Marine Protector class WPB replacement? Its Time!

33 meter Damen designed patrol boat

Bairdmaritime brings us news of a new patrol boat being built for a private security company that is protecting Nigeria’s offshore oil industry. Looks like a possible replacement for the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. Yes it is bigger, but all our vessels have gotten bigger. It is also faster, but the crew is no larger, although more accommodations are provided.

Is it too early to start looking at a replacement class? Actually we may already be a year or two late starting the process.  

Our 73 Marine Protector class 87 foot WPBs were commissioned over an eleven year period from 1998 to 2009. If we want to replace them when they reach 25 years old, the first new cutters should be commissioned in 2023. If it were possible, it could fit well into our shipbuilding program since it appears likely the last of the programmed 58 Webber class will be funded in FY2020 and the first of the new class could be funded in FY2021.

Additionally we probably would want to start with an initial low rate production until the bugs have been worked out, and we get DHS approval to enter full-rate production. At that point, we should enter into a Multi-year Procurement. We don’t want to get into a situation where we have to rush a crash program to replace overage vessels.

Unfortunately it looks like we are once again “behind the power curve.” It takes us ten years to procure a large ship. Maybe we can move a little faster on these smaller vessels, but if you look at the way we are doing ship contracts,

  • there will be a year for market research/requests for information
  • a year of competition to select three preliminary designs
  • a year to refine and select from among the preliminary designs
  • a year to complete the winner’s detail design
  • at least two years construction before the first ship is commissioned.

That is six years, meaning we needed to start the contracting process in 2018, but there is nothing in the FY2018 budget that would move us toward a WPB procurement.

Even before the procurement process begins, we really need to look at what characteristics the new WPBs should have. I think the documentation is still called ROC and POE, for Required Operational Characteristics and Projected Operating Environment.

Surely we would want a better ship’s boat (the same 26 foot over the horizon boat used on the Webber class) and probably more speed and greater range.

Is it going to be just a SAR and LE asset, or will we consider Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) and our newly remembered Defense Readiness missions?

If so, I would suggest that they provide at least one Mk38 mod3 mount with provision for mounting a second Mk38 mod3, a guided weapon (which might be on the Mk38 mount) to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats, and weight and space for a pair of tubes for light weight torpedoes to deal with the largest terrorist threats and . We might also consider a pilot house armored against small arms, like that on the Nigerian boats.

We ought to be able to get all that in a boat less than half the displacement of a Webber class, eg, about the same size as the Island class 110s.