How We Got in This Mess-A Short History of CG Shipbuilding

Over the last 60 years the Coast Guard has typically fielded about 45 large patrol cutters, 1000 tons or greater (Is the Fleet Shrinking?) with as many as 36 WMECs. Theoretically we could build an average of 1.5 ships a year and maintain a fleet with an average age of about 15  years with progressive improvements introduced based on experience. This may be something to work toward, but it hasn’t been working that way. The Coast Guard’s current fleet is largely the product of two great spasms of ship building, WWII and one beginning in the 60s, a smaller bump in the 80’s, and long periods when no ships were built.

The last Lake class 255ft WPG/WHEC entered service in 1946. In the 64 years since then, this is the record of Patrol Cutter construction.

  • 1947-1963 (17 years) no new construction patrol cutters entered service. The service did acquire ex-Navy destroyer escorts (what would now be called frigates), 311 foot Barnegat Class former seaplane and torpedo boat tenders, 213 foot former submarine rescue vessels, and 205 foot former fleet tugs.
  • 1964-1972 (9 years) The 16 Reliance class 210s, built in four different yards, including five by the Coast Guard Yard, entered service 1964-1969. The 12 Hamilton Class 378s, all built at Avondale, entered  service 1967-1972. (The original plan was for 36 378s.) (28 ships/9 years=3.11 ships/year)
  • 1973-1982 (10 years) no new construction patrol cutters entered service.
  • 1983-1990 (8 years) The 13 Bear class 270s entered service between 1983 and 1990. (13 ships/8 years=1.625 ships/yr)
  • 1991-2007 (17 years) no new construction patrol cutters entered service.
  • 2008 Bertholf entered service
  • 2009 no new construction cutters entered service.
  • 2010 Waesche entered service.

45 of 64 years, no new construction patrol cutters entered service. All 43 new construction ships (210s, 378s, 270s, NSCs) were delivered in only 19 years. The current rate of construction (two ships in three years) is less than the minimum average long term construction rate (1.5 ships/year).

The program begun in the 60s was a timely effort to replace the ships built in WWII and earlier, unfortunately it was stopped short of completing their replacement.

In 1990 when construction of the 270s stopped, we still had 10 WMECs that dated from WWII: Storis, three 213s, three 205s, and three 180 ft former WLBs. Logically we should have continued building two ships a year to replace these. (In 1991 they were all at least 46 years old.) They would have all been replaced by 1995. Continuing two ships a year, the first 210s could have been replaced in 1996. When replaced, they would have all been at least 32 years old. Continuing two ship a year we could have replaced all the 210s and 378s by 2009. The first replacement for the 270s should have been contracted in 2010 to enter service in 2013.

We had an opportunity to have an orderly replacement program, but we blew it, beginning approximately FY87/88, when we failed to continue building ship, and let our engineering expertise atrophy.

15 thoughts on “How We Got in This Mess-A Short History of CG Shipbuilding

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  2. I think what happened was that the US Shipbuilding talent either dried up or got brought off by their foreign competitors and are now building designs that the US would like, but are being used in foreign Navies and Coast Guards. We simply need the same talent that are building ships for foreign navies here in the US.

  3. I would love to see a fair program put in place to build quality ships on a plan like this, but until we as a group develop a long term strategy to show why we are important. We must keep remind people why we are important. The best thing Admiral Allen did for us was publicity and we need to stay in the eyes of the public to make our fight possible. These older ships are no longer doing the job right, safely and without engine casualties.

    I keep writing my Congressmen, Senators and President on behalf of my service.

  4. I need to make a bit of a correction, “In 1990 when construction of the 270s stopped, we still had 10 WMECs that dated from WWII: Storis, three 213s, three 205s, and three 180 ft former WLBs.” Actually four of those ships were decommissioned in 1990 and 1991(Clover, Evergreen, Chilula, and Cherokee), presumably replaced by the 270s, but the other six soldiered on, ultimately to be decommissioned without replacement. Citrus and Tamaroa were decommissioned in 1994. Escape in 1995, Yacona in 1996, Storis in 2007. As far as I know Acusnet is still in commission, but the intention is to decommission her soon, along with four 378s.

    I was looking only at patrol cutter, but we did make some relatively large buoy tenders between the 270s and the NSCs. 1996-2004 the 14 Keeper class WLMs (840 tons) and 16 Juniper class WLBs (2,000 tons) entered service. That still leaves five years 1991-1995, when no large ships entered service. If we are going to consider all types of larger ships, to maintain our current fleet of about 64 ships 1,000 tons or larger (down from 85 in 1990), we need to build at least two ship a year.

    Really looks like, in addition to routinely building at least two ships a year every year, we need to build more to make up for the neglect of some prior years. Right now those ships need to replace HECs and MECs. But in addition, we should have begun planning by now to replace some very expensive icebreakers. We may also have a new requirement to build Arctic Patrol Cutters.

    I think we are going to need at least another $300 to 500M/year in the ship building account.

  5. An excellent description of “how” we got on this mess – missing only one thing – “why” this mess occured. And the answer is easy.

    A Lack of Leadership spanning two decades.

  6. Wasn’t Deepwater supposed to put a big dent in this? By now all of the NSCs and all of the 123s were supposed to be out with the first FRC on the way and the OPCs under contract. Even without using the RAND post 9/11 recommendations (a study the CG itself commissioned) the fleet is worse off now than before Deepwater began. Yet we still have 8 123s tied up in Baltimore because the Coast Guard leadership is willing to let the case drag on for years because they do not want to see us prevail. Not only do the 123s stayed tied up but the CG could be forgoing up to $180M. (If we are successful in getting the false guarantee and joint several liability fraud added the $ will go to several billion $. That is because the damage would be ALL $ spent to date under a fraudulent guarantee. It’s a shame that the Cg leadership knows the whole Deepwater contract was fraudulent, could recoup a huge amount of $ they could use for critical needs yet they not only sit on the sideline but actively block our efforts by not providing us declarations for these areas they agree were accurate and legal)

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