USCGC Stone off Guyana, Plus a Drug Interdiction

Some photographs from USCGC Stone’s deployment to the Atlantic Coast of South America. Keep in mind, this is really a shakedown cruise. She still has not been commissioned.

Guyana coast guard small boats patrol alongside the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) off Guyana’s coast on Jan. 9, 2021. The U.S. and Guyana governments enacted a bilateral agreement on Sep. 18, 2020, to cooperatively combat illegal marine activity in Guyana’s waters. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Cmdr. Jason McCarthey, operations officer of the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758), bumps elbows, as a COVID mitigation, with a member of the Guyana coast guard off the coast of Guyana on Jan. 9, 2021, to celebrate the joint exercise. The U.S. Coast Guard and Guyana coast guard completed their first cooperative exercise in training to combat illicit marine traffic since the enactment of a bilateral agreement between the two on Sep. 18, 2020. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

U.S. Coast Guard Lt. j. g. John Cardinal supervises Petty Officer 1st Class Pamala Jensen as she coordinates helicopter operations from the aviation tower of the USCGC Stone (WSML 758) in the Caribbean Sea on Jan. 7, 2021. Since the Stone began its first patrol on Dec 22, 2020, many of its crew trained in their new positions for the first time to become fully qualified. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

U.S. Coast Guard small boats from the USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) and small boats from the Guyana coast guard patrol off the coast of Guyana on Jan. 9, 2021.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class John Hightower)

Along the way, Stone managed to conduct a drug interdiction operation as well. LANT Area news release below:

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
Contact: Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs
Office: (757) 398-6521
After Hours: uscglantarea@gmail.com
Atlantic Area online newsroom

On maiden voyage, USCGC Stone crew interdict narcotics in Caribbean

Stone launches small boat Stone stops suspect vessel

Editor’s Note: to view larger or download high-resolution images, click on the item above. 

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — While in transit to conduct joint operations off the coast of Guyana as part of Operation Southern Cross, USCGC Stone (WMSL 758) encountered and interdicted a suspected narcotic trafficking vessel south of the Dominican Republic Thursday.  
 
Having stopped the illicit activity, Stone handed off the case to the USCGC Raymond Evans (WPC 1110), a fast response cutter from Key West, Florida, and continued their patrol south. 
 
Early Thursday, acting on information from a maritime patrol aircraft, the Stone crew approached the vessel of interest and exercised U.S. Coast Guard authorities to stop their transit and interdict illicit maritime trade. 
 
The USCGC Raymond Evans arrived on the scene shortly after. A Coast Guard boarding team from the Raymond Evans conducted a law enforcement boarding, testing packages found aboard the vessel, revealing bales of cocaine estimated at 2,148.5 lbs (970 kgs) total.

Stone’s crew remained on scene during the search of the vessel to assist if need. Following the boarding, the Raymond Evans crew took possession of the contraband and detained the four suspected narcotics trafficking vessel members. They are working with the U.S. Coast Guard 7th District and Department of Justice on the next steps. 
 
Quotes 
“USCGC Stone is a highly-capable multipurpose platform and ready to conduct missions to save lives, support lawful activities on the high seas, and highlight and build Coast Guard partnerships with other nations.  I am not surprised that Stone interdicted drug smugglers – it is what the Captain, crew, and every U.S. Coast Guard member is prepared to do every day underway.  Stone’s crew is exhibiting the highest professional competence, reinforcing that Stone is well-suited to help our partners in the South Atlantic expose and address illicit activities in the maritime domain. These transnational criminal activities – be it illegal fishing or the trafficking of people, drugs, money, etc.  – challenge global security, and only together can we combat these threats.”
– Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander of U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
 
 “I’m very proud of the crew for completing this evolution safely and making an immediate impact on our first patrol. This case illustrates that Stone is a competent partner, and our crew is ready for the front-lines. We look forward to our upcoming engagements, first with Guyana.”
– Capt. Adam Morrison, commanding officer of USCGC Stone (WMSL 758)

“Our teammates aboard USCGC Stone are helping keep our shared neighborhood – the Western Hemisphere- safe, successfully stopping illicit narcotics smuggling, while continuing their equally important mission to counter predatory and irresponsible IUU fishing, a growing threat to our partner nations’ sovereignty and our collective regional security.”

- Rear Adm. Andrew J. Tiongson, director of operations, U.S. Southern Command

 Quick Facts
 Mission
– Operation Southern Cross is a multi-month deployment to the South Atlantic countering illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing while strengthening relationships for maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region.

– Stone’s patrol demonstrates the U.S. commitment to the established rules-based order while addressing illegal activity wherever a U.S. Coast Guard cutter is deployed.”

– Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing is a pervasive, far-reaching security threat. One in five fish caught worldwide likely originate from IUU fishing. 
 
 – Healthy fish stocks underpin the food security of coastal communities, maritime regions, and entire nation-states. 
 
 – The U.S. Coast Guard has been the lead agency in the United States for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws for more than 150 years. 

– The U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to combat IUU fishing and uphold the rule of law at sea. The Service is keen to share knowledge and partner with like-minded nations. 
 
 – The U.S. Coast Guard is recognized worldwide for our ability to perform diverse maritime missions over vast geographic areas. The U.S. Coast Guard’s value to the Nation resides in its enduring commitment to protect those on the sea, protect the United States from threats delivered by the sea, and protect the sea itself.

– As a military, law enforcement, regulatory, and humanitarian service, the U.S. Coast Guard relies upon various authorities and partnerships to enhance our capability and capacity throughout the maritime domain.
  
– Patrols like Stone’s support U.S. initiatives to strengthen and fortify effective governance and cooperation with our partner nations to address destabilizing influences – illegal narcotics and fishing that are high on that list. 
 
 USCGC Stone
 – The ship, one of the Legend-class, is named for the U.S. Coast Guard’s first aviator, Cmdr. Elmer “Archie” Fowler Stone.
 
 – Stone is the ninth National Security Cutter. They are a multi-mission platform — 418 feet (127 meters) long with a 54-foot beam and displace 4,500 tons with a full load. They have a top speed of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 miles, an endurance of 60 days, and a crew of around 120.

“Fresh from Shipyard and Quarantine, Coast Guard Cutter Stone Heads Out for Southern Atlantic Patrol” USNI

Ingalls Shipbuilding successfully completed acceptance trials for the Coast Guard’s ninth national security cutter (NSC), Stone, in October 2020. NSC Stone was accepted Nov. 9, 2020, by the Coast Guard in a socially distanced ceremony. Photo by Lance Davis of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The US Naval Institute News Service reports that USCGC Stone is being sent on an unusual Latin American South Atlantic patrol, even before she is commissioned. To make a patrol of this length prior to commissioning is almost unheard of, and the location is also something we have not done in a very long time, outside of the UNITAS exercise format.

The inaugural deployment is “a multi-month deployment to the South Atlantic countering illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing while strengthening relationships for maritime sovereignty and security throughout the region,” according to a Coast Guard news release. “This the service’s first patrol to South America in recent memory, engaging partners including Guyana, Brazil, Uruguay, Argentina, and Portugal.” An observer from the Portuguese navy embarked the cutter for the duration of Operation Southern Cross in the U.S. Southern Command region.

Certainly not the Coast Guard’s “first patrol to South America in recent memory,” but to this part of South America, perhaps.

“Coast Guard Cutter to Deploy to U.S. 5th Fleet; Escort New FRCs to Bahrain” –Seapower

CARIBBEAN SEA
09.04.2019
Courtesy Photo
U.S. Coast Guard District 7 PADET Jacksonville
Subscribe 19
The Coast Guard Cutter James conducts Hurricane Dorian relief operations alongside the Coast Guard Cutter Paul Clark in the Caribbean Sea, Sept. 6, 2019. During their 62-day counter-drug patrol, the James’ crew, along with members from Tactical Law Enforcement Team-South, Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron, Cryptologic Direct Support Element and multiple partner agencies, contributed to the interdiction of 7 drug-smuggling vessels and were responsible for the seizure of more than 12,677 pounds of cocaine and 4,085 pounds of marijuana bound for the United States. (U.S. Coast Guard photo courtesy of Coast Guard Cutter James)

The Navy League’s on line magazine, Seapower, reports that a Bertholf class cutter will escort two Webber class WPCs when they transit to Bahrain to begin the replacement of the six 110 foot WPBs that are currently there. Presumably this will be happening a couple of additional times, as the new ships are commissioned. Since typically, about 5 cutters are completed annually, deployments will likely be four to six months apart. It will be interesting to see how long the larger cutters remain in 5th Fleet’s AOR.

It would not be surprising to see them doing some “capacity building” in East Africa before returning home.

“sUAS for NSC continues accelerated production schedule” –CG-9

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)

Below is a story from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) updating the Coast Guard’s acquisition of small Unmanned Air Systems (sUAS), with particular focus on those being used on the Bertholf class cutters.

“,,,2,600 flight hours on 14 NSC patrols” as mentioned below translates to about 186 flight hours per patrol. As I recall, when we were using an attached helicopter for searches, four hours per day was about the best we could expect. It appears that, for the search function, the sUAS at least approximates that of a manned helicopter.

Hopefully, when on interdiction missions, we are using the Operations Research derived search patterns for detecting a non-cooperative moving target, rather than the typical SAR search patterns which assume a non-moving cooperative target.

I have to question the description “narco-terrorists” for those captured. Narcotics trafficers certainly, terrorists, maybe not.


sUAS for NSC continues accelerated production schedule

The unmanned aircraft sensor payload capability is varied based on the Coast Guard’s desired mission and search conditions: MWIR 3.5 is a mid-wave infrared for thermal imaging capability, for use at night or periods of low visibility; EO-900 is a high-definition telescopic electro-optical (EO) imager to zoom in on targets at greater distance; and ViDAR is a visual detection and ranging wide-area optical search system that is a comprehensive autonomous detection solutions for EO video. Courtesy Photo.


The Coast Guard small unmanned aircraft system for the national security cutter (NSC) program recently completed the system operation verification test for the unmanned aircraft system (UAS) installation on Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf, the sixth NSC to be equipped with UAS capability. This milestone is the latest in a series of key acquisition program activities to accelerate the scheduled for equipping the first eight NSCs with UAS capability. Installations underway on Coast Guard cutters Hamilton and Midgett have expected completions in January 2021 and March 2021, respectively.

Since the first installation, the UAS capability has completed more than 2,600 flight hours on 14 NSC patrols. Since their deployment, UAS platforms have supported 53 interdictions, assisted in the seizure of 48 tons of illicit narcotics worth over $1.2 billion and helped facilitate the capture of 132 narco-terrorists.

The UAS capability on the NSCs has also been used to:

  • Provide real-time damage assessments of the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian in September 2019. This event was the first time the Coast Guard used UAS overland for humanitarian relief efforts; the added surveillance capability allowed the service to focus recovery assets on emergent search and rescue and critical infrastructure needs.
  • Aid a medical evacuation off a container ship in the Bering Sea, saving one life.
  • Aid in a person-in-the-water search and rescue case off Hawaii in September. Work groups are underway to determine how to use UAS for search and rescue in the future.
  • Identify more than 35 Chinese vessels illegally fishing by sorting through 150+ Automatic Identification System contacts in a fishing fleet off the coast of the Galapagos Islands.

The deployment of an UAS-enabled NSC and its comprehensive sensor suite packages can support day and night operations. UAS capability can conduct surveillance, detection, classification and identification of a wide range of targets, and is capable of up to 18+ hours of continuous flight time per day.

The Coast Guard is deploying a contractor-owned, contractor-operated solutions to provide UAS capability onboard the NSCs; the current contract includes options that could extend service through June 2026. The Coast Guard is also conducting preliminary efforts to explore the potential benefits of deploying UAS across several surface, and potentially land-based, platforms.

For more information: Unmanned Aircraft Systems program page

“China Coast Guard to be allowed to use force in case of territorial infringement” –People’s Liberation Army Daily

This Chinese People’s Liberation Army Daily post concerning use of deadly force, linked here, may be particularly interesting for its call out of the US Coast Guard.

Law enforcement on land, sea and in airspace under its own jurisdiction, with the use of weapons on necessary occasions, are the rights granted to sovereign states by international law. The Japan Coast Guard (JCG) also stipulates that lethal weapons can be used when enforcing the law in waters under its own jurisdiction. For the US Coast Guard (USCG), the use of force is even more common, and it is even planning to apply long-arm jurisdiction to China.

Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the USCG, claimed to strengthen deployment in the Asia-Pacific region and participate in security patrols in the waters surrounding China in response to Chinese maritime militia’s declaration of sovereignty in the South China Sea in April last year. Robert O’Brien, US National Security Advisor, announced on October 24 that the USCG would deploy Enhanced Response Cutters in the Western Pacific. . Without providing any evidence, he accused Chinese fishing boats of illegal fishing and claimed that the sovereignty of the United States and its neighbors in the Pacific had thus been threatened.

If they should choose to employ force against one of our cutter in their claimed “Nine Dash Line,” it is likely they would attempt to get several units in at very close range before opening fire, as they did in this engagement.

Chinese depiction of the fighting Battle of Paracels Islands

Next time we send a cutter into this area, it might be a good idea to have a squad of Marines along armed with shoulder fired missile or rocket launchers.

Might also be a good idea to provide a bit of ballistic protection (and here) for our .50 cal. gun crews. Not too difficult because you can buy it on the GSA catalog.

Most China Coast Guard Cutters are not as well armed or as fast as the Bertholfs, but there are exceptions. In all likelihood they would be more interested in causing casualties and chasing us off, than actually sinking a cutter. This is more likely to serve their purpose without getting themselves in a war. Not that I think such an attack would go unanswered, but they, or a mid-level commander, might be foolish enough to think they could get away with it. Still probably better not to have a lone cutter doing “Freedom of Navigation Operations,” although air cover might be sufficient. Really I would like to see an international repudiation of their claims in the form of an multi-national demonstration.

Combinations of CCG cutters with weapons larger than 14.5mm machine guns could be extremely dangerous at close range. Some of those are shown below.

The China CG version of the Type 056 Corvette

 

China Coast Guard Cutters Converted  from Type 053H2G frigates

CRS’s “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –an Update

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

It has been seven months since we last looked at this Congressional Research Service document. (Clicking on this link will always take you to the latest version of the report). Since then, there have been six revisions, with the latest Oct. 14, 2020.

Notable changes include report of the issuance of a draft RFP for the follow-on Offshore Patrol Cutter competition (page 12)

There is no report of any action by the Senate, but the House has been working on two bills that could effect Cutter procurement, the FY2021 DHS Appropriations Act (H.R. 7669) (page 23) and the FY2021 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 6395) (pages 23-26)

H.R. 7669, if made into law, would add four Fast Response Cutters to the FY2021 budget, bumping the FRC line item from $20M to $260M and would not include the proposed rescission of $70,000,000 of the $100,500,000 provided in fiscal year 2020 for the acquisition of long lead time materials for the construction of a twelfth National Security Cutter, leaving the door open for NSC#12.

Division H of H.R. 6395 is the Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020:

  • Section 8004 (page 23) would authorize NSC #12,
  • Section 8012 (page 24) would authorize four Webber class Fast Response Cutters (page 24)
  • SEC. 9211 (page 24) addresses modification of acquisition process and procedures, specifically the “Extraordinary relief” granted Eastern.
  • SEC. 9422 (page 25) requires a report on the combination of Fast Response Cutters, Offshore Patrol Cutters, and National Security Cutters necessary to carry out Coast Guard missions not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act. Sounds like a revisit to at least parts of the “Fleet Mix Study.”
  • SEC. 11301. Directs that the Coast Guard better align its mission priorities  to direct more effort to the Arctic and develop capabilities to meet the growing array of challenges in the region; including providing a greater show of Coast Guard forces capable of providing a persistent presence. Additionally it directs that the Coast Guard must avoid overextending operational assets for remote international missions at the cost of dedicated focus on this domestic area of responsibility (meaning the Arctic).

“Coast Guard accepts ninth national security cutter” –CG-9

Ingalls Shipbuilding successfully completed acceptance trials for the Coast Guard’s ninth national security cutter (NSC), Stone, in October 2020. NSC Stone was accepted Nov. 9, 2020, by the Coast Guard in a socially distanced ceremony. Photo by Lance Davis of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

The Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) reports that the ninth Bertholf class cutter has been accepted.

“Stone is scheduled for commissioning in February 2021 at its Charleston, South Carolina, homeport, also home to cutters Hamilton and James.”

Polar Security Cutters and Coast Guard ASW

The US Naval Institute Proceedings web page has a couple of Coast Guard related articles that did not appear in the print version of Proceedings,

I have reproduced my comments on these topics below.


In regard to arming the Polar Security Cutters (the author seemed fixated on cruise missiles. We did discuss this topic earlier here)

There are limits to what we want to put on ships bound for Antarctica, since they have to be open for inspection. On the other hand if we ever do have a near peer conflict involving the Arctic or Antarctic, these will become rare and essential naval auxiliaries. As such they will probably operate with other vessels, including more powerful warships if appropriate, but that does not mean they should not be able to defend themselves against the possibility of leakers. We need to make provision for last ditch defense with systems like SeaRAM.

Meanwhile the fact that they are law enforcement vessels means they should be able to forcibly stop any private or merchant vessel regardless of size. So far it seems they will have at most, 25mm Mk38 Mod3 guns.

The follow on Medium Icebreakers or Arctic Security Cutters, which are unlikely to go to Antarctica, are more likely to be more heavily armed from the start.


Coast Guard ASW (comments were generally surprisingly adverse):

It is a fact that in WWII most U-boats were sunk by aircraft, but about a third (about 230) were sunk by surface vessels, primarily those of our allies Britain and Canada.

Even when surface vessels did not sink U-boats, they often performed valuable service in blocking access to convoys and in rescuing mariners from sunken ships.

US Naval vessels only sank about 38 U-boats. Coast Guard cutters and Coast Guard manned Navy ships were involved in sinking a disproportionate number of those (ten) for various reasons. Most of the US Navy effort went into the Pacific and most of the USN effort in the Atlantic at least through mid-1943, was in escorting high speed troop convoys than largely avoided contact with U-boats.

Circumstances we will face in any near peer conflict may be very different.

The advantages provided by code breaking in WWII are unlikely.

The advantages provided by radar equipped aircraft detecting U-boats charging their batteries or transiting the Bay of Biscay on the surface during the night no longer exists.

The Chinese surface and air threat would divert the most capable USN assets from ASW tasks.

Unlike the Japanese during the Pacific campaign, the Chinese are likely to make a concerted effort to disrupt our logistics train.

We simply do not have enough ASW assets.

Augmenting Coast Guard cutters to allow them to provide ASW escort and rescue services for ships that are sunk by hostile subs, in lower threat areas, is a low cost mobilization option that can substantially increase the number of escorts at low cost.

This could be facilitated by augmenting cutter with USN Reserves. Navy reserve ASW helicopter squadrons could be assigned to fly from cutters.
LCS ASW modules could be placed on cutters and manned by reactivated Navy reservists with LCS ASW module experience.

Our few US merchant ships need to be protected and when inevitably, some are sunk, we need someone to rescue those mariners, because they have become a rare and precious commodity.

The crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Midgett (WMSL 757) and Kimball (WMSL 756) transit past Koko Head on Oahu, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2019. The Kimball and Midgett are both homeported in Honolulu and two of the newest Coast Guard cutters to join the fleet. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West/Released)


In answer to this comment from James M

Add : For (millions)

ASIST : 6.263
Mk 32 SVTT : 3.237
SLQ-25 Nixie: 1.727
AN/SRQ-4 LAMPS III: 4.625
VDS/MFTA combo: 14.802
ASW Combat Suite: 33.684
64.338 total. I am sure something could be arrived at for less. I look at this as what it takes to fit out an NSC the whole way. For one, OPC will never fit that VDS/MFTA on its stern. At best it would be a Nixie, maybe a container towed sonar we don’t yet use, and the mods for MH-60R. It would be good to know the plan for MUSV as it might help the equation. After all, the 64.338 would buy 2 MUSVs without payload. It could also buy an additional FRC.

So, we could equip ASW equip all eleven projected Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) for less than the cost of a single frigate.

Why do you believe the VDS/MFTA would not fit on the Offshore Patrol Cutter? It is fully as large as the NSCs and does not have the boat launch ramp cut into the stern. They are also substantially larger than the LCSs.

OPC “Placemat”

“New Missions Push Old Coast Guard Assets To The Brink” –Forbes

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bruckenthal participates in a fueling exercise with the Coast Guard Cutter Campbell on the Chesapeake Bay, April 11, 2020. The Coast Guard acquired the first Sentinel Class cutter in 2012, with the namesake of each cutter being one of the service’s many enlisted heroes. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Isaac Cross)

Forbes evaluates the Coast Guard’s performance and the dangers inherent in its aging fleet.

“With all the new interest, America’s Coast Guard is transitioning from an overlooked national security afterthought into a more significant geopolitical player, befitting what is, after all, the world’s 12th largest naval force.”

But,

“It all looks pretty good so far. America’s Coast Guard can be proud of its current operational record and new strategic potential. But as the geopolitical importance of Coast Guard missions ramp up, so too will the ramifications of mission failure. The Coast Guard has a lot of fragile ships that can break at any time. The stress may already be showing…”

There is a lot of criticism of the 270 foot WMECs here. I have never been a great fan. When they were being built, the Chief Engineer made keeping the cost down a number one priority. He saw cost closely related to length. Contrary to stories that they were supposed to have been longer, in fact the original design was three feet shorter. I heard at the time, that Naval engineers went “down on bended knees” to get an additional three feet of shear on the bow.

USCGC Citrus, 1984, after conversion from buoy tender to WMEC. US Coast Guard photo.

When the 270 program began, the Coast Guard still had 18 World War II vintage WHECs and WMECs

  • Six larger, slightly faster, and much loved 327 foot cutters.
  • USCGC Storis, 230′, but actually a little larger in displacement
  • Three 213′ former Navy rescue and salvage  vessels, Escape, Acushnet, and Yacona
  • Five 205′ former Navy fleet tugs, Chilula, Cherokee, Tamaroa, Ute, and Lipan
  • three converted 180′ buoy tenders, Clover, Evergreen, and Citrus

Twelve of those, including all the 327s, were decommissioned 1980 to 1991. Tamaroa and Citrus were decommissioned in 1994, Escape in 1995, Yacona in 1996, Storis in 2007, and Acushnet hung on until 2011.

210s Courageous and Durable were decommissioned September 2001.

Until the first National Security Cutter, Bertholf, was commissioned Aug. 4, 2008, the only addition to the fleet, after the completion of the 270s, was 283′ Alex Haley, transferred from the Navy in 1999.

So at the end of 1991, the year the last 270 was delivered, we had 47 WHECs and WMECs (12 x 378s, 13 x 270s, 16 x 210s and 6 WWII vintage ships). By the time the first NSC came out, we were down to 41 (12 x 378s, 1 x283, 13 x 270s, 14 x 210s and 1 WWII vintage ship). We are currently at 37 (8 x NSCs, 1 x 378s, 1 x283, 13 x 270s, 14 x 210s) and working toward 36 (11 NSCs and 25 OPCs). I suspect we will the the number drop below that before the OPC program is complete.

USCGC Tahoma (WMEC-908)

While I always felt we would have been better off evolving an improved 327, the 270 was a net improvement. Unlike the ships they replaced, they had a helicopter deck and hangar. Even the 378s did not have a hangar at that point. The 270s introduced the digital Mk92 fire control, 76mm Mk75 gun, SLQ-32 ESM, and Mk36 SRBOC. They were a half knot slower than the 327s, but were substantially faster than the other ships they replaced, none of which were capable of more than 16 knots.

It was perhaps a lost opportunity to build something better, for only a little more money, but they were an improvement. We should have built at least six more to replace the WWII built ships, and maybe another 16 to replace the 210s beginning in 1994 (perhaps a block 2 with a bit more bow). We should have awarded contracts to start replacing the 270s more than a decade ago.

Now that we do have bipartisan support in Congress, we need to translate that into consistently larger Procurement, Construction, and Improvement funding and an accelerated build rate for the OPCs. After all, we currently have only one WMEC less than 30 years old, that just barely. We really should not wait 17 or 18 years to replace them all.