Old Fleet vs New Fleet, by the Ton, Revisited

USCGC Gallatin WHEC -721 (378), USCGC Rockaway WHEC-377 (311), and USCGC Spencer WHEC-36 (327) moored at Governor’s Island, New York

Back in 2012, I did a little comparison between the Cutter Acquisition Program of Record and the Fleet it would nominally replace. Full replacement is still many years away (about 2038), but we do know a lot more now, than we did at that time, so here is an update.

The Benchmark Fleet: The fleet of 2000/2001 looked like this (displacement in tons full load, comparing only the larger patrol vessels):

Class       Displacement x Number = Total Displacement
378s          3050 tons      x      12    =     36,600 tons
270s          1780 tons      x      13     =    23,140 tons
210s          1050 tons       x      16    =    16,800 tons
Alex Haley 2929 tons     x         1     =      2,929 tons
Storis         1916 tons     x         1     =      1,916 tons
Acushnet   1746 tons     x         1     =      1,746 tons
110s            155 tons     x        49     =      7,595 tons

Total                                     93 vessels, 90,726 tons

(Three 180 foot WLBs of about 1,000 tons each, that had been converted to WMECs were also decommissioned about this time.)

The Fleet Today: Threre are perhaps as many as 27 Island class WPBs still in commission. At least 22 of the original 49 are no longer in USCG service. There are probably considerably fewer than 27 active USCG Island class. I would guess about 19 remain.

Looking only at the Webber class and larger cutters:

Class       Displacement x Number = Total Displacement
NSC          4500 tons       x        8      =  36,000 tons
270s          1780 tons       x      13      =  23,140 tons
210s          1050 tons       x      14      =  14,700 tons
Alex Haley 2929 tons       x       1       =    2,929 tons
FRC             353 tons       x      45      =  15,885 tons

Total                                     81 vessels, 92,654 tons

To this we might add however many 110s are still available, reportedly 15 vessels totaling 2,325 tons, so 96 vessels, 94,979 tons.

We are down to 36 large patrol cutters (=>1,000 tons full load), the same number expected to make up the future fleet, but they are individually less capable, and fewer than the 40 plus the Coast Guard has historically generally employed since WWII.

Looking back at my old Janes Fighting Ships and Combat Fleets of the World, the number of large patrol cutters were: 44 (82/83), 48 (86/87), 48 (90/91), 44 (2000/01), 39 (2013).

Fortunately, the Webber class have proven capable of performing some missions that previously would have been performed by larger cutters.

The Future Fleet (2038): 

Class       Displacement x Number = Total Displacement

NSC        4500 tons      x    11       =       49,500 tons
OPC        4500 tons      x    25       =     112,500 tons
FRC           353 tons      x   64       =       22,592 tons

Total                                  100 vessels, 184,592 tons


We will end up with more ships if the current plan is completed. In 2012 I expected the total displacement of the replacement fleet would exceed the displacement of the benchmark fleet by 34.44%, instead it is up an additional 65,618 tons, more than doubling displacement of the fleet in 2000. Only 15,618 tons of the increase was due to the three additional NSCs and six additional FRCs. Most of the increase was due to the surprisingly high displacement of the OPCs.

The large cutters (NSCs and OPCs) will be much more capable than those they replace, particularly compared to the 210s. They will handle rough weather better. Crews will be more comfortable and better rested, which can translate into better performance. In most respects, not only the NSCs, but also the OPCs, are more capable than the 378s.

The larger, more capable cutters will require larger, more expensive support facilities, more dock space, deeper berths, and larger dry docks for maintenance.

We have seen a tendency to base groups of the same class ships together. We will see fewer instances of ports with only one cutter homeported there. Fewer ports will be home to large cutters.

The fleet will still be much smaller than the last Fleet Mix analysis indicated it needed to be, to meet all the Coast Guard’s statutory obligations. Those obligations still seem to be growing.

36 ships, no matter how capable, are still only 36 ships. I still see a need for Cutter X, a simple but seaworthy ship of 1,500 to 2,500 tons that can be procured in quantity.

16 thoughts on “Old Fleet vs New Fleet, by the Ton, Revisited

  1. I have never understood why it is so hard for the USCG to track and publish how many 110s they have. If they can do it for pretty much every other class (including FRCs), why not them?

    From what I can tell, I think that number closer to something like 8-10, possibly lower.

  2. I feel like the icebreakers want to be counted here. As for cutter X, I’d take Sa’ar 6 as the smallest vailable that can hangar an H-60. The boats could go where the ASMs go on the combat ship. Seakeeping could be improved with less gear up high. Mk 110 on the bow with a Mk 38 over the hangar would be easy. Plenty of room for SEWIP, Decoys, gun mounts, fire hoses etc.

    • As for the Icebreakers, they don’t really do the same sorts of missions right now. I suspect we are going to have something like the Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship that will combine icebreaking ability with a patrol mission.

    • The idea with the Cutter X was to incorporate the capabilities of the FRC in a more seaworthy, long endurance hull. That could bring with it the ability to operate and perhaps hangar helicopters or at least Unmanned Air Systems. Sa’ar 6 is a very sophisticated ship but has a relatively short range, perfectly reasonable considering their theater of operations. Something like Le Adroit is more in line with the simple but seaworthy concept of Cutter X.

  3. Really needs to be 16 NSC and 32 OPC. And that’s probably the minimum number of cutters needed. Not sure if 48 could cover all missions listed in the fleet mix from 2012.

    • We definitely need more large cutters, but they don’t have to be as large and complex as NSCs or even OPCs. Only way we are going to get the numbers is with smaller ships and crews. That’s not to say we don’t also need NSCs and some OPCs.

    • Adding 1 NSC for a total of 12 would be hitting the “Easy button,” considering the LLTMs have been ordered. Doubt there’d ever be 16.

      Adding more OPCs, particularly through faster production, as Chuck has spoken about before, would be easy, as the send contract is just underway administratively. Numbers could be added to the third contract. I could see 27-28 being built ultimately, but at the currently planned, plodding rate of acquisition, it would nearly turn into a continuous build process since any new/unplanned ones added would come off the production line when early ones are reaching near-obsolescence.

      I think Cutter X has merit from the perspectives of:
      – cheaper (smaller crews, smaller displacement)
      – capabilities (could do even more WMEC-type duties than FRC)
      – production (running simultaneously with the later stages of the OPC program would get more hulls in the water faster)

      Going against it is the official CG (acquisitions and leadership) don’t even know they need it, as well as selling it to Congress for expenditures.

  4. Good comparison. I too think the PSC and ASC need to be considered, but I also think that the use of satellite surveillance and UAVs can overcome the need for additional physical hulls, especially with the recurring manpower shortages. I understand the desire for something between the FRC and the OPC, but honestly, the industrial base is relatively limited:
    – Eastern Shipbuilding has the OPC, and with the recent investments they’ve made in Training and Landside Integration Facility with Northrop, and are therefore likely to get the next batch of 10.
    – Bollinger still has maybe 20 odd FRCs to go, and are lining up for the OPC (see note above), so could get a ‘Corvette’ as a follow-on contract.
    – Halter has their hands full with the already delayed PSC and most likely will get the Navy’s T-AGOS class. They may not get the ASC due to the delays.
    – BIW has USN DDGs finally getting back on track with another batch coming and maybe future LSC. Highly unlikely they win the OPC recompete, espcially as the USN would prefer them remaining a Navy-only shipyard.
    – Austal has the remaining Indy-variant LCS, more EPFs with variants predicted, now have T-AGS on order, and are lining up for the Light Amphibious Warship and/or maybe the new smaller Logistics Ships being discussed. They would rather stay Navy only also.
    – Fincantieri/Marinette is up to their necks in LCS-Freedom rebuilds, Saudi MMC, and FFG-62 class. There’s no way they get significant USCG work at that yard.
    – Ingalls is adept at building multiple classes, and with the NSC build winding down, they could be a candidate, but would rather do more DDG-51 and LSC work, plus Amphibs.
    – Philly Shipyard is building the 5 NSMVs, but also wants to be considered for the ASC.
    and finally, Metal Shark hasn’t yet done anything larger than a Patrol Boat, so unlikely they get to do something as large as a Corvette, but who knows, ESG never did a combatant either…

    • Don’t forget Swiftships has the MUSVs.

      Vigor in Vancouver WA has MSVL-Light

      There are a few other offshore builders in the Gulf that could be saved with this kind of work. As for Yacht builders, Westport might also being a dying resource that could make some useful hulls.

    • Outstanding analysis DeSaint!

      Adding my $.02-worth on the issue of counting PSCs and ASCs:

      There will certainly be cross-over activities between traditional white-hull missions and red-hull missions with both of these classes, but, it seems to me the PSCs are geared 85+% to traditional polar icebreaking (scientific research and creating resupply route for antarctic scientific stations, as well as potentially circumnavigating No. America again) and will do only minimal white-hull work, likely as opportunistic activities mostly. Conversely, the ASCs seem to be 65-75% patrol assets with good ice capabilities while having a secondary science mission.

      If those assumptions play out in capabilities and operational use, I’d count the ASCs but not the PSCs in Chuck’s chart.

    • They would both fit the bill. I like the Fassmer better, but that is more about the way it looks than the way it functions. There are lots of potential parent designs and we would not choose one without a formal competition, but because we have gone through the process several time recently, and this would be a relatively simple ship, I would hope we could go from Request for Proposal to a finished ship in less than ten years. In addition to Fassmer and Lurssen there are designs from Damen, Fincantieri, and Naval Group. Actually, several more potential candidates. https://chuckhillscgblog.net/?s=cutter+x&submit=Search

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