“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, October 16, 2019, A New Version Only Five Days After the Last

Congressional Research Service has again updated their review of the Coast Guard’s Cutter acquisition programs and the changes are significant. You can see it here.

Again the significant changes begin on page 8, with the section labeled “October 2019 Announcement of Contractual Relief and Follow-on Competition.” It looks at the authority for contract relief. It goes on to discuss the “60-Day Congressional Review Period That Started on October 11” on page 9. This is followed by quotation of various press reports about the decision through page 11. Discussion of the OPC resumes on page 14 in the “Issues for Congress” section under the title, “Contractual Relief and Follow-on Competition for OPC Program.” These include questions that might be asked during the 60 day Congressional Review period. This continues through page 16

It quotes the Commandant as saying, “the first ship now delayed 10 to 12 months and the three subsequent ships about nine to 10 months each from that point,” and that “If DHS decided to reopen the competition immediately, that would probably mean a three year delay before a new vendor delivers the first OPC.” (I expect a minimum of four years.) and “If another vendor is selected through a re-competition, it’s unlikely the new shipbuilder would be tasked with building multiple ships per year immediately, Schultz said.”

The Coast Guard’s rights to Eastern’s OPC design data are discussed. My position would be that relief should be granted only if Eastern conveyed rights to all design data to the Coast Guard upon final grant of contract relief. 

The possibility of procuring a twelfth National Security as a means of ameliorating the effects of the delays to the OPCs program was discussed on page 17. (It is not addressed here, but delays in the OPC program also argue strongly for fully funding the FRC fleet to 64 units.)

The form of the follow-on contract, either annual or multi-year, was discussed on page 17 and 18. (A block buy could encourage more competition, offering stable work and to a degree offsetting Eastern’s learning curve edge in a re-compete, possibly resulting savings that might approach $1B.)

OPC procurement rate is addressed on pages 18 and 19. This question was raised in all previous editions of the report, but may gain additional urgency because of the delays associated with contract relief and because the program was supposed to transition from one ship per year to two ships per year with OPC #4 and #5 in FY2021.

If I had my druthers, we would fund NSC#12 in addition to OPC#3 in FY2020, then in FY2021 award two block buy contracts for ten ships each over five years (1, 2, 2, 2, 3) to two different shipyards. Assuming award near the end of FY2021 we might have all 20 plus the four currently planned from Eastern by the end of FY2029, five years earlier than previously planned. That could mean the last 270 would only be 38 years old when decommissioned, and we might not need to do as much work on old ships to keep the operational. That would give us 36 large ships (12 NSCs and 24 OPCs), more than the original Program of Record. That would mean funding three OPCs in FY2021, one to Eastern and one to each of the two new shipyard contracts.

“Appendix E. Impact of Hurricane Michael on OPC Program at Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG)” provides additional background on the decision to provide contract relief.

Incidentally, on page 20, the House Appropriations Committee is reported to have recommended funding five FRCs in FY2020 and on page 21 the Senate Appropriations Committee is reported to have recommended funding four FRCs instead of the two requested by the administration.

Webber Class Cutter Robert Ward Gets Another Pacific Drug Transit Zone Bust

The Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) is shown shortly after mooring for the first time at its homeport at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oct. 31, 2018. The Robert Ward is the second of four new Fast Response Cutters to be stationed in San Pedro, which will help to protect the people, ports and waterways of the region and maintain security for the global supply chain and critical infrastructure within California. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Brandyn Hill)

Below is a fairly routine press release. I would not normally reproduce these, because there are other places where the information is already available, but this is a bit unusual, in that one of the busts was made by a Webber class WPC, USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130), the first Webber class to make a drug bust in the Eastern Pacific Drug Transit Zone. Apparently they are at it again.

She had seized 3,000 pounds of cocaine in mid-July, that was brought into San Diego  by Steadfast (WMEC-623). At the end of August she returned to her homeport, San Pedro, bringing in another 2,800 pounds. Now she has taken another 1,500 pounds.

This is the new norm.

Incidentally, it is well over 3000 miles from San Pedro to the Transit Zone. Seventh District WPCs are actually a lot closer.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District PA Detachment San Diego
Contact: Coast Guard PA Detachment San Diego
Office: (619) 278-7025
After Hours: (619) 252-1304
PA Detachment San Diego online newsroom

Coast Guard offloads more than $92 million worth of cocaine in San Diego

 The Coast Guard Cutter Alert crew conducted a drug offload in San Diego, Oct. 16, 2019. The crew offloaded more than 6,800 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $92 million, seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard B-Roll footage by Petty Officer 2nd Class Brandon Giles)
 Coast Guardsmen prepare bails of cocaine to be offloaded from the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in San Diego, October 16, 2019. The crew aboard the Alert offloaded approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Gray) The Coast Guard Cutter Alert crew conducted a drug offload in San Diego, Oct. 16, 2019. The crew offloaded more than 6,800 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $92 million, seized in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Gray) Bales of cocaine lie stacked under the deck of a suspected smuggling vessel in October interdicted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. Approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspected smugglers were detained. (U.S. Coast Guard photo) A suspected smuggling vessel drifts in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean after being intercepted by the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert in October. Approximately 6,800 pounds of cocaine were seized and three suspected smugglers were detained. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

Editors’ Note: Click on images and video above to download full-resolution version.

SAN DIEGO — The Coast Guard offloaded more than $92 million worth of seized cocaine in San Diego Wednesday.

The cocaine, worth more than $92 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents four suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions by the crews of three Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late July and early October by the following Coast Guard cutters:

  • Alert (WMEC-630) was responsible for two cases, seizing approximately 4,000 pounds of cocaine
  • Robert Ward (WPC-1130) was responsible for one case, seizing approximately 1,500 pounds of cocaine
  • Seneca (WMEC-906) was responsible for one case, seizing approximately 1,400 pounds of cocaine

Numerous U.S. agencies from the Departments of Defense, Justice and Homeland Security are involved in the effort to combat transnational organized crime. The Coast Guard, Navy, Customs and Border Protection, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement along with allied and international partner agencies play a role in counter-drug operations. The fight against transnational organized crime networks in the Eastern Pacific requires unity of effort in all phases from detection, monitoring and interdictions to prosecutions by U.S. Attorneys throughout the country.

“I am extremely proud of this crew for doing their part to keep these dangerous drugs off the streets,” said Cmdr. Tyson Scofield, Alert’s commanding officer. “The Eastern Pacific Ocean is a challenging environment, especially on a ship that is in her 50th year of service, yet this crew persevered to disrupt the illegal flow of narcotics that fuels instability in Central and South America. The counter-drug mission is as important now as it has ever been, and these brave men and women can return home after a 69-day patrol knowing they made a difference.”

The Coast Guard increased the U.S. and allied presence in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Basin, which are known drug transit zones off of Central and South America, as part of its Western Hemisphere Strategy. During at-sea interdictions in international waters, a suspect vessel is initially located and tracked by allied, military or law enforcement personnel. The interdictions, including the actual boarding, are led and conducted by U.S. Coast Guardsmen. The law enforcement phase of counter-smuggling operations in the Eastern Pacific is conducted under the authority of the Coast Guard 11th District headquartered in Alameda.

The Alert is a 210-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Astoria, Oregon. The Robert Ward is a 154-foot fast-response cutter homeported in San Pedro. The Seneca is a 270-foot medium-endurance cutter homeported in Boston, Massachusetts.

-USCG-

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, October 11, 2019

Busy as always, the Congressional Research Service has already updated their examination of the Coast Guard’s cutter procurement program to reflect the results of the contract relief extended to Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) and the intention to re-compete for contracts to construct OPC#5 and later. You can see the new report here. 

Significant changes are found on pages 8-10 under the title “October 2019 Announcement of Contractual Relief and Follow-on Competition,” and pages 13-15 under the title “Issues for Congress–Contractual Relief and Follow-on Competition for OPC Program.”

Delays in the execution of the OPC program might be seen as justification for NSC#12 particularly if it is seen as a trade-off for a future OPC.

Not new to this edition, but looking at “Table 1. NSC, OPC, and FRC Funding in FY2013-FY2020 Budget Submissions” on page 13, raises a question about how many Webber class FRCs are to be built. The Program of Record is 58, but this did not include replacements for the six vessels assigned to Patrol Forces SW Asia. Adding six for PATFORSWA should bring the total to 64. So far 56 Webber class have been funded, including four to replace 110 foot patrol boats assigned PATFORSWA. There is $140M in the FY 2020 budget request, which would fund two more, but there are insufficient funds in the out years to fund even a single additional FRC. This appears to mean the program will end with a total of 58 vessels unless Congress steps in.

 

“U.S. Coast Guard cutters support Oceania partners during month-long Operation Aiga in South Pacific” –Press Release

Samoa. Photo Credit: TUBS, This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this: Polynesian triangle.svg (by Gringer).

Below is a press release in full. I don’t normally report routine operations, but this seems a bit out of the ordinary, and part of a renewed interest in the Central and Western Pacific. It is also another demonstration of the capability of the 154 foot Webber Class cutters (“traveling between Honolulu and American Samoa, 2,300 miles in nine days, without refueling en route”). It also demonstrates the multi-mission capability of the large buoy tenders.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 14th District Hawaii and the Pacific
Contact: 14th District Public Affairs
Office: (808) 535-3230
After Hours: (808) 265-7748
14th District online newsroom

 Imagery Available: U.S. Coast Guard cutters support Oceania partners during month-long Operation Aiga in South Pacific 

USCGC Joseph Gerczak American Samoa boardings  USCGC Walnut gives tours in Samoa US Embassy and USCGC Walnut aboard HMNZS Otago

Editors’ Note: Click on images to see more, view video, or download a high-resolution version.
You can also visit our Operation Aiga feature page on DVIDS here.

HONOLULU — The crews of two Coast Guard cutters, the Walnut (WLB 205) and Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126), returned to Honolulu at the end of August following a successful deployment to Samoa and the U.S. territory of American Samoa, where they conducted operations to counter illegal fishing and strengthen relations with allies and partner nations. 

“Our Coast Guard crews demonstrated superior performance during intense operations over the past month in support of the Government of Samoa and within the U.S. territory of American Samoa,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District. “Working with Australia and New Zealand, we supported the Government of Samoa by embarking Samoan law enforcement shipriders on a Coast Guard cutter to patrol their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and ensure Samoan sovereignty. We also patrolled the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa to protect U.S. sovereignty. Our crews’ local engagements in Samoa and American Samoa reinforced our enduring shared values and Polynesian heritage, and advanced U.S. strategic interests in Oceania.” 

The operation, named ‘Aiga,’ the Samoan word for family, was first announced by U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz in a July interview describing the Coast Guard expansion of its permanent presence and effectiveness in the region through expeditionary capabilities, doubling down in Oceania.

The U.S. employs 11 bilateral shiprider agreements with Pacific Island Forum (PIF) nations throughout Oceania to help them counter illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing within their 200 nautical mile EEZ. Again, this operation was undertaken in coordination with Australia and New Zealand as Samoa awaits the delivery of its new, highly capable patrol boats from Australia later this year.

During the busy month-long deployment, the Walnut crew conducted numerous fishing vessel boardings with officers from the Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the Samoan EEZ. The Walnut also carried Australian Fisheries Management Authority officers and a Chinese linguist from the U.S. Marine Corps. They further conducted maritime exercises with the Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Otago (P148) and Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Choules (L100). 

“It was a pleasure to assist the government of Samoa, as part of a bilateral shiprider agreement, in enforcing their maritime sovereignty and resource security to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing within their exclusive economic zone,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Jasnoch, commanding officer, Walnut. “We also had the privilege to strengthen our partnerships with New Zealand and Australia and proved our inter-operability by conducting at-sea maneuvers with Otago and Choules.” 

The Walnut crew engendered goodwill by hosting a reception with the U.S. Embassy for the acting prime minister of Samoa and senior Samoan government officials. The Walnut team also visited, read to, and played games with students at the Lufilufi Primary School in Apia. During a second port call, crews from Walnut and Joseph Gerczak attended sports practices with the Samoan Junior National Golf Team and American Gridiron football club. Both ships complement also hosted shipboard tours for dignitaries, a maritime academy, and the public. 

“The crew felt extremely rewarded to have these opportunities, and we look forward to returning to Samoa and American Samoa, hopefully soon,” said Jasnoch.

In support of strong maritime commerce and maritime transportation system, the Walnut crew installed a new Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitter in American Samoa designed to notify mariners of the location of navigational hazards within the harbor if the physical aid marking the hazard is damaged or not working properly. The crew also recovered a sunken buoy in Pago Pago and replaced it with a new one to ensure safe navigation for mariners transiting in and out of the U.S. strategic deepwater port. 
The Joseph Gerczak set a new mark for the expeditionary deployment of the 154-foot fast response cutters by traveling between Honolulu and American Samoa, 2,300 miles in nine days, without refueling en route.  

During the deployment, the Joseph Gerczak crew also conducted professional exchanges with the New Zealand navy crew of Otago.

“The exchange with the Otago crew was a great opportunity to share best practices and hear their knowledge of this area including Samoa and the high-seas pocket that we do not frequently patrol,” said Lt. James Provost, commanding officer, Joseph Gerczak. “It was a great experience to see how another nation’s navy operates and the similarities and differences between us.”

The Joseph Gerczak crew conducted joint boardings in the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa with U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officers and the American Samoa Marine Police. Later, the Joseph Gerczak joined up with Walnut in Apia, Samoa to participate in community relations events on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. The Joseph Gerczak also assisted local responders with search and rescue efforts for two teenagers swept out from shore by high swells off the main island of Tutuila. Despite the best search efforts by all involved, the teens remain missing. All of these efforts had a profound impact on the crew.

“It’s been a long patrol, but getting out to Samoa, meeting some of the locals and getting to take part in operations was well worth the trip,” said Joseph Gerczak Fireman Ty Kamiyama. “It’s good to know that we have laid a foundation to continue building strong relations with the Samoan community.”

“This patrol was an amazing experience to see firsthand just what our asset is capable of,” said Joseph Gerczak Petty Officer 3rd Class Scott Sabatini. “I thought getting to see the culture in Samoa was amazing. I got to go out with several other crewmembers to teach local youth about American football. It was such an enriching and rewarding time for all of us.”

The U.S. and its allies are trusted partners in Oceania. Operation Aiga is one of several operations conducted by the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and France as part of the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (Pacific QUAD) in support of PIF countries. The Pacific QUAD has historically supported PIF countries in their efforts to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in their exclusive economic zones. This year, the Pacific QUAD expanded the scope of its activities to encompass the broad range of maritime security concerns expressed by the PIF in the 2018 Boe Declaration.

The Walnut is a 225-foot Juniper-Class seagoing buoy tender responsible for maintaining aids to navigation, performing maritime law enforcement, port, and coastal security, search and rescue and environmental protection. Designed to patrol coastal regions, the Joseph Gerczak is a 154-foot Sentinel-Class fast response cutter and one of the newest patrol boats in the fleet to replace the 1980s-era 110-foot Island-class patrol boats. Both vessels call Honolulu their homeport.

Coast Guard Day in the South Pacific. The command from USCGC Walnut (WLB 205) conduct an exchange with peers on HMNZS Otago (P148) discussing mission, challenges and comparing shipboard life in the region while off Samoa Aug. 4, 2019. The Walnut and Otago crews are in the region combating illegal fishing, a part of promoting maritime governance and a rules based international order that is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific. (Photo courtesy HMNZ Navy Lt. Samuel Murray/Released)

Coast Guard Commander Craig Allen talks about challenges with national security cutter connectivity.

HMAS Success (AOR-304) refuelling probe goes in for a hook-up with the US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Waesche (WMSL-751) as the Royal Australian Navy Auxilliary Oiler Replenishment Ship conducts a dual RAS (Replenishment at Sea) off the coast of Hawaii during the Sea Phase of Exercise RIMPAC 2014, 19 July 2014. (RAN Photo by Leading Seaman Brenton Freind RAN)

The 8 Aug. 2019 US Naval Institute podcast features Cdr. Craig Allen, currently XO of USCGC Waesche discussing the topic of his winning USNI Coast Guard Essay contest.

Despite the title, connectivity on other Coast Guard platforms was also discussed.

The discussion on cutter connectivity doesn’t actually start until about time 10:05. Earlier in the podcast they talk about the Midshipmen and Cadets Essay Contest (deadline 31 Oct. 2019).

He mentions specifically difficult to share UAS data and images. Even so it sounds like the most significant difficulty is that operational data is crowding out administrative data that now can no longer be done offline. 

Sounds like there are three paths that might be pursued that might ease the situation.

First of course is to increase band width, but if that were easy I presume it would have already been done.

There was not discussion of tactical data links, like Link 16, but this is one way to a common shared tactical picture. Reportedly Link16 “supports the exchange of text messages, imagery data and provides two channels of digital voice (2.4 kbit/s and/or 16 kbit/s in any combination).” I am pretty sure the NSC has Link 16, but most Coast Guard units including Webber class, aircraft, and District and Area Commands do not. Moving the tactical information to data links could free bandwidth for administrative tasks. In addition if we ever want our district and area commands to be able to call on DOD assets to respond to a terrorist attack, having access to data link could make it a lot easier.

Third, it sounds like we may have shot ourselves in the foot by eliminating previously acceptable ways to handle administrative matters. Sounds like we are forcing operational units to make it easy for administrative support units, instead of the other way around, as it should be. The extreme measures he describes as required to get the job done should be an embarrassment to the Coast Guard. The administrative system worked before internet. It can work without it. There are ways around these problems.

USCGC Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) arrives in American Samoa on patrol

The crew of USCGC Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) prepare to moor at the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa, Aug. 3, 2019. They will conduct a joint fisheries patrol with NOAA Fisheries and American Samoa Marine Police members. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

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.

America Samoa location. Author: TUBS

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.

USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130) Makes First Eastern Pacific Transit Zone Drug Bust by an FRC

A Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward crew member inspects and prepares to test suspected contraband seized from a suspected drug smuggling boat in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 16, 2019. Commissioned March 2, 2019, Robert Ward’s interdiction marks the first drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific Ocean by a Fast Response Cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A recent press release suggests that we will be seeing new, different, smaller ships engaged in drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone. This could be precedence for a new kind of operation. I will only quote a part of it.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-632) is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine in San Diego Friday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $350 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents six suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and the recovery of floating cocaine bales by the crews of two Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late June and mid-July.

Six of the interdictions were carried out by the Steadfast’s crew, one of the Coast Guard’s oldest cutters commissioned in 1968. One interdiction was by the crew of one of the service’s newest ships, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) commissioned in March, and is not only the cutter’s first drug bust, but the first drug bust by a Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

We have had a problem having enough ships on scene to take advantage of all the intel available. I have long suggested that the FRCs might be used in the Eastern Pacific, possibly with a supporting vessel. The Navy used one of their Cyclone class PCs for drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific in 2018, confirming that the use of these smaller vessels was probably viable.

I had really expected Atlantic Area to do this first, since they have so many Webber class in the Seventh District (19, soon to be 20 FRCs), and they got them first (since 2012). Still the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone is a Pacific Area show, perhaps that is why it is PACAREA, using the Robert Ward, only the second West Coast CONUS FRC, commissioned little over four months ago, that took the initiative.

It looks like the Steadfast may have provided some support to the Robert Ward. This might have been facilitated by the fact that Steadfast is also a PACAREA asset.

Hopefully, if there were no unanticipated problems, this will be the start of a pattern of successful FRC deployments to the transit zone. To take full advantage of the concept, we really need Atlantic Area participation. They have far more assets and are actually closer to the transit zone. Excluding FRCs in the 14th and 17th Districts (Hawaii and the Western Pacific and Alaska) PACAREA has only four WPCs. They could maintain perhaps one FRC in the Transit Area continuously, while LANTAREA could maintain at least three and probably more.

Something we really should look at is, what is limiting the endurance of the vessels to five days? For a vessel of this size, it should be more like ten days. Feedback on the post linked above, suggest they are limited by “their very small dry-stores and refrigerator units, and the crew’s laundry.” Perhaps a ShipAlt is in order.