How much time should we reasonably expect a cutter to be at sea? It is a reasonable question, since, generally, time spent in port is not mission time.
How do we compare with similar services?
The Coast Guard standard for large cutters has been 185 days away from homeport annually, but that includes times in port or being repaired if it is done “away from homeport.”
We get a pretty regular readout on US Navy ships from the US Naval Institute’s Fleet and Marine Tracker that indicates US Navy ships are underway about a quarter of the time, but this includes both combatants (USS) which tend to be more complex and maintenance intensive than large cutters and auxiliaries (USNS) that are much simpler than combatants. While the USNI does not provide a specific breakdown the USNS ships clearly spend much more time underway than the combatants. That is not necessarily bad since a combatant’s primary mission is to prepare for war and that can happen inport as well as underway, but the Navy constantly complains that their combatants are overworked while on average, cutters do spend much more time underway annually than Navy combatants.
The Royal Navy OPVs rotate crews and appear to spend very long periods deployed and apparently a high number of days per year underway.
- Royal Navy Deploys Two OPVs for Five Years to No Base in Particular
- HMS Clyde, a Short but Remarkable Career
SeaWaves recently reported on the “thirtieth anniversary of its armament and its first colors ceremony” of the French Frigate La Fayette. (It was commissioned in 1996) Classed as a frigate, this class, of 25 knot, diesel powered ships was built without any ASW capability, and was in many ways comparable to Hamilton class WHECs. They also performed many of the same functions.
“… La Fayette has taken part in all the operational missions of the Navy, distinguishing herself in particular in the fight against piracy in the Indian Ocean and the fight against drug trafficking.”
The SeaWaves report provides a data point on how much time this particular ship spent underway.
“In 30 years, the La Fayette has thus carried out 3,107 days at sea and the equivalent of 21 round-the-world trips, carried out 33 operational deployments on all the seas of the world, visited 55 countries in 266 stopovers or even contributed to the seizure of more than 10 tons of drugs.”
That is 103.6 days/year underway. Even if we only count the 27 years since her commission and include the underway time prior to commissioning that would be 115 days per year. Sounds like cutters probably compare favorably.
How much time do large cutters spend underway? Congress has asked this question and I don’t think it was ever answered. It is certainly a statistic we should know. The Coast Guard has nothing to be ashamed of and much to be proud of.