, SPY-1 radar, VLS missile launchers, gas turbines, etc.

    For the upcoming FY 2011 which began 2 weeks ago, the President’s budget has $538,000,000.00 in it for NSC – 5, which is yet un-named. So, if the Coast Guard is like it’s cousing the Navy, then roughly (ballpark) half of that $538 million will actually go directly to the shipyard down in Pascagoula. Just a guess, since I know nothing about Coast Guard acquisition of large (frigate sized) WMSL’s.

    Does $538 million seem like a lot of money for an NSC ? I can’t even guess.

    • It is considerably less than the first one and the ship is considerably larger than the Littoral Combat Ship with similar armament.

  3. It isn’t a mystery as to why the fourth NSC cutter isn’t under construction, and it isn’t fair to blame the Acquisition Directorate – they can only build what Congress funds.

    Funding for the NSC cutters is dependent on OMB approving the funding requests put forth by DHS on behalf of the Coast Guard. Given the federal government’s dire fiscal condition, every Department is being required to make a sound business case for its proposed acquisitions. Given the amount of waste I see in other parts of the DHS budget, one has to wonder why DHS has given cutter replacement so little priority, and why the Coast Guard isn’t working harder to correct this lack of interest in what ought to be the most critical priority of the service.

    • I don’t know enough about what happened to place blame, but what has happened so far is obviously not satisfactory. It hasn’t been satisfactory for a very long time, and the process doesn’t seem to have improved much in the recent past. (I know Integrated Coast Guard Systems, LLC, is still involved.)

      The question arose because “RhodeIslander” believes that Congress funded NSC4 in FY2009 and here it is FY2011 already and the contract apparently has not been awarded. (If that is not correct, please give us the facts.)

      The nation “saved money” all the years the Coast Guard made do with ships that should have been replaced. We are 24 years behind schedule on replacing the 210s (assuming a 30 year life). The nation is throwing around stimulus money by the trillions on things that are invisible. I’d like to see some hardware and it will create jobs in the US. It just seems like we should be making more noise about this.

  4. Rumors ? Some are true, many are false.

    Washington D.C. rumor about the Northrop Grumman shipyard(s) says that several USN/USCG ships are now in “limbo” because NG has offered up their shipyards for sale. Evidently, down in Mississippi, the Navy won’t sign contracts to construct 3 warships that Congress approved and funded last year. Perhaps they are waiting to see who buys these yards ? Not sure, but maybe the Coast Guard is also waiting to sign WMSL-753 Hamilton #4 contract for the same reason ? Still the NG sale was announced earlier this year and Hamilton #4 was fully funded 2 Fiscal Years ago.

    My bet is that CG headquarters is being extremely slow in signing the construction contract for Hamilton NSC #4 because it will be the very first one built under fixed firm price contract. Plus that legacy “corporation” called DEEPWATER still lingering around for another year. This unfortunate delay in constructing NSC #4 might be caused by a combination of several factors above ? The only fact that I’m certain of, the old Ingalls shipyard will be laying off ( or reassigning ??) many workers next year when NSC #3 gets completed and #4 has yet to commence.

  5. The upcoming sale of the Northrop Grumman makes case to reopen a couple of the former Navy Ship Yards. The best would be Charleston , SC. It is still navy owned but contracted out because of the costs to clean it up.

    A few of the 327s were built there. Let’s face it, the level of naval engineering expertise in construction and repair has declined significantly since the loss of all the Navy Yards.

    Last weekend I received a Treasury Department Circular of 1815. The purpose was to revive the economy and correct the direction taken by Thomas Jefferson in his naval concepts. The circular was also the first instructions given to RCS officers since 1791.

    In paragraph 2, Secretary A. J. Dallas wrote, “Whenever a cutter and barges are necessary . . . It is intended that the cutters and barges, throughout the United States, shall be uniform in their construction and equipment; and , in that respect, the advice of the navy department will be obtained. ”

    The average life time of a sailing cutter in 1815 was about five years depending upon the waters sailed. It took from six months to a year to complete a new one. However, some “new” cutters were not new at all. They were taken in, stripped down to the framing and rebuilt.

    • I know we are talking to the Navy about the OPC, but their in house expertise was also largely dismantled at the same time ours was, when the executive decided we could “outsource.” Still, there has been some rebuilding and they don’t seem to be working on much in the way of new classes of warships right now.

      I would like to see the Navy take more interest in the OPCs as potentially significant warships. I see four reasons they should be interested.

      1. As a potential export item for the Foreign Military Assistance program.
      2. As a design that might be quickly and cheaply mass produced if a protracted naval conflict appeared to be a possibility.
      3. As a station ship for the various partnership stations.
      4. In its Coast Guard role, as an asset that can quickly augment the Navy, either as built, with preplanned modifications, or with modules added.

      The 327s were exceptionally well built. On Duane some of the structure that was added in the 50s started rusting out long before the parts that were built in the 30s.

      I believe in free enterprise and competition. But when there really is little or no competition, as there is in the way the government buys most of its ships now, the advantages of private enterprise disappear.

      Still, looks like we may have done well on the Fast Response Cutter. The OPC may also be simple enough for there to be some real competition.

  6. Question(s) for all concerned: what is the reason for the “odd” number of NSC cutters? Why not 6, 8, 10, 12…I know funding must have a role to play in the decision, but why the number 7? Another question; what is the main mission of these large cutters? They are large, good looking vessels but for the amount of armament they carry, couldn’t the Service dream up another 378′ class or smaller ship? I guess these new cutters are “long legged”, for extended deployment purposes but for what end? Chasing drug smugglers? Showing the Flag in Asia? Keeping up with a Naval task group? In a shooting war, these “large” cutters have no ASW capability, no VLS missiles no Harpoon missiles, would the Navy find a “job” for them? For that matter why not build more OPC’s with the funds allocated to the NSC’s? It seems like these new large platforms are overkill for the CG’s peacetime missions, perhaps time will tell.

  7. I’ll venture some explanation of the numbering system, comments about speed and wartime missions toward the bottom.

    This applies only to the larger cutters since the smaller ones use a logical numbering system that begins with two digit indicating length in feet.

    I think at one time large cutters were numbered consecutively (Bill Wells help me out here) but later we started doing hull numbers differently, possibly around the time we inducted the 311s into the CG (1949) but certainly by the time we started building 210s, so now there are gaps in the numbering system. The system is not consecutive.

    311′ WAVPs were all 3xx starting at 370
    210s all have 6xx numbers starting at 615
    378s all have 7xx numbers starting at 715
    140′ WAGTs all have 1xx numbers starting at 101
    270s all have 9xx numbers
    110s all have 13xx numbers (1301-1349)
    NSCs all have 75x numbers

    The earliest example of this sort of thing I’ve found are the 125s built in the late 20s numbered consecutively 125-157 and the 165B class built in the ’30s. They were WPC 100-116. Apparently these were not consecutive relative to previous classes, but subsequent classes seem to have returned to sequential numbering.

    I have also thought perhaps we would be better off replacing NSC with OPCs, provided we build two OPC for each NSC. That should be about a break even in cost and it would make up for some of the 8 ship decrease we expect to see in the large cutter fleet. Unfortunately we still seem to be about four years away from being ready to award contracts for OPCs and further delays replacing the 378s doesn’t look like a good idea.

    As to the choice of speed for the NSCs, that is essentially the same as the Navy’s Perry Class FFGs which were part of the Carrier Battle Groups, but those ships are all being decommissioned and in the future all the Carrier Battle Groups ships will be capable of about 33 knots, so we couldn’t keep up if they decided to scoot. On the other hand 25 knots is adequate to run with Navy amphibs and auxiliaries and to overtake most merchant ships.

    In wartime, I think both the NSCs and the OPCs would be initially useful in doing “sea control” by boarding and seizing enemy merchant ships. Blockade similar to “Marketime” is still a viable tactic. If the hostilities are prolonged there would be modifications. The NSCs’ excellent helicopter, UAV, and boat handling facilities all look adaptable to Navy missions. How ready we are do to do some wartime missions isn’t immediately clear. Are there magazine spaces to allow the NSCs to rearm Navy helos operating from their decks? I don’t know.

  8. I think the general consensus is that the WMSL (NSC) is a failure. The design is significantly flawed – think less than 5 year fatigue life in areas. If you see a gap between building them it could be everyone saying, “do we really want as many of these as we thought?” The answer is no, we will most likely not get anywhere close to the amount of WMSL’s originally anticipated – they are a maintenance nightmare. If the USCG builds more than the number of hulls currently funded or started, shame on them.

    The OPC is where the CG can succeed, with a close to COTS proven design, maybe it will be a lasting useful asset – more money, people and time should be invested in this program as it is the future of the CG, not WMSL.

  9. Pingback: Maritime Monday 236: Jaws, Claws, and Yee-Haws | gCaptain- A Maritime & Offshore News Blog

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