“Coast Guard Awards Nine Contracts for Offshore Patrol Cutter Industry Studies” –CG-9

Interest in building follow-on Offshore Patrol Cutters is definitely alive and well. The Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9, has issued nine contracts for industry studies. All these contracts went to shipbuilder. I have reproduced their report below. Hopefully this will lead to a better and more producible design. 

The Coast Guard announced the award of nine Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) industry studies contracts March 20, 2020. These awards support the Coast Guard’s strategy to mitigate OPC program risk and complete the program of record by establishing a new, fair and open competitive environment to complete the OPC program of record. Industry studies contracts were awarded to:

  • Austal USA, LLC of Mobile, Alabama: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million total potential value)
  • Bath Iron Works of Bath, Maine: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million total potential value)
  • Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC of Lockport, Louisiana: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million potential value)
  • Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. of Panama City, Florida: $1.1 million base award ($1.2 million potential value)
  • Fincantieri Marinette Marine of Marinette, Wisconsin: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million total potential value)
  • General Dynamics/NASSCO of San Diego, California: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million total potential value)
  • Huntington Ingalls, Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million total potential value)
  • Philly Shipyard, Inc. of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: $2.0 million base award ($3.0 million total potential value)
  • VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi: $2.0 million base award ($2.9 million total potential value)

Under their respective contracts, the awardees will assess OPC design and technical data, provided by the Coast Guard, and the program’s construction approach. Based on their analyses, the awardees will recommend to the Coast Guard potential strategies and approaches for the follow-on detail design and construction (DD&C). The awardees will also discuss how they would prepare the OPC functional design for production. The awardees may also identify possible design or systems revisions that would be advantageous to the program if implemented, with strategies to ensure those revisions are properly managed.

The Coast Guard will use the industry studies results to further inform its follow-on acquisition strategy and promote a robust competitive environment for the DD&C award. Participation in industry studies is not a pre-requisite for submitting a DD&C proposal.

The OPCs will replace the service’s aging medium endurance cutters, which are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and operate. The OPCs will bridge the capabilities of the national security cutters, which patrol the open ocean, and the fast response cutters, which serve closer to shore.

The current OPC DD&C contract is for up to four hulls. The contract was adjusted as part of a request made by the incumbent, Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG), for extraordinary relief under the authority of Public Law 85-804 was granted by the Department of Homeland Security. The request was a result of devastation caused when Hurricane Michael – a Category 5 storm – made landfall in Panama City, Florida, on October 10, 2018. Hurricane Michael caused extensive damage to the ESG’s shipyard and the Panama City region.

For more information: Offshore Patrol Cutter program page

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress Updated January 28, 2020” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service has again updated its look at cutter procurement. (Note, this link will take you to the latest version of the report and is subject to change with each update.) While I cannot be sure there are no other changes, I believe the significant changes are a reflection of the result of the House and Senate Conference Committee. From page 25.

Conference In final action, the FY2020 DHS Appropriations Act became Division D of H.R. 1158, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2020. The explanatory statement for Division D of H.R. 1158/P.L. 116-93 of December 20, 2019, provides the funding levels shown in the appropriation conference column of Table 2. The explanatory statement for Division D of H.R. 1158 states: The agreement [for the Coast Guard’s Procurement, Construction, and Improvements account] provides an increase of $537,850,000 above the request, including … $260,000,000 for a total of four FRCs…. The bill makes available $100,500,000 for long lead time material for a twelfth National Security Cutter, consistent with the direction in the House Report….

I have reproduced Table 2 from page 21 of the report below. The following explanatory note is quoted from the CRS report:

“Source: Table prepared by CRS based on Coast Guard’s FY2020 budget submission, HAC committee report, and SAC chairman’s mark and explanatory statement on FY2020 DHS Appropriations Act. HAC is House Appropriations Committee; SAC is Senate Appropriations Committee.”

Summary of Appropriations Action on FY2020 Acquisition Funding Request

Table 2 summarizes appropriations action on the Coast Guard’s request for FY2020 acquisition funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

Table 2. Summary of Appropriations Action on FY2020 Acquisition Funding Request Figures in millions of dollars, rounded to nearest tenth

  • Request______Request______HAC_______SAC_____Final
  • NSC program ____60 _______160.5 _______60 _____160.5
  • OPC program ___457 _______457 _______457 ______312
  • FRC program ___140 _______290 _______240 ______260
  • TOTAL _________657 ______907.5 ______757 ______732.5

So again Congress is providing funding above that requested by the administration.

The increase from two to four Webber class is consistent with previous Congressional action, and should actually result in a savings over the life of the program, in that it is in line with the current contract options and will not require a renegotiation that might have raised the cost of individual cutters by up to $10M. That means a total of 62 Webber class will have been funded. Only two additional in FY2021 are planned, for a total of 64, 58 in the program of record plus six for PATFORSWA to support CENTCOM, but I would not be surprised to see four in the final FY2021 budget.

The addition of $100.5M for Long Lead Time items for a twelfth National Security Cutter looks like a strong commitment to fund another Bertholf class National Security Cutter.

Relative to the OPC program, from page 26:

OPC Program.- The contract awarded to construct the OPC was recently amended to address increased cost estimates after the Acting Secretary determined that relief permitted under Public Law 85-804 was appropriate and necessary to the national defense. An associated delay in delivery of the first two hulls reduced the fiscal year 2020 requirement for the OPC by $145,000,000. Funds included in the agreement continue necessary program requirements. The agreement maintains the commitment to ensuring the Coast Guard can continue the program of record for these critical vessels. As a condition of the granted relief, the vendor will be subject to increased oversight, including additional scrutiny of the costs borne by the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard shall brief the Committees quarterly on the metrics used to evaluate adherence to production timelines and costs, including those attributed to reestablishing the production line and maintaining the skilled workforce required to ensure contract performance.

So Congress is going to let the decision to allow extraordinary relief to Eastern Shipbuilding go ahead. The reduction of OPC funding that had been requested is only due to delays in the program and presumably the deletion of long lead time materials for OPC #5 from the payments that had been planned for Eastern.

“Coast Guard Expedites ScanEagle ISR Services for National Security Cutters” –SEAPOWER

A small unmanned aircraft system operator recovers an sUAS (Scan Eagle–Chuck) after a flight from Coast Guard Cutter Stratton in the South China Sea Sept. 16, 2019. The sUAS is capable of flying for more than 20 hours and has a maximum speed of about 60 mph. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Nate Littlejohn.

The Navy Leagues Seapower web site is reporting that the Coast Guard will have Scan Eagle UAV systems installed on all currently operational National Security Cutters by the end of 2020, and in addition that the systems will be installed on the Offshore Patrol Cutters.

There is a lot of significant information in this report. 

Contractors still control the UAVs.

“Insitu installs the UAVs and their launch-and-recovery equipment and ground-control stations on board the ships, he said. Insitu sends four-person teams to deploy with each ship. They operate the entire system once on board. The teams are fully embedded with their ship’s crew.”

The sensor package.

“A standard pack-out for a deployment is three ScanEagle UAVs, he said. The sensor systems include and electro-optical/infrared camera, a laser pointer, a communication relay, an Automatic Identification System interrogator and Vidar (visual detection and ranging, a surface search capability).”

The increased search capability.

Currier said that before deployment of the ScanEagle the NSC had a scan of 35 miles either side of the ship with its organic sensors.

“With ScanEagle on board, for good parts of the day, you’re up to 75 miles either side of the ship as you’re moving through the sea space,” he said. “ScanEagle is a game-changer.”

“We’ve effectively doubled the search area of a national security cutter,” Tremain said. “We’re he only company flying with Vidar, and we’re surveilling up to 1,000 square miles of open ocean per flight hour, and we’re identifying greater than 90% of the targets.”

You might think these would not be much of an improvement over a ship based manned helicopter, but in fact the helicopter would probably not be air borne searching more than four hours a day, while three Scan Eagles could conceivably maintain a watch 24 hour a day. Additionally a helicopters sensors are probably not as effective as the VIDAR on the Scan Eagle.

Using these for search rather than the helicopter, also means less wear and tear on the helicopter, and that the helicopter is more likely to be available when it is really needed.

Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Alternatives

Offshore Patrol Cutter port quarter

Note: I have had to revise some of my conclusions about when benchmarks would be achieved. The text below has been changed to reflect the correction. 

I have been talking about the OPC for over nine years, and it is frustrating to see what appeared to be real progress toward impressive new ships come apart, but with the Offshore Patrol Cutter program in flux, perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at where we are, where do we want to go, and what the current restraints and limitations are. Maybe there is a better way.

As currently envisioned the last OPCs are not expected to be funded until FY2034 nor delivered until 2037. A lot can happen between now and then.

Where are we?

The current thinking is to provide contract relief for Eastern and allow them to build the first four ships. Meanwhile the Coast Guard will recompete a contract for OPC #5 with options for #6-15.

But even this is uncertain. Congress has 60 days from the announcement (11 Oct. 2019 to 10 Dec.?) to consider the proposed contract relief. If I interpret correctly, unless they take action to deny relief, construction will go ahead. That suggest that denial of contract relief is unlikely, but by no means, are we sure it will happen.

It seems likely we will get four OPCs from Eastern, but even that is uncertain. Really we have no assurance we will get any OPCs at all.

What do we need? What are the constraints?:

We should have begun replacing the WMECs we have now, 25 years ago, so the need is urgent. We can also be pretty sure we need more large cutters (those of over 1000 tons full load) than are currently planned.

Realistically we cannot expect great increases in either PC&I (Procurement, Construction, and Improvement) or operating budget. That means, hopefully, the Coast Guard will get around the $2B/year PC&I successive Commandants have been saying we will need, but probably little or no more, and further, that we should not expect significant personnel increases.

The current plan will provide fewer large cutters than we have now. Eleven NSCs are replacing twelve WHECs and 25 OPCs are expected to replace 29 WMECs. That is 36 to replace 41. In fact if you look back a little further the Coast Guard had even more large ships. Editions of Combat Fleets of the World for the years indicated show that in 1990/91 we had 50 and in 2000/2001 there were 44. The Fleet Mix Study conducted more than a decade ago indicated we actually need an even larger fleet. 

The need to rapidly replace the existing WMECs and ultimately expand the fleet, within the constraints of budget and manpower are in direct conflict, particularly when the cutters have become bigger and more expensive and their crews size has, with few exceptions increased.

Replace the WMECs we have ASAP:

The WMECs we have need to be replaced as soon as possible. If the recompete goes as expected, the fourteenth OPC will not replace the last 210 until fourth quarter FY2032. That 210 will be over 63 years old. The last 270 decommissioned will be at least 48 years old. We can only expect that these vessels will have increasingly frequent major machinery casualties. The high number of major casualties that were experienced when the Coast Guard responded to the earthquake in Haiti is only a taste of what we can expect in the future.

More Cutters: 

The Fleet Mix Study of 2009 showed we needed 66 large cutters to fully accomplish all the Coast Guard’s statutory missions. A 2011 revision reduced the total to 58.

That number was perhaps artificially low because it assumed the “Crew Rotation Concept” would be applied to all National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters, allowing an unrealistically high 225 days away from home. We have, to some extent, seen Webber class step up to perform some of these missions, but the need for more large ships is still apparent.

Unfortunately we have not updated the Fleet mix study based on more recent experience with the NSC and FRC. We really need to do that so that we can make more informed decisions and present a better case to Congress.

PC&I Budget

The FY2019 Procurement, Construction, and Improvements (PC&I) budget was $2,248.26M, of that less than $1.6M went to ship construction and improvement. It is unlikely we will see significantly larger budgets devoted to ship construction, and this includes funding for Polar Security Cutter, in service sustainment, and in the out years WPB replacement, and possibly new buoy tenders. We don’t unfortunately have any comprehensive long term shipbuilding plan that looks beyond five years.

Operating Budget/Crew Costs

Personnel costs are particularly important in overall lifecycle cost calculations. These come out of the operating budget which has actually shrunk in real terms.

The fleet that is being replaced (12 WHECs, 29 WMECs, and 44 WPBs) and the projected fleet, as currently planned (11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 FRCs) have almost the same total crew count, but it is doing so with the five fewer large cutters. The more numerous Webber class cutters have a larger crew than the 110 foot WPBs, 24 vice 16. Ultimately I expect 64 FRC to replace the 44 WPB110s for an increase of 832 billets. The OPCs will apparently have a crew of about 100, about  the same as that of the 270s, but about 25 more than are currently assigned to 210 foot WMECs. Replacing 14 of 210s with OPCs will add about 350 billets. Only the National Security Cutters have smaller crews than the ships they have replaced. My Combat Fleets of the World shows the crew of the NSCs to be 122 and that of the 378s to be 177, eleven NSCs compared to twelve WHEC378s would be decrease of 782 billets.

By my count the Legacy fleet of 85 vessels (12 WMECs when the NSCs started building, 28 WMECs when the OPCs started building, and 44 WPBs when the FRCs started building) required 5,349 billets. (The nominal fleet the program of record supposedly replaced included 29 WMECs and 49 WPBs, would have included another 179 billets or 5,528.) The currently planned fleet of 100 vessels (11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 FRCs) requires 5,378 billets. 

If we are to increase the number of larger cutters while leaving the total number of billets little changed, we would need to trade off some of the OPCs for more numerous vessels with smaller crews.

The Alternatives: 

The first question is, is the OPC, as currently designed, the vessel we still want?

While I don’t think it will happen, in view of the increasing likelihood of a great power conflict, the wisest thing that could happen, is that we replace the OPCs with what ever design the Navy chooses for the new FFG. That would take a massive infusion of cash and manpower, not going to happen.

If we reopen the competition to include other designs built to the same requirements we not only complicate logistics and training in the future, we also probably delay the decision process another year. Looks like the Coast Guard is trying to avoid that. They have a design they like, and once production is underway, it will certainly be cheaper than the NSCs.

Do we want a ship built to different requirements, maybe something like my proposed Cutter X? The Coast Guard came up with the requirements for the OPC, so I have to assume that for at least some missions, we need ships that meet those requirements. (I understand that the first two OPCs will go to Kodiak.) On the other hand, several years ago, Congress asked the Coast Guard if there weren’t missions or geographic areas that did not require ability to conduct helicopter and boat operations in such severe conditions?  That question was apparently never answered, as far as I know, but we know for a fact that less capable ships have been performing these missions for decades. We see it in the way the fleet was distributed. Most 378s went to the Pacific where long distances and ALPAT demanded great range and seakeeping. 210s generally went to the West Coast and SE and Gulf coasts where the weather tended to be more benign. 270s tended to based further North in the Atlantic since they were more seaworthy than the 210, if not as capable as the 378s.

We have a mixed fleet of WMECs, perhaps their replacements should be a mixed fleet as well, allowing the more robust OPCs to be used where those characteristics are most likely to be needed, while we also build more smaller, cheaper ship to provide the numbers we need. As before, I will refer to this class, slotted between the OPCs and the Webber class WPCs as Cutter X.

Considering Cutter X, to be significantly cheaper than the OPCs and have a significantly smaller crew, we probably should look to designs that are half the size of the OPC or smaller. That does not mean these ships will be small. In fact they could be larger than any of the existing WMECs, and more than twice the size of the 210s. The 327 foot Treasury class WHECs would qualify in terms of size. Average procurement cost for the OPCs, before the need for contract relief surfaced was $421M per ship. Cutter X should cost less than $250M. Actually it should be possible to build them for less than $200M.

I have pointed to a number of designs that might be considered, but to offer a concrete example, consider the Fassmer OPV-80 design used by the German Police Coast Guard, and the Navies of Chile, Colombia, and Honduras.  It can operate and hangar a medium sized helicopter, has two boats on davits and a third larger boat on a stern ramp, and can be armed with a medium caliber gun up to 76mm. The German versions are getting Bofors 57mm guns like those used by the Coast Guard. There is space for two containers under the flight deck. Its crew is 40 or less.

Some of this class have been ice strengthened.

Chilean OPV84, Cabo Odger

A possible program: 

I will offer what I believe to be a possible alternative to the current plan with the objective of replacing the aging fleet as rapidly as possible, ultimately increasing the number of larger patrol ships in the fleet and keeping the budget and manpower similar to what we have been experiencing.

In looking at an alternative program there a number of milestones that might be considered.

  • When would we replace all the 210s? At this point we should have at least 26 new generation large cutters (replacing 12 WHECs and 14 WMEC210s). This is currently planned to occur in 2032.
  • When would we get to 36 new generation large cutters currently planned? Now FY2037.
  • What kind of fleet will we have at the end of FY2037? Current plan 11 NSCs and 25 OPCs.

The proposal is in three parts:

  • Proceed with the OPC program as currently envisioned funding one OPC per year through FY2025. In FY2026 and 2027, fund one, rather than two, and halt the program at ten ship with the last delivered in 2030.
  • Continue to fund one NSC a year through FY2023, this will give us 15 NSCs, with the last delivered in 2026.
  • Start a program for Cutter X in FY2021. Fund construction for the first ship in FY2024, then two ships in FY2025 to 2027, then three ships a year in FY 2028 to 2034 (the last year for the current plan). This will provide a total of 28 ships with the last delivered FY2037.

This breaks down to:

  • FY2020 to FY2023 we would fund one NSC and one OPC,
  • FY2024 we fund one OPC and the first Cutter X.
  • FY2025 to FY2027 we build one OPC and two Cutter X (which should cost the same as two OPCs).
  • From FY2028 through 2034 we fund three Cutter X per year (which should cost less than two OPCs).

This is how the benchmarks break down:

  • When would we replace all the 210s? At this point we should have at least 26 new generation large cutters (replacing 12 WHECs and 14 WMEC210s). This is currently planned to occur in 2032. In 2028, 15 NSCs, 8 OPCs, three Cutter X (plus 13 WMEC270)
  • When would we get to 36 new generation large cutters currently planned? Now FY2037. In 2032, by the end of the year, 38 ships, 15 NSCs, 10 OPCs, 13 cutter X. 
  • What kind of fleet will we have at the end of FY2037? Current plan 11 NSCs and 25 OPCs. At the end of FY 2037, 53 ships, 15 NSCs, 10 OPCs, 28 cutter X. 

At the end of FY2037 we will have effectively replaced the 12 WHEC and the 13 WMEC270s with 25 more capable NSCs and OPCs. The 14 WMEC210 and Alex Haley will have been replace by Cutter X and 13 additional large cutters added to the fleet, 17 more than the current plan.

Even if we did not fund NSCs 13-15, it would only take one additional year to replace the 210s and to reach 36 new generation ships. and we would still have 50 ships at the end of FY2037.

We really need to do a new Fleet Mix Study and we need to follow it up with a long term shipbuilding plan, something Congress has been asking for for years.

“Coast Guard releases draft statement of work for Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Industry Studies” –CG-9

OPC “Placemat”

The Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9, has issued a draft statement of work for Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Industry Studies.

The deadline for comments is short.

A draft statement of work (SOW) was released by the Coast Guard Nov. 22 in support of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Program. The service is seeking industry feedback; responses to the draft SOW will be used to inform a future solicitation for industry studies to support OPC follow-on production.

The draft SOW can be found here.

The deadline to submit responses to this request is Dec. 6 at noon EST.

For more information: Offshore Patrol Cutter program page

Looking at the draft statement of work, one of the first things I noticed is that it describes the OPC as “360ft LOA and 4500LT.” I think that displacement should be full load. Even at that, it is significantly larger than previously stated. I had previously noted that dimensions and displacement did not seem to correspond, that the dimension for the OPC was larger than the Holland class OPV which are 3750 tons full load, but previous statements indicated that the ships would be 3730 tons full load. This was repeated in the Congressional Research Service Reports. If their full load displacement is actually 4500 tons, that means they are almost exactly the same size as the National Security Cutters which have been variously reported as 4500 or 4600 tons full load.

The draft SOW indicates, “The re-competed contract scope will be to complete the OPC Detail Design and to construct an initial OPC using that Detail Design, with options for constructing up to 10 additional OPCs.”

Section 2.2.2.2 does at least mention the possibility of a block buy.

 “The impact of block buys of OPCs as a cost reduction strategy shall be addressed in this section.”

The draft SOW states:

“References Available at Award.  The following references will be made available not later than award of the Industry Studies contract.

1. Updated draft OPC System Specification

2. List of Long Lead Time Materials (LLTM)

3. Selected Detail Design Deliverables for information only, including Functional Design artifacts, ABS design review information, Transitional (3D) Design artifacts, Production Design artifacts, Schedules, Test Procedures, and Test Reports.  The maturity of the Functional Design artifacts exceeds 95%.

4. Selected Construction Deliverables for information only, including: Equipment Configuration List, Test results, Engineering Change documents, and schedules

5. Selected Non-Proprietary Management Planning Deliverables for information only

6. USCG Notional OPC Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) Schedule

7. Placemat summarizing OPC Functional Design “

Frankly, I don’t see how you could bid on the contract without having this information first.

The notional schedule does not appear to have changed, meaning, if followed, the contract will not be awarded until the end of FY2022, and the first ship (OPC#5) will not be delivered until near the end of FY2026 and the last ship of the class will not be delivered until near the end of FY2037, three years after the previous plan. At that time the youngest 270 would be 56 years old. We will not have fourteen OPCs to replace the 210s until 2032, by which time the youngest 210 will be 63 years old. This is starting to look ridiculous, but it does looks like there may be some flexibility.

“Contractors will evaluate the referenced design artifacts and propose their most cost effective and schedule efficient plan to transition the Functional Design into a Production Design and to construct OPCs per the contract scope described above. “

This has to be very frustrating. We already went through a year of proposal evaluations, a year of competing preliminary designs, and a year of detail design, and now it looks like we are starting over almost from ground zero.

I anticipate these ships are going to cost considerably more than the original Eastern contract or the original benchmark cost. That, and the considerable delay, are a good argument for funding a 12th NSC in FY2020.

Hopefully the contractors would offer options that would depart from the notional timeline and allow earlier completion of the program as a cost reduction strategy.

On the other hand, if we are going to take this much time, maybe we could make the  ship a bit faster and better armed, since it appears we are firmly back in the great power competition mode.

“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.

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, October 21, 2019, A New Version Reflects RFI

Congressional Research Service has again updated their review of the Coast Guard’s Cutter acquisition programs. (Again only five days after the previous update) The changes reflect the Request for Information (RFI) issued Oct. 18, 2019. You can see the new CRS report here.

The significant changes begin on page 11, and continues through page 14 with quotes from the RFI, and in the “Issues for Congress” section, beginning on page 18 under “Follow-On Competition,” continuing through page 20.

It still seems strange to me that Eastern’s team is not being required to complete the detail design and that the Coast Guard would take the time to develop a second detail design.

As I understand, it the design team is Vard. They should not have been significantly  effected by the hurricane that struck Eastern. Have they been unable to complete a detail design? Shouldn’t they be able to complete one before the re-compete contracts for design studies, evaluates design studies, awards another contract, and completes a second detail design? That the Coast Guard is considering this course make be suspicious that that something is terribly wrong within the Eastern team. I hope I am wrong.

It is gratifying to note that two posts from this blog are referenced in the report: