“The Pentagon is buying the wrong ship, and it’s costing taxpayers billions”–David Axe


Cyclone-class boats before the modernization program in formation. Courtesy of U.S. NAVY

Influential defense columnist David Axe has written a piece picked up by Reuters that advocates that the Navy buy Webber class PCs instead of Littoral Combat Ships as replacements for the Cyclone class patrol craft currently homeported in Bahrain.

“It just so happens that Bollinger Shipyards, the same Louisiana shipyard that built the Cyclones, is building Sentinel-class boats for the Coast Guard that are roughly the same size as the Navy vessels, far more modern and reasonably priced at just $70 million a boat.

“If the Navy bought 10 fewer Littoral ships and acquired 10 new patrol boats for $70 million apiece instead, it would represent a net savings of more than $3 billion in ship construction costs while also boosting national security.

While I can’t totally agree with Mr. Axe, making the Webber class dual service would almost certainly provide some benefit to the Coast Guard in terms of training, future modernization, and long term sustainability.

42 thoughts on ““The Pentagon is buying the wrong ship, and it’s costing taxpayers billions”–David Axe

  1. If the US Navy brought some of the Webber class Cutters, it would lower the overall cost and the USN and USCG would have a common hull with different systems.

  2. The need for a good replacement for the Cyclone PCs is obvious. Using a Webber hullform is insufficient for naval purposes IMHO. I have said before there needs to be a duals-service platform with similar hull, propulsion and HME but significantly different topside weapons and sensors.
    The OTHER part of Axe’s proposal is what make it not so wise. Why should the US load up ONE shipyard when replacement PC/WPB can EASILY be built at multiple yards. Thereby helping MORE of the industrial base.
    So often seemingly good ideas only look back or at current vessels when they SHOULD be looking ahead.

    • Reading this all I can think of is the 327′ . But what you say leesea makes since.
      USN been doing it. Garcia/Brook, Spruance/Kidd/Tico. Design a modern frigate version of the Spruance, and allow the CG to build a ASW FF while the Navy builds the FFG. I don’t think the CG would have had a problem, but the navy wanted to go the LCS rout instead.

      • Their are better platforms than the Cyclones, such as the SIGMA Corvette/Frigate, River-class patrol vessel Batch ,MEKO A-200SAN, Gowind-class corvette, MILGEM project, Khareef-class corvette and the Sa’ar 5-class corvette.

        It’s why if the USN/USCG got together on a common OPV Hull, it would not only keep the cost down, but make it were the only difference is what the USN uses and what the USCG uses on a common hull.

      • PCs and WPB I am talking about are NOT larger than 1500 ton nor more than 200 ft. Patrol, escort, and boarding are NOT neccesarily missions which require a frigate size ship. AND any attempt to make it such is a program killer. The USN LCS nee SSC nee FF Something supporters will immediately stomp the concept out.
        The trick is blending small vessel rqmts.

      • Nicky, what is it you didn’t get about a) overloading yard production, and b) getting a slightly larger ship? Besides any attempt to substantively modify the existing contract puts the whole process back to a start over status. Dual-service take a LOT of upfront agreement.

      • Nicky Better is the Enemy of Good Enough. See also comment about conflicting with existing USN (& USCG) programs.
        While I like OPV designs they are to me bigger than hull that is needed as replacement. Good to have as compliments, but without the push coming from replacement. Will be killed off early on.

      • I wonder if Vt Halter would give us a discount on the Ambassador Class PC if they got the contract for more Webber’s? Or build the Webber at the Coast Guard yard getting away from the Military industrial complex.

      • Lyle, while the Ambassador FMC is good for missions its intended to perform, a US spec version I estimate would cost about $250 million per hull in quantity. That bumps up against the lower end of LCS, and the Navy does NOT want anything to compete with their LCC nee SSC nee FF Something.
        Besides the FMC has more features/roles than what PC/WPB have and that equals additional costs.

    • I agree with you leesea, but I think for the USN, they should replace the Cyclones with something much more better such as the Webber class cutters or the River class OPV. The LCS in my opinion is nothing more than a glorified OPV and a Corvette ship. What the USN needs is something that can protect the PC and LCS such as Multi Role Frigate based on the National security cutter design. What I am thinking of for an PC is either take the Australian Bay class ships or the Webber class ships. The other look at buying into the River class Batch 2 ships in the same fashion and configuration as the HTMS Karabi from the Royal Thai Navy or the Amazonas-class corvette from Brazil. That way you don’t have to have the added expense of shipping them to the region. They can Sail back with the fleet.

      • Nicky see my reply to Lyle. I am talking small ship replacement NOT New class program which overlaps with LCS or OPC.

        While I do agree the “next gen LCS nee SSC nee FF Something” should be an expeditionary type frigate, that is a DIFFERENT set of ship rqmts and MUCH more divisive discussion. Apply KISS principle.

  3. I don’t understand. The Sentinels, Cyclones, and LCS are all very different platforms. If you want to replace LCS with something much smaller and a decent upgrade from the Cyclone you need to look at Sa’ar 5. The trouble with the Sentinel is there are better options to Sentinel itself such as the the Australian Cape class. Just don’t understand at what Mr Axe is driving, but he is an expert and I am a layman so I may be missing something.

    • General consensus is that Mr. Axe does not know what he is talking about, but I do think there is a grain of truth here.

      If we only want to continue to do what we have been doing he might have a point. The smaller vessels are better at interacting with the locals and can go places the LCS cannot. The Navy probably needs some small vessels, and the Webbers could do what the Cyclones have been doing, but the Navy is buying the MkVI patrol boat (https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2012/05/25/the-navys-new-patrol-boat/) which is even smaller than the Cyclones. They may to some extent fill that role. Cyclones and similar small ships cannot do what the LCSs can do. They cannot do mine countermeasures or operate helicopters.

      • sort of agree. the Mk VI PB does not have the legs for good patrolling better than the WPB, and not enough topside space for multiple weapons better than the PC. It is in effect a “Super Swift”.
        I very much see an overlap in vessel types between PC and WPB both of which are getting old. Also the Mk VI PB is coming out of one “favorite” yard, which is just now expanding to support production so getting two variations would task its capacity. Need to compete the replacement vessel and allow for multiple yard production IMHO.

      • To be honest I have never been “overboard” on the Cyclones either; under-gunned and under-boat’ed(!) too. The Weber aren’t a tremendous design; where would you put the extra additional mount back aft? If you had to redesign the entire upper works you might as well start from scratch. The Mk VI are too small if well configured; how can you compare an 85ft to a 154ft hull? Again I said this a completely class of vessel to LCS. Honestly the USN need something in the 1000ton range or perhaps a 750ton design. I am confused. It is like discussing recce helicopters and fast air in the same discussion.

    • x, my premise is to replace existing small vessels NOT to replace an LCS.
      The ship type I am talking about is for patrol and presence. Not looking for any form of a corvette. See above for size but generally larger than current DAMEN based designs and sufficient to mount more boats (2), multiple weapons and maybe a UAV pad. Anything larger and the price and specs go through the roof~

      Agree Axe is a landlubber not a ship SME

      • I hadn’t seen your post. 🙂 I didn’t read much beyond the original article because it doesn’t make sense to me. And it is the sort of topic that ends up going down a rabbit hole as commentators with different experiences and different interpretations struggle to come up with an answer.

        I don’t get LCS. What the USN needed was a straight OHP replacement. A 6000 ton CODAD with American weapons and twin hangars. The twin hangars meaning helicopters and UAVs in good number to handle the LCS’s speed requirement. I am bit old fashioned I am not sure these fancy unmanned under water vehicles are not up to the MCM task. Close but not quite there yet. And the US is rich enough to build classes of smaller patrol craft as and when they need them. I just think the trouble is the USN being a bit too clever again instead of buying something off the shelf from say Swift Ships and making do.

        Have I said I am confused?!? 🙂

  4. Remember that loaded up shipyard still has yet to be held accountable for the 123s. They designed that boat with thin and unsafe hulls on purpose to save $ on steel then manipulated strength calculations to hide it. They and the DoD are headed back to court after the dismissal appeal was approved.

  5. There is good reason “x” is confused because the LCS is a confusing program that seems to be trying to be all things to all people–a frigate, a minesweeper, a patrol boat. It supposed to be able to do all three. If you need more minesweepers, they can all be minesweepers. If you need more frigates, they can all be frigates. If you need more patrol boats, they can all be patrol boats. But they never intended to make as many sets of modules of all types as they did ships so it appears that instead, some ships will always be Mine Counter Measures ships, some will always be patrol vessels, and some will always be ersatz frigates.

    • Ships have inherent utility because they are large self contained platforms that move. For example that is how the UK gets away with sending a tanker to do a patrol task. But that doesn’t mean multi-purpose ship or boat designs are successful; history shows they are not. I think many layman don’t understand that the hull is still the fundamental element of a vessel’s design. And I don’ think many layman and indeed serving officers actually understand modularity.

  6. Really the Navy needs some vessels to do boardings of vessels that appear to be innocent local coastal traffic, but which might be laying mines or smuggling arms or agents.

    The vessels don’t need to be particularly capable, fast, or well armed, but they have to be faster and more sea worthy than the local traffic, and it needs to have relatively shallow draft to get into all the places the local traffic does.

    If the design moves too much in the direction of something like the SAAR 5s or even the new Ambassador class built for Egypt, they get much more expensive, the crews much larger, the draft gets deeper, and the boats themselves become targets.

    • Sounds like you need an expendable pleasure boat based design. A modern day Merchant Raider. Realize these ships would never be used against an actual navy or coast guard type ship. but they would be expendable.

    • The last time we did this in a big way, was Operation MarketTime in Vietnam and for that our 82 foot patrol boats (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Point-class_cutter) which had a max speed of about 17 knots and five .50 cal. MGs (plus an 81mm mortar) worked pretty well for the close inshore part of the system. Their relatively short range limitation was mitigated by the fact that they operated from a nominally friendly shore where they could be refueled regularly.

      They were there to counter covert activities, so it was less demanding than going up against warships, but much larger ships could not have done the job as well.

  7. I think Lee is right that in a perfect world the PC replacement would be a little bigger (maybe 500 tons) and needs a UAV pad. But I just think anything other than completely off the shelf will go through development hell because of requirements creep. I think the Webber would work ok, but I think it will wind up being something like the Cape because Austal’s order book will probably be a little light by the time they get around to replacing the PC’s.

    Definitely agree with Lee that what is needed is not a full fledged OPV. But something smaller and cheaper.

    Stuff like what is going on with Iran is a perfect example of the need for maritime security ships. When you need them, it’s always urgent, and there is never enough of them to go around. But we need to maintain enough of an inventory of this type of vessel to handle a low level incident like the current one (I would say we need about 10). If we are in another war like Vietnam, we’d have to build dozens and dozens of them.

    • Back in the early 80s when the US was doing “Earnest Will,” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Earnest_Will) protecting tankers from Iranian harassment, I was present during a high level discussion about the possibility of using 110s as escorts. It did not happen then, as it did during the Vietnam war, but the Coast Guard has far more ships of this type than the Navy. If you don’t know where the crisis will happen, maybe the Coast Guard is the best place for them, until they are needed.

      • Chuck the key lesson from above history is the cutters then and now are not equipped to take on harder current threats larger than a Boston Whaler. One needs more and better weapons and sensors to take on Boghammers etc.
        HENCE my pointing to the USN topside being different to accommodate weapons to include a UAV pad. IF one picks the right common hull form, there might be some stretch to it?
        I remember much about Silkworms ASMs being fired at US ships and the MSBs during the Tanker Wars. Got to have something to compliment larger warships in the anti-SUW mission.

      • Lee,

        At the time we were planning on adding a second 25mm aft on the 110s, which would have put them on a near even footing with the Cyclone class as they were armed at the time.

        I would like to see “SeaGriffin,” like those being fitted on the Cyclones (or Hellfire or Brimstone), on the stateside WPCs to deal with the possibility of having to take out small, fast targets, particularly if they are in a complex environment where collateral damage is a potential problem when using guns. Might be assumed WPCs would not require as many rounds, since they are not likely to encounter a swarm, but if we are going to put a launcher on anyway, perhaps it should have the provision to load more rounds that might allow it to deal with a more damage resistant target or deploy to where swarms are more likely.

        As you noted we are talking about low end vessels. The Cyclones are not survivable against anti-ship cruise missiles (ASCMs) either. Missile defense is expensive, but perhaps it might be possible to mount a SeaRAM on a Webber or Cyclone class. If so it could provide close escort defense against ASCMs for merchant ships as they pass through particularly dangerous areas like the Straits of Hormuz.

        In terms of a close escort for merchant ships transiting the Straits of Hormuz, I would consider a good outfit for a small combatant:
        —two Mk38 mod2s (one forward, one aft),
        —SeaGriffin, Hellfire, or Brimstone to deal with multiple small targets, and
        —SeaRAM to deal with ASCMs.

        Stateside, the WPCs could do without the SeaRAM and the second Mk38 25mm, but I would like to add light weight anti-surface torpedoes to deal with large targets.

    • so the Navy should just do with the Webbers what they did with the 110’s and buy some extras for the CG. Didn’t the DoD buy the CG 16 Island’s through Augmentation Appropriation?

      • seriously doubt the USN SCN will have any funding left over to buy cutters, but IF we could sell the Dual-Service procurement concept to Congress, it might fly?

  8. Do you guys think NECC has been a step in the right direction regarding maritime security?

    How well do the NECC and the USCG integrate?

    • maritime security as far as MSC shipping is concerned is a stepchild to NECC and of secondary importance in general to the USN IMHO.
      Riverine sailors used to be trained at USCG MSTC in NC, not sure now?

  9. chuck, thought it was the other way around, navy helped pay for first 16 and cg bought the rest and that’s how the b and c class ended up with underpowered cats vice the paxmans of the a class. by the way, was on board cgc matinicus, 1315, when we began hearing the rumors of going over to escort. naval engineers came to ship took measurements for things like extra racks. worked on the b and c class later at det. sandy hook, while I love cats, they weren’t up to the challenge for the application, imho.

    • Yes I wish I could site my source, but I can’t I have the beginnings of a post on Navy purchase of the 110s. There is a long quote that is not my writing, but I failed to note the source.

      • no sweat about source. this was just how I understood it, but also haven’t given it a terrible amount of thought over the years so I could have it bass-ackward.

    • Yes we were going to add an additional 25 mm aft. My suggestion would have been a smoke generator too since the Boghammers’ attacks and unit coordination all seemed to rely on good visibility.

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