Loaning LCS to the Coast Guard


Photo: 130222-N-DR144-367 The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans

This is a rather radical proposal, one that I never thought I would make, but the situation with the Coast Guard’s cutter fleet is almost certain to go from bad to worse as increasing age, budget cuts, and sequestration take effect. It is a long term problem and will take a long term solution.

The Eighth NSC should be funded in FY 2015 and hopefully, we will see this last ship of the class completed by 2019. But the NSCs only replace the 378 foot High Endurance Cutters (and only on an 8 for 12 basis). The Medium Endurance Cutters, some older than any of the 378s, still need replacement and the current plan is very slow to do so.

The first of the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), destined to replace the existing medium endurance cutters (WMECs), is not expected until 2020, followed by one in 2021, one in 2022, and two per year for the following years until a total of 25 are delivered, presumably in 2033.

The normal life for ships like WMECs is assumed to be 30 years. If we assume no change of plan, the last 210 should be replaced when the 14th OPC is completed. That will, presumably, be in 2028, and the last 210 will be at least 59 years old.

File:USCGC Reliance WMEC 615.jpg

USCG photo, USCGC Reliance (WMEC-615), 210 foot cutter

If we assume that the last 270 is decommissioned when the 25th OPC is delivered, about 2033, then the last 270 will be at least 43 years old at that time.

File:USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC-903).jpg

USCG photo, USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC-903), 270 foot cutter

I propose that the Navy start lending the Coast Guard half of their Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) as they are completed. They would be used as interim replacements for the Coast Guard’s oldest medium endurance cutters, until there are sufficient Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) to replace them all. There is ample precedence both for the Navy transferring ships to the Coast Guard and for Coast Guard manning of Navy ships.

I am not suggesting the Coast Guard keep them, because they are not the ship we want ultimately, but they would be an improvement over the ships we have now.

The LCS Program:

The Navy has already bought or contracted for 24 LCS. Multi-year contracts awarded in FY 2010 fund the building of 20 LCS of two classes, over five years, in addition to the four previously funded, two Freedom class and two Independence class annually. Originally the intention was to build 55, the Navy cut that to 52 and now it looks like DOD may stop the program at 32 ships. The jury is still out on the final number, and congressional support, particularly from the states where they are built has been strong. Even at only 32 that is an additional 28 ships yet to be completed.

Defense Industry Daily has an excellent summary of the LCS program you can access here.

The proposal:

Beginning as soon as possible, perhaps beginning with LCS 5, man half the LCSs with Coast Guard crews and put them under Coast Guard control, while continuing construction of the NSCs and OPCs as planned.

What’s in it for the Coast Guard:

Compared to the existing 210, 270, and 282 foot WMECs, the Coast Guard will be operating newer, larger, more capable ships, with much improved aviation facilities. LCSs are capable of hangaring and supporting both helicopters and UAVs, while the 270 is limited to a single helicopter in a retractable hangar and the 210s have no hangar at all. The LCSs are also much more capable of dealing with large numbers of Alien Immigrants, particularly if holding facilities are provided in the reconfigurable space. They are also much more capable of running down fleeing drug suspects in go-fast boats. The LCS are designed to operate with relatively small crews.  Currently the “core crew” is 50. In all probability, Coast Guards operating concepts would result in a crew similar in size to that of a 210 (75). So the crew costs should not be substantially different from those of the 210s, and might be lower than those of the 270s.

Most importantly, these newer ships will be supportable while this will become increasing difficult as the older cutters age.

What’s in it for the Navy:

The Navy will be able to call on the ship in wartime, but will not have the operating cost associated with running the ships on a daily basis.  The navy will save on manning, fuel, and maintenance. If they are looking for a way to reduce operating costs while preserving wartime capability, this is a viable option.

The  Navy already sees these ships as contributing to the counter narcotics effort. Handing them over to the Coast Guard would result in direct benefit to the drug enforcement effort without the Navy having to divert manpower and other resources.

The Timeline:

The program might work like this:

Vessels delivered to the CG:        Totals under Coast Guard control:     LCSs returned USN
FY                 LCS        OPC                    LCS        OPC
2016                 2                                       2
2017                 2                                       4
2018                 2                                       6
2019                 2                                       8
2020                 2          1                         10             1
2021                 2          1                         12             2
2022                 2          1                         14             3
2023                 2          2                         16             5
2024                 2          2                         18             7
2025                             2                         16             9                                        2
2026                             2                         14           11                                        2
2027                             2                         12           13                                        2
2028                             2                         10           15                                        2
2029                             2                           8           17                                        2
2030                             2                           6           19                                        2
2031                             2                           4            21                                       2
2032                             2                           2            23                                       2
2033                             2                           0            25                                       2

If this program were implemented as described, the last 210 could be replaced seven years earlier than currently planned, in 2021 instead of 2028, so that when replaced it will be “only” 52 years old. The last 270 could be replaced in 2024, instead of 2033, nine years earlier than planned, when the last 270 is 34 years old.

File:US Navy 100329-N-1481K-293 USS Independence (LCS 2) arrives at Mole Pier at Naval Air Station Key West.jpg

U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Nicholas Kontodiakos, USS Independence (LCS-2) showing her large flight deck

32 thoughts on “Loaning LCS to the Coast Guard

  1. Chuck,
    I think you can make a huge convincing argument if the US Coast Guard did a group buy with the US Navy on the LCS-1 Model to be the next OPC. The only thing I would do for LCS-1 design is add more Fuel tanks, change the propulsion to CODOG, CODAG or CODLAG for economy sakes and change the design structure to all Steel instead of Aluminium.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the LCS has a place in the Navy as a Corvette and MCM, but not as a Mutli Role Frigate. I think on the US Coast Guard side, LCS-1 with right design modifications and changes, could make for one impressive Medium endurance cutter. If the US Navy is going to pay for them and let the US Coast Guard use them, then I think this is something we should seriously consider.

    I think this would a win-win because the Navy still get’s the LCS it wants and the US Coast Guard get’s a New OPC as well. It would reduce the overall operating cost and assures the US Navy the wartime capability of the LCS will be preserved in the US Coast Guard.

    Now you said in this paragraph quote;
    “The Navy will be able to call on the ship in wartime, but will not have the operating cost associated with running the ships on a daily basis. The navy will save on manning, fuel, and maintenance. If they are looking for a way to reduce operating costs while preserving wartime capability, this is a viable option.

    The Navy already sees these ships as contributing to the counter narcotics effort. Handing them over to the Coast Guard would result in direct benefit to the drug enforcement effort without the Navy having to divert manpower and other resources.”

    What would the trade off be for the US Coast Guard and how would both the US Navy and US Coast Guard benefit by getting the LCS-1 as an OPC. How would manning, fuel, and maintenance be paid for and would it come out of the US Navy’s money or US Coast Guard’s Money. Would mean that the US Coast Guard have a ship that at anytime it be called up for wartime service by the US Navy. What would the US Coast Guard get by getting the LCS-1 from the US Navy. Now how would the LCS fit into the US Coast Guard’s Medium Endurance cutters. Would the US Navy be paying for those LCS weapons & Systems that the US Coast Guard will be manning.

  2. Of course, the elephant in the room is that the Navy will certainly not be keen on letting go in such a significant way of these “key” platforms. As much controversy as the LCS program has created, there is still a great need for a low-capability, frigate-like ship for the Navy in peacetime. Remember, one of the biggest selling points of the LCS was that it would provide enhanced “presence” at lower cost in places like the western Indian and southrn Pacific.

    The other danger is if your sharing scheme works too well, it would encourage Congress or the administration to cut funding for the OPC, setting that program back years or decades and cornering the CG into using a less-ideal platform than one designed for its operational needs. (You know how D.C. works; save them some money, and they’ll expect you to continue with that permanently, while they turn around and spend what was saved on another pet program like bridges to no-where…)

    It also gives credence to the century-old attempts by the Navy to subsume the CG (assuming the 1/2 crew of CG source goes with the ship when it deploys on a Navy mission).

    There is some good thoughts here though. Pointing out the severe lack of aviation capability on current and future cutters is the big one, IMO. The limited to nonexistent (in)ability to leverage H-60 platforms is a great war-time loss for the CG in that Navy (reserve particularly) H-60s could not be embarked, which would be a fast, cheap way to give the NSCs & OPCs an ASW capability. In peacetime, particularly in the PacArea, but also in the NE, having the ability to lillypad HH-60s would be a great capability for range, and particularly, capacity.

    • got to agree with bill smith. there is a chance we could get stuck with some of these short legged gas hogs that really won’t fulfill any of our missions very well. as well as lose funding for the ships we really want.

      • What would the benefits be for the US Coast Guard taking on the LCS and what would the US Coast Guard stand to gain by getting the LCS. Also, who would be paying for the LCS, US Navy or US Coast Guard?

      • Actually the Independence class (the multihulls) are pretty economical and even the Freedom class (the monohulls) do not guzzle fuel unless you light off the turbines. They are good for up to 18 on diesels.

  3. The Navy is not going to give up ships. It is already short on sea-going billets and needs all it can get to keep up the revolving door command at sea policy. Heck, an average Navy CO gets about 20 months at the job before it is time for him to be replaced.

    I’ve not seen a stern shot of this class before. It is one big butt mother. A lot of junk in that trunk.

    • did bill wells actually make a funny? ;). though that big trunk could make for an interesting ride in a large following sea.

  4. Why not go the other way? Build more National Security Cutters. Perhaps embark on a program like was done with the Virginia class submarines to lower the cost. Perhaps even build a heavier armed variant for the Navy. I wonder what building 50+ more NEW hulls would do to the per hull costs.

    I know variations on this theme have been brought up before. The plan might not be optimal but given where we are, it might be a practical thing to consider.

    • This idea has some merit. Series production has some economy of scale, but ultimately, the NSC is going to be more expensive than more LCSes. Look up “Patrol Frigate 4921” malph. Your idea, tailor-made. I would argue that a frigate-like NSC is more ship than the LCS, but the budget people will look at the bottom line ($750m/PF-NSC vs. $450m/LCS). The “trick” here is that LCS costs do not include the modules needed to give it capabilities, whereas the Patrol Frigate price includes most of them. LCS mafia vs. Frigate mafia…

      • Bill,
        That’s what some people including myself are advocating, Taking the NSC design and turn it into a Patrol frigate for the US Navy. They would have a patrol frigate out of the NSC based design that can keep up with a Marine Amphibious Assault group, Naval Fleet Auxiliary ships, Merchant Marine Transports and have ASW, ASUW and limited AAW & Land attack capabilities.

  5. The DOD is looking at a possible replacement for the LCSs. There might be an opportunity for a common hull at that time. Hopefully the Navy and Coast Guard are talking to each other about the possibility. Hopefully what the Coast Guard has learned through the OPC selection process will help.

    • Actually although the original plan was for the Army to have some of the JHSVs, all of them will now be Navy. Unlike the LCSs their range is substantially less then the 210s.

      • To be specific, the Military Sealift Command will operate all JHSVs the first four with CIVMAR (civilian government) crews and the rest with CONMAR (contractor) crews.

        I believe you’ll find that the JHSV can carry more fuel than in its tanks? I will try to get you max range or endurance data.

        The number of JHSVs to be procured has been reduced to 10 and the last one has not been funded.

      • The info I found lists LCS range (depending on which variant you look at) as 3500-4300 nm or sprint speed 1000 or 1500 nm. JHSV is rated as “maximum transit” (I’m guessing this is range at full transit speed) of 1200 nm and self deployment of 5600 nm. Of course neither of these ships can match the range of the 210 at 8000nm, however the 210 only makes this with a 12 knot speed. So the JHSV or either LCS are pretty comparable to each other in range and far below the 210. Be that said, the JHSV and the LCS are each capable of unassisted ocean transits. Imagine if a WMEC could transit to a patrol area in 2 days vs 6? That could make a big difference in productive hours of patrol.

      • I’m sure the Army Chief Warrant Officer Corps is still stinging about the loss of the JHVS to Military Sealift. The Army test bed ship’s had a CWO for a Commanding Officer & a CWO for the Chief Engineer. When the Navy tested the platform I believe that the CO was an O-5 (no clue what the EO was). If the Army CWOs couldn’t have them then it was the right call to give them to MSC. But what a kick in the n*^ts to the highly professional and 100 year old Army CWO ship drivers!

      • Re the range of the LCS. Their ranges are always quoted at 18-20 knots. At 18 knots a 210 has a range of only 2700 miles according to Wikipedia and 6100 miles at 14. (this may no longer be correct as I will discuss later.) Why? I have a rule of thumb that seems to work relatively well, a four knot increase in speed doubles the horsepower required. Since fuel consumption is closely related to horsepower generated, fuel consumption will also approximately double as the speed goes up four knots, or, conversely, power required, and consequently fuel consumption is cut approximately in half when speed is decreased by four knots.

        To see how this works and how accurate it might be I’ll use the 210 as an example. I no longer have official figures but I have seen these quoted.

        2700 miles at 18 knots (full speed, so presumably 5,000 HP)
        6100 miles at 14 (I will assume 2,500 HP)
        8000 at 10 knots (I will assume 1,250 HP)

        Based on those figures, covering the range at 18 knots would require 750,000 HP/hours, at 14 would require 1,090,000 HP/hours, and at 10 would require 1,000,000 HP/hours. Its not perfect correlation but its not bad. Apparently these range figures came from the late ’60s. If the 2,700 mile range I see quoted was based on the CODAG configuration of the first five ships as built with two 1,500 HP diesels and two 1,000 HP gas turbines it would completely explain the difference in apparent consumption. Going 18 would have required the additional power of the relatively thirsty gas turbines. If we assumed 1,000,000 HP/hours available at 18 knots that would give a range of 3,600 miles at 18 which I think may be more accurate using the current configuration.

        (I would really appreciate if someone who actually knows could give me the range figures for the 210s as they are currently configured.)

        At any rate, because even the LCS with the shortest range, LCS-1, has a range of 3500 miles at 18 and all the later ships have longer range, it looks like the LCSs should have ranges comparable to (or better than) the 210s.

  6. Reviewing the pictures in this article by Chuck reminds me what good-looking ships the USCG’s WMECs are. The 210s and 270s just look like they are conducting important business, even if they’re stationary. I hope this is a case of form follows function, and the OPC carries this tradition forward. (Obviously, not at the sacrifice of mission capability, but Lord I hope the OPC is not as ugly as the Independence.)

  7. These LCS Ships are very fast and very light and have a 14 foot Draft!
    The First time I ever saw them I said they would make perfect CG Cutters?
    418 ft long and a beam of 104 feet makes them sea worthy to say the least!

  8. I don’t think there is an MK worth their salt that would take orders to an LCS, even if they were threatened with discharge.

    Maybe if the Coast Guard Academy Naval Architect students, MKCMs, and fleet Engineering Officers take a stab at redesigning them for the Coast Guard mission set… As a service we simply can’t afford the boondoggle that the LCS fleet represents. There is too much focus on proprietary integrated systems that are difficult to maintain by fleet personnel without major help from industry contractors. The entire hull is designed to be mothballed after 20 years! Modular construction from COTS (commercial off the shelf) systems that can be hot swapped and quickly upgraded with a minimum amount of ship alterations is key making a platform last for more than two decades.

    Imagine what a revitalized 210 could do with a diesel electric drive system, azipods, and a slightly longer flight deck (extended to cover the fantail). It would free up a lot of internal space for more modern equipment, better berthing arrangements, and allow for faster upgrades as technology improves.

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