“Ship Class Designations Have Meaning” –USNI

USCGC BERTHOLF (WPF-750 or maybe WPL-750)

The March 2023 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an opinion piece in the “Nobody Asked Me, But…” section. The author notes,

“The Navy does itself a disservice with the public, Congress, and U.S. allies when it allows a program’s Pentagon PowerPoint acronym to become the class designation. There was some recent recognition of this issue when the JHSV (Joint High Speed Vessel) became the T-EPFs (expedition-ary fast transports), the MLP/AFSB (Mobile Landing Platform/Afloat For-ward Staging Base) became ESDs/ESBs (expeditionary transfer docks/expedition-ary sea bases), and the pending LAW (Light Amphibious Warship) became the LSM (landing ship medium), but there is still room for improvement.”

The author goes on to suggest several additional redesignations.

I have pointed out in the past that Coast Guard designations for the Bertholf class NSCs (WMSL) and the Argus class OPCs (WMSM) are particularly egregious examples of departure from historical and current standard US Navy and NATO designation practices.

Virtually no one outside the Coast Guard knows what they are supposed to mean, not to mention that there is virtually no difference in size between the NSCs and OPCs, so why are the NSCs “large” and the OPCs “medium?”

Really, WPF, Coast Guard Patrol Frigate or WPL, Coast Guard Patrol Large, would do nicely for both. If you still want to give the OPCs a lower rank or perhaps for the existing WMECs, WPK, Coast Guard Patrol Corvette (K for Corvette is a NATO standard) or WPM, Coast Guard Patrol Medium, would work.

If you really want to differentiate further, take a look at what the Japanese Coast Guard did–neat, simple, easily understood.

  • PLH (Patrol Vessel Large with Helicopter)
  • PL (Patrol Vessel Large)
  • PM (Patrol Vessel Medium)
  • PS (Patrol Vessel Small)
  • PC (Patrol Craft)
  • CL (Craft Large)

Really, WPB, WPC, WPK and WPF or just WPB, WPC, WPM, and WPL would work just fine.

We changed the designation system in the late ’60s. The Navy has changed some of their designations. Maybe it is time for the Coast Guard to return to a more rationale, easily understood, and meaningful system.

5 thoughts on ““Ship Class Designations Have Meaning” –USNI

  1. Agreed. The only one of the three new classes from Operation Deepwater that makes sense is the WPC (Patrol Cutter), which seems natural since it replaces the WPB (Patrol Boats), which were really cutters, not boats, but small enough cutters that “boat” makes sense to most people.

    As for the USCG’s larger cutters, WMSL and WMSM, you’re right, “MS” should be replaced with “P” and then call them Frigates (F) or Corvettes (K). I’m just happy they didn’t designate any of them as WTF.

    The Navy has an even worse problem with the LSC, which makes no sense until you realize it really stands for “Little Crappy Ships” because they break as soon as you put them in water (only a slight exaggeration, LOL). Yes, I’m aware the Navy intended LCS to stand for Littoral Combat Ships, but everyone knows the true meaning of LCS.

    • Actually, WPC means Coast Guard (W) Patrol (P) Craft (C). The PC designation was used by the Navy for subchasers. When the 210s were designed their original designation was to have been WPC. Their original design included provisions for ASW equipment.

  2. Really, the designations HEC and MEC would be just fine as they have been. No need to reinvent the wheel.

    • @Tim and Ellen Moran, that would at least have the advantage of continuity, but it never complied with standard practice that was introduced to the Coast Guard at least as early as WWII. Before the nomenclature change in the 60s, our HECs were WPGs, Coast Guard Patrol Gunboats. The 75 Coast Guard manned Tacoma Class frigates of WWII were PFs. P is the standard designation for patrol ships in NATO, so I am not recommending reinventing the Wheel, just complying with recognized standards. In WPF or WPL, W would be a prefix for Coast Guard, P for patrol is the basic type, and F or L is a suffix modifier to identify a subtype.

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