“Fast Response Cutter Faces Procurement Pause” –National Defense

Coast Guard Cutter Angela McShan
Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray

National Defense reports, 

Despite receiving no new procurement funding in the fiscal year 2021 budget request, the Coast Guard commandant said the Sentinel-class fast response cutter program is on track.

56 of the 64 units planned have been funded and 39 have been delivered. About 5 per year are being delivered so we can expected continued deliveries through at least 2023. It is possible a one year lapse in funding would not disrupt the orderly construction of these ships, but nevertheless the Commandant is hoping the Congress will once again, as they have frequently, add additional cutters.

Schultz said the service needed to free up dollars for other priorities such as polar security cutters, offshore patrol cutters and aviation. But he hopes procurement funding for fast response cutters will be added back in during the budget process.

“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.

A Conversation with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard–CSIS

CSIS and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) conduct an interview with Admiral Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, conducted 1 August, 2018.

Below I will attempt to outline the conversation, noting the topics and in some cases providing a comment.

The first question is about immigration. Coast Guard is the “away game.” minimizing the factors that push immigration to the US.

The Commandant does not expect a substantial increase in help from the Navy, because they are already heavily tasked, but would welcome any additional help.

06:30 Talk about Inland fleet. Congressional support is evident. $25M provided so far.

9:20 House Appropriations Committee decision to divert $750M from the icebreaker program to fund “the Wall” in their markup of the FY2019 budget bill. The Commandant is “guardedly optimistic”

11:30 Human capital readiness? Operating account has been flat and effectively we have lost 10% in purchasing power. Want to increase leadership training.

16:30 Support for combatant commanders.

18:00 Capacity building and partnering. Detachments working on host nation platforms.

21:00 Defense Force planning–Not going back to the MARDEZ model.

22:30 Situation in Venezuela/Preparation for dealing with mass migration.

24:30 Arctic forums–Need to project our sovereignty

29:00 UNCLOS

30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA

34:00 Cyber

36:15 High Latitude engagement/partnerships.

39:30 Perhaps the icebreaker should be the “Polar Security Cutter?”

40:00 International ice patrol, still an important mission.

41:00 CG role in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea. In discussion with Indo-Pacific Command. Will see more CG presence there.

44:00 Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)–on track

46:30 Border issue — passed on that

48:00 Small satellites–we are looking at them

49:00 African Capacity building/cooperation. May send an MEC.

51:30 Tech modernization. Looking at it more holistically.

Other Coverage:

This interview prompted a couple of notable posts.

SeaPower’s coverage of the discussion is here. They focused on the growth of demands on the Coast Guard.

Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”

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.

Brookings Institute–A conversation with Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Paul F. Zukunft

Another video, this one almost an hour.

“Fisheries as a Strategic Maritime Resource”–Midrats

HMNZS Wellington intercepts suspected toothfish poachers

HMNZS Wellington intercepts suspected toothfish poachers

CIMSEC “Midrats” blog radio show has an online interview with a State Department employee I was lucky enough to meet earlier, Scott Cheney-Peters, LCDR, USNR about international fisheries issues. You can find it here. Nominally it is an hour, but it took me a little longer than that because download was not seamless.

The discussion also touches on international networking/cooperation/enforcement, maritime domain awareness, human traffic, drug enforcement, and the ship rider program.