UK Builds Cutter X

OPV infographic
Photo:, Click to enlarge

(Note the helicopter in the illustration may make the ship appear smaller than it really is because the helicopter, a Merlin, is actually quite large, with a max. take off weight approximately 50% than an H-60.)

The Royal Navy blog, NavyNews, has announced the start of work on the first of three new 90 meter (295 foot) OPVs.

These are closely related to the three ships built for Trinidad and Tobago that I had suggested the Coast Guard might buy or lease, that ultimately went to Brazil as the Amazonas class after the original buyer refused to accept them.

At a total cost of 348M pounds ($558.8M or an average of $186M each) they cost a bit more than I had hoped for Cutter X ($175M), and quite a bit more than the cost of the three built for Trinidad and Tabago ($80M each). Still these are very close to what the Coast Guard could build as Cutter X.

The planned crew (34) is smaller than I would have expected.

Still they represent some very capable patrol vessels that the Coast Guard may have an opportunity to work with in the Caribbean.

27 thoughts on “UK Builds Cutter X

  1. That’s the thing, they always cost more than you think they’re going to. It’s hard to have an opinion on the Cutter X concept without knowing what the final cost of the OPC’s is going to be and final specifications are going to be. I’ve seen the figure of 12 billion for 25 Cutters, but I don’t know what that figure means. Is that 12 billion 2014 dollars for just the hulls and R&D for the 25 ships? If so, that number is atrocious, I know ships are expensive when built to Western standards, but geez. Almost half a billion for a patrol boat? But I’m not sure that is an accurate number, because I’ve also seen that by the 4th hull the cost is supposed to be something like 325 million a ship, which seems more reasonable.

    • The $325M was a figure specified for the option for ships 4 through 9 when the current schedule expects to build two ships a year, by the time they make the award it will probably be more. Earlier ships would cost more. I think the average cost is expected to be over $400M now. Part of this is because inflation in the shipbuilding industry is higher than inflation in general so it would actually save the government money to build the ships sooner rather than later, even if they have to pay interest on borrowed money to do it. But the Coast Guard has never made this clear in its presentations.

  2. I thought your Cutter X was a ship approaching 1500 tons not a 2000 ton and up ship (approaching OPC)?

    The current Rivers are fantastic ships, but they should have all been built to HMS Clyde’s design……..

    Merlin are very large helicopters. Not A Boffin who comments frequently on Think Defence says modifying the new design to accommodate Merlin was non trivial.

    • Cutter X is about building to a price, not size specific, but keeping the complexity and crew size down. I do think the new River class are probably at the upper limit of what can be achieved for the price. Perhaps by foregoing the ability to handle the Merlin and accepting that only smaller helicopters will be used it might be possible to install at least a collapsible hangar.

      • Would an alternative to Cutter X be to use USNS ships with CG law enforcement detachments in policing roles in the Gulf of Mexico?

        Is that a realistic solution to the patrol ship shortage?

      • You have to remember when it comes to British procurement the golden rule is, “Always pay more for less capability; even better if you can include a flaw in the design!” Not that there is much wrong with the Rivers apart from that blessed flight deck.

      • James WF, Re: “Would an alternative to Cutter X be to use USNS ships with CG law enforcement detachments in policing roles in the Gulf of Mexico? Is that a realistic solution to the patrol ship shortage?”

        The Coast Guard is putting LEDETs on USNS vessels. SouthCom is using JHSVs with Coast Guard detachments as predicted:
        We will see how frequently they are available and how effective they are. I think these are being used in the Eastern Pacific.

        Would really appreciate hearing from anyone on the LEDETs as to how they worked out.

      • x, Re, “You have to remember when it comes to British procurement the golden rule is, “Always pay more for less capability; even better if you can include a flaw in the design!” ”

        Good, that means your costs are comparable to ours.

    • This reply may not show up in right place?
      MSC ships to include both USNS and private charters have been embarking USCG teams some LEDETs for a long time. The JHSVs are just the latest iteration. LEDETs were on chartered HSC Swift previously. MSC operated a FDB support ship for USCG for a short period (until the boats gave out~).
      BUT… remember the US Navy sea lawyers do NOT allow offensive operations to be conducted on non-commissioned ships. USNS are “ships placed in service”.

      • How do they define “offensive” operations?

        There have been some hints that more JHSV’s will be built, especially if Austal doesn’t get anymore LCS orders. I think that is probably true. They aren’t going to want that yard to close. Is it possible that a JHSV variant will be made that is a USS ship? And if so, can it still be built for under 200 million?

        There is a glaring need for a vessel in that price range, with low operating costs, and some aviation capability. Which is why the whole Cutter X thing makes sense. There might be other ways to achieve those operations, but it’s legally and politically complicated because of the different juristictions and priorities of the Navy and Coast Guard.

      • James, you’ll have to ask the Navy’s lawyers how they define offensive operations, all I have heard is illogical bull. Currently there are 10 JHSVs funded. While a navalized version (which could stlll be USNS) has been hypothesized, I have seen no design plans and am not privy to Austal contract mods. My ROM for navalized JHSV is $250 mil.
        Remember that JHSV is a transport vessel NOT for patrol or cutter roles.

    • Asian nations, particularly Japan want to minimize their apparent defense expenditures so it probably helps that the Japanese Coast Guard is not funded from their defense budget. Until last year Japan’s defense budget had been in decline, but China’s belligerency has shaken them awake a bit, but I still think they spend less than one percent of their GDP on defense.

      South Korea also has a fleet of 28 large cutters, some of which fall into the Cutter X range. Most of their larger cutters are rated “salvage tenders” but they are all armed (usually with a 20mm Vulcan and crew served .50s) and all are at least 18 knots, some are up to 28 knots. They are building a new class of at least eight “salvage tenders” of 1,600 tons with two Vulcans and speed of 30 knots. This is in addition to 30 Navy corvettes of similar size.

      Japan’s EEZ is only about a third the size of the US’s and about 2/3 that of the UK. South Korea’s is much smaller than Japan’s and about 1/20 that of the UK.

  3. I am quietly confident that Japan and South Korea with help from the US will be able to deny the seas to their east to China if push came to shove.

    Our home waters and Japan’s are very different. The EEZs of the overseas territories are another story. But HMG isn’t interested; they don’t have a stomach for a fight. Now if we left the EU and had to police our waters more vigorously then who knows? But most of the stuff I read seems to suggest that the Spanish et al have been fishing our waters for so long now they may have gained some sort of rights. Didn’t work for us with Iceland but then again different times and different drivers. We don’t have the resources and so enforcement action would have to be harsh which would lead to retaliation probably in kind. The Common Fisheries Policy costs the UK about £3.5billion which is about half the RN’s annual budget (if it has a whole budget.)

    • For readers who are not familiar with the extent of the UK’s overseas EEZ, I will note that the waters around the home islands are only about 1/9th of the UK’s total EEZ. The UK’s home waters and the Falklands seem to be the only part of the UK’s EEZ that are patrolled full time, the Caribbean territories intermittently (yes there is usually a ship in the Caribbean, but the territories are spread far enough apart large areas are uncovered), and much of the rest almost never.

      They really need to retain the first three river class rather than decommissioning them when the new vessels are finished.

      • The UK political establishment see the country as foremost a European CONTINENTAL power. Our leaders like to project the idea to the general populous that we sit at the big table with Berlin and Paris but we have rapidly become a second tier country like Spain and Italy. To reject Europe opens one up to being called a Little Englander; even though at one time Little England sat in the middle of a web of global trade that spanned the entire world founded in an era of sail not the motor ship. One of the reasons why the UK slavishly follows the US in its foreign policy is to foster this idea that we are somebody in global terms; also makes it easy for our politicians as they don’t have to think. As for defence well any allusions to the need for sea power are met with accusations of sentimentally and befuddled thinking at best. The Army and the RAF are the key players, the RN is something that they can’t figure out how to use or how to get rid. (if it weren’t for the Deterrent it would be gone already!) Sea power is too subtle and the open ocean to confusing an arena for many. Gunfights are cool and jet planes sexy! Lastly if it could the F&CO would gladly get shut of all the overseas dependencies. That the Falklands and Gibraltar are still British is more to do with stubborn resistance of their peoples than support from Whitehall. For example Tony Blair would have given Spain Gibraltar for his own personal gain without any consideration for its people; that is the nature of European socialism. The idea that HMG would fund the current 3 FPS Rivers for work elsewhere is a real non-starter. They will probably end up being donated to a Third World country.

        Wow that is thread drift! 🙂

  4. Leesea wrote:
    Remember that JHSV is a transport vessel NOT for patrol or cutter roles.

    I know, I get that. But the Navy, Congress, and the DoD have talked about expanding its roles. What we are talking about with Cutter X is policing and maybe SAR in the Gulf of Mexico and the Eastern Pacific, those seem like chores the JHSV or other USNS ships might be capable of doing.

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