Navy to Decommission Cyclone Class Patrol Craft

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

“BAE successfully tests ground-launched APKWS rockets for first time” –Defense News

Concept art shows a ground vehicle launching an APKWS rocket. (BAE Systems)

Defense News is reporting that APKWS (Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System) has been successfully tested as a ground based weapon system. This is a small light weight missile produced by adding a guidance kit to the common and inexpensive 70 mm (2.75″) Hydra rocket. It has normally been used by helicopters.

As we have discussed previously, this looks like a weapon system that would give even relatively small Coast Guard craft a substantial punch, out to beyond 8,000 yards, with a minimal danger of collateral damage. And of course the Navy could use them against swarming fast inshore attack craft.


The company delivered more than 35,000 APKWS units by the end of 2019 and expects to deliver 18,000 in 2020.

“Precision-Guided Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service issued an update of their 42 page “Precision-Guided Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress” on February 27, 2020. This contains a lot of information on weapons we have discussed here, for potential Coast Guard applications to improve our ability to stop threats ranging from small fast highly maneuverable small craft to medium or large sized ships. The weapons that might be of interest to the Coast Guard include Hellfire (also discussed here and here) and its successor the Joint Air to Ground Missile (JAGM), the Precision Strike Missile, the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), and the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). Missing from the list is the Advanced Precision Kill Weapons System (APKWS) which is really a guidance kit used to provide semi-active laser homing for the 70 mm Hydra rocket.

For some reason the Coast Guard seems to be guided weapon phobic. Is it the Coast Guard not asking? or the Navy not supporting? No way to tell, but it does look like guided weapons could answer an unfulfilled need to be able to forcibly stop any vessel, regardless of their size, speed or maneuverability. Also unlike conventional naval guns they provide greater precision, minimizing the potential for collateral damage. This could be a significant advantage in view of the fact that the Coast Guard may be called upon to engage terrorists near population centers.

Yes, individual guided weapon rounds are more expensive than conventional gun projectiles, but the total cost to provide a given level of capability and train and provide supporting personnel is usually less. (The 57mm Mk110, its ammunition, and people to support it are not cheap. Reportedly the gun cost $7.2M and the rounds $1200 each.)

The ubiquity and sheer number of modern precision-guided weapons is staggering.

In FY2021, the Department of Defense (DOD) requested approximately $4.1 billion for more than 41,337 weapons in 15 munitions programs. DOD projects requesting approximately $3.3 billion for 20,456 weapons in FY2022, $3.9 billion for 23,306 weapons in FY2023, $3.9 billion for 18,376 weapons in FY2024, and $3.6 billion for 16,325 weapons in FY2025.

Below I will provide a brief description of the weapon and using the figures from the report provide an approximate unit cost.

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)

AGM-114 Hellfire Missile: 

Originally designed as a helicopter launched anti-tank weapon, Hellfire is relatively small at about 110 pounds. It has a surface launch range of about eight kilometers or about 4.3 miles. The warhead is about 20 pounds. It could be highly effective against small, fast, highly maneuverable targets. Even multiple hits would be unlikely to sink a medium to large ship, but at least it has the possibility of disabling one.

These weapons are procured in very large quantity.

All three military departments procure Hellfire missiles. From 1998 through 2018, DOD procured more than 71,500 missiles at a cost of $7.2 billion. Congress appropriated nearly $484 million for approximately 6,000 missiles in FY2019. For FY2020, DOD requested approximately $730 million for 9,000 Hellfire missiles, and it plans to purchase 13,100 missiles at a cost of $1.2 billion between FY2021 and FY2024 (Table 3). In its FY2020 recent budget request, DOD states that it is requesting to procure the maximum production of Hellfire missiles.

Unit cost on the basis of the FY2020 request would be less than $83,000.

AGM-169 Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM):

JAGM is expected to replace the closely related Hellfire Missile, but there is as yet no firm timeline. In form, it is very similar to Hellfire but has various improvements.

“JAGM has a maximum effective range of 8.6 nautical miles when launched from a helicopter…” the surface launched range should be similar. It uses an existing AGM-114R rocket motor so presumably the range of the latest versions of Hellfire may be similar.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the JAGM for the six years from 2020 through 2025 amount to 4,771 missiles at a cost of $1,624.96M for a unit cost of about $341,000

US Navy photo. A U.S. Navy Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) in flight during a test event Dec. 8, 2017 off the Coast of California.


LRASM is a relatively large, very sophisticated anti-ship missile with a range of over 200 nautical miles. It weighs 4400 pounds in its surface launch configuration and has a 1000 pound warhead.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the LRASM for the six years from 2020 through 2025 amount to 356 missiles at a cost of $1,260,350,000 for a unit cost of about $3,540,309.

Precision Strike Missile: 

This is a ballistic missile rather than a sea-skimmer. It has a range “in excess of 400 kilometers.” It is intended to replace the ATACM artillery rocket which is being modified for use against naval targets. Since the missile is physically smaller than the ATACM, it is likely the warhead is smaller than the 500 pound warhead used on some versions of ATACM.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the Precision Strike Missile for the five years from 2021 through 2025 amount to 1,018 missiles at a cost of $1,073,410,000 for a unit cost of just over $1M.

Naval Strike Missile (NSM) :

The Naval Strike Missile (NSM) is smaller than the more familiar Harpoon missile. It is only 13 feet long and weighs only about 900 pounds. It has a 125 kg (276 lb) warhead. That is not large enough to sink most ships without multiple hits, but it is a smart missile and it may be possible to direct the missile precisely enough to do critical damage.

The CRS report indicates that the range for this missile is between 100 and 300 nautical miles depending on launch and cruise altitude. 100 for a low (launch altitude), low (cruise altitude), low (terminal approach) flight profile and 300 for a high, high, low profile. Assuming it can be programmed for a low, high, low, it might have a surface launched range considerably greater than 100 miles, which would increase it utility for the Coast Guard as this could allow more distant large cutters to target larger threat vessels, in cooperation with less well armed local units.

Requested and Programmed procurement for the NSM for the six years from 2020 through 2025 amount to 207 missiles at a cost of $366,010,000 for a unit cost of about $1.77M.

How much would it cost to equip the Coast Guard?

There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions here, but I think we could at least approximate the cost within an order of magnitude.

Such a program would extend over several years. This would reduce the annual impact.

While all the missiles mentioned above have potential Coast Guard applications, the Hellfire and Naval Strike Missiles also selected for installation on the Littoral Combat Ships and the new FFG are the most likely be supported by the Navy. After all, the new larger cutter share much in common with the LCS.

Hellfire: Just as a notional approximation, let us say we are going to put six Hellfire on each of the Webber Class FRCs, the Bertholf class NSCs, and the Argus class OPCs. That is 100 installations and 600 missiles. The missiles would cost about $50M. I would assume the launchers and control systems might double the cost to $100M. But this would be a multi-year program. The OPCs will not be finished until well into the 2030s so it would be unlikely the program would cost more than $20M/year.

Naval Strike Missile: Assuming an installation similar to that we are seeing on the LCSs, this would include two, four cell launchers. We probably would not necessarily routinely fill all eight cells, but if we did so equip eleven NSC and 25 OPCs that would be a total of 288 missile. The missiles would cost approximately $510M. Installation of launchers and control equipment might bump the total cost to about $1B, but again this would be spread over several years, continuing into the late 2030s as the OPCs are completed, and the Navy would be footing most of the bill. Installation on two ships a year would probably cost on the order of $50-60M/year.

“Defense Primer: U.S. Precision-Guided Munitions” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service has issued a three page, “Defense Primer: U.S. Precision-Guided Munitions.” (Thanks to the USNI news service for bringing this to my attention.)

The remarkable thing is how pervasive these systems have become.

The U.S. military has become reliant on PGMs to execute military operations, being used in ground, air, and naval operations. In FY2020, DOD requested approximately $5.6 billion for more than 70,000 such weapons in 13 munitions programs. DOD projects to request $4.4 billion for 34,000 weapons in FY2021, $3.3 billion for 25,000 weapons in FY2022, $3.8 billion for 25,000 weapons in FY2023, and $3.4 billion for 16,000 weapons in FY2024.

What has this got to do with the Coast Guard? The Coast Guard is a military organization. We are an armed force at all times. We are armed, but we are not really armed for the realities of the 21st century.

Precision guided weapons have the potential to provide the capabilities we need on a wider range of platforms, with increased effectiveness, at lower costs, with less likelihood of collateral damage.

One of the Coast Guard’s core peacetime capabilities should be the ability to forcibly stop a vessel of any size. Earlier I discussed why I believe we are not capable of doing this, here in 2011, and in fact not as capable as we were in the 1920s and 30s here in 2012.

If we are to make a meaningful contribution in any future conflict, we need to be equipped with modern weapons.

Precision guided munitions are no longer reserved for capital ships. Littoral Combat Ships, the Navy combatants that are closest to our large cutters, were built with Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) systems and Naval Strike Missiles are being added. There is not a single class of US Navy surface combatants, down to, and including the Cyclone class patrol craft, that is not equipped with some form of precision guided munition.

It is time for an upgrade.

Guided weapons can give even relatively small platforms a heavy weight punch. Anti-ship cruise missiles and torpedoes have been successfully fitted to numerous classes of vessels of less than 300 tons full load (e.g. smaller than the Webber class).

Certainly precision guided weapons, be they missiles or torpedoes, cost more on a per round basis, but a gun system that can inflict comparable damage requires an expensive gun, a large quantity of ammunition that is expensive, heavy, and a potential danger to the ship itself, extensively trained technician maintainers and operators, and frequent live training. The launchers for smart munitions by contrast may be simpler. The weapons are most frequently “wooden rounds” that require no maintenance, and training programs are frequently incorporated in the launch system software.

Lastly, if we are going to engage targets, potentially within the confines of U.S. harbors, we want to make sure rounds don’t go astray and hurt innocent Americans. Guided weapons are far less likely to cause unintended damage.

The document briefly describes twelve systems. This is certainly not all the systems in the US inventory. I presume, only these are described, because these are the systems that are included in current budget deliberations. I am reproducing the description for the systems that I think are most likely to be applicable to the Coast Guard, preceded by comments on how they might be used by the Coast Guard. The document divides missiles into “Air Launched,” “Ground Launched,” and “Naval,” but as we know, several of these missiles can be launched from ships as well as from the air or ground.

Hellfire, a good candidate for countering small, fast, highly maneuverable surface threats. Also capable of inflecting serious damage on larger targets if multiple rounds are used. Damage is roughly comparable to a shell from a WWII cruiser. Versions are now being used to arm Littoral Combat Ships. They appear to be a good fit for vessels as small as WPBs.

Army Multi-Mission Launcher (MML) firing
(IFPC, “Indirect Fire Protection Capability”) Launching Hellfire missile

Hellfire Missile. The first Hellfire was introduced into service in 1982 on the Army’s AH-64 Apache, using laser guidance to target tanks, bunkers, and structures. Hellfire missiles have a maximum effective range of 4.3 nautical miles. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hellfire missiles were introduced on the MQ-1 Predator, and later the MQ-9 Reaper, enabling unmanned aerial vehicles to provide a strike capability. Hellfire missiles have become a preferred munition for operations in the Middle East, particularly with increased utilization of unmanned aircraft like MQ-1s and MQ-9s. 

JAGM, a possible direct replacement for Hellfire. same size and shape:

Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM). The Joint Air-to-Ground Missile is designed to replace the Hellfire, TOW, and Maverick missiles. JAGM uses a new warhead/seeker paired with an existing AGM-114R rocket motor to provide improved target acquisition and discrimination. JAGM underwent testing starting in 2010, declaring initial operating capability in 2019 having successfully been integrated on the AH-64E Apache and AH-1Z Super Cobra attack helicopters.

Naval Strike Missile, chosen for the Littoral Combat Ship and new frigate, this would seem to be a natural fit for the National Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter. I would prefer the LRASM because of its longer range and much larger warhead, but this system does have a smaller foot print so might fit where the LRASM could not. This is the first time I have seen a maximum range of 300 nautical miles quoted.

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

 Naval Strike Missile (NSM). The NSM is an anti-ship low observable cruise missile capable of flying close the surface of the ocean to avoid radar detection. The NSM is designed to fly multiple flight profiles—different altitudes and speeds—with effective ranges of between 100 and 300 nautical miles at a cruise speed of up to 0.9 Mach. The Navy has integrated the NSM on its Littoral Combat Ship, which deployed to the Pacific region in September 2019.


LRASM, this would be my preferred option to arm the NSC and OPC. It has sufficient range to almost guarantee that if there were a terrorist attack using a medium to large ship, we would have a vessel underway, ready, and within range to engage it. Its warhead is almost four time the size of that of the NSM, so it would be much more likely to get a mobility kill with a single round. It, like the NSM, can be launched from deck mounted inclined canisters.

US Navy photo. A U.S. Navy Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) in flight during a test event Dec. 8, 2017 off the Coast of California.

Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM). LRASM was conceived by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, using a JASSM missile body to replace the AGM-88 Harpoon. Flight testing began in 2012 with the B-1B and the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. LRASM uses radio-frequency sensors and electrooptical/infrared seekers for guidance.


If you want to dig deeper into this, the Congressional Research Service has done a much more in depth study of the procurement issues.

Sea-Air-Space 2019 Virtual Tour

Like most of you I did not make it to the Navy League’s 2019 Sea-Air-Space Exposition, so I have found some YouTube reports that can at least provide some of the information passed along at the event. The descriptions below each video are from the YouTube description.

Day 1 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Boeing MQ-25 Stingray aerial refueling drone with Rear Admiral Corey
– Future USVs and XLUUV/Orca programs with Captain Pete Small
– Austal USA new range of medium and large size USVs
Textron Systems CUSV with surface warfare payload
– ST Engineering range of USVs

Day 2 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. In this video we cover:
– Raytheon SPY-6 radar
– Raytheon / Kongsberg NSM for USMC
– Northrop Grumman PGK for naval 5 Inch and 155mm guns
– Lockheed Martin Freedom-class lethality and survivability upgrade
– Lockheed Martin FFG(X)
– Navantia / BIW FFG(X)

Day 3 video coverage at the Sea Air Space 2019 exposition. Washington-based naval expert Chris Cavas is our guest speaker for this third and final day at Sea Air Space 2019. Cavas covers the follow topics:
– Bell V-247 Vigilant VTOL tilt-rotor UAV in U.S. Navy configuration
– Austal USA USV concepts
– Austal USA FFG(X) Frigate
– Fincantieri FFG(X) Frigate
– GD Bath Iron Works FFG(X) Frigate
– Lockheed Martin Type 26 CSC
– Lockheed Martin hypervelocity missile
– Mic drop

Small Vessel Hellfire Vertical Launch System

Photos: Above, Modular Missile Launcher, also seen below amidships on the Textron CUSV (Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle). Note relatively small size and innocuous appearance. 

Textron Systems’ CUSV with Surface Warfare payload at SAS 2019

Naval News reports that, at this year’s Sea-Air-Space Exposition, Textron showed one of their Common Unmanned Surface Vehicle (CUSV) craft equipped with a remote weapon station and a modular vertical launch system for the Longbow Hellfire.

I find the Hellfire VLS particularly interesting, as it might find application on Coast Guard cutters. The launcher appears to be about 2’x2’x7. The missile itself is 64″ long (1.6 meters), 7″ in diameter (17.8 cm), with a 13″ span (33 cm).

The CUSV is about 39′ (12 meters) in length. The CUSV’s load space is reportedly 20.5′ x 6.5′.

This earlier report indicates a missile shoot from a CUSV is expected in 2019. 

There would of course be concerns about how to mount these missiles on a cutter. The effects of the smoke at launch on he crew and the possible effects of the engines ingesting the smoke would have to be considered.

The planned transfer of six Webber class cutters to Bahrain, to replace the six Island class cutters assigned to PATFORSWA, might provide the incentive necessary to plan and test a Hellfire installation on this class.