Marine Protector class WPB replacement? Its Time!

33 meter Damen designed patrol boat

Bairdmaritime brings us news of a new patrol boat being built for a private security company that is protecting Nigeria’s offshore oil industry. Looks like a possible replacement for the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. Yes it is bigger, but all our vessels have gotten bigger. It is also faster, but the crew is no larger, although more accommodations are provided.

Is it too early to start looking at a replacement class? Actually we may already be a year or two late starting the process.  

Our 73 Marine Protector class 87 foot WPBs were commissioned over an eleven year period from 1998 to 2009. If we want to replace them when they reach 25 years old, the first new cutters should be commissioned in 2023. If it were possible, it could fit well into our shipbuilding program since it appears likely the last of the programmed 58 Webber class will be funded in FY2020 and the first of the new class could be funded in FY2021.

Additionally we probably would want to start with an initial low rate production until the bugs have been worked out, and we get DHS approval to enter full-rate production. At that point, we should enter into a Multi-year Procurement. We don’t want to get into a situation where we have to rush a crash program to replace overage vessels.

Unfortunately it looks like we are once again “behind the power curve.” It takes us ten years to procure a large ship. Maybe we can move a little faster on these smaller vessels, but if you look at the way we are doing ship contracts,

  • there will be a year for market research/requests for information
  • a year of competition to select three preliminary designs
  • a year to refine and select from among the preliminary designs
  • a year to complete the winner’s detail design
  • at least two years construction before the first ship is commissioned.

That is six years, meaning we needed to start the contracting process in 2018, but there is nothing in the FY2018 budget that would move us toward a WPB procurement.

Even before the procurement process begins, we really need to look at what characteristics the new WPBs should have. I think the documentation is still called ROC and POE, for Required Operational Characteristics and Projected Operating Environment.

Surely we would want a better ship’s boat (the same 26 foot over the horizon boat used on the Webber class) and probably more speed and greater range.

Is it going to be just a SAR and LE asset, or will we consider Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) and our newly remembered Defense Readiness missions?

If so, I would suggest that they provide at least one Mk38 mod3 mount with provision for mounting a second Mk38 mod3, a guided weapon (which might be on the Mk38 mount) to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats, and weight and space for a pair of tubes for light weight torpedoes to deal with the largest terrorist threats and . We might also consider a pilot house armored against small arms, like that on the Nigerian boats.

We ought to be able to get all that in a boat less than half the displacement of a Webber class, eg, about the same size as the Island class 110s.



20 thoughts on “Marine Protector class WPB replacement? Its Time!

  1. I think we should start looking at options for the next Marine Protector class WPB could be the Damen’s STAN PATROL 3007,STAN PATROL 5009 or even the STAN PATROL 5509

  2. In a perfect world, the CG would get a new WPB to replace the 87′ class when they were 25 years old. In the real world, try 30 years or more. Asking Congress for $$ to replace the Protector class while the OPC procurement is barely out of the starting blocks is lunacy.

    • Funding the OPCs is expected to take 14 years. The WPBs cannot wait until that project is complete.

      We have been simultaneously funding both the NSC and the Webber class FRC projects. Those are ending. We will need to simultaneously fund the OPC, the WPB, and the inland tender replacement programs and some how build new icebreakers too.

      Fortunately both the WPB and Inland tender programs combined are smaller than the Webber class WPC program. I would expect the annual cost of the WPB program to be less than half that of the Webber class.

      The Coast Guard’s ship building budget needs to be larger. We have been saying this for while. We have had decades of neglect and it has created a bow wave of unfunded projects that need to be addresses.

      • Yes, the CG shipbuilding budget is too small. If you think it is going to be substantially increased in the near term, you’re wrong.

        I still remember how many people here thought that joining DHS was going to lead to increased CG budgets. How did that work out?

      • Part of our problem has been that we tend not to plow the ground in terms of forecasting our needs.

        I don’t expect our total budget to increase substantially, but there does seem to be a growing recognition that the AC&I account is inadequate. A 5% increase in the total budget, applied to the AC&I account could make a huge difference.

  3. Torpedo tubes? Without integrated sonar the electronics fit needed to interface with other sensor laden assets would be impractical and costly, not to mention the additional cost of the mounts. Plus there would be no storage for reloads; additional maintenance and manning burdens; weight issues etc. I fully agree with the need for planning a new WPB class, but they aren’t appropriate ASW platforms in the 21st century. We may need corvette and frigate types but let’s not bring the Hooligan Navy back.

    • Sorry if I did not make this clearer. The torpedoes would indeed be used to forcibly stop medium to large merchant vessels, for what ever reason we might need to do that. I go into greater detail on how and why in the post I linked which discussed putting torpedo tubes on the Webber class.

      This appears to be the cheapest, lightest system that could provide this capability with the minimum impact on the cutter.

      • Chuck, correct me if I’m wrong, but lightweight torpedoes have little effect on large surface ships, as opposed to the significant damage they do to submerged submarines. If memory serves me correctly, only large 21″ torpedoes could hope to put a large enough hole in a merchant ship.

      • Because torpedoes explode in a non-compressible medium, they are much more effective than the same amount of explosives hitting above the waterline. Additionally the effects are not proportional to the weight of explosives. The approximately 100 pound warhead of a light weight torpedo is about half as effective as the 500-600 poound warhead of a heavy weight torpedo.

        If it explodes under the keel, 100 pounds of explosives can be as effective as a 1000 pound bomb.

        During WWII, the US had a small submarine launched acoustic homing torpedo, the Mk27, that had a 95 pound warhead. It was used against Japanese escort vessels. It scored 33 hits and sank 24.

        A light weight torpedo is not going to sink a large merchant ship, but for our purposes it is probably enough to forcibly stop them. Homing on the propellers is something developed during WWII. That would allow us time to bring in whatever additional firepower we need to get to the scene.

  4. If past is prologue, chances are either a British (BAE/BMT/Vosper) or a Dutch (Damen) design will be the basis of a parent craft. I could see a modified version of this, with 2 diesels instead of 3, a forward-mounted remote cannon, and the ships boat mounted center aft.

    As far as the timeline is concerned, I think you’ve mapped that out pretty well, except I would say that a vessel of this size would take less than or no more than a year to build and a couple more until commissioning. Overall, I would say 5 years, though this should really be done in 4:
    – a year for market research/requests for information
    – a year of competition to select three preliminary designs
    – a year to complete the winner’s detail design
    – a year construction before the first ship is commissioned.

    • You would think they could build a small vessel like this in less than a year, but it is more than the time from keel laying to completion.

      First Congress is not completing their budgets prior to the FY. Then the Coast Guard is not awarding contracts at the beginning of the FY, they are tending to do that near the end of the FY. Once awarded, this being a first of class, the shipyard has to order material, complete patterns, train workers, construct jigs, all the things needed to complete new ships. Even after delivery, commissioning may be months later.

      Additionally not just one ship was commissioned in 1998, there were four, and there were nine commissioned in 1999.

      Our experience with the FRC was that the program was funded beginning in FY05 with the actual construction contract funded in FY2009. The first four ships were commissioned in 2012, three years later. It is also seven years from the first funding FY to the first product delivered.

      My two year funding to commissioning estimate may actually be optimistic.

      Really the point is simply, its time for us to get to work on a replacement.

      • Completely agree!! The procurement process is unnecessarily long and drawn out. For relatively ‘simple craft’ it should be easy to do. It may be important to note that there are at least 3 or 4 yards in the US that are licensed to build Damen craft.

      • I don’t mean to suggest this particular boat is the solution, Damen alone has several alternative, but it is time to look for a solution.

    • BMT does interesting studies, but that is all it is right now. This might fit the Cutter X concept, being smaller than the OPC, but larger than the FRC, but to fund the additional capabilities this represents would require coordination with the Navy.

      In a lot of ways this is an LCS replacement.

  5. Pingback: Coast Guard Budget in “A Budget for America’s Future, Fiscal Year 2021” and a small, unpleasant surprise | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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