Fast Response Cutter Alternative? FRC-A?

The following are excepts from a news release found here:

14 January 2011:

“The Department of the Navy announced Friday the award of a $29 million shipbuilding and support contract to Maritime Security Strategies, LLC, (MSS) of Tampa, Florida. The contract, under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, was awarded for a 43-meter Coastal Security Craft (CSC) for the Lebanese Navy. MSS will work with its primary design agent and shipbuilding partner, RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames, LLC, also of Tampa, to design, produce and outfit the ship.

“The MSS/RiverHawk … currently has two 60-meter Offshore Supply/Command Vessels under construction for the Iraqi Navy….MSS/RiverHawk use epoxy resin (instead of carbon fiber) for the AMP hulls because of its virtual indestructibility and the fact that it is so easy and inexpensive to repair and maintain. The deck and superstructure are aluminum, which allows topside arrangements to be reconfigured in a modular fashion as mission requirements dictate over the life of the ship.”


There are several things I find interesting here.

  • Why didn’t they choose either the 87 ft WPB or the Webber (Hero) class WPC, which are relatively well know quantities? Is the Navy attempting to open up additional sources of combatant craft? Is it just the fact that three of the four principals in the company are retired Navy admirals? Interestingly all three have backgrounds in minesweepers.
  • This is a fixed price contract ($29M) for a first of class, with no learning curve. The the price is already significantly less than that for the Webber Class ($88M for the first and $41.5M each for the most recent buy) for a vessel with very similar capabilities. In fact it appears this vessel is closer to the original specifications for the Fast Response Cutter–composite construction and 30 knots–than the Webber class. Is it really that cheap to build?
  • If I interpret their web site correctly, the vessel was apparently already under construction before the contract was finalized. Is this a lost leader, sold for less than the true cost, to prove their capability in hopes of attracting additional orders?
  • Jargon used to describe the vessel sounds a lot like that used for the LCS. They call it a “sea frame” and talk about its adaptability, including the ability to take aboard two 40 foot containers (or presumably four 20 foot container?). Will the use of LCS containers make these vessels useful as anti-submarine and mine countermeasures vessels? The company appears to be positioning itself, if not to replace the LCS, to at least supplement it and exploit its supporting technology.
  • This web site description shows variations on the basic design that seem optimized for supporting special operations (two 12 meter fast interceptor boats, or a helo deck for not just any small helo, but specifically the “little bird,” a reference to the MH-6/AH-6 special operations helicopter). Is this the replacement for the Cyclone class PCs that were always considered a bit too large for the Special Operations role? The fiberglass construction should also tend to make the vessels more stealthy.


The original Concept for the Fast Response Cutter, FRC-A, included a composite hull. These comments are from the Acquisition Directorate web site:
“12. I’ve heard talk of the FRC-A, and Sentinel Class patrol boat, what’s the difference?
“The FRC-A designation referred to the first revision of the original FRC design specifications which called for, most notably, a composite-hulled ship. After careful research and evaluation, the Coast Guard concluded that not only was the technology not yet mature enough to produce the conceived design, but that it would not possibly be available soon enough to meet the critical mission requirements and capability needs of the service, both now and in the foreseeable future. As such, the Coast Guard proposed a revised design specification, identified as the Sentinel Class patrol boat, through a “parent craft” acquisition strategy. Parent craft describes the use of an existing ship design that has successfully performed equivalent missions.
“13. Is a composite technology out of the picture now?
“Following the award of the Sentinel Class patrol boat contract, and to ensure that mission needs are met as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, the Coast Guard will examine and develop options to procure the remaining Fast Response Cutters based on the overall performance of the Sentinel and the ability of the Sentinel Class to meet original FRC A-Class requirements.  No decision with regard to composites has been made.”
There is a lot more information on their web site, but to briefly compare the two classes.
  • The “AMP 145” is 145 ft. long, the FRC is 154.
  • AMP, 28 ft beam, FRC 25.4 ft
  • AMP displaces 230 tons, FRC 353 tons, I am sure the builders of the AMP would credit at least some of the lighter weight to the construction techniques and suggest that this will result in fuel savings.
  • AMP 30+ knots, FRC 28+

The AMP 145 is propelled by two diesel engines using water jets. (There is a three engine option for 40+ knots.) They claim a maneuvering speed of 1-3 knots. One of the things that has always bothered me about the Webber class was the decision to delete the controllable pitch props, which were included on the parent craft, in favor of cheaper fixed pitch propellers. Potentially this may mean that the vessels may have low speed maneuverability problems. The conning officer will have a choice between engaging the engines which will accelerate the vessel to a minimum speed, dictated by the idle speed of the engines and the pitch of the prop, or disengaging the engines entirely.  His choice of speeds is not infinitely variable between zero and maximum, as is the case with controllable pitch props. In most cases, of course, this can be dealt with, but there are situations, including towing or when the berthing space is tight, where it can be problematic.

The adaptability of the design is also interesting. In addition to the containerized options, the ability to carry two boats or to provide a flight deck for the Fire Scout UAV are both interesting.

As always, the devil is in the details, but it appears that the cutter we wanted earlier may now be available. At any rate, competition is a good thing. It appears the Coast Guard may have another option available, possibly at considerable savings. Will the Coast Guard, as stated above, revisit their choice?

(Thanks to Lee Wahler for bringing this to my attention.)

52 thoughts on “Fast Response Cutter Alternative? FRC-A?

  1. So if the US Coast Guard’s Plan A for the FRC is DIW. Do they have a Plan B in place. I think for the FRC, the US Coast Guard should be looking at going Off the Shelf design and go with what is currently being used by Navies and Coast Guard elsewhere. Maybe start shopping for Blueprint designs in Europe for an FRC and even for that matter an OPC as well.

    • The Coast Guard’s Plan B was awarded in September 2008 and was launched just yesterday. I recommend doing a search on “SENTINEL Patrol Boat.”

    • There is something to be said for having a mix of assets with different strengths that can be assigned where they fit best.

      There are also advantages to having competing suppliers.

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  3. Let’s wait and see. The FRC design is a known entity with proven performance in operations. This may sound exciting but it needs to be proven first. Does it meet FRC requirements other than speed? Endurance, accomodation, C4ISR suite? And then by the time a decision on the next batch of FRC is made there will be a whole host of other options that are proven. An Axe bow design for instance, able to sustain high speeds through higher sea states while keeping accelerations and ship motion low.

  4. If the USCG wanted a composite hull, they would have bought FRC-A from Northrop. Why would they switch now when they have a hot production line with a trusted builder?

  5. Those are a lot of good qusetions some of which I raised in my email.
    MY guesses about this FMS deal is that someone higher up is behind it. Either there is a backroom deal for a startup company to build modifications of non-existent boats, OR the company wants to build a flyer to get their boats under the door at SOCCOM which has been trying to build a couple of new boats for NSW units for years – unsuccessfully.

    Another possibility is that NAVSEA wants to take another try at composite construction boats since the NGSB composite facility was evidently as flop? BTW that is still FRC-A plan to use composites. Sentinels are FRC-B.

    Since these “seaframes” have low end weapons and sensor suites, I think they may well work out as cutters. BUT who is going to fund the USCG to buy some? Perhaps a congressional type with a backyard shipyard? Need to find out who reps Tampa district?

    Cynic I am~

  6. Lee, it’s not just cynicism, it’s political realism. I hadn’t been sure you were the same Lee. Good to know for sure.

    Thanks again.

  7. Interesting that I heard that this company tried to pitch this to the CG back when FRC-A stalled. They wanted to lease these to the CG with a total ownership contract for $3 million each per year. The idea was to lease them for 3-5 years and then sell them to foreign services at a reduced cost. Initially it was pitched as a stop gap until the FRC-B could come online with the ability to easily scale back when the time came or to ramp up construction quickly if the service needed to rapidly grow. Considering the number of lost WPB hours due to unscheduled maintenance the CG is currently suffering, this still may be a viable option to hold the line for the FRC, replace the lost hours due to the benching of the three 179ft Cyclone class cutters on loan from the Navy, to cover the lost patrol hours due to WMEC MEP, the loss of the WHEC’s due to their continuing casualties, and the pending retirement of five more cutters.

    The reason these ships are so cheap is that they are already under construction and have parent crafts based on yacht hulls. In all honesty, they are just militarized yachts similar to what the Bahamians use. I don’t think they are a solution by themselves but an interesting stop gap measure to consider. This model was proven successful with the lease of the Augusta MH-68 to cover the AUF requirement until the program to missionize the MH-65’s was complete.

    • Desk Riding Cutterman, Other than the Communications equipment, which could presumably be installed, what are it’s disadvantages relative to the FRC? I wasn’t able to find some of the comparable data on the Webber Class.

      • There are a lot of other performance requirements that aren’t listed such as sea keeping, crew accomodations, fuel/stores capacity, migrant holding capacity, training, tech data, etc. This is not to say that the boat above is not good. I don’t know. But there are lots of other requirements that go into the SENTINEL cost that may make an apples to apples comparison difficult.

  8. cutterman has it right about these boats. Let’s hope that at least NAVSEA learns something from the project?

    The USCG website said that FRC-A was on hold and FRC-B would be pursued that became the Sentinels. IRT NGSB composite facility, I believe I read that on Tim Colton’s website some time ago

  9. leesea,

    What is your source that FRC-A will be built using composite materials? I have not seen any press that the USCG has any plans to use composites on any FRC in the future. Don’t tell the U.S. Navy that the NGSB composite facility is a flop. They (the USN) are building the deckhouses for two DDG-1000’s at that faciltiy.

  10. I did not see any mention of the stern small boat launch thingie. I thought the Coast Guard was committed to taking it in the stern.

    • Bill, the boat they are building for Lebanon has a stern ramp. I think you can see it in the illustration.

      I was surprised to see that they specifically excluded the stern ramp in the Offshore Patrol Cutter.

  11. Here is a better FRC alternative to the SENTINEL and AMP:
    Already built, faster, longer range, stern ramp, no rust (composite), classed by ABS.

    FRC-B SENTINEL: wasn’t the first boat supposed to be delivered two years after contract award (award=Sep 2008)? Even with the 90 day bid protest delay, they are late. I haven’t even heard that the boat is in the water, let alone “delivered”. Anyone have an update?

      • It looks very interesting and If they can build it very fast and deliver on time. The the US Coast Guard should be sending out someone with the credit card and buy a fleet of them.

      • I don’t know who’s using it. If it is really 32+ knots and classed by ABS, I don’t think it matters. There are a lot of bad boats out there….and some very nice ones.

  12. chbrow10,
    this is from the USCG Acqusition Directorate FAQs on FRC:
    Q I’ve heard talk of the FRC-A, and Sentinel Class patrol boat, what’s the difference?
    AThe FRC-A designation referred to the first revision of the original FRC design specifications which called for, most notably, a composite-hulled ship. After careful research and evaluation, the Coast Guard concluded that not only was the technology not yet mature enough to produce the conceived design, but that it would not possibly be available soon enough to meet the critical mission requirements and capability needs of the service, both now and in the foreseeable future.

  13. here is a source of FRC info:
    Smith: other FAQs quoted:
    Q When do you expect to have the first Sentinel Class patrol boat in the water?
    A The first Sentinel Class patrol boat will be delivered during the first quarter of fiscal year 2011.
    Q What is the project timeline from this award to delivery of twelve cutters?
    A We expect the 12th cutter to be delivered early in fiscal year 2013.

    • Thank you leesea. Some comments (please correct me if I am wrong – it’s not uncommon):
      A1: First quarter of fiscal year 2011 has passed (Oct – Dec 2010). Is there news of the first Sentinel actually being “delivered” or even being launched for sea trials? I would expect a few months between sea trials and delivery.
      A2: Since there seems to be a delay, has the CG changed their expectation for 12 to be delivered by early fiscal year 2013 (Oct-Dec 2012)?
      Thank you.

      • Perhaps I can provide some information. There is a list of the first six cutters status here,
        ranging in degree of completion from 85% to 1% complete as of 22 Dec. The first 12 cutter names have been chosen, but contracts have been awarded for only the first eight.

        The first contract was awarded Sept 2008 and is expected to be delivered third quarter FY2011. The second contract for four was awarded Dec. 2009. The third contract for four was awarded Sept 2010. I’m hoping to see an award for the next four soon. Presumably the process will speed up, but I have serious doubts that all will be delivered by the end of 2012.

  14. If I understand the sequence of events correctly, the FRC-A was the original plan for a composite hull, 30 knot vessel, but when that proved impractical, a new procurement strategy was formulated that resulted in the Webber Class. Introduction of the Webber Class is later than originally planned for the FRC-A, but in line with expectations for the revised plan. Right now there is no plan to re-bid for FRC-A.

    • So why aren’t we funding for the FRC-A and FRC-B. I like this alternative to the FRC and I think the US Coast Guard Should have gotten this one while waiting for the other one

  15. Nicky, we are funding the FRC-B, which is the Webber class at the rate of four per year. Maybe they can pick up the pace in the future. All 49 of the 110s were built in a six year period, entering service between 1986 and 1992, an average of more than eight a year. At four a year, it will take us 15 years to build 58 Webber class. The oldest 110s will be 25 years old when the first Webber enters service, this year, but at this rate it will be at least 2023 when the 49th Webber is finished and the newest 110 will be 31 years old at that time. The 110s were relatively lightly built and were never intended to last that long.

  16. while the delivery sked is tied to contracts, the funding plan is tied to a) an admin which is trying to cut the USCG and b) a congress which has never liked the way the USCG buys any ship (unless it was built in someone’s backyard shipyard!
    Much the pity that more hull cannot be bought sooner. Of course that would lead to block obsolescence in the future.
    I have not read the FRC acquistion and test plan, but assume there is fixed period of time following delivery for trials, training, PSA and then the cutter would go to IOC.

  17. Leesea,

    you quoted:

    “…After careful research and evaluation, the Coast Guard concluded that not only was the technology
    (referring to the composite hull – chbrow10) not yet mature enough to produce the conceived design, but that it would not possibly be available soon enough to meet the critical mission requirements and capability needs of the service, both now and in the foreseeable future…”

    Sounds to me like a nail on the composite coffin for the USCG. Personally, I don’t think there will every be a FRC-A, I think the Sentinel Class will fully meet the needs. If I am wrong, and there is a plan for FRC-As, based on your quote above, I highly doubt they will be composite.

  18. chbrow10,
    You could be right. Just to make sure, I would like to see an at-sea boat-to-boat comparison of the AMP, Sentinel, GRC43 and any other candidates. My money is on the faster, longer range GRC43 to best meet mission requirements. Wasn’t the RB-M decided by a boat-to-boat run-off?? That program seemed to turn out well.
    Probably won’t happen, but it would take out any guesswork about which is the right boat for the next 30 years.
    Was there ever a competition for the FRC-A? It looks like composites were dismissed after the ICGS (Northrop) failed attempt via Deepwater. I wonder how much recent experience Northrop had in building high speed composite boats of this size.

    • I also think it might be worth revisiting the decision in the not too distant future. What we have now is an option, not a CG commitment. Over $40M/cutter is still a lot, and with 50 cutters still to be contracted we are talking over $2B. Keeping the competition going is useful.

      • Presumably that is why they got the current contract, but that does not mean we should not look at alternatives before buying all 58 planned or even the 34 optioned. Not to consider alternatives is irresponsible.

        Looking at the FY 2012 Budget request ( somehow the Cutters that cost about $40M each in the beginning, now, after more experience has been gained, and presumably efficiencies are realized by buying in quantity, they now cost $58M each, so 50 cutters is not $2B, its closer to $3B? Just saying, periodically the CG has to look at alternatives to guarantee the CG is being a good steward of the taxpayers money.

        I’m expecting great things from the Webber Class, but as always there are trade-offs.

  19. as far as maintenance, training and and spares i think it would be a mistake to make a major change in hulls once the program is in gear. there is a major difference between making changes and creating a B or C class of the same design and changing to a completely different hulls. spares and training costs alone will greatly increase the life costs of what supposedly is a single class of vessels. i thought money was getting tight? i always believed that switching engine suppliers in the 110 class was a mistake. just my opinion.
    have served on 2 pb’s. point hannon and matinicus. also maintenance support for 2 110’s in jersey.

  20. Oct. 4, Tim Colton’s Maritime Memos has some interesting comments on this project. Delivery was due in Jan. 2012, but no delivery has been made. Moreover there are unconfirmed reports NAVSEA has rejected the ship.

    The way this site works, the story is mixed with others, and may not be up for very long. Look for the date, Oct 4.

  21. It looks like this design may have found another user. The German Navy blog MarineForum for 31 Oct. reports, “PAKISTAN–US State Department approves financing (foreign military sales) acquisition of eight 43-m “Global Response Cutters” … mono-hull design made of Glass Reinforced Plastic, armed with 25- or 30-mm gun.”

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  23. I had the opportunity to attend the Commissioning of the FRC Cutter Bernard C. Webber & the Robert Yered, in Miami. I had the Honor of serving with both Men in Vietnam during the 1960’s & 1970’s.

    My wife and I were invited aboard Yered for a several hour cruise in Biscayne Bay! While underway, we were operating everything from an IPad, can you believe that!!! While it is a technically superior vessel to anything I served on. I was surprised that even in the relatively calm Biscayne Bay, she was rocking and it was a nice day!

    I would have thought with the advanced systems, she would have rode a lot better, reminded me of a 82′! However, she could get up and run…we were doing over 30 Knots!

    The “Daughter Boat” is a great feature…sure beats the davits on the Cutter Owasco!
    It only took the Coast Guard 100 years to adapt to what fishermen have using since the 1800’s…these things take time, you know!!!

    The main gun is like a video game, no gun crew on deck, a real plus and plenty of “Ma Deuces” on the rails. I remember sadly, several shipmates in Vietnam, had their
    81 mm tube explode…killing & injuring several members of the gun crew!

    Having spent most of my career as a Heavy Weather Coxswain, I give them high marks…but I think it’s like every CG vessel, it was a compromise! But I’d give it 4 Stars…overall.

    Fair Seas,

    Jack “J.J.” O’Neil, CPO USCG (ret.)

      • Recently, I have looking at other Coast Guard vessel programs and it’s seems the Port Security Vessel mix is a real mess, no protection whatsoever for the crew!!!I

        I am preparing a letter to CG HQ reviewing my observations & recommendations for the next generation of Port Security Vessels. The ones currently in inventory are not making Muster!

        A friend was GM in charge of Ordnance Dep’t. for PSU in Saudi Arabia in 1991, had spent considerable time trying to solve the problem of MG mounts breaking. Finally he welded M60 cradles to .50 cal. mounts. When he Got underway on the 22′ Raider, found that it was a very uncomfortable platform, and almost impossible to fire the weapons with any degree of accuracy, especially at high speed. I don’t know if the larger Raider boats are an improvement!

        Both of us have considerable Combat Experience Vietnam 68-71 & the Gulf…we know what’s needed!


  24. Great vessel, Bahamas CG uses them…and Greek CG.

    Been to several FRC Commissionins, served with four of those guys…I guess I am an Anciet Mariner now…

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