USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130) Makes First Eastern Pacific Transit Zone Drug Bust by an FRC

A Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward crew member inspects and prepares to test suspected contraband seized from a suspected drug smuggling boat in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 16, 2019. Commissioned March 2, 2019, Robert Ward’s interdiction marks the first drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific Ocean by a Fast Response Cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A recent press release suggests that we will be seeing new, different, smaller ships engaged in drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone. This could be precedence for a new kind of operation. I will only quote a part of it.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-632) is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine in San Diego Friday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $350 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents six suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and the recovery of floating cocaine bales by the crews of two Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late June and mid-July.

Six of the interdictions were carried out by the Steadfast’s crew, one of the Coast Guard’s oldest cutters commissioned in 1968. One interdiction was by the crew of one of the service’s newest ships, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) commissioned in March, and is not only the cutter’s first drug bust, but the first drug bust by a Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

We have had a problem having enough ships on scene to take advantage of all the intel available. I have long suggested that the FRCs might be used in the Eastern Pacific, possibly with a supporting vessel. The Navy used one of their Cyclone class PCs for drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific in 2018, confirming that the use of these smaller vessels was probably viable.

I had really expected Atlantic Area to do this first, since they have so many Webber class in the Seventh District (19, soon to be 20 FRCs), and they got them first (since 2012). Still the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone is a Pacific Area show, perhaps that is why it is PACAREA, using the Robert Ward, only the second West Coast CONUS FRC, commissioned little over four months ago, that took the initiative.

It looks like the Steadfast may have provided some support to the Robert Ward. This might have been facilitated by the fact that Steadfast is also a PACAREA asset.

Hopefully, if there were no unanticipated problems, this will be the start of a pattern of successful FRC deployments to the transit zone. To take full advantage of the concept, we really need Atlantic Area participation. They have far more assets and are actually closer to the transit zone. Excluding FRCs in the 14th and 17th Districts (Hawaii and the Western Pacific and Alaska) PACAREA has only four WPCs. They could maintain perhaps one FRC in the Transit Area continuously, while LANTAREA could maintain at least three and probably more.

Something we really should look at is, what is limiting the endurance of the vessels to five days? For a vessel of this size, it should be more like ten days. Feedback on the post linked above, suggest they are limited by “their very small dry-stores and refrigerator units, and the crew’s laundry.” Perhaps a ShipAlt is in order.

“Ukraine, France discussing delivery of OCEA FPB 98 patrol boats ” –Naval News

A Suriname Coast Guard FPB 98 patrol boat (Credit: OCEA)

Naval News reports that Ukraine has announced they are in negotiations for joint production of 20 Patrol Boats to a French OCEA design for their “Sea Guard of the State Border Guard Service,” their coast guard. Sounds like it is a done deal with only minor details to work out.

As noted in the report, the Algerian Navy bought 21 of these and has ordered ten more.

They have a GRP hull and are powered by two 3,660 HP Caterpillar diesels using waterjets. Specs on the Algerian boats as follows.

  • Displacement: 100 tons
  • Length: 31.8 meters (104’4″)
  • Beam: 6.3 meters (20’8″)
  • Draft: 1.2 meters (3’11”)
  • Speed: 30 knots
  • Range: 900 nmi @ 14 knots
  • Crew: 13

Most of these boats are armed with a single auto-cannon forward. In most cases a 20mm, the Algerian boats have a 30mm. Given the Ukranians’ tensions with Russia, curious to see if they may choose to provide more weapons.

We have seen products from OCEA before. They provided four smaller patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard. These boats like those that went to the Philippines have provision for a RHIB launched by davit.

The 87 foot WPB Replacement, an Addendum

The discussion on earlier posts, “The 87 Foot WPB Replacement –Response Boat, Large –Interceptor” and “57mm ALaMO Round” has prompted some additional thoughts that seem to require more than a comment, mostly regarding the 57mm Mk110 and its new ALaMO guided projectile.

I also had intended to mention the fact that, if the WPB replacement included provision for stern launch of an 8 meter over-the-horizon boat, as was done with the Webber class FRC, then any mission modules that might developed for the Webber class to take the place of the boat, as discussed in the post, “Webber class Could be the Navy’s Light Duty Pickup Truck,” would probably also be apply to the WPB replacement. These might include anti-ship cruise missiles, Unmanned systems, or small towed array sonar systems

While the Iran swarming boat attacks are the normal justification for developing the ALaMO round, the emerging threat, unmanned surface vessels (USV) used to make “suicide” attacks may have also been a consideration. As can be seen above, small fast unmanned surface vessels can be hard to kill, and they have proven an effective weapon as can be seen below. One method of attempting to deal with the swarming boat threat has been to have the projectile burst above the boat, showering it with shrapnel. These airbursts could work pretty well against manned boats by killing the exposed boat operators, but the technique is less effective against unmanned craft. It may even be possible to shield critical components of unmanned craft against the effects of shrapnel. This is also a threat the Coast Guard may want to consider since unmanned explosive motor boats are relatively easy to construct.

Video: Houthi attack on Saudi Al Madinah-class frigate using unmanned explosive motor boat. 

The new ALaMO projectile may have been developed with this Unmanned Surface Vessel (USV) threat in mind. This suggest to me that the projectile would be designed to home on the heat generated by the craft’s engine. This would work equally well against manned craft. If the ALaMO round is IR homing, then perhaps it would also home on the heat of a larger vessel’s engines as well, making it more useful for countering larger vessels. 

If the 57mm Mk110 gun’s projectiles have made it a reliable counter to small, fast, highly maneuverable threats and perhaps some midsized threats, and if it can discriminate between its intended target and other traffic that may be in the area, it may be worthwhile to consider its inclusion in the WPB replacement. I still do not see it capable of countering large or even many medium sized threats. I still think we need to know more about how the round works before we can assume this is correct, but assuming it is correct, can we put this weapon on a vessel this small? I think we can.

This brought to mind how some earlier craft that had had relatively large guns. I will discuss some of the them and point out what I believe were notable features.

Spica Class (Sweden):

Swedish Torpedo Boat T121 “Spica” Photo by Pressbild. “Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet”. 1966. November. Sid 595. Swedish and US public domain

If you look at the Spica class above, it is a bigger than the likely WPB replacement (139 ft loa and 235 tons full load, 40 knots, 12,750 HP). It is 2/3 the size of the FRC, and about 29% more than my assumed maximum (182 tons) for the WPB replacement. It was a steel ship. It was equipped with an earlier version of the same 57mm gun found on the National Security Cutter (NSC) as well as the 9LV combat system which was the basis for the Mk92 Firecontrol system used on the 378 FRAM, and six heavy weight torpedo Tubes. The Torpedoes each weighed approximately 1800 kilos or about two tons, while the gun weighted about seven tons, so the vessel had over 19 tons of weapons. The fire control,  ammunition, launchers, and Electronic Warfare equipment would have added to the payload weight. By comparison, if our WPB included the current model 57mm (16,535 lbs/7,500 kg), two Mk54 torpedoes (608 lbs/276 kg each), and eight Longbow Hellfire (108 lbs/49 kg) the total weight of weapons would only be a little over nine tons (18,615 lb/ about 8,461 kg) plus ammunition, launchers, Electronic Warfare equipment, and firecontrol systems. The Over-the-Horizon boat, a primary “weapon,” may add as much as four tons, so the full “weapons load” would be about 13 tons. (I could not find a weight for the Over-the-Horizon boat, but the larger Response Boat, Small weighs a bit over 8 tons.) That is about 68.4% of the weight of systems on the Spica. It is not a complete accounting, but I think it is indicative and I will continue to use this format below.

One thing I liked about this, and the next two designs, is that the bridge and operations rooms are located at or near the center of pitch (which seems to have been done with the FRC as well). This makes it more comfortable for the watch. It also results in a long foc’sle. This allows the gun to be well back from the bow while still being far enough forward of the superstructure to allow a wide arc of fire. That is, it is capable of firing well abaft the beam.

The Norrkoping Class (Sweden):

Swedish Norrköping class fast attack craft (missile and torpedo) HMS Ystad R142, 3 September 2010 Photo by Reedhawk

The Norrkoping class was derived from the Spica class and sometimes referred to as the Spica II class. It gained a little weight, being 143 ft loa and 255 tons (41 knots, 12,750 HP). Initially it was armed like the Spica class, but subsequently the four of the torpedo tubes aft of the superstructure were replaced by four RBS-15 missiles. These weigh in at about 800 kg or 1760 lb. Consequently the weapons load is almost a ton lighter than that of the Spica, but still over 18 tons plus ammunition, launchers, Electronic Warfare equipment, and firecontrol systems. At the same time the missiles were installed, the 9LV system’s radar was replaced by the Sea Giraffe which is the radar installed on the Independence class LCS and planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), US designation AN/SPS 77 V(1). This radar is also used on the Swedish Visby class corvettes completed 2002 to 2015. 

Willemoes Class (Denmark):

A danish navy Willemoes-class fast attack craft (missile + torpedoes) HDMS Sehested (P547) as a museum ship at the Holmen naval base. Photo by Flemming Sørensen

The Willemoes class were similar, slightly larger vessels (46 m/150 ft 11 in loa and 260 tons full load, 40 knots, 12,750 HP). Originally they were equipped with four torpedo tubes in addition to the Oto Melara 76mm gun. The after pair of torpedo tubes was replaced by launchers for eight Harpoon Anti-Ship missiles (1,523 lb / 691 kg with booster). Its weight of weapons after installation of the Harpoons was just over 15 tons, plus ammunition, launchers, Electronic Warfare equipment, and firecontrol system (also a 9LV).

The unique feature of this class was that they had small diesel engines for cruising at up to 12 knots.

The Storm Class (Norway:

The Storm Class, (120 ft loa, 138 tons, 30 knots, 7200 HP) is illustrated above, fully armed and launching a Penguin missile, and below in a later configuration after removal of missiles and transfer from the Norwegian Navy to Lithuania. It is considerably smaller than the vessels above, at the lower end of what I expect the WPB replacement to displace, but still capable of mounting considerable weaponry, in this case six Penguin anti-ship missiles, and 76 and 40 mm guns. The missiles weighed 385 kg (849 lb). The 40 mm weighed about 3.5 tons. I was unable to find the weight of this 76mm gun. It would not have weighed as much as the Oto Melara, but it has to be at least 6 tons, so a total weapons weight was at least 12 tons.

Lithuanian Naval Force, Norwegian built, Storm class patrol boat P33 “Skalvis”. Missiles removed. Photo by Ministry of National Defence Republic of Lithuania

Conclusion:

If we chose to do so, it appears we could build something like a slightly scaled down version of the Spica that could mount a 57mm Mk110 forward and still provide an 8 meter Over-the-Horizon boat aft. The firecontrol could be as simple as the electro-optic unit from the Mk38 Mod2 or as capable as the SeaGiraffe which would give us a true all weather capability. In addition, it could probably mount tubes for two light weight torpedoes and eight Longbow Hellfire in vertical launchers. (I would think the Hellfires offset to one side, at the back of the superstructure. Foot print for a 2×4 cluster of missiles would likely be only about 4 x 3 feet.) I know the torpedoes are an unconventional approach, but it seems the surest way to stop a large ship and supposedly the Mk46 Mod5 and later torpedoes have an anti-surface capablity.

Replacing the Marine Protector class WPBs with vessels equipped like this would give the Coast Guard a robust and truly capable Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security capability.

 

 

“Texas Navy” Hydrofoil Assisted Catamaran Patrol Boat

MarineLog reports a contract for an interesting new patrol boat for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“JANUARY 28, 2019 — All American Marine, Inc. (AAM), Bellingham Bay, WA, has won a contract from the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TWPD) for construction of an 80’ x 27’ Teknicraft design aluminum catamaran for operation in Texas State waters and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico.

This long-range hydrofoil-assisted catamaran will be … designed as a patrol vessel for an “Offshore on an Oceans” route.”


“…TPWD and Texas Game Wardens also patrol an additional 200 nautical miles into the U.S. exclusive economic zones through a joint enforcement agreement with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency.”

A good look at this might inform our selection of future replacements for the 87 foot WPBs.

Hull Vane Experiment on 52 Meter OPV

“This project video shows the process from design to sea trials of a Hull Vane retrofit on the 52 m Offshore Patrol Vessel Thémis from the French Affaires Maritimes. The installation was done by CMN Cherbourg, which was also the builder of this vessel (delivered in 2004).”

I have posted on this particular innovation before, twice in fact, in 2017, “Hull Vane Claims Improved Performance,” and in 2015, “Hull Vane on an OPV,” but now we have another example and new information. This time the example is a mid-life up-grade on a vessel slightly larger but otherwise similar to the Webber class WPCs, the OPV Thémis from the French Coastguard (Affaires Maritimes) 409 tons, 6,310 HP, 52.5x9x2.27 meters (172.2×29.5×7.45 feet)

MarineLink reported this experiment, but I also found an excellent report with more photos here.

The results of this trial:

Comparison with the benchmark sea trials – conducted in January in exactly the same conditions – by CMN’s sea trial team showed a reduction in fuel consumption of 18 percent at 12 knots, 27 percent at 15 knots and 22 percent at 20 knots. The top speed increased from 19.7 knots to 21 knots.

The earliest post, “Hull Vane on an OPV,” reported the effects of applying the innovation to a 108 meter Dutch Holland class OPV, a ship very much like the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC).

  • They claimed a 12.5% reduction in fuel consumption, overall. Specifically they claimed. “…runs were done to determine the resistance at 5 knots, 12.5 knots, 17.5 knots and 22.5 knots, showing resistance reductions of 1.3%, 13.7%, 15.3% and 11.1% respectively.”
  • A 4% reduction in heave,
  • A 7%% reduction in pitch, and
  • A 13% reduction in vertical acceleration at the flight deck.

A comment on this earliest post, received from the Hull Vane team, noted.

“The performance is better however on the fuller-bodied and wider-transomed hull shapes like the typical US Coast Guard cutters, which we would very much like to do some work on.”

The Hull Vane web site has a number of publications, testimonials, and case studies, including a Nov. 2017 report on a 25 meter patrol boat. that claimed a 20% reduction in fuel consumption. It also noted  “RPA 8 is the eighth vessel to be equipped with a Hull Vane®, and ten other ships which will have a Hull Vane® are currently under construction.”

As the new ships enter service, we will probably see the Webber class using more fuel than the 110s, and almost certainly the OPCs will use more fuel than the 210s and 270s.

I would think we would want to check this out, starting with contacting the Dutch Navy and the French Affaires Maritimes to get their take on the tests. Did they think they were successful? Are they going to use Hull Vane on their own ships? If not, why not? That would cost us very little. If the responses are positive, it would make a great R&D project. Bollinger might welcome the opportunity to try one out on a new construction Webber class. The baseline capabilities of the class are already well documented.

 

Patrol Craft Drug Interdiction in the Eastern Pacific

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

CoastGuardNews reports a drug interdiction incident that occurred in the Eastern Pacific on April 7. I don’t usually talk about individual drug busts, but this was a bit unusual.

The vessel involved wasn’t a cutter, it was a Navy Cyclone class patrol craft, the USS Zephyr (PC-8). Using Navy vessels for drug interdiction has become rare, but that was not what I think makes this significant, it is that the vessel was essentially the same size as the Webber class WPCs (387 tons full load for the Zephyr, after it was lengthened, and 353 tons for the Webber class).

If the Navy can run a PC from Florida to the Eastern Pacific transit zones, so can the Coast Guard.

We don’t have enough large cutters to exploit all the intel we have on the target rich transit zone. Perhaps we could use Webber class.

We have 18 of the class in 7th District, with six each homeported in Miami, Key West, and San Juan.

This suggest that we could keep at least three Webber class in the Eastern Pacific transit zone by rotating one from each port

 

 

Metal Shark to Build Navy’s New PB(X)

Navy’s new PB(X) to be built by Metal Shark

MarineLog reports the award of a contract for up to 50 new 40 foot (12 meter) patrol boats for the Navy.

Subject to annual appropriations, the Navy intends to replace approximately 100 to 160 of its existing 25-foot and 34-foot CRF (Coastal Riverine Forces –Chuck) patrol boats with the larger and more modern PB(X) platform over the next fifteen years.
The Navy has placed an initial, immediate order for eleven of the new vessels. Under the terms of the award, potentially worth over $90 million, Metal Shark will build up to 50 PB(X) vessels for the Navy, along with trailers, spares and training packages, and technical support.