A Navy Patrol Craft Working With the Coast Guard

USS Zephyr (PC 8) and U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment Pacific personnel, conducting operations in support of JIATF-S Operation Martillo. U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Casey J. HopkinsDefenseMediaNetwork has an interview with the then CO of USS Zephyr (PC-8), LCdr Cameron Ingram, shortly after they had participated in the seizure of a GoFast under Seventh District Operational Control.

The CO, obviously enjoyed working with the LEDET, and it appears he likes the Coast Guard’s Over the Horizon boat which operated from the Zephyr.

USS Zephyr crew members operate a Puma UAV.

They have aboard the Puma UAV. Seems it could work on the Webber class as well. On Zephyr the UAV is operated by an HM and an EN.

They also have the new Mk38 mod3 which includes a coaxial 7.62 mm machinegun. This gun should start showing up on Webber class WPCs soon. Interestingly while he appreciates the optics that come with the Mk38 mod3, he would still like to have a FLIR on the mast.

There is an interesting discussion following the interviewers question, “It’s good to have an extra watchstander,” about the benefits of having a Merchant Marine Academy cadet aboard.

Fire aboard USCGC Brant (WPB-87348)–No Injuries

Fire damage, USCGC Brant (WPB-87348), Gulfport, MS, 18 Oct., 2017. Looking at the aft port corner of the superstructure.

The 87 foot WPB USCGC Brant (WPC-87348) has suffered a fire while berthed in Gulfport MS. Two were aboard, but there were no injuries.

This is the CCGD8 news release:

NEW ORLEANS – Members from Gulfport Fire Department and a Coast Guard member extinguished a fire aboard Coast Guard Cutter Brant, which was moored in Gulfport, Mississippi, Wednesday.

At approximately 5 a.m., two Coast Guard members who were aboard the cutter became aware of the fire, located on the port-aft area of the vessel, and took initial actions to put out the fire using an on board fire extinguisher.

Members from Gulfport Fire Department arrived on scene at 5:05 a.m. and extinguished the fire.

The two Coast Guard members on board the vessel were evaluated by emergency medical services and have been released.

“We are thankful no one was hurt in the fire,” said Cmdr. Zachary Ford, the head of the response department at Coast Guard Sector New Orleans. “Without the quick response and actions taken by the Gulfport Fire Department, this incident could have been much worse.”

The cause of the incident is under investigation.

Below is a photo of a sister ship, USCGC Crocodile. I understand this started as an electrical fire in the engineroom.

USCGC Crocodile. the area of damage is clearly visible to the left of the ladder leading to the bridge. Damage seems to have been in a trunk leading down to the engine room. There may have been additional damage below deck.

Libyan Coast Guard Sinks Tanker

We have reports from NavalToday and Maritime-Executive that the Libyan Coast Guard, using a 30mm auto-cannon, opened fire on and sank a Russian owned, Comoros-flagged oil products tanker, the GOEAST, believed to have been smuggling Libyan oil.

It is not the first time the Libyan Coast Guard has used deadly force, and apparently not the first time the GOEAST’s parent company has been accused of smuggling.

I found this particularly interesting because it seemed to contradict my long held belief that the Coast Guard is unlikely to be able to forcibly stop, much less sink, a medium to large merchant ship in a timely manner with gun fire if it were employed in a terrorist attack. There are many questions about the sinking for which I have not seen answers. What might this incident say about our own ability to stop a terrorist attack using a merchant ship?

The GOEAST was a small and elderly tanker. Admittedly a terrorist organization is more likely to have control of a ship like this, than a larger and more modern vessel. It displaced 9700 tons and was built forty years ago in 1977. It would have been considered relatively large in WWII, but not now. We don’t know its state of maintenance, but it was probably poor. We don’t know how it was loaded, incomplete or asymmetrical loading, and the resulting free surface effect may have contributed to its loss. We don’t know how long it took to sink or how long it could steer and make way. Even after being damaged, could it have completed a terrorist mission before sinking?

The actions of the Libyan Coast Guard were probably an excessive use of force. We have no information about what happened to the crew of the amount of pollution that resulted. Whatever the justification for the attack on the GOEAST, it is good to see a degree of success in using a relatively small gun to stop a sink a ship, but there are reasons why we may not be able to take much comfort in this example.

The Libyan Coast Guard vessel appears to have been a former Italian Bigliani II  class patrol boat equipped with a twin Oto Melara-Mauser 30mm gun.

The Bigliani IIs are not big ships. They are 84.7 tons full load and 27 meters (88.6 feet) in length, 6.95 m (22.8 feet) of beam, with a draft of 1.26 m (4.13 feet). That is actually  slightly smaller than our 91 ton full load 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. This illustrates that even our small patrol boats could carry much heavier weapons.

The 30mm gun, visible in the video has a relatively high rate of fire, but that is largely irrelevant for our purposes (unless we are being shot at) since even our 180 round per minute chain guns can exhaust their ammunition in only a few minutes.

The 30mm gun fires common NATO rounds which include the armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS-T) round that A-10 Warhogs use against tanks. Compared to our 25mm gun’s corresponding APDS-T round, the 30mm has a higher muzzle velocity and weighs 71.6% more. This long rod tungsten penetrator is more likely to be able to disable a ship than even our 57mm rounds, which may penetrate the hull but will likely explode before reaching the engine.

The tanker was not returning fire, which could have kept the patrol boat at a distance, and radially reduced the accuracy of fire.

I still have doubts about the ability of a gun to reliably stop a medium to large merchant ship with a determined crew. There are other alternatives, but an upgrade to a 30mm gun on our patrol boats and larger vessels would certainly increase our chances of success.

DARPA Tests TALONS from Webber WPC sized ship

NavyRecognition reports DARPA conducted a three day demonstration of the “Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems” (TALONS) aboard the Cyclone class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC-8).

The Cyclone class is very familiar to the Coast Guard, three of them including Zephyr, having been loaned to the Coast Guard. Ten of the class are now homeported in Bahrain alongside six USCG 110s. The remaining three are stationed in Mayport and regularly work with the Coast Guard performing drug interdiction. As built they were slightly smaller than the Webber class, but most, including Zephyr, were lengthened and are now slightly larger than the Webbers (387 tons vs 353)

We have talked about TALONS previously here and here.

Reportedly they are working toward a fully automated launch and recovery system that would make the system even easier to use. The installation on Zephyr looked rather neat.

“Too Small to Answer the Call”–USNI Proceedings

The May issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is the Naval Review issue. It includes updates on the Coast Guard as well as the Navy and Marine corps that are behind the membership pay wall, but it also has an article, “Too Small to Answer the Call,” by Capt. David Ramassini, future CO of USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) that is accessible to all, and I think is worth a read.

Basically he is advocating using the Coast Guard internationally to build capacity and counter threats of lawlessness and poor governance in trouble spots all around the world. Below is his recommended building program.

Build a New Great White Fleet

Enhancing regional security in partnership with willing nations requires a 21st-century Great White Fleet of forward deployable (or stationed) national security cutters (NSCs), offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), and fast response cutters (FRC). The mix of platforms and duration of presence would be tailored to the distinct geographies and vary based on the receptiveness of the host nation(s), problem sets to be addressed, and mutual goals of the combatant commands and partner nations. Building on a proven bilateral approach for counterdrug operations and EEZ enforcement, the Great White Fleet would leverage existing agreements—based on the extent to which partner governments are willing—to strengthen CTOC (counter transnational organized crime–chuck) and CT (counter terrorism–Chuck) across the JIME (Joint Interagency Multinational Environment–Chuck).

From an acquisition perspective, doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100) programs equates to the projected cost of one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)-class aircraft carrier (approximately $13 billion). Furthermore, procuring an additional seven NSCs over the nine planned would cost the equivalent of one Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer (approximately $4.2 billion). The NSC and OPC both offer more than three times the on-station time between provisioning than is afforded by a littoral combat ship (LCS).

Building more OPCs also could rapidly grow the National Fleet by leveraging commercial shipyards outside the mainstream industrial complex. These shipyards may be able to provide better value to the government during an economic downturn in the oil and offshore supply industry. Further leveraging this acquisition would continue to drive down the cost of the OPCs and provide an additional industrial base to build a 400-ship National Fleet of ships with far lower operating and maintenance costs than the LCS.

Redirecting proposed future LCS/frigate dollars (approximately $14 billion) to a Great White Fleet to modernize the U.S. National Fleet mix would provide a greater return on investment and more staying power abroad. For instance, building international security cutters—NSCs with Navy-typed/Navy-owned enhancements such as the SeaRAM antiship cruise missile—could offer combatant commanders a truly useful “frigate,” leveraging mature production lines that now operate at only 70 percent capacity. These estimates are for relative comparison and do not include the associated aviation, infrastructure, basing support agreements, and personnel plus-ups that are needed to provide a more credible and persistent presence across the JIME. But investing in a larger Coast Guard and the supporting infrastructure would return high dividends.

I’m not sure I agree, but it is worth considering. We should, however, keep in mind a sentiment expressed by friend Bill Wells that white paint is not bullet proof. We should not perpetuate the idea that only white painted ships can enforce laws, that is a uniquiely American concept and perpetuating it plays into the hands of the Chinese, who have more coast guard ships than any other country in the world.

Still I think there is merit to this concept. It seems to be working for PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces South West Asia). There has already been talk about a similar deployment to SE Asia. We might consider similar detachments of various sizes for West Africa, the Eastern Pacific, and the Marshall Islands.

The additional ships, 7 NSCs, and “doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100)” Is clearly arbitrary. There is very little the NSCs can do that the OPCs will not also be able to do cheaper, so I don’t see a need for more NSCs.

If we take on additional international roles it probably will not be done in one fell swoop. It will probably be done incrementally. Captain Ramassini is clearly looking at this as a near term possibility. Some movement in this direction is clearly possible, but it will take a radical change in the Administration, the Navy, and the Coast Guard for this to happen on the scale he envisions.

Meanwhile, if you look at the “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study,” the Coast Guard actually needs 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs just to meet all of our statutory obligations. That is not far from his 16 NSCs, 50 OPCs, and 100 FRCs. The study and the “Great White Fleet” would both probide 66 large ships (NSCs and OPCs).

Actually the only way I see this happening is if there is a realization that keeping the USN constantly cycling through distant deployments may not be the best way to maintain readiness. That it wears out very expensive ships and drives people from the service, and that perhaps cutters can perform at least some of the presence missions.

How Does the Program of Record Compare to Historic Fleets

 The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722) heads out to sea from its home port in Alameda, California (USA), passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.


The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722) heads out to sea from its home port in Alameda, California (USA), passing under the Golden Gate Bridge.

A question from a reader prompted me to look at how the “Program of Record” (POR) compares with Coast Guard patrol fleets of the past.

The program of record is
8 NSCs
25 OPCs
58 FRCs
—————

91 vessels total

1990: Looking back at the “Combat Fleets of the World 1990/1991” the Fleet was:
12 WHEC 378′
32 WMECs (16×210′, 10×270′ (three building), Storis, 3×213′, 3×205′)
34 WPB 110′ (plus 15 building)
3 WSES 110′ surface effects ships
4 WPB 95′
——————-
85 vessels total
(There were also five Aerostat Radar Balloon tenders.)
 –
2000: “The Combat Fleets of the World 2000-2001” showed
 –
12 WHEC 378′
32 WMEC (13×270′, 16×210′, Alex Haley, Storis, Acushnet)
49 WPB 110′
——————-
93 vessels total.
 –
2013: “The Combat Fleets of the World, 16th Edition,” copyright 2013 listed:
 –
3 NSCs
8 WHEC 378′
28 WMEC (13×270′, 14×210′, Alex Haley)
4 FRCs
41 WPB 110′
——————–
84 vessels total
 –
Comparing the Program of Record (plus NSC #9) to the fleet of 2000: You can look at it this way,
  • 9 NSCs and 3 OPCs is more than adequate replacement for the 12 WHEC 378s
  • 49 of the FRCs is more than adequate replacement for 49 WPB 110s (and we have only had 41 anyway since the WPB 123 screw up)
  • That leaves 22 OPCs and 9 FRCs to cover for the 32 WMECs.
Conclusion: 
I think we would all be pretty happy, if we had the Program of Record fleet in place right now. It really would be a substantial improvement, but while the NSCs and the FRCs are well on the way, the first of the long-delayed OPCs will not be delivered until 2021, and, if everything goes according to plan, the last probably not before 2034, at which time even the newest 270 will be 44 years old. A lot can happen between now and then.
The 2000 fleet was, I believe, the benchmark against which the program of record was measured in the Fleet Mix Study. By 2013 we were already down nine vessels. By my estimate, by the time the last 210 is replaced it will probably be 60 years old. That is expecting a lot. Can we possibly expect that none of these ships will become unserviceable before they are replaced? Building no more than two OPCs a year is really too slow. Once the first ship is built, tested, and approved for full rate production, we should accelerate construction to the maximum. That can’t happen until at least FY2022, probably FY 2023.
By the end of FY2022 we should have already funded 7 ships. The remaining 18 would take nine years, if we buy them at the currently projected schedule. Instead we could fund the entire remaining program from FY2023-2027 by doing a single Multi-Year Procurement of 18 ships. If Eastern alone could not do it, Marinette, which like the designer VARD, is also a Fincantieri company, would probably be more than willing to build an additional couple a year, particularly if the Navy stops building Freedom class LCS/frigates.
 –
We could have the program complete by FY2030, four years early.
 –
Thanks to Peter for initiating this line of thought. 
uscgc_citrus_1984

USCGC Citrus (WMEC-300), USCG photo

storisfoam

USCGC Storis WMEC-38)

USCGC Acushnet

USCGC Acushnet (WMEC-167), USCG photo