Below is a press release from District 14 (Hawaii). It suggest two things.
- They are paying more attention to the threat of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing in the Pacific, and
- They are exploring the limits of recently arrived Webber class “Fast Response Cutters” (FRC).
The Joseph Gerczak is based in Honolulu. The distance from Honolulu to Pago Pago by air is 2259 nautical miles (4184 km). That is less than the nominal 2500 currently being reported as the range for the class and less than the 2950 miles that was claimed for the class earlier, but that appears to leave little in the way of reserve. The nine day transit referred to also exceeds the nominal five day endurance of the FRCs.
The news release also indicates that the USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) is also in the area, so the Walnut may have escorted the FRC and may have refueled and replenished it underway as was done when Walnut provided underway replenishment for Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) for a 2200 mile transit to the Marshall Islands.
I would welcome any comments about how the operation was actually done. But could an FRC make the trip unrefueled? As I recall the 2950 nmi range claim was based on a speed of 14 knots. Transiting at a lower speed should increase range. How fast did they go? Nine full days, 216 hours would have averaged about 10.5 knots. Still nine days may have meant a short day at the start and another short day on arrival so it may have been closer to eight 24 hour days or about 192 hours total that would equal an average speed of a little under 12 knots. In any case it is likely the transit could have been made unrefueled with a reasonable reserve. Even if that were the case, CCGD14 probably kept Walnut close in case they ran into trouble. They are pushing the envelope.
The news release (more pictures here):
PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) arrived in the Port of Pago Pago, Saturday.
The crew is participating in Operation Aiga to conduct fisheries law enforcement and strengthen partnerships in American Samoa and Samoa throughout August.
“It was a good transit, the longest we’ve conducted yet, nine days at sea and we’re proving the capabilities of these new cutters to operate over the horizon throughout the remote Pacific,” said Lt. James Provost, commanding officer of Joseph Gerczak. “This is the first time a Fast Response Cutter has come to Pago Pago. We’re looking forward to hosting our partners and the public during tours Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. here at the port.”
The U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to enforce U.S. federal laws and regulations in the territorial waters of American Samoa. Worldwide, tuna is a $7 billion dollar annual industry and roughly 70 percent of that tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific. These pelagic fish migrate and it is essential the U.S. and its partners protect the resource from illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. Estimates place the value of IUU fishing around $616 million annually.
“After this port call, we will be working with NOAA fisheries and the American Samoa Marine Police to enforce fisheries regulations in the region while on patrol. Oceania countries adhering to the rule of law deserve and even playing field. Presence, partnerships, and regular enforcement can deter IUU fishing and safeguard these critical fish stocks,” said Provost.
The Coast Guard Cutter Walnut (WLB 205) crew will also be conducting a fisheries mission with shipriders from Samoa aboard to enforce sovereign laws in their EEZ and deter IUU fishing. This effort is being undertaken in coordination with Australia and New Zealand as Samoa transitions their organic patrol assets, upgrading their fleet. Both cutter crews will also respond to any emergent search and rescue needs in the area and seek out opportunities to work with partner nation assets.
The Coast Guard exercises 11 bilateral shiprider agreements with Pacific Island Forum nations to help ensure regional security and maritime sovereignty.
“The U.S. is committed to supporting our allies and neighbors in the Pacific, which is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The Joseph Gerczak is a 154-foot Sentinel-Class Fast Response Cutter homeported in Honolulu. It is one of the newest patrol boats in the fleet, replacing the aging 110-foot Island-Class patrol boats serving the nation admirably since the late 1980s. Three Fast Response Cutters will be homeported in Honolulu, the third arriving in August. Three will also be stationed in Guam and are to begin arriving there in 2020.
KUALA LUMPUR – The U.S. Coast Guard will increase its presence and deployments to Asia – particularly around Oceania and U.S. Pacific territories – and test out a new operational deployment concept in the region, service head Adm. Karl Schultz told reporters on Thursday.
We have been seeing this happening. The Coast Guard has begun spending more time in and around the Western Pacific, particularly around US Western Pacific territories and Oceania.
The reference to use of a buoy tender as a mothership to support patrol craft operations looks like a test to see how useful the proposed basing of three Webber class cutters in Guam might be.
The Commandant suggested that the tender might partner with Australian, New Zealand, or Japanese vessels as well. He promised,
““In the face of coercive and antagonistic behavior, the United States Coast Guard offers transparent engagement and partnership,…”
There is no reason this should not work, hopefully it will lead to similar multi-unit operations in the Eastern Pacific drug transit areas where the Webber class could augment larger cutters.
Here is a link to a power point style update on the Waterways Commerce Cutter apparently given at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition, 7 May, 2019.
They are hoping for initial operational capability for the new vessels in FY2024 and full operational capability (which I interpret as all the new vessels in commission FY2030.
Thanks to Lee for bring this to my attention.
The following is a quoted from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) web site. The boats referred to here do not seem to be the same as the Over the Horizon Boats currently being used on Bertholf class NSCs and Webber class FRCs discussed on the linked page. An earlier release available here outlines the Request for Proposal, indicating an intent to replace an existing fleet of 36 boats, with total procurement of up to 46 boats over the next five years.
The Coast Guard awarded a firm-fixed price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract Aug. 30, to MetalCraft Marine U.S. Incorporated of Cape Vincent, New York, for a fleet of cutter boats-large (CB-L).
The contract has a maximum value of $20 million and allows for the acquisition of more boats over an ordering period of five years. The initial delivery order for two CB-Ls, trailers, delivery, training and associated logistics documentation was placed for approximately $590,000.
The CB-L will replace the current fleet of 24-foot cutter boats in service onboard 210-foot medium endurance cutters, 225-foot seagoing buoy tenders, and Coast Guard Cutters Alex Haley and Mackinaw. The boats will support operations on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts, as well as in Hawaii, Guam and Alaska.
“We are very excited about getting this asset out to the fleet,” said Cmdr. David Obermeier, deputy program manager for boats acquisition. “A single boat class for multiple cutter classes will provide enhanced operational flexibility.”
For more information: Cutter Boats program page
Above is the video of the Senate Subcommittee hearing for which I provided the Commandant’s prepared remarks earlier.
Participating Senators I noted were:
- Dan Sullivan, Sub-Committee chair (R, Alaska)(Lt.Col., US Marine Corps Reserve)
- Gary Peters, ranking member (D, Michigan)(LCdr. US Navy Reserve, Supply Corps)
- Bill Nelson, ranking member of the Commerce Committee (D, Florida)(Capt. US Army Reserve)(NASA Scuttle payload specialist)
- Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Seapower sub-committee (R, Mississippi)(Lt.Col. ret. USAF reserve)
- Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) (USMC Reserve 1970 to 1976 discharges as Sargent)
- Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii)
- Ed Markey (D, Mass.) (Spec4, US Army Reserve, 1968-73)
- Jim Inhofe (R, Oklahoma) (Spec4, US Army, 1956-1958)
- Maria Cantwell (D, Washington)
You can also check out the original post from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. (Same video is available there, but the meeting does not actually start on that version of the video until minute 36.) There you can also find the written statements of the other three witness who constituted the second panel. The Commandant was the sole witness on the first panel.
This was something of a love fest for the Coast Guard with repeated praise for the people and actions of the Coast Guard.
This hearing was reputedly about how the Coast Guard had been impacted by the unusually severe Hurricane season. There is not a lot new here but there were some interesting remarks.
Polar Icebreaker Contracts
The intention is to Contract for the first Icebreaker and then employ block buy for the next two (28m). To me this seems to negate most of the advantage of a block buy. I don’t believe we will or should buy one and then wait until we have tried it out before contracting for the next two. That would necessitate a delay of at least five years during which we would still have the nightmare scenario of our only heavy icebreaker having no rescue if it should break down in the ice–certainly not an impossibility even with a new ship. If we are going to contract for the remaining two before testing the first, we might as well block buy all three.
First of class is always the most expensive. If the shipyard gets a block buy they know that initial improvements in productivity can be amortized over the entire block buy quantity. In some cases, in order to win the whole project, the shipyard will cut the price of the first ship substantially knowing they will make a profit over the entire project.
If we buy one and then block buy the second and third, we have paid for improvements to the winning yard with the first contract and minimized the chances for a competitive bid for numbers two and three.
Legislation has capped DOD participation in icebreaker procurement, so the bulk of icebreaker procurement costs will come out of the Coast Guard budget.
There was a lot of discussion about the need to have the Coast Guard Authorization Bill signed into law, still not approved. You can see it here.
There was a discussion of the high cost of the Coast Guard response to the recent series of Hurricanes.
Representative Sullivan spent a lot of time, discussing and advocating for an eleven mile road from King Cove (population estimate–989) to Cold Bay, Alaska (population estimate–122) which has an all-weather airport with two runways, one 10,180 feet and one 6285 feet in length. The Coast Guard connection is that the road would minimize or eliminate the necessity for the Coast Guard to Medivac emergencies from King Cove by helicopter, which is frequently hazardous. It is a Federal issue, because the road would run through a Federal reserve. The Commandant fully supported the desirability of completing the proposed single lane gravel road as a means of minimizing the requirement for helicopter medivac.
28m Domestic icebreakers–Design work on new domestic icebreakers is expected to start in 2030. That sounds a bit late to me. Mackinaw was commissioned in 2006 so if that is what he is really talking about, that makes sense, but the 140 foot icebreaking tugs are a different story. The first for of these will be 51 years old in 2030. More than half of them have already completed in-service which was expected to add 15 years to their service life. Morro Bay, at least, is expected to reach the end of her service life in 2030, and considering how long it takes us to build a ship we really need to start the process not later than 2025.
45m Western Pacific Fisheries Protection–They have not seen much risk of Illegal, Unregulated, or Unreported fishing.
51m Inland River Tenders
56m We may need to replace the 52 ft MLBs with something larger than the 47 foot MLB sometime in the future, but their end of life is not yet apparent
58m Coast Guard Museum in New London
60m Sexual Assault in the CG
1h02m Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands continuing commitment and its effects on drug seizures and alien migrant interdiction.
1h05m Vessel homeporting
1h08 CG center of expertise, particularly in regard to clean up spills in ice and fresh water
1h16m Army Corp of Engineers dredging backlog.
1h17m Second Panel begins.
1h19m Medivac from King Cove
1h31m Mr Smithson regarding Deepwater Horizon experience, unified approach, investment in mitigation.
MarineLog reports Gulf Island ship is building an icebreaking/buoy tending tug for the Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation. $18.14 million (About a third the cost of a Webber class WPC). It is expected to be 118′ x 45′ x 16′, all-steel, with an ice-breaking bow, powered by two controllable-pitch Z-drive propulsion units, each driven by a high-speed diesel engine. Crew of 14.
Sounds like a type the Coast Guard might be interested in.
The Coast Guard’s domestic icebreaker tugs are 140′ x 37′ 5″ x 12′ 6″. These ships are up to 36 years old. The Coast Guard’s 65 foot tugs, that also do some domestic icebreaking are all at least 50 years old. Clearly our tugs are getting long in the tooth.
It is certainly not clear how good this new little ship will be either as an icebreaker or as a buoy tender, but sounds like it will be worth a look.
Adding a three or four more small icebreakers in the Great Lakes might be a reasonable substitute for the often called for second icebreaker for the Lakes. If they could help with buoy tending, so much the better.
The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”
Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.
- That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
- That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
- His support of transgender CG personnel.
I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.
The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.
6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven ships operating under SOUTHCOM.
Q&A begins at 11:00.
16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.
17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction
20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”
22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber
23m Cyber threat.
24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.
26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability
29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years
30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.
32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.
36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system. He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.
43m30s Comments on transgender members
45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.
47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.
49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.
50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease
53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.
56m DHS is the right place for the CG.
The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically
- He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways. Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
- He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.
The hearing recorded above was held 7 June. The original video was found here. That page also provides the chairman’s opening statement and links to the witnesses’ written statements that are also provided immediately below. The video does not actually start until time 4:30.
Below, you will find my outline of the highlights.
The GAO’s written testimony is particularly comprehensive. They report that new assets (NSCs and FRCs) are not meeting planned availability. There have been an unexpected number of engine replacements. In the case of the National Security cutters it appears to me the down time was predictable, a normal part of introducing new ships and availability should return to planned levels as more ships join the fleet. The known defect, that when operating in waters 74 degrees or warmer, the NSCs cannot maintain maximum speed has apparently not been corrected. Max speed must be reduced two to four knots to allow adequate cooling.
Planning Documents: The Congressional Representatives repeatedly complained that they were not getting an unsensored statement of the Coast Guard’s needs. It appears the Coast Guard is not being allowed provide this information. Rather it appears the GAO is telling the Coast Guard how much they will be getting and told to submit a budget that fits the predetermined amounts. Reportedly the Unfunded priorities list will be provided by the end of June. They also asked for the 5 year and 20 year plan (1h04:30). Coast Guard representatives were repeatedly told the Coast Guard does not say what they really need, that information provided by the Coast Guard is inadequate for the sub-committee to make decisions (1h48m).
It appears that the GAO continues to ask the Coast Guard to plan procurements based on historically low AC&I appropriations that were adequate for a time because of the sporadic character of Coast Guard ship building. They acknowledge that the current budget is not realistic. (43:45)
The Coast Guard is now consistent in requesting $2B in the AC&I annually and a 5% annual increase in its operating budget and that we need 5,000 additional active duty billets and 1,100 addtional reservists. There was a statement from one of the Representatives to the effect, We need you to fight for yourselves (1h50:30). The representatives were informed that the 5 year, 20 year plans and unfunded will be delivered together (1:56)
My opinion: we need a regularly revised Fleet Mix Study. That in turn should feed directly into a 30 year ship and aircraft procurement plan.
Webber Class WPCs: The Coast Guard is reportedly pushing WPCs operations down as far as the coast of South America. (50:00) This confirms my earlier speculation that these ships would be operated in what had been WMEC roles. Six cutters for CENTCOM The representative confirmed that they had approved procurement of six Webber class requested by CENTCOM. Apparently their approval was in the form of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill which has still not been made law. Adm. Ray stated that these would be in addition to the 58 currently planned (9:30) and it is not clear how or when they would be funded. Adm Stosz indicated it was not certain six Webber class would be the Coast Guard’s choice in how to fill this requirement and the question required more study. (1h11)(1h41m).
Shore Facilities: Reportedly there is a $1.6B shore construction backlog. $700M shore facilities maintenance backlog. Some infrastructure improvements that directly support new operational platforms.are being accomplished under the platform programs (55:00) The representatives asked, why we have asked for only $10M if the total shore facilities backlog is $2.3B?(1h35)
Icebreakers: The possibility of leasing the commercial icebreaker Aiviq is still being considered. (1h27) The owners have offered a plan for Ice trials and the Coast Guard has said it would be interested in observing. (1h29:50)
Great Lakes Icebreaker: Rep. Lewis brought up icebreaker for Great Lakes.Adm Ray says for now we will address with the existing fleet. (1h00:30) Priority is still Polar Ice Breakers.
eLoran: There seems to be considerable interest in eLoran to deal with GPS vulnerabilities. (1:22) The Navy League representative supported the need. The Re-Authorization Bill directs Secretary of Transportation to initiate E-Loran testing. There was a clear anticipation that the Coast Guard would support implementation.
Coast Guard Health Care: Looks like the Coast Guard heath care records system which reverted to paper now may be able to piggy back on the VA’s conversion to the DOD system. (1h25)/(1h32:30) There is currently a major gap in funding for medical care of CG retirees
A Better Armed Coast Guard: Not that the Representatives were specific, but there was a statement, “We want to weaponize you.” (5:55) I think I heard essentially a second time as well. I’m not sure what that means.
Rising Sea Levels: There was concern expressed regarding rising sea level and how they might impact shore facilities (1h12:20)
WMEC Service Life Extension: The Coast Guard was given money several years ago to plan a service life extension program for 270. The Congress has not seen or heard any result and they questioned, why delay? (1:09) See fig. 4 on page 17 of the GAO’s written testimony
Operating Expenses: Replacement ships are costing more.(26:25)(50:55). This is becoming problematic without an increase in operating budget.
Changing the way we buy ships: Included in the Reauthorization Bill are changes in the way the Coast Guard can fund its shipbuilding, putting us on par with the Navy (5:50)
Cyber: Budget includes 70 additional billets. (19:45) What are we doing for the ports? (1h13:45)
Inland Tender Fleet: Budget includes $!M to investigate alternatives. (52:30) (1h19)
It is remarkable that there seemed to be no sentiment that the Coast Guard budget should be cut, while there was considerable evidence the Representatives believe the Coast Guard is underfunded.
The Homeland Security “FY2018 Budget in Brief” has been published. You can see it in pdf form here.
The Coast Guard portion is on pages 44-48. The breakdown of the elements of the Coast Guard budget request are on page 47.
The total DHS budget request is $70,692,491,000. Of that, the Coast Guard portion is 15.1%. The DHS request is 7.1% greater than the FY2017 annualized continuing resolution. By comparison, the Coast Guard request is down 2.4%.
Highlights of the Coast Guard budget request noted include:
(“FTE refers to personnel changes. They are “Full Time Equivilents”)
- Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) ……………………………………. $500.0M, 0 FTE Provides funding to begin construction of the first OPC, which is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The OPC will replace the Medium Endurance Cutter classes that conduct missions on the high seas and coastal approaches;
- Fast Response Cutter (FRC)……………………………………….$240.0M, 0 FTE Funds procurement of four FRCs. These assets replace the less capable 110-foot patrol boats, enhancing the Coast Guard’s coastal capability to conduct Search and Rescue operations, enforce border security, interdict drugs, uphold immigration laws, prevent terrorism, and enhance resiliency to disasters;
- Polar Icebreaker ……………………………………………………. $19.0M, 0 FTE Continues efforts toward awarding a contract for detail design and construction in 2019. This acquisition is recapitalizing the Coast Guard’s heavy polar icebreaker fleet;
- Inland River and Western Rivers Tender ……………………….. $1.1M, 0 FTE Supports exploratory activities to analyze potential options to replace the capabilities provided by an obsolete fleet of inland tenders and barges commissioned between 1944 and 1990;
- C-27J ………………………………………………………………… $52.0M, 0 FTE Funds support continued activities of the C-27J Asset Project Office (APO), which organizes logistics, training development, maintenance support, and ensures that these newly acquired aircraft are ready for induction into the operational fleet. Continues funding for initial spares and logistics, training, and mission system development;
- Pay and Allowances……………………………………………….$109.8M, 0 FTE Maintains parity with DOD for military pay, allowances, and health care, and for civilian pay raise and retirement contributions, including providing a 2.1 percent military and 1.9 percent civilian pay raise in FY 2018. As a branch of the Armed Forces of the United States, the Coast Guard is subject to the provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, which include pay and personnel benefits for the military workforce;
- Operating and Maintenance of New Assets……………………$98.6M, 233 FTE Increases funding for operations and maintenance of shore facilities and provides sustainment funding for new cutters, boats, aircraft, and associated C4ISR subsystems delivered through acquisition efforts;
- Mission Essential Systems and Cyber Security …………… ……$26.2M, 2 FTE Funds sustainment of critical Coast Guard network infrastructure and pays DOD working capital fund increases necessary to comply with DOD information network and cybersecurity requirements; and
- Workforce Support Improvements ………………………………….$9.1M, 34 FTE Provides funding and personnel to manage the new Blended Retirement System, increase the frequency of Personnel Security suitability background investigations, and enhance capabilities to handle sexual assault allegations.
FY 2018 Major Decreases:
- Decommissioning of Legacy Assets…………………………. ($14.1M) (129 FTE) Decommissions one 378-foot high endurance cutter, three 110-foot patrol boats, and one HC-130H aircraft in line with the Coast Guard decommissioning plan; and
- Management and Support Efficiencies ………………………. ($13.9M) (13 FTE) Reflects savings generated from an enterprisewide efficiency review that can be taken with no direct operational impacts and a minimal loss of current service delivery
This is neither the disastrous cuts that were talked about earlier, nor is it a substantial boost. While less than the FY2017 budget as ultimately funded, it compares favorably to the initial FY2017 request. If the Congress does what it has done in the past, and adds some to the AC&I budget, we may feel this is a better than workable budget.
Compared to the enacted FY2017 budget, Operating Expenses are up $333,772,000 while AC&I is down $720,382,000. Hopefully the Congress will bump this up to nearer what we need annually, about $2B. I would be very surprised if the Congress does not increase the Fast Response Cutter buy from four to six, and NSC#10 and another C-130J are possibilities.