“Cutter X” Revisited

Photo: French Patrol Vessel, L’Adroit, DCNS photo

Almost two years ago I made a proposal for an alternative fleet mix. Since then the cutter recapitalization program has moved along. Funding of the eighth and final National Security Cutter is expected in FY2015. 30 Webber class WPCs have been funded and the contract with Bollinger has run its course. The Administration has asked for funding of two more in FY2015. If the Congress does what they have done in the past the Coast Guard may get funding for as many as six.

Like the original post, the purpose here is to offer another possible cutter fleet mix that might be procured at the same cost as the “Program of Record” (POR) that would include approximately the same number of units but provide more large “cruising cutters”, eg, over 1000 tons (49 vs 33), while hopefully replacing the existing WMEC fleet earlier, avoiding the worst of the disastrous drop in the number of major cutters that appears likely in the 2020s, and providing more cutter days while requiring fewer or at least no more personnel than either the legacy fleet or the POR.

The original post was largely in response to a Department of Homeland Security study modeling the effectiveness of alternative fleet mixes, “Options for the Future USCG Cutter Fleet Performance Trade-Offs with Fixed Acquisition Cost,” by Alarik Fritz • Raymond Gelhaus • Kent Nordstromr (.pdf). My hope was to offer a better alternative that might be evaluated by a follow-on study.

What comes through loud and clear, from that study is that:
◾The Coast Guard need some ships with the capability to do boat and helicopter ops in State Five Seas particularly for operations in the Northeast and Alaska.
◾In the Southeast and West, where the primary missions are Drug Enforcement and Migrant Interdiction, we are a long way from a point of diminishing returns, that is, mission performance is directly linked to the number of cutters, effectiveness increasing in almost direct proportion to the number of cutters available.
◾The cutters’ ability to launch boats and helicopters in State Five conditions are much less important in the West and Southeast where most of the cutters are normally deployed.

Meanwhile the Coast Guard’s responsibilities continue to grow.

The concept of Cutter X was basically to take the equipment and crew of the Webber class and put them in a larger, higher endurance, more seaworthy hull and augment the crew only as necessary to deal with the additional endurance, the availability of two boats and helicopter and/or UAV operations. The original post provided several examples of similar ships, and since then I have posted another example. Basically the result is a relatively simple vessel, only a bit more sophisticated than a 210 but grown about 50% larger with the possibility of a hangar in addition to the flight deck. My presumption would be that these ships would rely more on shore based aircraft rather than an organic air search capability, meaning the tempo of air operations would be lower than for larger cutters. They might operate more frequently with UAVs rather than helicopters. In other words, a ship of about 1,500 tons, about half the size of the OPC, closer in size to a 270 than a 210 (but perhaps longer than the 270, L’Adroit at 1,450 tons full load is over 285 feet long), and about four times bigger than a Webber class WPC. Other characteristics I would expect are a speed of approximately 24 knots, a range of 5,000 miles or more, and an endurance of at least three weeks. Weapons would initially be limited to a single Mk38 mod2 25mm and crew served .50 cal.

Photo: L’Adroit, looking forward from the flight deck toward the superstructure and the hangar.

Basically my assumption was and is that the tradeoffs between ship typed would work something like this:

1 NSC = 2 OPCs = 4 “X” class = 12 FRCs

This equates to approx. prices of: $700M/NSC, $350/OPC, $175M/Cutter X, and $60M/FRC.

It is no longer possible to trade-off NSCs for X class cutters, so the new alternative mix would look like this:

8 NSCs, 15 OPCs, 26 “X” class, and 42 FRCs

This gives us as many vessels as the program of record (91), more “cruising cutters” capable of sustained distant operation (49 vs 33) including 23 ships (8 NSCs and 15 OPCs) that are capable operating boats and aircraft in sea state 5 for Alaska and the Northeast, and 15 OPCs with ice strengthened hulls for operation in the Arctic and potentially the Antarctic.

Like the previous post I’ll compare this possible fleet mix to the Coast Guard Fleet as it existed in 2000/2001 (which was larger than the existing fleet) and the fleet in the Program of Record (POR), on the basis of cutter days available and crewing requirements using both conventional and augmented crewing.


For the analysis below I have used the following as the personnel allowances for the new classes:
◾NSC 122
◾OPC 90 (still to be firmed up)
◾FRC 24 (includes two extra junior officers assigned to gain experience)

While some of the vessels cited in my previous post as comparable to Cutter X are crewed by as few as 30, which I will use as a lower limit, I believe the Coast Guard would use more, if only as an opportunity to provide more at sea experience. At most, the personnel allowance should not be more than that of the 210s. My figures may be out of date, but at least at one point that was a crew of 62. I’ll use this as the upper limit.

Cutter Days AFHP and Crew Requirements:

The 2000/2001 fleet: Theoretically the 2000/2001 fleet could have provided 8,140 cruising cutter days away from homeport (AFHP) (44 cruising cutters x 185 days) and would have required a total personnel allowance of 5,477 (1.49 cutter days/crew member).

The Program of Record: Without augmentation, the program of record would theoretically provide 6,105 cruising cutter days AFHP (33 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of 4,618(1.32 cutter days/crew member).

With Augmentation (increasing their personnel allowance by a third and running the cruising cutters 230 days/year) the program of record would theoretically provide 7,590 cruising cutter days and require a total personnel allowance of 5,693 (1.33 cutter days/crew member).

Proposed Mix: Without augmentation, the proposed mix would theoretically provide 9,065 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 4,114 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X, 2.2 cutter days/crew member) and 4,946 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X, 1.83 cutter days/crew member).

With Augmentation (increasing the personnel allowance of the cruising cutters by a third and running them 230 days/year) the proposed mix would theoretically provide 11270 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 230 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 5,150 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X, 2.19 cutter days/crew member) and 6,259 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X, 1.80 cutter days/crew member).

What about the loss of FRCs? The proposal would trim 16 FRC from the POR. They are projected to operate up to 2500 hours per day. If we assumed that all 2500 hours were devoted to offshore cruising for the 16 additional units, that would add 1667 days AFHP to the POR for a total of 7,772 days AFHP for the un-augmented fleet (1.68 cutter days/crew member) and 9,257 days AFHP for the augmented POR (1.63 cutter days/crew member)(disregarding the 42 additional FRC that are included in both the POR and my proposed fleet mix).

In summary Cutter Days Available:
◾————————————–————–Un-Augmented———Augmented by 1/3
◾2000/20001 (cruising cutters only)—————–8,140———————N/A
◾POR (cruising cutters only)—————————6,105——————-7,590
◾POR (w/1,667 additional FRC day AFHP)——-7,772——————–9,257
◾Proposed Mix w/Cutter X (cruising cutters only)9,065—————–11,270

It looks like this alternative provides an improvement of at least 16.6% over the program of record, possibly as much as 48.5% depending on how you view the FRCs as a patrol asset. It appears that the un-augmented version gives virtually the same number of ship days away from homeport (within 2% assuming both we count the additional WPCs as cruising cutters and that the augmented ships provide 230 days AFHP. If they provide only 225 days AFHP even this small advantage goes away) as that of the augmented version of the program of record while requiring 13 to 28% fewer crewmembers (several hundred to over 1,000). And without the possibly problematic requirement for augmentation.

Is it doable? What is the timing? How would it effect with other programs?

The eight NSC should be essentially fully funded by the end of FY 2015. Thirty FRC are already funded. Funding twelve more to bring the total to the proposed 42 by the end of FY2017 would only require funding four per year, and might be done in only two years if Congress continues funding six a year, meaning funding for construction of X class cutters could begin in FY2018.

I think the funding could look something like this

————-OPC—X class
FY 2017—–1
FY 2018—–1——–1
FY 2019—–1——–1
FY 2020—–1——–1
FY 2022—–1——–2
FY 2023—–1——–3
FY 2024—–1——–3
FY 2025—–1——–3
FY 2026—–1——–3
FY 2027—–1——–3
FY 2028—–1——–3
FY 2029—–1——–3
FY 2030—–2——–0
FY 2031—–1——–0

The proposed mix funds 33 new generation large cutters by FY 2026, four years before the POM. The cutter X program would be fully funded in FY2029. Through FY2030, when the Program of Record is expected to be completed, it will have funded 48 new generation large cutters compared to the 33 new cutters of the Program of Record. In FY 2031 the proposal will add a 49th cutter. Since the X class cutters are nearer the size of existing cutters, they might also reduce the expense of modifying the shore establishment to support a larger number of OPCs. Additionally eliminating the requirement for augmentation will minimize new construction ashore to support the augmentation crews.

Other Considerations:

The proposed fleet mix has a pyramidal structure that may work well as a training ground for COs, e.g., assuming O-3s command the 42 Webber class (I know currently we have been using O-4s), O-4s command the 26 X class, O-5s command the 15 OPCs, and O-6s command the 8 NSCs.

Politically it is probably better for the Coast Guard to have two concurrent shipbuilding programs (OPC & X class) rather than just one, since that will normally lead to budgetary support from two Congressional delegations.

61 thoughts on ““Cutter X” Revisited

  1. I recall the crew of a 210 being around 75. Outside need, the Coast Guard still needs to look at building a cadre of sea experienced people. Cutting crew sizes all around harms the future.

    • Generally I agree. Even upping the projected crew of the X class cutter to 75 would only add 338 crew members (26 ships x 13 additional crewmembers) for a total of 5,284, still well below the augmented PoR requirement of 5,693.

      It is also still fewer crew members than the legacy fleet of 2000/2001 while providing about 12% more cutter days.

    • X, thanks for two more examples.

      I notice since taken over by Bangladesh, the Castle class are now armed with a 76mm gun, four C-704 anti-ship cruise missiles, and two 20mm heavy machine guns.

      Both ships have considerably less horsepower than the Webber class cutters.

      I doubt L’Adroit is top heavy, in fact the superstructure looks very much like a USCG 210 foot cutter. The superstructure is relatively short and the bridge has a 360 degree view.

      • I doubt it too there is no excuse these days and the design wouldn’t sell; modern designs are hard to scale by eye.

        Perhaps my concern is more that I like ships to have a strong bow? More freeboard and a well defined knuckle to keep the fo’c’sle dry(-ish!) and I would be happier. 🙂

        I am very fond of the Castles and their replacements the Rivers. But I am always troubled by why the RN didn’t see to fit the latter with a flight deck for use in home waters? The Castles can and have coped with Sea Kings. It is as if Their Lordships have never seen or been involved in helicopter evolutions with small ships (without a flight deck) or large/small boats. These days in the EEZ the helicopter as a vehicle is an equal partner with ship.

      • A nice big pic of Leeds Castle to illustrate my point,

        They were designed with the capacity for a larger gun but it is something the RN see no need for in the EEZ. The Irish do but their OPVs are their entire navy obviously the RN have higher end platforms.

  2. The question I have is how much do the costs of the OPC’s go up if we’re only building 1 a year instead of 2?

    If we had our procurement act together for our “National Fleet” then the Navy and the USCG would be buying versions of a OPC, Cutter X, or maybe even an FRC. We know the Navy doesn’t have enough low intensity patrol vessels or we wouldn’t be deploying Cutters that are needed at home and the USN wouldn’t have extended they Cyclones for a decade more than their original intended service duration. If the USN and USCG worked off the same design for these types of ships, it would significantly reduce procurement costs.

    Sorry for that non-sequiter, back on topic, I’m starting to be sold on the OPC lite idea, and have come around to the idea that it would probably help politically to have two programs instead of one. There are some sacrifices operationally, because the OPC lite is not going to be as useful or survivable as the OPC if they are needed for wartime contingencies. That still concerns me. But there is an obvious shortage of offshore patrol ships, and if there is a better way to solve that than Cutter X, I haven’t heard it. But I’d have to see the numbers for how much the unit costs of the OPC are increased if the order size is reduced.

    • Every time I read about the Navy putting up a VBSS team or their own PSU all I can think of is what a waist of time and money. The personal and money should be turned over to the coast guard . If the Navy wants their own patrol craft for maritime security then they should just pay for them while the coast guard receives them. been done in the past with the cutters. I’m glad Papp is gone. But I feel that the CG leadership as a whole has to change and get more into the Maratime security role and not the life saving role. But at the same time where as the Coast Guard trains the Navy’s PSU and VBSS teams. I feel the same could be said about MSRT. I feel Papp was wrong with discontinuing the CG seal program. And instead should have modified it by having the Navy train the MSRT’s. Sort of like back in the day everybody went through buds but then after you either went into the seals or the frog program. I think the Navy should by a ship like the L’Adroit turn it over to the coast guard and form a couple of coast guard squadrons to assign to the naval expedionary group, or wear ever they are needed,
      Just me rambling thanks for listening

    • “The question I have is how much do the costs of the OPC’s go up if we’re only building 1 a year instead of 2?”

      I wish I could answer that. I think it will depend on the situation at the yard.

      The current concept is that for the first three years, only one OPC per year will be funded. Only in FY 2020 would production rates go up to two. Will going from one to two mean that the yard will have to pay skilled workers they do not want to loose to sit around or will going from one to two mean they will need to hire and train new workers who are less productive than their existing skilled workforce.

      I have heard several times, that the most important element in reducing cost is stability. The most successful Naval building programs are the Burke class DDGs and the Virginia class SSNs, and they have been very stable, building two units every year. The proposed fleet mix is about as stable as could be imagined, but the problem is that Coast Guard contracting has been very unstable and unpredictable. The best thing we could do would be to use multi-year procurement (MYP) and Block Buy Contracting (BBC) https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2014/02/19/opc-multi-year-procurement-a-clarification/

      The contract currently planned, is only for one year and one ship with options for future years. Options are poor assurance upon which to base investment in your workforce and shipbuilding facilities.

  3. yah, sorry Chuck I was distracted by my kids (who should be in bed) when I was reading that. Should have read your post and links more carefully before responding.

    This was the article I had read that I was thinking about.


    It’s a complicated question with lots of moving parts and unknowns. For instance, is the USCG just making it easier for their shipbuilding budget to be cut by having an OPC lite, because then Congress can just give them one OPC and one Cutter X a year, where maybe the CG could force two OPC’s a year based on need? Or like you suggested, does the CG increase their prospects for funding in Congress by having two programs instead of one? Nobody knows how that will play out.

    What we do know is that the CG needs more offshore assets, and that funding isn’t going to spectacularly rise anytime soon. So the CG needs to at least explore alternatives to the existing plan like the one you are proposing. O’Rourke seems to be supportive of something along the lines of what you are thinking.

    • I was hoping to save you some time looking for it.

      If the CG had been properly funded the NSCs would have been completed several years ago and the OPC would have been built four at a time.

  4. Before the crash the Irish had been looking for an expedition support ship. Not a proper amphibious warfare ship more like a specialised cargo ship to move army assets, helicopters, and offer secure comms, medical facilities etc.

    • The Mexican ships look an awful lot like the Coast Guard 270 foot Bear class, almost as if they used it as a model. They are a bit more complex, but slower, than the X class as envisioned.

      The Coast Guard has considered using the LCS, and while a lot of people have called the LCS a coast guard cutter (I think that was supposed to be an insult), in actuality it does not have the range and sea keeping we expect of a Coast Guard ship of this size.

      • Yes I know about LCS failings I was joking and the distinction between naval and coastguard work. Though that distinction is lost on many. Then again lots about the maritime security sphere is misunderstood or remains unknown to many in the defence sphere, both pro (non navy/non coastie) and interested civilian.

        As for speed yes they are slower. The larger of the two is faster slightly. A few feet in length, up rate the engine slightly, and a different prop and knots can be gained. I offer them up again more as “mind food” to help some of us understand the size and possible capabilities of a hull in that range. Plus they look American too; well a bit anyway.

        My final offering is this,


        Lots of speed, but way too complex (GTs for a start). A slightly simpler design using CODAG WARP perhaps? Lots of options. Prefer diesels myself.

      • When Vosper came out with that design originally, I thought it was a fantastic little ship, but probably sacrifices too much for speed for the Coast Guard’s purposes.

        I have begun to think It would be a good idea for US shipyards to have a relationship with Mexican yards similar to the one the Danes have with yards in Eastern Europe where basic construction is done in the lower wage country and final assembly and fitting out is done in the more sophisticated yard in the home country. This kind of comparative advantage system has worked in the auto industry for decades.

        Would Congress allow it, probably not, but shipbuilding costs in the US have become outrageous.

    • Actually, I think the Mexican patrol vessels may be faster than they claim. If you look at the heavier Bear class with only 7,000 HP provides a top speed of 19.5 knots, while the Mexican ships generally have over 12,000 HP and only claim top speeds of 20 knots. Similar sized and powered WWII destroyer escorts made 24 knots.

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  10. Apparently L’Adroit has proven useful enough for the French Navy to extend its use. This from the German Navy blog MarineForum, ” 26 January, FRANCE, The French navy has extended use of offshore patrol vessel L’ADROIT until 31 July, 2015 … vessel soon to deploy for anti-piracy mission off Somalia (join EU NavFor in operation “Atalanta”).”

    • I look at the L’Adroit and I see a very good temporary replacement for the 210′. Classifying it as a WMSS (Maritime Security Small). Once the WMSM gets into service you can then transfer the WMSS over to Coast guard maritime security squadrons assigned to the US Navy.


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  12. DCNS is evolving their Gowind L’Adroit design and are showing a model of a more heavily armed version. You can see it here: http://www.navyrecognition.com/index.php/news/naval-exhibitions/balt-military-expo-2014/1894-at-balt-military-expo-2014-dcns-unveiled-the-new-gowind-1000-corvette.html

    The resulting ship is equipped with:
    a helo deck and hangar,
    a pair of stern ramps for RHIBs.
    2x Dual MBDA MM40 Exocet antiship missile launchers
    2x Quad VLS with MBDA VL Mica surface-to-air missiles
    2x Nexter Systems Narwhal 20mm remote weapon stations
    1x Oto Melara 76mm main gun
    An integrated mast to integrate most sensors in a low observable design

    Notably there is no ASW equipment so it is equipped only for anti-surface warfare and self defense. Could be useful for something like Operation MarketTime or for use against the Iranian surface threats.

    The way it is armed, 76mm, four SSMs, eight AAW missiles looks a lot like the Chinese Type 056 corvettes.

    Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention.

    • This is what I think we should be looking at for a OPC. If not this type Class of Vessel. A ship that can perform the Maritime Security role whether it be in peace time or war. It has two doors for the boats. What is the chances of putting a towed array if the need arises in one of those spaces. A towed array that can be plugged into the ships systems like a garden hose hooked up to a outdoor faucet. It would still allow you to have one boat.

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