Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia

USCG Monomoy (WPB-1326) and Adak (WPB-1333), elements of PATFORSWA

The first two of the probably six Webber class WPCs that will replace the 110s in PATFORSWA have been funded. Before they go, there will likely be some changes in how they are equipped.

When the 110 were deployed they had some relatively minor changes:

During the delay in Hampton Roads, each of the WPBs received upgrades for overseas service. First, maintenance crews addressed all of the cutters’ mechanical problems. These crews also added two .50 caliber machine gun mounts aft of the pilothouse to supplement the firepower of the forward-mounted MK38 25mm gun. Most of the modifications fell within the area of communications, including new high-frequency transceivers, installation of satellite telephones and a number of improvements designed to reduce electromagnetic interference. Work crews installed new highstrength Kevlar lifelines around the decks and Forward-Looking Infrared Receivers (FLIR) on the cutters’ masts for nighttime operations. Each WPB also received night vision goggles; a translating bullhorn; and chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) gear.

Coast Guard planners also increased the patrol boats’ boarding capability. Each cutter received four Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) personnel to bring crew size up to full combat readiness. Coast Guard planners expected this crew augmentation to improve the WPBs maritime interception operations (MIO) capability, which would help the cutters to fulfill their primary mission in the Arabian Gulf. Work crews also added extra bunks in the aft berthing area of each WPB to provide for the war-time crew complement. Even so, certain crewmembers still had to practice “hot bunking,” with different watches sharing the same bunks

Now there is more time to plan and make upgrades. These ships also might serve as prototypes for equipment changes to the rest of the Coast Guard’s Webber class fleet either in response to the terrorist threat or in the future, in anticipation of an armed conflict.

In addition, the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft are coming to the end of their service life, and suitably modified Webber class might serve as a replacement.


Originally eight Island class cutters were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, four in the Mediterranean and four in the Persian Gulf. They were to provide force protection. In addition they participated in the capture of an Iraqi vessel attempting to clandestinely mine the Gulf. Later they escorted humanitarian relief supplies up the rivers. They protected Iraq’s off shore oil terminals. Now there are six stationed in Bahrain. In addition to continuing force protection duties, they provide training to Navy ships as they enter the area. They promote capacity building in the navies and coast guards of SW Asia and East Africa. They have conducted counter piracy operations off the Horne of Africa.


Most of the duties these ships encounter are similar to those of continental US vessels, but there are some significant threats in the are we might want to consider.

Revolutionary elements in Yemen have been using unmanned explosive remotely controlled motor boats to attack ship in the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits

The Navy of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp has a force of about 1500 fast inshore attack craft ranging from simple rocket equipped speed boats to torpedo and missile boats. If there is a conflict, they are expected to be used in swarming attacks. My take is that the majority of these boats serve primarily as a distraction and screen to facilitate the attacks of the torpedo and missile armed craft, but some may be used as suicide improvised explosive devices.


None of these projected threats require large warhead weapons to deal with them, but they do require a short time critical, high probability of kill. The Iranian threat also means there is a need to deal with multiple threats, from multiple directions simultaneously. Attacks could be prolonged, so running out of ammunition could be problem.

The easiest change is to convert the four single .50 caliber mounts to twins. This doubles the ammunition on each mount and provides redundancy if a weapon jams. I think I may have seen that this was already done on the 110 in PATFORSWA.

We might want to give those .50 cal. machine guns the best possible sights. 

Twin or single we need to provide ballistic protection for any exposed gun crews, although putting shield around the forward mount positions might hamper forward vision from the bridge.

We might want to replace some or all of the crew served .50 caliber machine guns with the more accurate, stabilized Mini-Typhoon Mk49 Mod1 ROSAM remote weapon station which is already on four Coast 87 foot cutters used for Force Protection of Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarines. This mount is also expected to be installed on the Offshore Patrol Cutters. Their electro-optic devices could also improve situational awareness, particularly at night. 

They will need a laser target designator even if there are no laser guided weapons on the cutter, to allow it to designate targets for other US and allied platforms, perhaps provision for one mast mounted and one hand held.

I would like to see the 25mm gun in the Mk38s replaced by the 30mm which is longer ranged, more accurate, and harder hitting, but that is unlikely to be an option.

To dispatch threats, quickly and effectively, these vessels really need small guided weapons in addition to guns. 

The only small missile installations the Navy has made are Sea Griffin on the Cyclone Class patrol craft and a relatively large 24 round installation on the Littoral Combat Ships.

Sea Griffin lost out to the Hellfire Longbow for installation on the LCS. Hellfire and APKWS have been declared among six “preferred munitions” being procured at maximum production rates, literally thousands of rounds per year. With Sea Griffin falling in size between APKWS and Hellfire, this probably means Sea Griffin does not have a great future. 

As a minimum I think our cutters need a number of APKWS, Hellfire may also be desirable for its longer range, greater hitting power, and fire and forget capability. It would be best if we could use either and trade them off. Unfortunately right now there is no system in the Navy inventory, other than perhaps Sea Griffin, that could readily be installed on our cutters.

The Israeli’s have attached missile launch tubes to their versions of both the Mk38 gun mount that we have on the Webber class and on their mini-Typhoon which is in USN and Coast Guard service as the Mk49 mod1. (Both systems are also expected to be on the OPC.)

Spike LR Missile launched from a Typhoon weapon station on an Israel Navy Super Dvora Mk 2. A similar configuration was recently tested by the US Navy, from an unmanned surface vessel (USV-PEM). Photo: RAFAEL

Rafael Mini Typhoon 12.7mm RWS (MK49 mod1 in USN) and Spike-ER missile launcher recently tested by the USN on an unmanned surface vessel. (photo : Rafael)

This looks doable:

I would suggest these little ships should be armed with a Mk 49 remote weapon station taking the place of, at least the two crew served .50 cal. mounts on the aft corners of the superstructure, perhaps the two forward as well. In addition, the Mk38 mod3 and the Mk49s should be modified to also support a pair of four tube APKWS launchers, similar to the one pictured below. (Perhaps seven or even 19 round launchers in the case of the Mk38.) Assuming we replace only after Mk49 mounts, and have two four round launchers on each mount, this would provide at least 24 guided rockets ready to launch.

Unfortunately, while the Navy has done a test with the Mk49 and has been talked about adding missiles to the Mk38, they have never followed through.  We need to convince the Navy to rapidly push development of this additional capability. They should also have an interest in doing this, since Mk38s are mounted on their destroyers, Cyclone patrol craft, Mk VI patrol boats, and a number of other vessels.  BAE should be all in, they make both the MK38 gun mount and the APKWS. Plus these modified Webber class may be the next Navy PC as well.

The Fletcher laser guided rocket launcher fires BAE’s 2.75 inch laser guided rockets known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. (Shawn Snow/Defense News Staff)

Other Options:

I have seen a mockup of small Hellfire Vertical Launch Systems that might it might be possible to mount on the outer superstructure bulkheads in the form of multiple single launch tubes. There are other launch systems like the one below that fit on vessels much smaller than the Webber class.

At the Improv–Marines on Cutters

If we don’t provide guided weapons for these cutters, and the situations deteriorates, adding a fire team or even a squad of Marines to augment the crew with their weapons might be a short term option. In additions to rifles, they might bring with them machine guns, Javelin Anti-Tank Guided Missiles, Carl Gustaf recoilless rifles that the Marines are now pushing down to the squad level (and which may soon get guided projectiles), or  even Stinger Man Portable Air Defense Systems (MADPAD).

Other Things to Think About:

The Cyclone class have light weight EW systems including decoys, some of them have small unmanned air systems, and they have provision for employing Stinger man portable air defense systems.

A Link16 capability would be nice, even if read only.

Other Reading:

“Switchblade Loitering Munition Puma-Switchblade Sensor to Shooter Capability” July 8, 2018

“Guided Weapons Made Easy,” Oct. 21 2017, which discussed the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)

“Guided Weapons–Getting Closer,” July 18, 2014, which discussed dual mode Hellfire, Brimstone, and Sea Griffin

“Weapons Effectiveness Testing–25mm vs 30mm,” Aug. 25, 2017 Which seemed to show that the 30mm equipped Mk38 mod2, would be much more effective than the 25 mm version.

“Fletcher/APKWS, a Pocket Missile System Made in America,” May 12, 2018 Looks at a simple launcher for Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System (APKWS)

“At Last, a New Sight for the .50 cal.” Oct. 10,2017

“Navy Chooses Longbow Hellfire,” Oct. 5, 2015

“ASuW Hellfire Test Success–Operational Late 2017,” Aug. 1, 2015

“New Weapon for Patrol Craft,” Jan.24, 2013, specifically about Sea Griffin


30 thoughts on “Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia

  1. “The easiest change is to convert the four single .50 caliber mounts to twins. This doubles the ammunition on each mount and provides redundancy if a weapon jams. I think I may have seen that this was already done on the 110 in PATFORSWA.”

    Doubling the number of guns to a mount would not double the ammunition, just add more maintenance. If more ammunition is wanted, the increase the size of the ammunition box. Some PCFs and other craft in Vietnam used a 400-round box. This is more than enough to burn out the barrel. Especially by an inexperienced and under-trained operator. A perpetual problem of two guns is setting them to fire together. This adjustment is more art than science. and a problem the Navy ran into aboard PCF and PBR craft.

    As for better sights, the old leaf sight is just fine. However, operators are not taught how to use it. This lead to its replacement with the area fire aircraft sight that no one is trained to use either. It is just spray and pray something a new sight will not fix. A moving boat firing at another moving boat is problematic. The current gun cradles are an improvement over the Mk16 cradle used for decades. The object isn’t more ammunition or better sights it is stability of the gun. .

    • We didn’t have problems with the twin .50s on our PBRs. Except when the enemy was shooting AT US! Our forward gunners were pretty good at spacing their firing strings and yes we did change barrels.
      Even the small PBR had plenty of ammo in cans.
      I would still go with the more lead downstream the better~
      The Mk 38 mounts can be heavy but Chuck is talking about a much bigger vessel.
      I would also say that the 30mm seems to be the new “sweet spot” when it comes to main guns for smaller combatants?

  2. The “Swiftship” 45-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel, mounts a single Mk.46 Mod.1 30x173mm/113.5-caliber Autocannon Forward, a single 25x137mm/106.9-caliber Heavy Machine Gun Aft and a pair of single 12.7x99mm BMG’s Amidships with a pair of Mk.141 Lightweight Missile Launchers…

    ( https : // youtu . be / sUcIG6GN7so )

      • Who are going to be the supernumeraries of the vessel? The USCG, or the US Navy? The way I read the Article was that there will be a 4 person Law Enforcement Detachment (USCG), which most likely mean the Vessels supernumeraries will be US Navy. I doubt the US Navy will be crewing a USCG Design Ship, and the 45-meter Offshore Patrol Vessel will probably be 10kts faster then the Sentinel class. While the Sentinel looks promising, it lacks teeth…

      • We are talking about additional vessels for the Coast Guard to replace the six 110s that currently equip PATFORSWA. So it makes sense to use standard Coast Guard equipment. The first two are already funded. The Law Enforcement Detachment is just how PATFORSWA provides additional expertise. A s for the weapons, while I think they should be upgraded, even with no changes they will be more capable than the vessels they are replacing.

        Swiftships has already built some vessels of this type, but none of them are equipped the way the one in video is. Maybe more significantly the Navy has not armed their own vessels that well.

    • Really unlikely the Navy will adopt a different gun mount, but there is really no reason they could not have a 30mm gun and missiles on the Mk38 mount. The Israelis have already done it. BAE says they want to add missiles to the Mk38 Mod3.

    • Currently the only users for the Seahawk Sigma are the Royal Navy, the Malaysian Navy, the Philippine Navy and the Indonesian Navy. Neither the USN or the USCG are showing any interests…

      • Those navies use the standard seahawk mounts with no LMM I believe. I am not aware of any buyers for the sigma mount. Shame really, it looks like a capable system.

  3. Pingback: Webber class Could be the Navy’s Light Duty Pickup Truck | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  4. The USCG should also mount the Saab AN/SPN-50 Air Search Radar, which is a version of the AN/SPS-77 “Sea Giraffe”. So at least it can detect an Aerial Threat when operating independently without Naval AEW Assets nearby…

    • I have to ask.
      What makes you believe and Fast Response Cutter can operate a radar of that size and power requirement?

      This is an image of a man working on a AN/SPN-43, which the AN/SPN-50 will replace. On aircraft carriers and amphibious assault ships.
      Here is one on CVN-70, so you can get an idea of it’s scale with the ships mast.
      And, here is a representation of the AN/SPN-50 mounted in the same position. While it appears to offer a significant size reduction, it is still a very large peice of equipment. I would guess at least as large as the cab of a full size pickup.

      So, again I ask. What makes you believe that an FRC can operate a radar of it’s size and power requirement?

      • I think we have a mix up in designation somewhere. The Sea Giraffe, Swedish designation 50HC ( which has the US designation AN/SPS–77 and is planned to be used on the Offshore Patrol Cutter as a multi-purpose radar for air search, surface search, fire control, and helicopter air control, is a relatively small radar and it could conceivably fit on a Webber Class cutter. It has been fitted to a missile boat of smaller displacement than the Webber class (öping-class_missile_boat), but there are a number of reasons we probably would not. First the additional system would probably require at least three additional crew members for watch standing and maintenance and in current configuration the Webber class do not have the additional birthing. Second the Webber class really have no effective AAW systems so the radar would not significantly improve its defenses.

        Really they will have to depend on others to provide air superiority, as do the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol boats.

      • At the Very Least, having the AN/SPN-50 Air Search Radar aboard allows the Webber to searve as a Radar Picket. The first dedicated Radar Picket Destroyer didn’t arrive into the US Navy until 1947, three years after when they were most needed…

  5. Pingback: “US Builds Global Coalition to Protect Gulf Shipping” –Global Security | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  6. Pingback: “Griffin Missile Exercise” –Demitry Shulgin | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  7. Something I have never noticed before, in the Fiscal Year 2021 USCG Congressional Budget Justification, near the bottom they talk about PATFORSWA and the FRCs. I noticed some talk about mission and theater-specific equipment, including “theater-specific ‘warfighter’ modifications to the cutters, and the installation and support of theater-specific communications equipment.” I also noticed talk about Operating funds that “are critical to fielding theater-specific operational capabilities including … countering Unmanned Aerial Systems (cUAS)”. Nothing to specific about the exact changes or modifications but I found it interesting.

    Click to access u.s._coast_guard.pdf

    • Thanks Justin, Almost certainly some additional comm requirement. Will almost certainly mount twin .50s. Countering drones has become a concern. Will be interesting to see if it is more than that.

  8. Pingback: Navy to Decommission Cyclone Class Patrol Craft | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  9. Considering how the Navy arms their Mk.VI PBs for use in 5th Fleet, and how much bigger and room on deck the FRCs have, it makes most sense, as far as weapons go, to add a second Mk.38 mount in place of the forward .50s, and upgrade the aft .50s to the Mk.49/50 RWS version. Without stabilization and armor protection around those external 50s (as they are, unmodified), they are low probability of hit at decent distance and crew would be very susceptible to casualties. This is the exact same armament as the Mk.VI boats the Navy runs in 5th Fleet.

    Insofar as additions, both the Navy and CG in 5th fleet would be outstanding operational test platforms for PB-deployed APKWS, or, since it recently passed a first launch from a surface vessel, perhaps the up-gunned 5th Fleet units would get them first…

    I agree an austere EW suite is a good idea, considering the environment.

    Everything else mentioned sounds like standard fare for PATFORSWA, except the counter-UAS. That’s interesting…


  11. Pingback: Bahrain Bound FRC gets Upgrades, LRAD and Short Range Air Search | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  12. Pingback: “MULTIPURPOSE MUNITION” –Dmitry Shulgin | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s