Premature Problems with Australia’s Patrol Boats–Multi-Crewed, Over-worked, Under-spec’d?


File:HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) Darwin Harbour.JPG

Photo Credit: HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbor, 12 May, 2010, by “Radagast3”

The Coast Guard is planning on multi-crewing the new large cutters, both NSCs and OPCs. In fact the latest authorization requires the Coast Guard to show that it can get 220 op-days out of each of the National Security Cutters, as the Coast Guard (and Integrated Coast Guard Systems) has said the they would. Neither the Coast Guard or the Navy has a lot of experience with this, although the Navy has had some sucess multi-crewing mine warfare ships. The Australians have been doing it for several years. Still their results are anything but clear.

Like the US, Australia has a problem with Illegal immigration. Their primary asset for Migrant Interdiction Operations (MIO) are a class of 14 patrol boats similar in size to our own Fast Response Cutters (FRC). They are a bit longer and beamer, but are built of aluminum and substantially lighter at 270 vs 353 tons. The armament and crew size are also similar. Rather than a single boat on a stern ramp they have two RHIBs on davits aft.

The vessels and their crews are organized into four division, three of four vessels and six crews and one of two vessels and three crews.

These little ships of the Armidale class are relatively new, with the first entering service in 2005 and the newest in 2008. (Their specifications are here.) Even so they have developed problems in service that has been blamed on both the heavy usage they have gotten as the illegal immigration problem has gotten much worse than anticipated and on their essentially commercial specifications.

Apparently the demanding usage has resulted in cracks in several of the vessels including restricting the first of class to less demanding training missions.

This problem came to the public’s attention in August. Since then it has apparently gotten worse.

Some speculate that the defects have been due to the use of commercial specifications. That the specification would have been alright for a vessel that could choose to avoid bad weather, but were not sufficient for a vessel that’s mission would entail going into bad weather to conduct search and rescue operations.

The other explanation is that because of the high tempo of operations, there has not been sufficient time for maintenance.

The Australian Navy has minimized the impact and significance of the cracking.


18 thoughts on “Premature Problems with Australia’s Patrol Boats–Multi-Crewed, Over-worked, Under-spec’d?

  1. Chuck,

    we do have recent experience with multi-crewing. We did it on nearly all of the MECs during their MEPs. While a ship was in MEP the crew rotated across active hulls. We also ran the WPB HTHM dual crewing from ~2008 until the end of FY12 wherein each of the eight hulls operated with two crews at nearly twice the total operational hours. I’m not advocating for the program, I’m just pointing out that we have some recent examples to study.

  2. Excerpts from a conversation with a naval engineer friend (NEF) who shall remain nameless.

    NEF, “This “commercial versus military” structural standards theme keeps popping up; it is utter nonsense. Some of those articles would have one believing that the laws of physics are different for the two.

    “Hull scantlings are determined by defining loads and developing suitable structure to survive those loads with specified margins over a specified time period. That process is gotten wrong as often as right for commercial, military and pleasure vessels for as long as I’ve been working with them. But when you properly define the loading magnitudes, frequency and duration and a proper hull can be designed. (a non-trivial task regardless of vessel type and purpose..hence why I used the world “can” and not “is”)

    “That water you are passing through cares not one wit what your purpose or mission is.

    “The Island Class cutters were/are steel.

    “I do agree with the premise that too much emphasis on being “cheap to construct” can be a causal factor in producing a weak hull. But I’ve seen weigh growth, overloading and simply operating beyond design limits create many a hull crack too.”

    Chuck, “Was your comment about the Island class because they also developed cracking?”

    NEF, “My reference to the Island Class hulls was somewhat a fly-by remark intended to point out the other vessels have been found lacking in the structural department….but in reality, we’re talking about MANY other vessels; certainly not just those Island boats. In fact, if you examine the record closely, nearly all of the Vosper-derivative patrol boats have had structural problems of one kind or another…they tend to wear out fairly quickly. Turns out the Aussies have no magic in their deisng either. 😉

    “If I had a dollar..or a pound..or a kroner…for every small-ish, fast-ish military, commercial (ferry) or yacht that suffered structural problems, I would be a wealthy fella indeed. The first of the Incat “big” 74m wavepiercers..the one that won the Riband…was complete junk by the time it completed that voyage. It was literally falling apart. Despite that, the vessel went in to a yard in Holland and was entirely rebuilt so that the extent and nature of the many structural failures would be hidden to the greatest extent possible. The rest, as they say, is history.”

    Thanks for the comments.

  3. On top of that the Royal Australian Navy has a personnel shortage as well. Which is why they are looking towards the Royal Navy and the Canadian Navy who are dumping their excess personnel. At the same time, the Royal Australian Navy is trying to attract those in America who have experience and Knowledge in operating an air defense destroyer such as their soon to be Hobart Class Air Warfare Destroyer and Amphibious Assault Ship The Canberra Class LHD.

    The Armidale class Patrol Boats are Very nice and very comparable to the Sentinel class cutter. They were the boats that was featured and promoted by the Royal Australian Navy on a TV show called SeaPatrol. The Armidales are beamer than the Sentinel class cutter and carry the same weapons load outs. The only reason why I thin the RAN is using Multi crewing on the Armidale class patrol boats is because they need more boats on station to protect their northern border with Indonesia and defend their Oil rigs as well.

    From what I heard, the Royal Australian Navy is looking to replace the Armidale class Patrol Boats,their survey ship and Minehunter ships into a single class vessel in the same fashion as the LCS.

    • This is the text of the petition Piero is advocating,

      “Save the Coast Guard so it can continue to save the rest of us!

      “The US Coast Guard is required by Title 14 USC to at all times be an armed service capable of supporting the US Navy. Decades of insufficient funding has left the Coast Guard operating obsolete ships and aircraft that are incapable of protecting the country, the fulfillment of its responsibilities, and its requirement to support the DOD.

      “All major system acquisition programs (buying of ships and aircraft) should be shifted from DHS to DOD oversight, its funding shifted to defense appropriations, and its congressional oversight shifted from DHS to DOD committees. Funding levels for CG acquisition programs should be locked to be no less than a determined percentage of total DOD spending.

      “The current recapitalization program of record should be completed and funded immediately.”

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  7. The RAN apparently borrowed two Cape Class patrol vessels from their customs service and have now built two of their own to take pressure off their smaller patrol boats.

    These look like patrol boats, and their displacement is similar to that of the Webber class, but because of their all aluminum construction they are relatively large with a length of 190 feet and a beam of 34 feet.

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