China, Ready to Pick the Low Hanging Fruit?

Taiwan Coast Guard cutter KAOSHIUNG

BairdMaritime has a column suggesting China is training for an  “…invasion of Pratas Reef (Dongsha), a Taiwanese-garrisoned outcrop, situated some 170 nautical miles southeast of Hong Kong.” Possibly “…followed by an attack upon another Taiwan-manned islet, namely Taiping (Itu Abu), the largest and most habitable of the Spratly islands in the SCS. The two Taiwanese outposts, which are manned by Taiwan Coast Guard Administration (TCGA), retain some strategic value, particularly as both feature airfields, but the main advantage to be reaped by the PRC by their seizure would probably be political.”

That they feel the US will not intervene because, “the US Congress’ Taiwan Relations Act requires the US to come to the aid of Taipei in the event of a PRC attack on Formosa, or the Pescadores (Penghu), situated in the Taiwan Straits, but excludes Taiwan’s more distant territories.” 

Certainly any such attack, if successful, and unopposed by the US would seriously undermine American credibility as an ally, regardless of the specifics of US formal obligations to Taiwan.

“Lake Assault Boats Selected by U.S. Navy for 5-Year Force Protection-Medium Boats Contract”

“Lake Assault Boats has been chosen to produce up to 119 Force Protection-Medium (FP-M) patrol boats by the U.S. Navy. The five-year contract carries a maximum value of $56 million, and the first deliveries will begin in November 2020.” (Note there is access to the bow by a hatch, not included on this illustration–Chuck) 

Below is a press release from Lake Assault Boats. This is about $470,600 per boat if all 119 are completed :

SUPERIOR, Wis. (Feb 24, 2020) ­– Lake Assault Boats, part of Fraser Shipyards and a leading manufacturer of fire, patrol, and rescue craft, has been chosen to supply up to 119 Force Protection-Medium (FP-M) patrol boats to the U.S. Navy. The five-year Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quanity (IDIQ) contract carries a maximum value of $56 million, and the first deliveries will begin in November 2020.

The FP-M patrol boats will provide security for U.S. Navy Ships and personnel from waterborne threats in and outside of Navy ports around the world. “We are honored to be chosen by the U.S. Navy to supply it with these versatile and powerful FP-M patrol craft,” said Chad DuMars, Lake Assault Boat vice president of operations. “Our FP-M vessels will be engineered and built to the same high manufacturing and quality control standards as our patrol and fire boats currently in service throughout North America.”

An operational requirement for the boats is to provide Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection patrols for U.S. Navy Installations, which includes; patrol, interrogation of other waterborne assets, and escorting large vessels in and out of port in various weather and water conditions throughout the year, day and night. Each of the 33-foot long craft will have a 10-foot beam and feature a full cuddy cabin. Twin 225-hp outboard motors will power each boat, which will carry four weapon mounts capable of accommodating up to .50 caliber machine guns. The aluminum V-hull boats are protected by a polyurethane foam collar wrap.

“Our selection, after a long and rigorous competitive bid process, represents a significant accomplishment for Lake Assault Boats and our sister company, Fraser Shipyards,” explained DuMars. “Our entire team is very excited and prepared to provide these boats to serve with the U.S. Navy.”

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

The Coast Guard in the WWII Battle of the Atlantic

A look back at Coast Guard participation in the Battle of the Atlantic, with a short excursion into the Mediterranean.

USCGC Alexander Hamilton (WPG-34)

January 29, 1942, Shortly after dropping the tow of a disabled merchant ship, USCGC Alexander Hamilton was torpedoed on the starboard side by the German submarine U-132, which had been patrolling the Icelandic coast near Reykjavík. The explosion killed twenty men instantly and the total death toll was 26. Hamilton capsized and sank Jan. 30. U-132 would sink 10 ships (39,496 tons) and damage one (6,690 tons). The U-boat would destroyed by the explosion of her last victim, 4 Nov. 1942, with the loss of all 47 aboard.

USCGC Icarus (WPC-110) arriving at Charleston Navy Yard with prisoners of war from the U-boat U-352, 10 May 1942, US Navy photo

May 9, 1942, USCGC Icarus sank U-352 south of Cape Hatteras, 15 dead and 33 survivors. The Navy did an extensive intelligence report on the U-352 and its sinking which is still available on line.

USCGC Thetis (WPC-115)

June 13, 1942, USCGC Thetis, Icarus’ sister ship, sank U-157 in the Gulf of Mexico north of Havana, Cuba with all hands. 52 dead. U-157 had sunk one ship, an American Tanker named Hagen, two officers and four crewmen were lost and three more injured.

Dec. 17, 1942 USCGC Ingham was credited with sinking U-626, but that now seems unlikely. U-626 went missing 14 December 1942 in the North Atlantic south of Iceland. There is no explanation for its loss. 47 dead (all hands lost). She had been underway a total of only 14 fruitless days.

Escanaba rescuing survivors from USAT Dorchester. USCG Image.

Feb. 3, 1943 The Army Transport Dorchester being escorted by the 240 foot Tampa (WPG-48) and two 165 foot “A” class cutters, Escanaba (WPG-77) and Comanche (WPG-76), is torpedoed and sunk by U-223. Despite extraordinary effort by the escorts, of the 904 aboard, there were 675 dead and only 229 survivors.  And U-223? She would sink for otherwise destroy two more merchant vessels, a Canadian frigate, and, on the last day of her existence, sink a Royal Navy destroyer, HMS Loferey, using an acoustic homing torpedo (189 dead). U-223 was

Sunk on 30 March 1944 in the Mediterranean Sea north-east of Palermo, in position 38.48N, 14.10E, by depth charges from the British destroyers HMS Laforey and HMS Tumult and the British escort destroyers HMS Hambledon and HMS Blencathra. 23 dead and 27 survivors.

Polish destroyer en:ORP Burza in 1940 in Great Britain. Republic of Poland, Polish Government in Exile.Ministry of Information War Photo Service, London 1940. Press released by Polish Government 1940. Source: Jerzy Pertek Morze w ogniu 1939-1945 : na frontach i za kulisami wojny morskiej T. 1-2. 2nd Edition Poznań 1975

Feb. 22, 1943, Polish destroyer ORP Burza depth charged and force to the surface U-606. USCGC Campbell rammed U-606 sinking the sub in the North Atlantic east of Newfoundland. Campbell was damaged when a diving plane pierced the hull at the engineroom, leaving her dead in the water. Burza protected her until she was taken in tow. U-606, 36 dead and 11 survivors.

USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) heading to port at Norfolk Navy Yard. 26 July 1943. US National Archives, photo 80-G-76569

Mar. 8, 1943, USCGC Spencer sank U-633 in the North Atlantic south-west of Iceland. All hands (43) were lost with the U-boat.  U-633 had only one war patrol and had sunk one ship, the British merchant steamer Guido of 3,921 tons.

At 08.55 hours on 8 March 1943 the Guido was torpedoed and sunk by U-633 about 450 miles east-southeast of Cape Farewell. The vessel was a romper (it had left the convoy and running ahead–Chuck) 10 miles off the starboard bow of convoy SC-121. Eight crew members and two gunners were lost. The master, 28 crew members and six gunners were picked up by USCGC Spencer (WPG 36) and landed at Londonderry.

USCGC Spencer (WPG-36) in 1942 or 1943. Spencer sank U-175 with assistance of USCGC Duane, on April 17, 1943.

April 17, 1943, USCGC Spencer sank U-175 in the North Atlantic south-west of Ireland. The U-boat suffered 13 dead and had 41 survivors. U-175 had had three war patrols and had sunk 10 ships, total tonnage 40,619 GRT, including four US flag and two US owned of Panamanian registry. 65 crewmember or armed guard died in these ten sinkings.

USCGC Escanaba is explodes and sinks off Ivigtut, Greenland, probably as a result of a torpedo. There were only two survivors out of a crew of 103 rescued by the USCGC Raritan.

Jan. 12, 1944 USCGC Duane goes into yard for conversion to an Amphibious Force Flagship, all the remaining 327s will soon follow, ending their career as anti-submarine escorts.

Mar. 9,1944, Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort, USS Leopold (DE-319) is torpedoed and sunk by an acoustic homing torpedo (GNAT–German Navy Acoustic Torpedo) launched by U-255. U-255 survived the war, having completed 15 war patrols and sinking 12 ships totaling 56,031 tons including seven American merchant ships in addition to USS Leopold.

On 9 March 1944 the US Coast Guard manned USS Leopold (Cmdr. Kenneth Coy Phillips, USCG) was on her second voyage and escorting the convoy CU-16, when she got an acoustic contact about 400 miles south of Iceland and turned to investigate it. But before the destroyer escort reached the U-boat, she was hit at 22.00 hours by a Gnat from U-255 and was abandoned. The vessel broke in two and remained afloat, but both parts sank early the next morning in position 58º44’N, 25º50’W. 172 died which includes all 13 officers and only 28 ratings survived who were picked up by USS Joyce (DE 317).

Apr. 16, 1944, USS Gandy (DE-764) and Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escorts USS Joyce (DE-317) and USS Peterson (DE-152) sank U-550, 70 miles south of Nantucket, Mass, 44 dead and 12 survivors. Some two hours after the attack USS Joyce and USS Peterson together pick up 56 survivors from the American tanker Pan Pennsylvania that was the first and only ship sunk by U-550. 25 were lost with Pan Pennsylvania.

Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort USS Menges, victim of a German Acoustic Homing Torpedo, May, 1944

May 3, 1944, Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort, USS Menges is torpedoed off the Mediterranean coast of North Africa, by U-371 using a GNAT but survived. 31 were killed and 25 wounded. A 95′-long section of the stern portion of Navy manned sister ship USS Holders hull was used to repair USS Menges

USS Pride DE-323

USS Pride (DE-323), Coast Guard manned destroyer escort

May 4, 1944 U-371 is sunk by Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort, USS Pride USS Pride and USS Joseph E. Campbell, the French destroyer escort Sénégalais and the British escort destroyer HMS Blankney sank U-371 (3 dead and 49 survivors) in the Mediterranean Sea north-east of Bougie but not before U-371 also put a torpedo (GNAT)  into the Free French Destroyer Escort Sénégalais (built as USS Corbesier (DE-106) damaging her as well. U-371 had made 19 war patrols and sank or damaged 19 ships.

USS Lowe (DE-325) as USCGC Lowe (WDE-425)

USS Lowe (DE-325) in its later guise as USCGC Lowe (WDE-425)

March 18, 1945, Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escorts Menges, Pride, Mosley, and Lowe sank U-866 South East of Halifax, 55 dead (all hands lost). U-866 spent a total of 50 days at sea and had not damaged any allied shipping.

On 18 Mar 1945, U-866 was sunk by the only hunter-killer group in the North Atlantic manned completely by US Coast Guard personnel, consisting of four destroyer escorts, USS Pride (DE 323), USS Mosley (DE 321), USS Lowe (DE 325) and USS Menges (DE 320).

USS Moberly (PF-63) Off San Francisco, CA in early 1946.
Naval Historical Center photo NH 79077

May 7, 1945, USS Atherton (DE-169) and Coast Guard manned Frigate USS Moberly (PF-63) sank U-853 in the North Atlantic south-east of New London. 55 were lost with U-853. The U-boat had sunk two ships, totaling 5,783 tons. 61 died on the two ships sunk by U-853.


Overall the Germans lost 768 U-boats (reported losses vary). Some were lost to accidents or mine, but in general about 200 were lost to US aircraft, about 200 to allied aircraft, and about 200 to allied surface vessels. US surface vessels sank 38 (last I heard). US surface ships also, of course, sank a large number of Japanese and some Italian submarines.

In terms of human lives, 28,000 German U-boat crew of the total 40,900 men recruited into the service lost their lives and 5,000 were taken prisoners of war. Some 30,000 men of the allied merchant service died, in addition to an unknown number of Allied naval personnel.

You may have heard that a Coast Guard aircraft had sunk a U-boat. This was U-166, previously credited to a J4F-1 Grumman Goose (USCG V-212/Y). When the wreck was found, it was determined that it had been destroyed by depth charges from the US patrol craft USS PC-566. 52 dead (all hands lost).

In this short retelling of selected engagements, I cannot help but notice five escort vessels fell victim to German Navy Acoustic Torpedoes (GNATs). Two sank, one total constructive loss. and two badly damaged, but repaired.


New Multi-Mission Very Light Weight Torpedo

Very Light Weight Torpedo

In 2013, when I first heard that the Navy was developing an Anti-Torpedo Torpedo, I had hopes it might be the basis for a ship stopping system for the Coast Guard. In 2019, we learned that the systems which had been deployed on five of the Navy’s aircraft carriers were being removed. It seemed the program was dead. In fact, it appears very much alive, and apparently the Navy has targets other that adversary torpedoes in mind. If the Coast Guard is ever to have this weapon it may be important to understand what the Navy might see in the system.

Northrop-Grumman press release quoted in part:

Northrop Grumman has successfully manufactured and tested the first industry-built Very Lightweight Torpedo (VLWT) for the U.S. Navy. The prototype torpedo is based on the Pennsylvania State University Applied Research Laboratory’s (PSU-ARL) design that was distributed to defense industrial manufacturers in 2016. Northrop Grumman, which independently funded the research and development, will offer the design-for-affordability improvements to this VLWT as Northrop Grumman’s response for the Navy’s Compact Rapid Attack Weapon program.

Applying its engineering and manufacturing expertise, Northrop Grumman improved upon the VLWT baseline design to replace high-cost components and drive overall affordability, reproducibility and reliability. Those altered sections were built and tested using PSU-ARL’s own test equipment for confidence.

“The successful testing of the torpedo nose on the first try is a testament to Northrop Grumman’s design-for-affordability approach, which will significantly reduce cost without sacrificing operational performance,” said David Portner, lead torpedo program manager, undersea systems, Northrop Grumman.

TheDrive dug into this a bit further and found the supporting FY2021 budget line items  and justification under the name Compact Rapid Attack Weapon (CRAW), significantly it is a program of record.

The thing I find interesting is, this is touted a multi-platform, multi-mission weapon. The primary capability being talked about is as a hard kill anti-torpedo weapon, but apparently it is a modular weapon that may be reconfigured for different missions.

There is more information in an earlier TheDrive article.

These weapons could offer added offensive firepower, as well as an all-new anti-torpedo defense interceptor capability. The mini-torpedoes use a common body and future variants might also arm unmanned ships or submarines, as well as flying drones, act as naval mines, and more.

A Navy briefing slide showing the internal components and describing the various features of the PSU_ARL Common Very Light Weight Torpedo (CVLWT) design

The Common Very Light Weight Torpedo design that the weapon is based upon is reportedly 6.75″ in diameter, about 85″ in length, and weighs about 220 pounds (100 kilos). If it is truly modular its length and weight may vary somewhat.

The familiar Mk46 light weight torpedo is more than twice as large. The newer Mk 50 and Mk54 torpedoes are similarly sized.

  • Length: 8 ft 6 in (2.59 m), 102 in
  • Weight: 508 lb (230 kg) (warshot configuration)
  • Diameter: 12.75 in (323.8 mm)
  • Range: 12,000 yd (10,973 m)
  • Warhead: 96.8 lb (43.9 kg)

The Navy’s standard heavy weight torpedo, the Mk48, is 16 times larger than the Common Very Light Weight Torpedo design.

  • Length: 19 feet (5.8 meter) or 228 in
  • Weight: 3,695 lb (1,676 kg) (ADCAP)
  • Diameter: 21 in

Advantages of small size: Small size can convey several advantages.

  • More weapons
  • Smaller cross section
  • Lower noise
  • Use by smaller platforms

A smaller weapon allows a greater number of weapons in a given magazine space. Space for torpedoes on submarines is limited and the Mk48 costs $10M each, so there are good reasons not use too many on one target or to use them on small targets . The VLWT could be used to swarm larger targets or individually against small craft including unmanned surface and subsurface vessels. As a rough estimate it looks like about 14 of these smaller weapons could fit in the space currently required for one Mk48 torpedo.

A helicopter could probably carry at least twice as many VLWT compared to the current light weight torpedoes. 

The frontal area of a 6.75″ torpedo is only 10.3% that of a 21″ torpedo meaning that it would be harder to detect using active sonar.

The power required to propel such a small torpedo is significantly less that that of a 21″ torpedo. Consequently it should put much less noise in the water, making it harder to detect by passive means

Being harder to detect means these weapons could probably get closer to a target before it becomes aware it is under attack.

Light weight and small size also means these weapons might be deployed from platforms that currently cannot support heavier weapons. These might include the Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) or the MQ-8C Fire Scout drone helicopter. It might also arm the MQ-4C Triton.

Textron Systems’ CUSV with Surface Warfare payload at SAS 2019

Parallels from above water missiles: What we are seeing here has parallels to what has already happened in the field of guided missiles above water.

  • Smaller but more numerous missiles
  • Simultaneous or closely sequenced attack
  • Multi-Packed missiles
  • Anti-Radiation missiles

The Russian Navy is putting smaller missile on their ships but in greater numbers. We see them moving from four very large missiles to 16 smaller missile. It is perhaps less obvious, in the US Navy, but they are using the smaller Naval Strike Missile in applications where they would previously used the larger Harpoon missile, and it appears the new frigate will be equipped to carry 16 of these. The reasoning is understandable. With increasingly robust anti-missile defenses, there is a need to swam the defenses with numerous missiles arriving simultaneously or in closely sequenced attacks. As torpedo countermeasures become more effective there may be a similar move to launch a swarm of smaller torpedoes.

We have begun to see more than one missile housed in a single VLS. The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) is commonly packed four to a canister in Mk41 VLS and the larger launch tubes like the Virginia Payload Module may house even more missile in a single tube. Similarly, it appears that it might be possible to use a canister to launch as many as seven of the VLWT from a single torpedo tube without the need to reload.

The concept of the Virginia Payload Module

Since at least the Vietnam war, we have seen anti-radiation missiles used to attack sensors controlling countermeasures systems including missile control radars. We may see the use of VLWT to attack active sonar systems that might cue torpedo countermeasures prior to arrival of a larger torpedo.

Submarine Attack on Surface Ship Scenario:

VLWT might be used as follows to attack a surface combatant.

The enemy vessel is, for the scenario, a Project 22350 Admiral Gorshkov class frigate with both hull mounted and towed active/passive sonars, a towed torpedo decoy system, and a PAKET-NK hard-kill anti-torpedo defense system.

The US submarine launches seven VLWT and a single Mk48 torpedo in a sequenced attack. The VLWT are launched first to arrive earlier than the Mk48. The first VLWT sacrificially destroys the towed decoy. The remaining six target first the active sonar sources and then the ship itself. With six targets inbound, the PAKET-NK hard kill system has only four ready rounds. If it works perfectly, it will destroy four of the six remaining VLWT, but the other two will destroy the two active sonars including the one in the bow. When the Mk48 arrives it will have no distractions to deal with and will detonate under the frigate, breaking its back.

For the Coast Guard:

It appears these Very Light Weight Torpedoes may be adequate for what I see as the Coast Guard’s requirement to be able to forcibly stop any vessel regardless of its size. It would need to be able to target the ships propellers, but this has been possible since WWII. Given their size and weight, and apparently relatively low cost, even WPCs and WPBs should be able to carry more than one or two to provide redundancy.

Coast Guard manned Destroyer Escort USS Menges, victim of a German Navy Acoustic Torpedo, 3 May, 1944

“Growing Missions, Shrinking Fleet” –USNI

The US Naval Institute has an argument in favor of funding National Security Cutter #12

The author talks about the shortage of ships both because of the failure of the crew rotation concept and because of the shortfall revealed in the Fleet Mix Study. This has been discussed in the Congressional Research Service report on Cutter Acquisition.

What I found new, was information about SOUTHCOM interceptions,

In congressional testimony last year, Admiral Craig Faller, Commander, U.S. Southern Command, noted: “The Coast Guard’s presence any given day is six to eight cutters. . . . But, keep in mind, we’re talking about covering areas the size of the United States—with from six to 10 ships. And so, the interdiction percentage with the current assets we have is about 6 percent of the detections. So, we need more ships.”

that is a lower interception rate than previously reported, and impact on jobs,

The NSC is an indispensable national asset. The economic impact of the NSC production line touches nearly 500 suppliers across 39 states. An additional ship order would help jumpstart the U.S. economy and have an immediate and profound effect on a host of U.S. suppliers, who stand ready to deliver. Moving forward with a 12th NSC is low risk.

If we had been further along with the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), I would say, just build another OPC instead of a twelth NSC, but we were way behind in starting the OPC program and the difficulties at Eastern put us even further behind.

The OPC program is so far behind, that the Bertholf is likely to be 30 years old before the 25th OPC is ready for its first operational mission. Plus we really do need more than 36 large patrol cutters, but the fact we have not done a new Fleet Mix Study in almost ten years does not help our case.


“Launch of 600-ton catamaran-hull patrol vessel Anping CG601 for Taiwanese Coast Guard” –Navy Recognition

New patrol vessel Anping CG601 for the Taiwanese Coast Guard launched. (Picture source Jong Shyn Shipbuilding Group)

NavyRecognition reports that,

“…on April 28, 2020, the first 600-ton catamaran-hull patrol vessel, Anping (CG601) for the Taiwanese Coast Guard was launched in the southern port city of Kaohsiung.”

This is the first of twelve ordered for the Taiwanese Coast Guard. The design is based on the Tuo Chiang-class stealth missile corvette in service with the Republic of China Navy.

An earlier post, from 2014, talked about these cutters and included a video of the Navy version of the design underway.

I am a bit surprised this program is not moving more rapidly. According to Wikipedia, work did not begin on these cutters until 2019. It appears the Taiwanese Navy still only has one of the 12 Corvettes planned. They may have had some problems.

Model of Tuo Chiang-class corvette armed with 76mm gun, Palanx CIWS, 8 × Hsiung Feng II and 8 × Hsiung Feng III, and 2 × Mark 32 triple torpedo launchers . Photo credit: Solomon203