Webber class Could be the Navy’s Light Duty Pickup Truck

Coast Guard Cutter John F. McCormick (WPC 1121) crew transits through the San Francisco Bay, Saturday, March 4, 2017, during their voyage to homeport in Ketchikan, Alaska.  Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Loumania Stewart

In 2012 the US Naval Institute published an important article by then CNO Admiral Johnathan Greenert, “Payloads over platforms: Charting a new course.” It starts off, 
“We need to move from ‘luxury-car’ platforms—with their built-in capabilities—toward dependable ‘trucks’ that can handle a changing payload selection. “
He suggested that the Navy needs F150 pickups rather than Ferraris. Metaphorically the Webber class could be the Navy’s small Toyota pickup–cheap, reliable, versatile, and economical to operate. 
A strong point for the Webber class is that it is probably the smallest and cheapest combatant, being currently manufactured, that can self deploy anywhere in the world (other than the polar regions) with minimal support en route as demonstrated by their self deployment to Hawaii and Alaska and USCGC Olivier F. Berry (WPC-1124)’s successful patrol to the Marshall Islands, 2200 miles from her homeport in Honolulu.
As currently equipped there is not a lot of free space apparent on the Webber class, but removing the eight meter “over the horizon boat” would free up a large area where mission modules could be placed. We can think of it as the bed of the pickup.


180201-N-TB177-0211
U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Feb. 1, 2018) Island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell (WPB 1332), left, USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), middle, and coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) patrol the open seas. Wrangell, Aquidneck and Firebolt are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg/Released)

Potential Missions
 
Countering the Swarm: 
 
The Navy’s most likely first use of a Webber class could be as replacements for the Cyclone class in South West Asia. Countering the large number of Iranian fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) is a mission the Cyclone class is expected to do now, protecting both larger Navy vessels and the tanker traffic that must pass through the Straits of Hormuz. 

The Fletcher laser guided rocket launcher fires BAE’s 2.75 inch laser guided rockets known as the Advanced Precision Kill Weapon System. (Shawn Snow/Defense News Staff)

An earlier post, “Modifying Webber Class Cutters for Duty in SW Asia,” was aimed at this threat as applied to the Coast Guard Webber class that will be going to Southwest Asia. As a minimum the Navy will likely want some form of guided weapon, Perhaps the APKWS would suffice, if provided in sufficient numbers.

Spike LR Missile launched from a Typhoon weapon station on an Israel Navy Super Dvora Mk 2. A similar configuration was recently tested by the US Navy, from an unmanned surface vessel (USV-PEM). Photo: RAFAEL

The 25mm Mk38 Mod2/3 that are currently mounted on the Webber class might be up-gunned (30, 35, and 40mm guns are all possible) and the mount might also be modified to also launch APKWS. Alternately the Mk38 might be replaced by BAE’s 40mm/70 MK4 and the Toplite gun director c(urrently mounted on the Mk38) could be mounted on the mast to control the 40mm, as the Israelis have done with some of their installations of the system, assuming the 40mm Mk 4 does not weigh too much.  

BAE Bofors 40mm/70 mk4

Optimally, the outfit should include Longbow Hellfire. It could probably be mounted as single tube launchers affixed along the sides of the superstructure. I have seen a mockup of such a launcher. The missile itself is only about seven inches in diameter. If willing to replace the boat with missiles, its likely Lockheed could produce a 12 round launcher based on half the launcher being installed on the LCS. 

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

Anti-Ship: 
In other theaters there is likely a desire to have a larger anti-ship missile. 
The Navy has been talking a great deal about “Distributed Lethality.” The concept has its origin in a January 2015 US Naval Institute article by then-Director of Surface Warfare Requirements (OPNAV N96) Rear Admiral Tom Rowden, RAdm. Peter Gumataotao, and RAdm. Peter Fanta. 
 
Rowden’s co-author and successor at N96, Rear Admiral Pete Fanta, continued the drum beat with the memorable phrase, “if it floats, it fights,” suggesting that anti-ship missiles should be put on virtually all units. 
On the Webber class, this would most likely the Naval Strike Missile (NSM), recently chosen by the Navy to arm its LCSs and frigates. A four cell launcher could probably replace the boat. The missile is only 13 feet long. 

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

Missile Truck
The Army and Marines have tracked and truck mounted missile launchers. 
 
A new missile, “Deepstrike,” is being developed for these launchers. “The missile will be able to strike targets up to 309 miles away with precision, including moving targets both on land at sea.” (see also)
 
A Webber class equipped with these could function in the same way as the Army and Marine vehicles operating in the littorals and many river systems. Targeting would be provided by offboard sensors through networking. 
Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
This is probably unlikely, but there might be a place for craft that could perform ASW patrols off ports and amphibious objective areas or around choke points. 
The Canadians have a small containerized towed array sensor that looks like it would fit.

TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.

 I have looked at how we might add torpedo tubes to the Webber class that could launch ASW torpedoes, but it is more likely aircraft, most likely helicopters, would be called in to make the actual attack. The ship would be primarily a sensor node, minimizing the requirement to keep ASW Helicopters airborne.
120mm Mortar for Naval Surface Fire Support:
Another truck like use would be to add this containerized large mortar as a way to provide naval fire support. This weapon is not currently in the US inventory but it does look promising. Guided projectiles are being developed for the 120 mm mortar.
Security for MSC’s PrePositioned Afloat Fleet

I am not sure what precautions the Navy has made to protect the ships of the MSC’s PrePositioned Afloat Fleet, but if I were an enemy there are might be strong incentive to destroy these ships that transport the most ready reinforcements of heavy equipment.

Webber class PCs might have a role in protecting these.

 Large Unmanned Surface Vessel. 

The Navy is seeking to procure a medium unmanned surface vessel (MUSV), 12 to 50 meters in length. The Webber class might be the basis for such a vessel. The modular systems described above might also be used on the MUSV. 

Visit, Search, Board, and Seizure: 

This is the mission these little ships are built for and, consequently, no change may be necessary. The mission might be stopping and boarding hundreds of small craft as was done off Vietnam as part of Operation Market Time, or it might be enforcing a blockade against Chinese shipping at the Straits providing access to the South China Sea. If resistance is expected there are a number of ways the vessels’ armament could be augmented, including missiles or torpedoes, but in most cases its likely air or backup could be called in. The real advantage is that the Navy would not need to tie down DDGs doing this work, and potentially risk it being damaged by improvised weapons on a vessel being boarded. For more challenging assignments two or three could be teamed with one or two providing boats and boarding teams and the other as a weapons carrier.

PATFORSWA Serves Forward in the Arabian Gulf–Defense Media Network


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

Defense Media Network has a nice piece about the activities of the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces South West Asia (PATFORSWA).

The article makes a single quick reference to the desirability of replacing the six Island class cutters with Webber class cutters.

“Although the patrol force desperately needs the increased operational capabilities that FRCs would provide in the CENTCOM AOR, the Island class will continue to serve for the foreseeable future.”

This issue has been raised in Congress by CENTCOM. As yet no plans to build replacements, but I expect we will see this possibility raised again. 

There is more information on PATFORSWA here.

USCGC Maui in Trilateral Exercise Persian Gulf

An exercise that you might not have heard of.

USCGC  Maui (WPB-1304) exercised with USS “Vella Gulf” (CG-72), a cruiser, USS “Squall“ (PC-7) and USS “Thunderbolt“ (PC-12), both U.S. Navy Cyclone-class patrol (coastal) ships, a US Army Logistics Support Vessel, the Iraqi Navy, and the Kuwaiti Navy and Coast Guard.

U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.

  • That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
  • That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
  • His support of transgender CG personnel.

I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.

The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.

6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven  ships operating under SOUTHCOM.

Q&A begins at 11:00.

16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.

17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction

20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”

22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber

23m Cyber threat.

24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.

26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability

29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years

30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.

36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system.  He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.

40m Icebreakers

43m30s Comments on transgender members

45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.

47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.

49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.

50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease

53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.

56m DHS is the right place for the CG.

The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically

  • He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways.  Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
  • He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise  our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.

 

 

“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.

White Hulls Must Prepare for Gray Zone Challenges–USNI

The US Naval Institute’s 2016 Coast Guard Essay Contest winner, “White Hulls Must Prepare for Gray Zone Challenges,” by LCdr.Craig Allen, Jr., USCG is worth the read.

Much of the focus is on the PATFORSWA and LCdr Allen seems to know where of he speaks.

“Lieutenant Commander Allen is a cutterman assigned to the Office of Defense Operations at Coast Guard Headquarters. He previously commanded the Sentinel-class cutter USCGC William Flores (WPC-1103) and the USCGC Baranof (WPB-1318), an Island-class cutter forward deployed to Manama, Bahrain. He also served as the executive officer of the USCGC Tornado (WPC-14), a Cyclone-class patrol craft. Commander Allen is a 2014 graduate of the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College.”

But as he points out. These “Gray Zones” are not limited to SW Asia. We see them in South East Asia, East Africa, West Africa, and even in Central and South America.

While the post concentrates on crew preparation, I think its appropriate to point out an observation by Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, deputy chief of naval operations for integration of capabilities and resources, that attacks like those on the USS Mason, where a non-state actor employed cruise missiles are likely to become more common.

Maybe adding a CIWS (preferably the SeaRAM) to the OPC might not be a bad idea.

American Made Patrol Boats for Qatar

NavyRecognition reports, “The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Qatar for Mk-V Fast Patrol Boats, equipment, training, and support. The estimated cost is $124.02 million.”

Based on the number of .50 calibers ordered, it appears that this will include four boats.

Looking back, in 2009 DefenseIndustryDaily reported the sale of ten of these craft to the Kuwaiti Navy under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) Program for $61.6M. Saudi Arabia is also interested in these boats and is reportedly planning to buy 30 at an estimated $1.2B.

These are apparently an extended version of the US Navy Mk5 Speicial Operations Craft. The company web site has more information on both versions.

I don’t recognize the 27 mm reportedly included in the Qatar deal as a weapon in US service, but the Germans (Mauser, now Rheinmetall) do make a 27mm and this is the gun used on the Kuwati boats, and it appears to be gun used on the boats for Qatar.

 MLG27 onboard Elbe Class Tender Rhein at the en:Kiel Week 2007. Photo by Rebell18190

MLG27 onboard Elbe Class Tender Rhein at the en:Kiel Week 2007. Photo by Rebell18190

The size of the boat seen on the stern ramp in the video is not clear.

These 90 foot boats is clearly optimized more for speed than our 87 footers. They also have a shorter range and with water jets, are probably less manuverable at the slow speeds often required for SAR.