MAD-FIRES –Multi-Azimuth Defense Fast Intercept Round Engagement System

DARPA is working on what is essentially a gun launched guided missile, and reading their description or this report of testing of the rocket motor, you would not know that it is intended for the 57mm Mk110 gun currently mounted on the National Security Cutters (NSC) and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). Fortunately the video above makes that clear. The portion related to MAD-FIRES is time 6:30 to 7:35. (I have seen some indications they plan to use the same technology on different size rounds, but the 57mm looks like the first beneficiary.)

“Envisioned benefits of MAD-FIRES for future systems include:

  • “Improved real-time defense against evolving air and surface combat threats, facilitated by:
    • “Extreme precision
    • “An ability to defend against greater numbers of simultaneous and diverse attacks
  • “Decreased per-engagement costs by a factor of 10 or more
  • “Potential future applicability to air and ground platforms”

MAD-FIRES Projectile. Photo by Dederot

Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated May 22, 2019

Offshore Patrol Cutter future USCGC ArgusThe Congressional Research Service has once again updated their look at Coast Guard Cutter procurement.

I have quoted the summary below and will comment on some of the questions.

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests a total of $657 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2019 has funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. Six NSCs have been commissioned into service. The seventh was delivered to the Coast Guard on September 19, 2018, and the eighth was delivered on April 30, 2019. The ninth through 11th are under construction; the ninth is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $60 million in procurement funding for the NSC program; this request does not include funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $421 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard awarded a contract with options for building up to nine OPCs to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The second OPC and long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third were funded in FY2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $457 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth and fifth, and other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 56 have been funded through FY2019, including six in FY2019. Four of the 56 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four, a total of 52 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2019. The 32nd FRC was commissioned into service on May 1, 2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $140 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of two more FRCs for domestic operations.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  •     whether to provide funding in FY2020 for the procurement of a 12th NSC;
  •  whether to fund the procurement in FY2020 of two FRCs, as requested by the Coast Guard, or some higher number, such as four or six;
  •  whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
  •  the annual procurement rate for the OPC program;
  •  the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs; and
  •     the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.

Bertholf Class National Security Cutters (NSCs):

If there is going to be a 12th NSC, it almost certainly has to be funded this year. Future years will see the Polar Security Cutters and OPCs further crowding the budget. Frankly I see little to choose between the NSC and OPC for peacetime missions, but the replacement of the legacy fleet is becoming urgent and the price of the NSCs has decreased as funding became more regular, so a 12th might be reasonable. If we had started the OPC program earlier, it might have offered a lower cost alternative to additional NSCs, but we will not be ready to start multi-ship procurements of the OPCs until FY2021 and then only at the rate of two per year if we follow current planning.

Argus Class Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs):

There is probably good reason to accelerate the OPC program beyond the two per year currently planned to begin in FY2021. If we maintain that rate, the last 210 foot WMEC will not be replaced until 2028, the last 270 not until 2034. I expect we may see some catastrophic failures that will result in either sidelining ships or unacceptably high repair costs, before the program of record is complete.

The Coast Guard should plan on expediting testing of the first OPC so that production could move from the current contract with options to a true Multi-Year contract as soon as the design has proven successful.

We probably will need more than 25 OPCs. The Coast Guard has operated more than 40 cutters of more than 1,000 tons for decades. It seems likely we are going to need more than 36 total NSCs and OPCs. (See the discussion about the Fleet Mix Study below.)

Webber Class Fast Response Cutters (FRCs):

We are nearing the end of the Webber class program with 52 of the 58 program of record vessels, plus four additional vessels for Patrol Forces South West Asia (PATFORSWA), already funded. Buying only two for FY2020 raises the unit costs of these vessels. Congress has consistently increased purchases to four or even six per year when only two have been requested. Adding the final two additional FRCs intended to replace the 110s assigned to PATFORSWA would bring the total buy to four. That would leave only four to be purchased in FY2021 which could wrap up the funding. The question is, will Congress stop the program at the 64 vessels total when there may be justification for more?

Impact of Hurricane Michael: 

The Coast Guard budget is not the place to provide disaster relief for businesses. Maybe they have insurance. Maybe the state or Federal Government wants to provide aid, but renegotiating the contract for OPCs is not the way to do it. No way should it come out of the Coast Guard budget.

If on the other had we do renegotiate the contract, it is not to late to make it a “Block Buy.”

One solution might be for the contract to be converted to a block buy, using purchase amounts no more than current contract with options. That would assure the contractor and its creditor that they would have a steady stream of work. The contract might even have options for production of additional ships at rates higher than two per year.

We Need a New Fleet Mix Study:

The number of OPCs and FRCs actually required to fulfill Coast Guard statutory missions was examined in a fleet mix study (see pages 19 and 20 of the report) that found that the Program of Record (8 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 58 FRCs) fell far short of the number of vessels required to meet all statutory requirements. Phase One of the study (2009) found that the total “objective” requirement was 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs. Phase Two found that only 49 OPCs would be required but found the same requirements for NSCs and FRCs (see page 22).

The problem is that the analysis is getting pretty old and its assumptions were wrong. The Coast Guard will have at least 11 NSCs. The FRCs appear to be more capable than anticipated. Perhaps most importantly, the study assumed the NSCs and OPCs would use the “Crew Rotation Concept,” resulting in an unrealistic expectation for days away from homeport. From my point of view, the study failed to even consider the requirement to be able to forcibly stop a medium to large size ship being used as a terrorist weapon. None of our ships are capable of doing that reliably, and even our ability to stop small fast highly maneuverable ships under terrorist control is far from assured, even if the objective fleet were available.

The Procurement, Construction, and Improvements FY2020 budget request is about $1.2B. Adding NSC #12 and a pair of FRCs using the costs in the CRS report ($670M/NSC plus 2x$58M/FRC) which are probably high for the current marginal costs, would still leave the PC&I budget under the $2B/year the Coast Guard has been saying they need and about $250M less than the FY2019 PC&I budget.

For the Future:

While we are thinking about cutters, with the FRC program coming to an end, it is not too early to think about the 87 foot WPB replacement. I think there might be a  window to fund them after the third Polar Security Cutter if we have our requirements figured out. That means preliminary contracts such as conceptual designs have to be done during the same period we are building PSCs, e.g. FY2022 and earlier. .

To avoid always being constantly behind the power curve, as we have been for the last two decades, we really need a 30 year shipbuilding plan. The Navy does one every year. There is no reason the Coast Guard should not be able to do one as well. The Congress has been asking for a 25 year plan for years now, but so far no product.

Thanks to Grant for bringing this to my attention. 

“Coast Guard Needs Congress for Budget Bailout” –National Defense

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

National Defense reports that the Administration’s 2020 budget request makes deep cuts in the Coast Guard budget compared to recent years, but that there is a good chance Congress will make up at least some of the difference.

You can see a brief summary of the budget submission here.

We have Congress plus up the Coast Guard’s budget in the past, particularly in terms of increasing numbers of Webber class cutters funded. The 2020 budget includes only two. This is likely to be increased to four or even six.

Congress has also added three Bertholf class NSC to the program of record and there have been suggestions that a 12th is needed to fully replace the 378 foot WHECs. If we are to get a 12th NSC, it almost has to happen in FY2020 before we OPC construction goes to two per year and before we need to fund Polar Security Cutters 2-6.

The Commandant has been talking about maintenance backlogs recently. Unfortunately maintenance does not have the highly visible job creation impact of new construction, although the dollar for dollar impact may be as great. It seldom makes the evening news, so this may be a harder sell.

 

Coast Guard FY 2020 Budget Request

Below I have duplicated the Coast Guard’s FY2020 Budget “Fact Sheet”. You can see supporting documents here. My comments are at the bottom.

U.S. Coast Guard Fact Sheet

Fiscal Year 2020 President’s Budget  

BACKGROUND: The FY 2020 President’s Budget requests $11.34 billion for the Coast Guard, including $9.32 billion in discretionary funding.  This begins to address the Service’s erosion of readiness through critical investments in the workforce, cybersecurity, and depot maintenance of legacy assets and infrastructure.  The Budget also supports the Service’s highest priority acquisition, the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), and continues recapitalization efforts for capital assets and infrastructure.

BUDGET PRIORITIES:

  • Maximize Readiness Today and Tomorrow—increasing global complexity and expanding demand for Coast Guard services necessitates investment in the workforce, assets, and infrastructure to address the erosion of Service readiness.   
  • Address the Nation’s Complex Maritime Challenges—as the Nation’s unique instrument across the full spectrum of maritime operations, the Budget invests in capabilities and capacity to detect, deter, and counter maritime threats in support of homeland security and defense operations.
  • Deliver Mission Excellence Anytime, Anywhere—the Coast Guard is an agile and adaptive force whose greatest value to the Nation is an ability to rapidly shift among its many missions. The Budget advances modernization efforts in both operations and acquisitions by adapting to the dynamic nature of maritime operations.

MAXIMIZE READINESS TODAY AND TOMORROW: The FY 2020 Budget requests $7.9 billion for Operations & Support (O&S).  Budget highlights include: 

  • $118 million for requisite military pay and allowances as per the FY 2019 National Defense Authorization Act requirements, which keeps DoD and Coast Guard military members compensated equitably, as well as providing civilian benefits and retirement contributions.
  • $59 million for new assets including: crew and shore-side support for NSC #9; operations and maintenance for FRCs #3741; crews for FRCs #39-43; shore-side maintenance personnel for FRC homeports; crew for OPC #1; maintenance support personnel for the C-27J fleet; and operations, maintenance, and flight crews for HC-130J aircraft #12. 
  • $27 million for human capital support infrastructure, and vessel, aircraft, and C5I maintenance funding to address spare parts inventory shortfalls that have led to decreased operations and lower readiness levels due to unplanned repairs. 
  • $22 million for the final phase of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) compliance upgrades, including the replacement of obsolete aircraft equipment and systems necessary to meet 2020 airspace requirements.

ADDRESS THE NATION’S COMPLEX MARITIME CHALLENGES: The FY 2020 Budget requests $1.2 billion for Procurement, Construction, & Improvements (PC&I) to continue recapitalization of the Service’s highest priority acquisitions: 

  • $792 million for vessels, including: $457 million for the construction of Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) #3 as well as long lead time materials for OPCs #4 and #5; $140 million for the procurement of two Fast Response Cutters (FRCs); $60 milllion for post-delivery activities for the seventh through eleventh National Security Cutters (NSCs); $35 million for program management and production activities associated with the detail design and construction contract for Polar Security Cutters (PSCs); and $15 million for a multi-year Service Life Extension Project (SLEP) for POLAR STAR. 
  • $200 million for aircraft, including: $20 million to support service life extensions for MH-60T helicopters; $50 million for a service life extension and avionics upgrade on the H-65 helicopter fleet; $120 million for missionization of fixed-wing HC-27J and HC-144A aircraft; and $9 million for small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS).
  • $174 million for shore infrastructure projects, including funding for: utility upgrades and construction at Air Station Ventura, CA; improvements at Station Tillamook Bay, OR; replacement of moorings at Station Siuslaw River, OR; and facility upgrades and construction to support FRC and OPC homeports.

DELIVER MISSION EXCELLENCE ANYTIME, ANYWHERE: In FY 2020, the Coast Guard will make sound, riskbased decisions to efficiently allocate resources while investing in critical recapitalization initiatives.  Highlights include: 

  • $15 million to address obsolete communications equipment on cutters, aircraft, and shore facilities to ensure continued interoperability with DoD Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) in theater, as well as in the high latitudes, and during disaster response.
  • $12 million in savings associated with the planned decommissioning of one High Endurance Cutter (WHEC) and three 110foot Patrol Boats (WPBs).  These assets are being replaced by new, more capable NSCs and FRCs, respectively.

My Commentary: 

The $118M quoted above for military pay and allowances is to fund the pay increase not the full amount of pay and allowances.

The top line amount in the budget request, $11.34B, is roughly $770M less than the final FY2019 budget and about $860M less than the FY2018 budget as enacted. Fortunately Congress has usually made additions to the request, but this request is also less than last year’s request.

The big difference, more than $1B, is in the Procurement, Construction, and Improvement account. Amounts requested for Ships and Boats, Aircraft, and Shore-side Infrastructure are all lower. The $1.2B total is little more than half the approximately $2B/year the Coast Guard has been saying they need.

Items missing in the description of the budget that might have been expected, are a second “Polar Security Cutter” (better to do it in 2020 when we are not trying to also fund two OPCs), the Waterways Commerce Cutter, any additional HC-130J aircraft, and a land based Unmanned Air System. The procurement of only two Fast Response Cutters is below the optimum build rate and appears to have resulted in higher unit costs.

New Sensors for Fire Scout

170327-N-VS214-002
SAN DIEGO (March 27, 2017) A MQ-8C Fire Scout helicopter sits in the hangar bay of the littoral combat ship USS Montgomery (LCS 8). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Zachary Eshleman/Released)

US Naval Institute News Service is reporting that the Navy is looking at providing better sensors, in particular a better radar, on the MQ-8C Fire Scout (the larger version).

“What’s important to us right now is making sure we have the right sensors, a good multi-function radar, some kind of passive targeting capability and the right networks to push that information to the right people at the right times.”

When the Navy finally gets around to deploying LCS to the drug transit zones, these could be very useful.

Reportedly they will provide, “…a circle of influence and sea control out to about 300 miles” although probability of detection almost certainly depends on target size and characteristics. 

The radar of choice is reportedly the Leonardo Osprey 30 active electronically scanned-array (AESA) radar. This radar has no moving parts.

Leonardo’s Osprey AESA radar. The two panel configuration allows 240 degree coverage. A three panel configuration allows 360 degree coverage as on Norway’s AW101 SAR helicopters. Configurations of up to four panels are possible (Photo by Leonardo)

Aviation Week reports:

“Each antenna contains 256 Transmit and Receive Modules (TRM) – 25% more than that the single array on the Seaspray 7500E radar fitted to U.S. Coast Guard HC-130J Hercules search aircraft (also a Leonardo product–Chuck). The antennas, which can be used in several different modes including surface search, air-to-air and synthetic aperture radar and moving target indication, are controlled through a single processing unit which collects the data and displays it as presenting a single radar picture.”

They claim:

  • Class-leading maritime surveillance capability
  • AESA-enabled small target mode (STM)
  • Very high resolution, wide swath SAR Mapping
  • Small radar cross section (RCS), low minimum detectable velocity (MDV), multi-channel moving target indication (MTI)
  • Air-to-Air surveillance, track and intercept
  • Instantaneous multiple mode interleaving
  • Difficult target detection from high altitude

Ultimately as more of the “C” models are built, we might see them on Coast Guard cutters. There is also the possibility that as more of the larger “C” models come on line, the Coast Guard may be able to get some of the smaller “B” models. The “B” model did operate for Bertholf for two weeks.

The larger C model, with its higher speed, greater payload, better sensors, and 11+ hour endurance, would certainly be an improvement over the ScanEagle currently planned for the National Security Cutters. Whether the “B” model‘s presumably better sensors but shorter range/endurance would allow a greater effective search area compared to the ScanEagle I could only speculate, but I suspect it would also be an improvement, using perhaps two flights per day.

The National Security Cutters could certainly support both an H-65 and an MQ-8C, since they can support two H-65s. It is less clear if the OPC could support both. They reportedly can support an MH-60 or an H-65 and a UAS, but what size UAS?

These systems suggest that at some point, at least on our largest cutters, we may be able to relieve shipboard manned helicopters the routine search function.

FY2019 Budget


US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

With a bit of help from a friend, the actual FY2019 budget documents were located:  “The Joint Explanation” and “The Conference Report.”

I found the Joint Explanation easiest to wade through. The Budget breakdown is found on pages 65 to 69 of the 612 page pdf.

Note in some cases I have rounded to the nearest $0.1M


Our total Coast Guard FY2019 budget is $12,015,921,000. This is $91,803,000 less than last year, but $577,720,000 more than the budget request.

The Operations and Support allocation is $7,808.2M. That is $434.9M more than last year (a 5.6% increase), and $215.1M more than requested.

I have provided information on the PC&I budget below including a complete list of line items that I was unable to provide before.

PROCUREMENT, CONSTRUCTION, AND IMPROVEMENTS (PC&I) $2,248.26M

Vessels and Boats

  • Survey and design:                      5.5M
  • In service vessel sustainment:   63.25M
  • National Security Cutter:              72.6M (Follow up on ships already funded)
  • Offshore Patrol Cutter:                  400M (Second of class + LLTM for third)
  • Fast Response Cutter: 340M (Six Webber class including two for PATFORSWA)
  • Cutter boats                                       5M
  • Polar Security Cutter:                     675M (First of class + LLTM for second)
  • Waterways Commerce Cutter:           5M
  • Polar sustainment:                            15M (Polar Star Service Life Extension)

—-Vessels Subtotal:  $1,581.35M

Aircraft

  • HC-144 Conversion/Sustainment:         17M
  • HC-27J Conversion/Sustainment:         80M
  • HC-1330J Conversion/Sustainment:   105M
  • HH-65 Conversion/Sustainment:           28M
  • MH-60 Conversion/Sustainment:         120M
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft:                        6M

—Aircraft Subtotal:  $356M

Other Acquisition Programs:

  • Other Equipment and System:                                               3.5M
  • Program Oversight and Managemen:                                    20M
  • C4ISR                                                                                    23.3M
  • CG-Logistics Information Management System (CG-LIMS):   9.2M

—Other Acquisitions Programs Subtotal:   $56M

Shore Facilities and Aids to Navigation:

  • Major Construction; Housing; ATON; and Survey and Design: 74.51M
  • Major Acquisition Systems Infrastructure:                                 175.4M
  • Minor Shore                                                                                      5M

—Shore Facilities and Aids to Navigation Subtotal:  $254.91M

The PC&I total, $2,248.26M, was $446.48M less than FY2018, but it was $361.51M above the budget request.

R&D was cut by almost a third. This is probably a place to spend more not less.

Reserve Training disappeared as a separate line item, so I can’t tell what happened there.

Also included in the new budget is $5M for the National Coast Guard Museum

Incidentally, the total amount appropriated for the polar security program includes $359.6M (FY2018 and prior) + $675M (FY2019), or $1,034.6M, of which $20M is for Long Lead Time Material for the second ship, and the remainder is for the first ship and other program-related expenses.

With Operations and Support up more than 5% over 2018 and Procurement Construction &Improvement (PC&I) over $2B for the second year in a row, this is the kind of budget we can live with. It just needs to keep happening.