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

“SEAOWL TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS completes sea trials of its IPD aboard La Confiance-class patrol vessel” –Naval News

We talked about this device earlier here and here. I have to believe these devices have more uses than just target designation including navigation and man-overboard recovery. It quickly, quietly, and accurately passes information to the bridge, CIC, or remote weapons operator.

Both the text and video talk about 3D designation. I have to assume that means range and elevation as well as bearing. They also claim to have solved the potential parallax problem (differences in target bearing when taken from different locations on own ship).

This could be particularly useful for the Webber class going to PATFORSWA where they might be confronted with the asymmetric threat of large numbers of fast inshore attack craft.

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated April 15, 2020” –CRS

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) has again updated their “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.” The last updated edition of this analysis, that I reported on here, was dated 28 Jan. 2020. The FY2021 PC&I request includes funding for OPC#3 and long lead time material for #4, plus small amounts for the NSC and FRC program. Not addressed here is the second Polar Security Cutter for which funding is also requested, addressed in a separate CRS report. There is a good breakdown of the entire request for vessels here.

As noted earlier, eight Marine Protector class, 87 foot WPBs are to be decommissioned without replacement. 

Congress has routinely added Webber class Fast Response Cutters to previous budgets. I have to believe the Congress will fund four additional FRCs, if not in FY2021 then in 2022, so that we can ccomplete the program of record and replace all six Island class WPBs of PATFORSWA. A 12th NSC seems much less likely, but not impossible. The summary for the 15 April edition is quoted below. 

Summary

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 FY2021 budget requests a total of $597 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs. It also proposes a rescission of $70 million in FY2020 procurement funding that Congress provided for the NSC program.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are replacing the Coast Guard’s 12 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 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2020 has fully funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. In FY2020, Congress provided $100.5 million for procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th NSC, so as to preserve the option of procuring a 12th NSC while the Coast Guard evaluates its future needs. The funding can be used for procuring LLTM for a 12th NSC if the Coast Guard determines it is needed. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $31 million in procurement funding for activities within the NSC program; this request does not include further funding for a 12th NSC. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget also proposes a rescission of $70 million of the $100.5 million that Congress provided for a 12th NSC, with the intent of reprogramming that funding to the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program. Eight NSCs have entered service; the seventh and eighth were commissioned into service on August 24, 2019. The 9th through 11th are under construction; the 9th is scheduled for delivery in 2020.

OPCs are to be 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 and PSC programs as the service’s highest acquisition priorities. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $411 million per ship. The first OPC was funded in FY2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $546 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth, and other program costs. On October 11, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which the Coast Guard is a part, announced that DHS had granted extraordinary contractual relief to Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) of Panama City, FL, the builder of the first four OPCs, under P.L. 85-804 as amended (50 U.S.C. 1431-1435), a law that authorizes certain federal agencies to provide certain types of extraordinary relief to contractors who are encountering difficulties in the performance of federal contracts or subcontracts relating to national defense. ESG reportedly submitted a request for extraordinary relief on June 30, 2019, after ESG’s shipbuilding facilities were damaged by Hurricane Michael, which passed through the Florida panhandle on October 10, 2018. The Coast Guard intends to hold a competition for a contract to build OPCs 5 through 15.

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 $65 million per boat. A total of 60 have been funded through FY2020, including four in FY2020. Four of the 60 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 FRCs, 56 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2020. The 36th FRC was commissioned into service on January 10, 2020. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requests $20 million in procurement funding for the FRC program; this request does not include funding for any additional FRCs.

Are PATFORSWA WPBs Being Equipped With a Target Designation System?

Crewmembers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Adak (WPB-1333) raise the American flag. Adak is assigned to CTF 55, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Frank Iannazzo-Simmons

NavyRecognition has some more details about the multi-unit exercise that prompted recent Iranian harassment of Navy and Coast Guard vessels, “U.S. Navy Surface Forces and Army Helicopters Conduct Live Fire Exercise in North Arabian Gulf.”

The ships involved in the event included Navy Expeditionary Landing Base ship USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB-3), coastal patrol ships USS Sirocco (PC 6), USS Whirlwind (PC 11), USS Firebolt (PC 10 ), USS Tempest (PC 2), Coast Guard patrol boats USCGC Adak (WPB 1333), USCGC Maui (WPB 1304), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332), and guided-missile destroyer USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60).

In addition, there were Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters operating from USS Lewis B. Puller. What I found particularly interesting was:

On the ships involved without organic aircraft control capabilities, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) was embarked to communicate directly with the aircraft and provide targeting information.

Does this mean that the Island class WPBs are getting a form of data link to allow them to pass targeting information to the Army attack helicopters? Other DOD aircraft?

Will the Webber class WPCs expected to go to PATFORSWA going to get these?

“IRGCN Vessels Conduct Unsafe, Unprofessional Interaction with U.S. Naval Forces in Arabian Gulf” –US CENTCOM

NORTH ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. U.S. forces are conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo)

The following is a news release from US Fifth Fleet Public Affairs: (I bet one of those long range acoustic projectors could be really unpleasant if someone shouted over one of them at you at close range. Maybe every cutter should have them.)

On April 15, eleven Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels repeatedly conducted dangerous and harassing approaches of the USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3), USS Paul Hamilton (DDG 60), USS Firebolt (PC 10), USS Sirocco (PC 6), USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332) and USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) while the U.S. vessels were conducting joint integration operations with U.S. Army AH-64E Apache attack helicopters in the international waters of the North Arabian Gulf.

The IRGCN vessels repeatedly crossed the bows and sterns of the U.S. vessels at extremely close range and high speeds, including multiple crossings of the Puller with a 50 yard closest point of approach (CPA) and within 10 yards of Maui’s bow.

The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio, five short blasts from the ships’ horns and long range acoustic noise maker devices, but received no response from the IRGCN.

After approximately one hour, the IRGCN vessels responded to the bridge-to-bridge radio queries, then maneuvered away from the U.S. ships and opened distance between them.

The IRGCN’s dangerous and provocative actions increased the risk of miscalculation and collision, were not in accordance with the internationally recognized Convention on the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) “rules of the road” or internationally recognized maritime customs, and were not in accordance with the obligation under international law to act with due regard for the safety of other vessels in the area.

The U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Army have been conducting joint interoperability operations in the North Arabian Gulf since late March.

U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense.

NORTH ARABIAN GULF (April 15, 2020) Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN) vessels conducted unsafe and unprofessional actions against U.S. Military ships by crossing the ships’ bows and sterns at close range while operating in international waters of the North Arabian Gulf. The expeditionary mobile sea base USS Lewis B. Puller (ESB 3) is conducting joint interoperability operations in support of maritime security in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Navy photo)

“GeoSpectrum Launches Low Frequency Active VDS Deployable by USVs”

Geospectrum’s new, compact version of the Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar (TRAPS) suitable for Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs)

NavyNews reports that Canadian Company GeoSpectrum has developed a version of their “Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar” (TRAPS) that is scaled to fit vessels as small as 12 meter Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV).

We talked earlier about an earlier version of this system. If it fits on a 12 meter (39’4″) USV, then it should certainly be able to fit on anything WPB or larger. If we should ever have to go to war, this might be a capability we would want to protect our harbor approaches from submarines. We would probably also want to add an ASW torpedo launching capability.

It might be worth doing some experimentation to see how it works, and if desirable, draw up plans for adding this or a similar system for mobilization. First of course we should take a look at the results of Canada’s tests.

Might also be desirable to have something like this for the Webber class cutters going to PATFORSWA, since the Iranians have a large number of small conventionally powered submarines.

Maybe it could help us find semi-submersibles smuggling drugs as well. 

Explosive Boats –In Yemen, and a Look Back

Naval News reports on the continued threat of remotely controlled explosive motor boats to vessel traffic around Yemen. We have talked about this before, here, here, and here. Historically explosive boats have had some success even against heavily armed opponents.

Heavy Cruiser, HMS York, run aground by her own crew to prevent her sinking, after being struck by two explosive motor boats (Italian: barchini esplosivi) of the Italian Regia Marina assault Flotilla, Decima Flottiglia MAS, Souda Bay, Crete, 26 March, 1941.

There was, of course, the suicide attack on USS Cole.

The semi-submersible ship M/V Blue Marlin carrying damaged USS Cole. 31 October 2000. U.S. Navy photo by PH2 Leland Comer.

As I have noted before, remote controlled attacks could be planned and carried out relatively easily using readily available remote control devices and remote viewing systems in wide spread use.

Will we see these threats emerge in the US, or perhaps in the Persian Gulf where they might be encountered by PATFORSWA?

Any number of platforms might be used as the basis for this type of threat from shrimp boats to jet skis. It would be advantageous to the attacker, if they could blend in with local traffic.

Off shore, in SW Asia, the Houthi typically control the attack boat from another boat, within line of sight radio range of the remote controlled boat, but in a US harbor it might be controlled from shore.

If the threat is against a moving target, soft kill systems designed to counter Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) should be equally effective, but they might not work against a threat targeting a fixed point like a moored vessel. Hard kill systems might work as a defense, but it raises the question, how close do you want to get, since the operator could presumably detonate the charge at any time? Success with a 7.62mm machine gun might require a lucky shot to take out a critical component.

Explosive motor boat of the type used by the Israeli Navy in the Independence War, in the Clandestine Immigration and Naval Museum, Haifa, Israel. Possibly an Italian MTM (Motoscafo da Turismo Modificato). Photo from Wikipedia Commons. User:Bukvoed.

How to handle this sort of threat is squarely in the Coast Guard’s “Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security” mission wheelhouse. Hopefully we are putting some thought into it.

Coast Guard Budget in “A Budget for America’s Future, Fiscal Year 2021” and a small, unpleasant surprise

White House, South Side. Photo by MattWade from Wikipedia

Looking for information on the 2021 budget I came across “A Budget for America’s Future, Fiscal Year 2021” issued from the White House by the GAO. It covers the entire Federal budget. It is a 138 pages. It mentions the Coast Guard only three times. (No, I did not read the entire document, used the “control F” function to find them.) I have reproduced those parts below. The third was a bit of a surprise.

  1. In addition, the Budget includes $1.6 billion to continue the important work of modernizing the U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft that patrol the Nation’s coastal borders. (page 6 or 10 of 138 in the pdf)
  2.  In addition, the Budget includes $1.6 billion to continue to modernize U.S. Coast Guard vessels and aircraft that patrol and provide life-saving rescue missions across the Nation’s coastal borders.  The Budget includes funding for a second polar icebreaker to ensure America is at the forefront of safeguarding uninterrupted, year round commercial activity, trade, and supply routes and confirming America’s leadership role in the Arctic and Antarctic. (page 56 or 60 of 138 in the pdf)
  3. Focuses on Sound Budgeting.  The Budget proposes to shift $215 million in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) funding for the U.S. Coast Guard into the Department’s base budget.  This furthers the Administration’s goal of ensuring that the OCO request funds only temporary overseas warfighting operations and does not fund enduring operations “off budget.” (page 58 or 62 of 138 in the pdf)

The third entry caught my eye. I can only think of one significant “Overseas Contingency Operation,” PATFORSWA, which is funded by DOD. It sounds like DHS wants to terminate PATFORSWA. This might explain why the last two Webber class FRCs, which would have presumably gone to PATFORSWA, were not included in the FY2021 budget. 

Depending on your degree of cynicism, other possibilities are that DHS wants to increase the total budget that they control, or that they want make CG budget look bigger when it was really money we were getting already.

The on line edition of Seapower, the Navy League magazine’s, report on the budget included something that surprised me.

The 2021 budget also proposes $35.5 million to manage retirements of old assets, including the decommissioning of two Secretary-class high-endurance cutters, two Island-class patrol boats and eight Marine Protector-class patrol boats. (emphasis applied-Chuck)

Looks like we are starting to decommission the 87 foot WPBs without a replacement in sight. For at least the last five years, I have been saying we were going to need a replacement for these in the near future, here, here, here, but I was still surprised because I have seen nothing about a replacement.

“Militias: US sailors in Bahrain ‘legitimate targets’ after Soleimani slaying” –Navy Times

The current crisis in SW Asia of course brings to mind the Coast Guard members in that area, PATFORSWA, based in Bahrain.

NavyTimes has an assessment of the risks that Iranian backed militias in Bahrain might retaliate against US service members in Bahrain or their families.

Assignment to PATFORSWA is an unaccompanied tour, but apparently members are berthed off base in leased housing.

Generally the assessment is that Bahrain’s internal security forces are very good, but there are militants there and that 100% security is impossible.

Apparently the head of a Bahrain Shia militia was one of the victims of the US attack that killed Soleimani, so they might have additional motivation for an attack.

If any of our PATFORSWA personnel are looking in on the blog. Take care.

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

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

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

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

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