Fast Response Cutter / Navy MkVI Patrol Boat –Peter Ong

Today we have a guest author, Peter Ong. This is Peter’s sixth post on this blog, and he is now a regular contributor to Naval News. In this post, he reports a conversation with Coast Guard Cutter Forces about why the success of the Coast Guard’s Fast Response Cutter program has allowed  the Navy to cancel their MkVI patrol boat program that at one time was expected to produce 48 patrol boats.

The MkVI had only very austere galley and messing facilities, a Microwave and MREs. They were not expected to be underway more than 24 hours. The FRCs endurance, allowing days, rather than hours, on station to intercept drug and arms smugglers and their abilitiy to support counter UAS systems may be providing capabilities the MkVI simply could not have.

220822-A-KS490-1182 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 22, 2022) From the left, U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutters USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144), USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146), USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) and USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. (WPC 1147) transit the Strait of Hormuz, Aug. 22. The cutters are forward-deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet to help ensure maritime security and stability across the Middle East. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Noah Martin)

When is a ship a boat and when is a boat a ship? When is an apple an orange and when is an orange an apple? Answer: they are not as these are two different and distinct things when it comes to comparing the warships of the U.S. Coast Guard to the MkVI patrol boats of the U.S. Navy.

A U.S. Navy Mark VI patrol boat with Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron TWO moves through the water prior to a live fire exercise in the Philippine Sea, Feb. 27, 2021. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by 1st Lt. Stephanie Murphy).

The U.S. Navy is divesting of their 12 in-service Mark VI Patrol Boats, which at the Surface Navy Association 2021, Major General Tracy King, USMC, Director, Expeditionary Warfare (N95) stated that the twelve Mark VIs “Were very expensive to maintain.” However, many critics and pundits of the Mark VIs’ early retirement cite that the Mark VIs still have a lot of life left in them and that their high speeds and heavy armament makes them an asset to special forces, Marines, and Navy SEALs. Mark VIs also perform capital ship escort screenings and contribute to Distributed Lethality and Distributed Maritime Operations by having a smaller vessel signature that might help U.S. Marines move around and slip ashore undetected.

In a phone interview on September 29, 2022 with United States Coast Guard (USCG) Captain John J. Driscoll, Office of Cutter Forces (CG-751), the U.S. Coast Guard captain made a comment about the Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters (FRC) substituting for the U.S. Navy’s Mark VI Patrol Boats in the Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA) region and other parts of the globe.

The U.S. Navy plans to replace the Mark VIs and the aging Patrol Coastal boats in the PATFORSWA region with USCG FRCs. When asked how the cutter fleet is integrated with the U.S. Navy and the Department of Defense, the captain replied that the cutter fleet is built into different operational security plans within the U.S. Department of Defense, but these plans are not discussable.

Captain Driscoll said that the Coast Guard’s Fast Response Cutters and the Mark VI are different assets and have different capabilities. The 65 planned FRCs have much greater range and greater endurance (5 days, 2,500 nautical miles (4,600 km; 2,900 mi) and are designed to be on patrol 2,500 hours per year) than the U.S. Navy’s Mark VI Patrol Boats (750 nautical miles (860 mi; 1,390 km) at 25 knots; 690 nautical miles (790 mi; 1,280 km) at 30 knots).

The captain mentioned that the FRC is tremendously capable and different in how it integrates with the Department of Defense and one can’t make comparisons between the Navy’s Mark VI and the USCG’s Fast Response Cutters because the FRC is a commissioned warship of the United States with an assigned crew whereas the Mark VI is just a patrol boat—a ship versus a boat—the ship is larger. The FRC is 154-feet long (46.9 m) with a beam of 25-feet (7.6 m) whereas the Mark VI Patrol Boat is 84.8-feet (25.8 m) long with a beam of 20.5-feet (6.2 m).

Armament is about the same between the two vessels (a Mark 38 MOD 2 25mm autocannon forward with crew-served 12.7mm heavy machine guns and grenade launcher(s) aft) with the Mark VI sporting more armament (another potential Mark 38 25mm autocannon aft and potential crew-served 40mm automatic grenade launchers or 12.7mm heavy machine guns. Some PATFORSWA FRCs will receive the Mark 38 MOD 3 with a 7.62mm coaxial chaingun to the bow 25mm autocannon and a 40mm automatic grenade launcher).

Nonetheless, one can see the huge difference in operational range. Furthermore, the success of the 65 planned Coast Guard FRCs eclipses the 12 Mark VI U.S. Navy Patrol Boats in terms of production numbers. Furthermore, the Mark VI is propelled by waterjets to 45 knots (52 mph; 83 km/h) whereas the FRC has propellers that drive it at 28+ knots. Repeated requests to the U.S. Navy asking for explanation on “[The Mark VIs are] very expensive to maintain” were not answered, but one can assume that it takes a lot of time, labor, and money to clean out the Mark VI’s waterjet intakes and impellers compared to the more easily accessible external shaft and propellers on the Fast Response Cutters when operating in littoral waters potentially teeming with flotsam and seaweed.

FRC range and endurance are important. Captain Driscoll stated that the FRCs are working in the Papua New Guinea and Indonesian region to combat Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing and are working with partner nations to address the competition for maritime resources.

As for possible up-arming of the FRCs with the Mark 38 MOD 4 30mm autocannon, that is a retrofit possibility, noted the captain, although the upcoming Polar Security Cutter (PSC) heavy icebreakers will receive the 30mm autocannons first, two on each PSC. Captain Driscoll mentioned that the 30mm autocannon is in the U.S. Navy acquisition system and that the USCG and U.S. Navy both decide on future cutter armament. Programmable and airbursting 30mm ammunition options are not discussable although if the U.S. Navy has the specialized and advanced 30mm ammunition in its inventory, the USCG can also use it depending on the cutter’s mission parameters.

The new Mark 38 Mod 4 30mm naval gun system on display on MSI Defence stand at Sea Air Space 2022. It can, in theory and with funding, be retrofitted aboard existing USCG cutters if agreed upon between the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. Photo: NavalNews

23 thoughts on “Fast Response Cutter / Navy MkVI Patrol Boat –Peter Ong

  1. Hmmm. I wonder if those more heavily armed Mark IV vessels would be of benefit if provided to Ukraine. Would they be able to serve on Ukraine’s rivers? Decades ago, when I was in University, I read a translation the US Navy Institute Press had provided of Admiral Gorshkov’s “Red Star Rising at Sea”.

    Gorshkov had been the Soviet CNO for decades. And, in his book he denigrated the USN, USMC campaign against Guadacanal, since the USMC had only fielded a single division there. He contrasted it with the Soviet Navy’s riverine efforts at the long and painful Battle of Stalingrad, which had been going on at roughly the same time

    I had wondered at how true this claim was. How extensive were those Soviet riverine fleets? How big a role did they play in kicking out the Wehrmacht?

    • The Ukrainians are expected to receive a number of Mk VIs from the US.

      As the number promised is greater than the number in US Navy inventory, at least some of them will have to be new builds.

    • The Ukrainian new builds are under way. It would be good to hear our laid up boats are going. As they can’t get there by cargo plane they need to hitch a ride across the pond. Then will Turkey allow them through the Strait? If not, we are talking about sending them up the Rhine and down the Danube crossing some non-NATO territory?

  2. Regarding the endurance of the FRC. South Africa operates three vessels built using the same Damen design as the FRC. They are unarmed environmental patrol vessels – a different mission, that requires a smaller crew. And, IIRC, their at-sea endurance is three weeks.

    So, I guess the FRC’s five day mission is not simply due to its size. I guess it must be a compromise. Does the 3 week endurance of the South African vessel mean, if you are not carrying weapons, and ammo, and you don’t have to make room for 2 dozen crew members, you have the space for more fuel tanks and a bigger pantry?

    A couple of FRC have proven capable of much longer missions, if they were accompanied by a mother ship to periodically replenish food and fuel.
    Could the Coast Guard configure an FRC, or a very similar vessel, that was to be operated by a smaller crew, but could go on longer excursions without a mother ship? Would that be a waste of money?

    Could there be times when an FRC had to be sent much farther than 3,000 nautical miles, without a mothership? Like when they are delivered to a remote station… Could this be accomplished by sending it with a skeleton crew, and repurposing some of the staterooms to hold more fuel and food? Could modifications required to carry extra supplies be removed at a remote destination without a proper shipyard? Would this be a waste of money?

    • I think that is calling for the OPCs to fulfill the missions of the FRCs if the range and endurance is too great.

      It’s ironic because plowing ahead in open ocean with a 25mm at the FRC bow compared to a 57mm at the OPC bow might gain more respect at the smaller caliber in COIN and “Gray Zone” conflicts. Would some “threats” would think that the USCG may not ever use the 57mm against them? No word on if the OPCs will get the 30mm.

      • Really when we are trying to get the attention of a fishing boat, we use a .50 cal. to fire across the bow and that is enough. If we are talking about getting the respect of a Chinese Coast Guard Cutter, some of them have 3″ guns. Actually firing the first shot with the intention to harm, for either the USCG or the China CG, will be a decision made at only the highest levels.

        We know the OPCs will get a Mk38. At least the first will probably get 25mm Mod3s, but some of the later ships may get the 30mm Mod4.

      • There is a Canadian historian, Michael Byers, with a wicked turn of phrase. The RCN’s new “ice-breakers”, when their ice-breaking capability was reduced, during the design phase – he characterized them as “slush-breakers”.

        Well he also wrote a paper about arming Canadian Coast Guard cutters. Currently, they do not have a national security role, and are unarmed. In his paper, when discussing encounters with interlopers, like leaky vessels trying to transit the northwest passage, or rogue Chinese fishing fleets, it was hard to argue “with the quiet authority of a deck gun”.

      • The more we talk about stretching the endurance of the FRCs, the more Chuck’s Cutter-X concept makes sense.

      • I agree that the Cutter X concept needs to be explored if the USCG needs more endurance and a larger cutter. In the future, the USCG might be pressed to be in places more distant than the FRC can reach, or USCG light tankers need to be built.

        USCG C-130s on floatplane pontoon kits might help extend the FRC’s range by providing food, fuel, and spare parts to cutters out on long endurance patrols, but how well will floatplanes contribute to enforcement and VBSS if unarmed and no overwatch?

  3. Part of this is the Navy punting on the missions the Mark VIs and Cyclones were supposed to perform.

    Hopefully, the CG gets the extra budget and resources they need to perform these missions in addition to the tasks the FRCs already perform.

  4. I think it would be a good idea for the US Navy to get in on the FRC’s that the USCG is using. It would give the US navy many options such as giving Junior officers an early chance for Command and evaluate them for future command of a Frigate, DDG or Amphibious assault ship. Also they can bring back the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons (MTBRONs) that the US Navy had in WW2 era for the US Navy’s island hopping campaign and for Centcom.

    • I lean towards “equipped with” OPVs for the Navy. 57mm, a couple of NSMs, SeaRAM, helicopter/UAV, and lots of sensors. Towed sonar, relatively overpowered air/surface search radar, make sure we know as much as possible about an area before something happens.

      • “Equipped with Offshore Patrol Vessel” is more diplomatic than “light frigate” even if that’s what the ship basically is.

    • This makes a lot of sense. Earlier/Junior leadership opportunities are a good point. The fact the FRC production pipeline is still “hot” is helpful. The smaller crew and lower cost allows greater numbers to be built, which allows “presence” in a lot of operational areas (4th Fleet, 5th Fleet, 6th Fleet, Southern 7th Fleet).

      A couple questions on how to implement it: Keep the CG and fund through the Navy? This would be diplomatically better with white hulls rather than grey. They could do CG missions of IUU, SAR, counter-piracy, and maritime LE while still being a military presence. On the other hand, if they are USN vessels, they would be equipped differently (more and heavier weapons), and operationally, they would do much more military-style operations with minimal to no CG ones. Perhaps a cross-decking, mixed-crew approach would be the best of both worlds.

      • It dose because it would give Junior officers an early chance at Command of a naval vessel, leadership opportunities and at the same time it would give the US Navy the ability to evaluate Junior officers for Future command of a Frigate, Destroyer or even an Amphibious assault ship. If a Junior officer can successfully lead and command an FRC, then they show promise of being pipelined to command a Frigate, Destroyer or even an Amphibious assault ship down the line. On top of that the US Navy can even leverage the FRC’s into the Motor Torpedo Boat Squadrons (MTBRONs) of the WW2 era for presence operations in the 4th Fleet, 5th Fleet, 6th Fleet, Southern 7th Fleet. Even in Africom and have a Frigate as a Flagship for the FRC squadron. On an FRC, you can have an Ensign as commanding officer and Chief petty officer or Chief Warrant officer as XO and COB would be a Chief petty officer.

        I think the US Navy can leverage the FRC’s by buying into the USCG and create a separate line for the US Navy and USCG as a common hull but equipment would defer between the US Navy and USCG.

  5. It’s interesting how the Navy flounders around. The originally ordered the Cyclone-class to replace the Mk.III PBs, which were less than half (quarter) their size. Turned out the PCs stunk at Special Operations delivery and support, so they were sent to the Persian Gulf. When they wore out, the Navy sent the Mk.VI, a boat 1/3 the size of the PC to replace it, and now, they’re divesting the Mk.VI because the twice as large FRC does the job better….

    The Mk.VI was/is a force protection boat for large vessels in harbor. It should hang from davits on AGFs and T-AKEs and AOEs when those ships are at sea, and security teams should use them when those ships are in port. It’s what they are made for.

    The Navy needs a large patrol boat for areas like 4th, 5th, 7th, and possibly 6th Fleets. The should build FRCs with grey hulls and better armament and sensors and equip them with mixed CG/Navy crews, and use them for the medium-endurance interdiction missions. (The presence of the CG members of the crew allows them to conduct CG missions as well.)

  6. Pingback: U.S. Navy’s Mark VI and 40-foot Patrol Boat Updates - Naval News

  7. Pingback: U.S. Navy’s Mark VI and 40-foot Patrol Boat Updates | taktik(z) GDI (Government Defense Infrastructure)

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