Cyclone-class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC 8) crew conducts ship-to-ship firefighting to extinguish a fire aboard a low-profile go-fast vessel suspected of smuggling in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean April 7, 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney
I learned recently that the Navy expects to decommission their 13 Cyclone class patrol craft in FY2021. This is significant for the Coast Guard for a couple of reasons.
The three based in Mayport have consistently been used to augment Coast Guard vessels, hosting Law Enforcement Detachments for drug enforcement (a recent example). .
Second, these vessels frequently partner with Coast Guard patrol boats of PATFORSWA based in Bahrain. Their decommissioning may put a greater load on the Coast Guard unit as it begins to receive Webber class as replacements for the existing six Island class patrol boats.
ARABIAN GULF (Sept. 16, 2018) A MK-60 Griffin surface-to-surface missile is launched from coastal patrol ship USS Thunderbolt (PC 12). (Photo by MC2 Kevin Steinberg)
For the Island class cutters in the Persian Gulf, the Cyclone class have served as better armed, big brothers, adding a bit of muscle to escort missions where Iranian Fast Inshore Attack Craft might be encountered. While the Webber class, that will be replacing the Island class, are a bit better armed than the 110s, unless they are extensively modified, they will not come close to replacing the missile armed Cyclone class. LCS are supposed to replace the Cyclone class, but they still have not demonstrated the ability to sustain a reasonable number of vessels in a remote theater. LCS are also too large to go many of the places the Cyclone class were able to.
USS Hurricane (PC-3)
These little ships have seemed to count for very little to the Navy. Regularly we see a count of “Battleforce ships”“Battleforce ships” that includes everything from aircraft carriers down to civilian crewed, unarmed fleet tugs (T-ATF), salvage ships (T-ARS), and high speed intra-theater transports (T-EPF, really aluminum hulled, high speed ferries). The Cyclone class were only included in the count one year (2014), so their loss will be largely invisible. (Significantly, this count of what many must assume is the National Fleet also makes no mention of Coast Guard assets either.)
Until ten of the class found a home in Bahrain, the Navy seemed to have had a hard time figuring out what to do with them. Originally intended to support the special warfare community, they were considered to large for that mission. Of the original fourteen one was transferred to the Philippine Navy. Five had been temporarily commissioned as Coast Guard cutters.
Other than the far larger LCS, the navy has no plans to replace these little ships, that have reportedly been the busiest ships in the Navy.
DAHLGREN, Va. (Nov. 6, 2004) Coast Guard Cutter Shamal (WPC-13) . USCG photo by Joseph P. Cirone, USCG AUX
Coast Guard Cutter John F. McCormick (WPC 1121) crew transits through the San Francisco Bay, Saturday, March 4, 2017, during their voyage to homeport in Ketchikan, Alaska. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Loumania Stewart
“We need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection. “
He suggested that the Navy needs F150 pickups rather than Ferraris. Metaphorically the Webber class could be the Navy’s small Toyota pickup–cheap, reliable, versatile, and economical to operate.
A strong point for the Webber class is that it is probably the smallest and cheapest combatant, being currently manufactured, that can self deploy anywhere in the world (other than the polar regions) with minimal support en route as demonstrated by their self deployment to Hawaii and Alaska and USCGC Olivier F. Berry (WPC-1124)’s successful patrol to the Marshall Islands, 2200 miles from her homeport in Honolulu.
As currently equipped there is not a lot of free space apparent on the Webber class, but removing the eight meter “over the horizon boat” would free up a large area where mission modules could be placed. We can think of it as the bed of the pickup.
180201-N-TB177-0211 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Feb. 1, 2018) Island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332), left, USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), middle, and coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) patrol the open seas. Wrangell, Aquidneck and Firebolt are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg/Released)
Countering the Swarm:
The Navy’s most likely first use of a Webber class could be as replacements for the Cyclone class in South West Asia. Countering the large number of Iranian fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) is a mission the Cyclone class is expected to do now, protecting both larger Navy vessels and the tanker traffic that must pass through the Straits of Hormuz.
The Fletcher laser guided rocket launcher fires BAE’s 2.75 inch laser guided rockets known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. (Shawn Snow/Defense News Staff)
An earlier post, “Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia,” was aimed at this threat as applied to the Coast Guard Webber class that will be going to Southwest Asia. As a minimum the Navy will likely want some form of guided weapon, Perhaps the APKWS would suffice, if provided in sufficient numbers.
Spike LR Missile launched from a Typhoon weapon station on an Israel Navy Super Dvora Mk 2. A similar configuration was recently tested by the US Navy, from an unmanned surface vessel (USV-PEM). Photo: RAFAEL
The 25mm Mk38 Mod2/3 that are currently mounted on the Webber class might be up-gunned (30, 35, and 40mm guns are all possible) and the mount might also be modified to also launch APKWS. Alternately the Mk38 might be replaced by BAE’s 40mm/70 MK4 and the Toplite gun director c(urrently mounted on the Mk38) could be mounted on the mast to control the 40mm, as the Israelis have done with some of their installations of the system, assuming the 40mm Mk 4 does not weigh too much.
BAE Bofors 40mm/70 mk4
Optimally, the outfit should include Longbow Hellfire. It could probably be mounted as single tube launchers affixed along the sides of the superstructure. I have seen a mockup of such a launcher. The missile itself is only about seven inches in diameter. If willing to replace the boat with missiles, its likely Lockheed could produce a 12 round launcher based on half the launcher being installed on the LCS.
ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)
In other theaters there is likely a desire to have a larger anti-ship missile.
The Navy has been talking a great deal about “Distributed Lethality.” The concept has its origin in a January 2015 US Naval Institute article by then-Director of Surface Warfare Requirements (OPNAV N96) Rear Admiral Tom Rowden, RAdm. Peter Gumataotao, and RAdm. Peter Fanta.
Rowden’s co-author and successor at N96, Rear Admiral Pete Fanta, continued the drum beat with the memorable phrase, “if it floats, it fights,” suggesting that anti-ship missiles should be put on virtually all units.
On the Webber class, this would most likely the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), recently chosen by the Navy to arm its LCSs and frigates. A four cell launcher could probably replace the boat. The missile is only 13 feet long.
A Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is launched from the U.S. Navy littoral combat ship USS Coronado (LCS-4) during missile testing operations off the coast of Southern California (USA). The missile scored a direct hit on a mobile ship target. 23 September 2014. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Zachary D. Bell
A new missile, “Deepstrike,” is being developed for these launchers. “The missile will be able to strike targets up to 309 miles away with precision, including moving targets both on land at sea.” (see also)
A Webber class equipped with these could function in the same way as the Army and Marine vehicles operating in the littorals and many river systems. Targeting would be provided by offboard sensors through networking.
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
This is probably unlikely, but there might be a place for craft that could perform ASW patrols off ports and amphibious objective areas or around choke points.
TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.
I have looked at how we might add torpedo tubes to the Webber class that could launch ASW torpedoes, but it is more likely aircraft, most likely helicopters, would be called in to make the actual attack. The ship would be primarily a sensor node, minimizing the requirement to keep ASW Helicopters airborne.
120mm Mortar for Naval Surface Fire Support:
Another truck like use would be to add this containerized large mortar as a way to provide naval fire support. This weapon is not currently in the US inventory but it does look promising. Guided projectiles are being developed for the 120 mm mortar.
Security for MSC’s PrePositioned Afloat Fleet
I am not sure what precautions the Navy has made to protect the ships of the MSC’s PrePositioned Afloat Fleet, but if I were an enemy there are might be strong incentive to destroy these ships that transport the most ready reinforcements of heavy equipment.
Webber class PCs might have a role in protecting these.
Large Unmanned Surface Vessel.
The Navy is seeking to procure a medium unmanned surface vessel (MUSV), 12 to 50 meters in length. The Webber class might be the basis for such a vessel. The modular systems described above might also be used on the MUSV.
Visit, Search, Board, and Seizure:
This is the mission these little ships are built for and, consequently, no change may be necessary. The mission might be stopping and boarding hundreds of small craft as was done off Vietnam as part of Operation Market Time, or it might be enforcing a blockade against Chinese shipping at the Straits providing access to the South China Sea. If resistance is expected there are a number of ways the vessels’ armament could be augmented, including missiles or torpedoes, but in most cases its likely air or backup could be called in. The real advantage is that the Navy would not need to tie down DDGs doing this work, and potentially risk it being damaged by improvised weapons on a vessel being boarded. For more challenging assignments two or three could be teamed with one or two providing boats and boarding teams and the other as a weapons carrier.
USCG Monomoy (WPB-1326) and Adak (WPB-1333), elements of PATFORSWA
The first two of the probably six Webber class WPCs that will replace the 110s in PATFORSWA have been funded. Before they go, there will likely be some changes in how they are equipped.
When the 110 were deployed they had some relatively minor changes:
During the delay in Hampton Roads, each of the WPBs received upgrades for overseas service. First, maintenance crews addressed all of the cutters’ mechanical problems. These crews also added two .50 caliber machine gun mounts aft of the pilothouse to supplement the firepower of the forward-mounted MK38 25mm gun. Most of the modifications fell within the area of communications, including new high-frequency transceivers, installation of satellite telephones and a number of improvements designed to reduce electromagnetic interference. Work crews installed new highstrength Kevlar lifelines around the decks and Forward-Looking Infrared Receivers (FLIR) on the cutters’ masts for nighttime operations. Each WPB also received night vision goggles; a translating bullhorn; and chemical, biological and radiological (CBR) gear.
Coast Guard planners also increased the patrol boats’ boarding capability. Each cutter received four Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) personnel to bring crew size up to full combat readiness. Coast Guard planners expected this crew augmentation to improve the WPBs maritime interception operations (MIO) capability, which would help the cutters to fulfill their primary mission in the Arabian Gulf. Work crews also added extra bunks in the aft berthing area of each WPB to provide for the war-time crew complement. Even so, certain crewmembers still had to practice “hot bunking,” with different watches sharing the same bunks
Now there is more time to plan and make upgrades. These ships also might serve as prototypes for equipment changes to the rest of the Coast Guard’s Webber class fleet either in response to the terrorist threat or in the future, in anticipation of an armed conflict.
In addition, the Navy’s Cyclone class patrol craft are coming to the end of their service life, and suitably modified Webber class might serve as a replacement.
Originally eight Island class cutters were deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, four in the Mediterranean and four in the Persian Gulf. They were to provide force protection. In addition they participated in the capture of an Iraqi vessel attempting to clandestinely mine the Gulf. Later they escorted humanitarian relief supplies up the rivers. They protected Iraq’s off shore oil terminals. Now there are six stationed in Bahrain. In addition to continuing force protection duties, they provide training to Navy ships as they enter the area. They promote capacity building in the navies and coast guards of SW Asia and East Africa. They have conducted counter piracy operations off the Horne of Africa.
Most of the duties these ships encounter are similar to those of continental US vessels, but there are some significant threats in the are we might want to consider.
The Navy of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corp has a force of about 1500 fast inshore attack craft ranging from simple rocket equipped speed boats to torpedo and missile boats. If there is a conflict, they are expected to be used in swarming attacks. My take is that the majority of these boats serve primarily as a distraction and screen to facilitate the attacks of the torpedo and missile armed craft, but some may be used as suicide improvised explosive devices.
None of these projected threats require large warhead weapons to deal with them, but they do require a short time critical, high probability of kill. The Iranian threat also means there is a need to deal with multiple threats, from multiple directions simultaneously. Attacks could be prolonged, so running out of ammunition could be problem.
The easiest change is to convert the four single .50 caliber mounts to twins. This doubles the ammunition on each mount and provides redundancy if a weapon jams. I think I may have seen that this was already done on the 110 in PATFORSWA.
They will need a laser target designator even if there are no laser guided weapons on the cutter, to allow it to designate targets for other US and allied platforms, perhaps provision for one mast mounted and one hand held.
To dispatch threats, quickly and effectively, these vessels really need small guided weapons in addition to guns.
The only small missile installations the Navy has made are Sea Griffin on the Cyclone Class patrol craft and a relatively large 24 round installation on the Littoral Combat Ships.
Sea Griffin lost out to the Hellfire Longbow for installation on the LCS. Hellfire and APKWS have been declared among six “preferred munitions” being procured at maximum production rates, literally thousands of rounds per year. With Sea Griffin falling in size between APKWS and Hellfire, this probably means Sea Griffin does not have a great future.
As a minimum I think our cutters need a number of APKWS, Hellfire may also be desirable for its longer range, greater hitting power, and fire and forget capability. It would be best if we could use either and trade them off. Unfortunately right now there is no system in the Navy inventory, other than perhaps Sea Griffin, that could readily be installed on our cutters.
The Israeli’s have attached missile launch tubes to their versions of both the Mk38 gun mount that we have on the Webber class and on their mini-Typhoon which is in USN and Coast Guard service as the Mk49 mod1. (Both systems are also expected to be on the OPC.)
Spike LR Missile launched from a Typhoon weapon station on an Israel Navy Super Dvora Mk 2. A similar configuration was recently tested by the US Navy, from an unmanned surface vessel (USV-PEM). Photo: RAFAEL
Rafael Mini Typhoon 12.7mm RWS (MK49 mod1 in USN) and Spike-ER missile launcher recently tested by the USN on an unmanned surface vessel. (photo : Rafael)
This looks doable:
I would suggest these little ships should be armed with a Mk 49 remote weapon station taking the place of, at least the two crew served .50 cal. mounts on the aft corners of the superstructure, perhaps the two forward as well. In addition, the Mk38 mod3 and the Mk49s should be modified to also support a pair of four tube APKWS launchers, similar to the one pictured below. (Perhaps seven or even 19 round launchers in the case of the Mk38.) Assuming we replace only after Mk49 mounts, and have two four round launchers on each mount, this would provide at least 24 guided rockets ready to launch.
Unfortunately, while the Navy has done a test with the Mk49 and has been talked about adding missiles to the Mk38, they have never followed through. We need to convince the Navy to rapidly push development of this additional capability. They should also have an interest in doing this, since Mk38s are mounted on their destroyers, Cyclone patrol craft, Mk VI patrol boats, and a number of other vessels. BAE should be all in, they make both the MK38 gun mount and the APKWS. Plus these modified Webber class may be the next Navy PC as well.
I have seen a mockup of small Hellfire Vertical Launch Systems that might it might be possible to mount on the outer superstructure bulkheads in the form of multiple single launch tubes. There are other launch systems like the one below that fit on vessels much smaller than the Webber class.
An earlier post reported a plea by Representative Duncan Hunter, Chair of the Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, for the Coast Guard to provide an unfunded priority list to include six icebreakers and unmanned Air System.
Thought perhaps I would list my own “unfunded priorities.” These are not in any particular order.
Icebreakers: We have a documented requirement for three heavy and three medium icebreakers, certainly they should be on the list. Additionally they should be designed with the ability to be upgraded to wartime role. Specifically they should have provision for adding defensive systems similar to those on the LPD–a pair of SeaRAM and a pair of gun systems, either Mk46 mounts or Mk38 mod 2/3s. We might want the guns permanently installed on at least on the medium icebreakers for the law enforcement mission. Additionally they should have provision for supporting containerized mission modules like those developed for the LCS and lab/storage space identified that might be converted to magazine space to support armed helicopters.
110225-N-RC734-011 PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 25, 2011) Guy Mcallister, from Insitu Group, performs maintenance on the Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Scan Eagle is a runway independent, long-endurance, UAV system designed to provide multiple surveillance, reconnaissance data, and battlefield damage assessment missions. Comstock is part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, which is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility during a western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac/Released)
Unmanned Air Systems (UAS): We seem to be making progress on deploying UAS for the Bertholf class NSCs which will logically be extended to the Offshore Patrol Cutters. So far we see very little progress on land based UAS. This may be because use of the Navy’s BAMS system is anticipated. At any rate, we will need a land based UAS or access to the information from one to provide Maritime Domain Awareness. We also need to start looking at putting UAS on the Webber class. They should be capable of handling ScanEagle sized UAS.
Photo: The Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell sits moored along the Willamette River waterfront in Portland, Ore., June 4, 2015. The Bluebell, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, is one of many ships participating in the 100th year of the Portland Rose Festival. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley.)
Expand the Program of Record to the FMA-1 level: The Fleet Mix Study identified additional assets required to meet the Coast Guard’s statutory obligations identifying four asset levels above those planned in the program of record. Lets move at least to first increment.
At the very least, looks like we need to add some medium range search aircraft (C-27J or HC-144).
Increase Endurance of Webber Class Cutters: The Webber class could be more useful if the endurance were extended beyond five days (currently the same as the 87 cutters, which have only one-third the range). We needed to look into changes that would allow an endurance of ten days to two weeks. They already have the fuel for it.
MISSION EQUIPMENT SHORTFALLS
Ship Stopper (Light Weight Homing Torpedo): Develop a system to forcibly stop even the largest merchant ships by disabling their propulsion, that can be mounted on our patrol boats. A torpedo seems the most likely solution. Without such a system, there is a huge hole in our Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission.
Photo: SeaGriffin Launcher
Counter to Small High Speed Craft (Small Guided Weapon): Identify and fit weapons to WPB and larger vessels that are capable of reliably stopping or destroying small fast boats that may be used as fast inshore attack craft and suicide or remote-controlled unmanned explosive motor boats. These weapons must also limit the possibility of collateral damage. Small missiles like SeaGriffin or Hellfire appear likely solutions.
40 mm case telescoped gun (bottom) compared to conventional guns.
Improved Gun–Penetration, Range, and Accuracy: The .50 cal. and 25mm guns we have on our WPBs and WPCs have serious limitations in their ability to reach their targets from outside the range of weapons terrorist adversaries might improvise for use against the cutters. They have limited ability to reach the vitals of medium to large merchant vessels, and their accuracy increases the possibility of collateral damage and decreases their probability of success. 30, 35, and 40 mm replacements for the 25 mm in our Mk38 mod2 mounts are readily available.
Laser Designator: Provide each station, WPB, and WPC with a hand-held laser designator to allow them to designate targets for our DOD partners.
CONTINGENCY PLANNING SHORTFALLS
Vessel Wartime Upgrades: Develop plans for a range of options to upgrade Coast Guard assets for an extended conflict against a near peer.
DefenseNews reports that the 30 January attack on the Saudi frigate, previously reported as a suicide attack, was actually done using unmanned, remote-controlled boat filled with explosives.
The story makes it sound like this is hard to do, but in fact it has become very simple just as has the use of hobby drones.
“Donegin is concerned “first that it is in the hands of someone like the Houthis. That’s not an easy thing to develop. There have been many terrorist groups that have tried to develop that, it’s not something that was just invented by the Houthis. There’s clearly support there coming from others, so that’s problematic.”
What does it require? I presume this boat had no real autonomy, that it was simply radio controlled (RC). Presumably it was supported and controlled by the boat from which the Houthi rebels filmed the attack.
Steering a collision course may be difficult from a half mile to a mile away, but it can be simplified by mounting a camera on the RC boat and broadcasting the picture back to the controlling boat. Then all you need to do is keep the target in your camera’s field of view and close the range to zero.
Theoretically it is relatively easy to disrupt the radio control and television links, but unless you anticipate the need it won’t happen.
If you are a terrorist, you can also make the boats very hard to sink by putting the explosives and critical components low in the boat and covering them with a steel plate. Laid near horizontal the steel plate would deflect small arms and resist fragment. Follow that up with liberal use of expanding foam filler to maintain flotation.