China’s Warship Construction. More Surface Warships Launched in 2019 than the USN has Commissioned in Five Years

Chinese warships launched in 2019.

Earlier I noted that the Chinese seemed to be building an incredible number of warships. Found this chart of surface warships launched in 2019. I have been unable to find the original source, the style appears to be from http://www.military-today.com/, but in any case, it appears to be correct.

16 Type 056 corvettes, 8 Type 052D destroyers, two type 055 destroyer/cruisers, a Type 071 LPD, and a Type 075 LHD. 28 surface warships total. It is possible some of the Type 056s are intended for export or for the China Coast Guard.

By way of comparison, over the last five years, 2015 through 2019, as nearly as I can tell, the US Navy commissioned 15 Littoral Combat Ships, five Burke class destroyers, two Zumwalt class destroyers, two LPDs, no big deck amphibs (LHD or LHA),  and one aircraft carrier. That is 25 surface warships total. The conclusion is a bit startling.

The Chinese launched more surface warships in 2019, than the US Navy commissioned in the last five years. 

The 19th and 20th Type 052D destroyers are launched in Dalian on May 10 (Image: 香港 文匯 網)

The LCS program is coming to an end, but there are still 16 to be commissioned. Generally the program has funded four per year, The FFG(X) program is expected to replace the LCS program in the Navy budget with one FFG funded in the first year followed by two frigates in each year to a total of 20. Combined with the LCS this should give the Navy 55 “small surface combatants.” The Chinese have about 50 frigates but this number is likely to decline as older ships are decommissioned, as their current frigate program, the Type 054A, is nearing completion.

The USN’s Zumwalt class destroyer program will end with three ships when the Lyndon B. Johnson is commissioned in the near future.

The Burke class DDG program was expected to continue building twelve ships over the next five years, but there has been a recent report that DOD would like to cut five ships to make room in the budget for development of more unmanned systems. Also suggested is that Ticonderoga class cruisers be retired early and that the first four LCS be decommissioned.

It is comforting to assume that Chinese systems and their training are inferior. We had similar assumptions about the Japanese before WWII. It is extremely dangerous to assume your own superiority. Plus while the US Forces spread all over the world, the Chinese are concentrated in their own theater of interest.

“Davie to become Canada’s third National Shipbuilding Strategy strategic partner” –Marine Log

To no one’s surprise MarineLog reports that Davie Shipbuilding, Lauzon, Quebec, Canada’s largest shipyard, has been selected as the third shipyard partner in Canada’s “National Shipbuilding Strategy” and will build six icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.

New German Patrol Boat with Innovative Bow Form

German Customs 24 meter patrol boat. Photo by Jarek Jõepera

Bairdmaritime reports delivery of three new 24 meter patrol boats designed and built for Germany’s Customs Agency.

A unique aspect of the design is the bow. We have seen other novel bow designs, including the Ulstein X-bow and the Damen Axe-bow. These bows reduce pitch compared to conventional bow designs, but unless the foc’sle is raised, these designs tend to be wet forward. There is also a very unique bow on the new Italian Patrol Frigate.

Additional advantages of the longer waterline, that comes with extending the bow forward, can be increased speed or improved fuel efficiency.

My gut feeling is, I like the look of this particular bow. The idea seems to be that when a swell rises up over the wedge shape we see just above the waterline, it generates a down force, counteracting to some extent the normal tendency of the bow to lift, reducing pitch much of the time. But unlike a axe bow, there is still a flare to the bow that would tend to keep the bow above the green water when conditions get really bad. Looks like it might be worth a look, and maybe some testing.

Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Alternatives

Offshore Patrol Cutter port quarter

Note: I have had to revise some of my conclusions about when benchmarks would be achieved. The text below has been changed to reflect the correction. 

I have been talking about the OPC for over nine years, and it is frustrating to see what appeared to be real progress toward impressive new ships come apart, but with the Offshore Patrol Cutter program in flux, perhaps it would be worthwhile to look at where we are, where do we want to go, and what the current restraints and limitations are. Maybe there is a better way.

As currently envisioned the last OPCs are not expected to be funded until FY2034 nor delivered until 2037. A lot can happen between now and then.

Where are we?

The current thinking is to provide contract relief for Eastern and allow them to build the first four ships. Meanwhile the Coast Guard will recompete a contract for OPC #5 with options for #6-15.

But even this is uncertain. Congress has 60 days from the announcement (11 Oct. 2019 to 10 Dec.?) to consider the proposed contract relief. If I interpret correctly, unless they take action to deny relief, construction will go ahead. That suggest that denial of contract relief is unlikely, but by no means, are we sure it will happen.

It seems likely we will get four OPCs from Eastern, but even that is uncertain. Really we have no assurance we will get any OPCs at all.

What do we need? What are the constraints?:

We should have begun replacing the WMECs we have now, 25 years ago, so the need is urgent. We can also be pretty sure we need more large cutters (those of over 1000 tons full load) than are currently planned.

Realistically we cannot expect great increases in either PC&I (Procurement, Construction, and Improvement) or operating budget. That means, hopefully, the Coast Guard will get around the $2B/year PC&I successive Commandants have been saying we will need, but probably little or no more, and further, that we should not expect significant personnel increases.

The current plan will provide fewer large cutters than we have now. Eleven NSCs are replacing twelve WHECs and 25 OPCs are expected to replace 29 WMECs. That is 36 to replace 41. In fact if you look back a little further the Coast Guard had even more large ships. Editions of Combat Fleets of the World for the years indicated show that in 1990/91 we had 50 and in 2000/2001 there were 44. The Fleet Mix Study conducted more than a decade ago indicated we actually need an even larger fleet. 

The need to rapidly replace the existing WMECs and ultimately expand the fleet, within the constraints of budget and manpower are in direct conflict, particularly when the cutters have become bigger and more expensive and their crews size has, with few exceptions increased.

Replace the WMECs we have ASAP:

The WMECs we have need to be replaced as soon as possible. If the recompete goes as expected, the fourteenth OPC will not replace the last 210 until fourth quarter FY2032. That 210 will be over 63 years old. The last 270 decommissioned will be at least 48 years old. We can only expect that these vessels will have increasingly frequent major machinery casualties. The high number of major casualties that were experienced when the Coast Guard responded to the earthquake in Haiti is only a taste of what we can expect in the future.

More Cutters: 

The Fleet Mix Study of 2009 showed we needed 66 large cutters to fully accomplish all the Coast Guard’s statutory missions. A 2011 revision reduced the total to 58.

That number was perhaps artificially low because it assumed the “Crew Rotation Concept” would be applied to all National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters, allowing an unrealistically high 225 days away from home. We have, to some extent, seen Webber class step up to perform some of these missions, but the need for more large ships is still apparent.

Unfortunately we have not updated the Fleet mix study based on more recent experience with the NSC and FRC. We really need to do that so that we can make more informed decisions and present a better case to Congress.

PC&I Budget

The FY2019 Procurement, Construction, and Improvements (PC&I) budget was $2,248.26M, of that less than $1.6M went to ship construction and improvement. It is unlikely we will see significantly larger budgets devoted to ship construction, and this includes funding for Polar Security Cutter, in service sustainment, and in the out years WPB replacement, and possibly new buoy tenders. We don’t unfortunately have any comprehensive long term shipbuilding plan that looks beyond five years.

Operating Budget/Crew Costs

Personnel costs are particularly important in overall lifecycle cost calculations. These come out of the operating budget which has actually shrunk in real terms.

The fleet that is being replaced (12 WHECs, 29 WMECs, and 44 WPBs) and the projected fleet, as currently planned (11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 FRCs) have almost the same total crew count, but it is doing so with the five fewer large cutters. The more numerous Webber class cutters have a larger crew than the 110 foot WPBs, 24 vice 16. Ultimately I expect 64 FRC to replace the 44 WPB110s for an increase of 832 billets. The OPCs will apparently have a crew of about 100, about  the same as that of the 270s, but about 25 more than are currently assigned to 210 foot WMECs. Replacing 14 of 210s with OPCs will add about 350 billets. Only the National Security Cutters have smaller crews than the ships they have replaced. My Combat Fleets of the World shows the crew of the NSCs to be 122 and that of the 378s to be 177, eleven NSCs compared to twelve WHEC378s would be decrease of 782 billets.

By my count the Legacy fleet of 85 vessels (12 WMECs when the NSCs started building, 28 WMECs when the OPCs started building, and 44 WPBs when the FRCs started building) required 5,349 billets. (The nominal fleet the program of record supposedly replaced included 29 WMECs and 49 WPBs, would have included another 179 billets or 5,528.) The currently planned fleet of 100 vessels (11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 FRCs) requires 5,378 billets. 

If we are to increase the number of larger cutters while leaving the total number of billets little changed, we would need to trade off some of the OPCs for more numerous vessels with smaller crews.

The Alternatives: 

The first question is, is the OPC, as currently designed, the vessel we still want?

While I don’t think it will happen, in view of the increasing likelihood of a great power conflict, the wisest thing that could happen, is that we replace the OPCs with what ever design the Navy chooses for the new FFG. That would take a massive infusion of cash and manpower, not going to happen.

If we reopen the competition to include other designs built to the same requirements we not only complicate logistics and training in the future, we also probably delay the decision process another year. Looks like the Coast Guard is trying to avoid that. They have a design they like, and once production is underway, it will certainly be cheaper than the NSCs.

Do we want a ship built to different requirements, maybe something like my proposed Cutter X? The Coast Guard came up with the requirements for the OPC, so I have to assume that for at least some missions, we need ships that meet those requirements. (I understand that the first two OPCs will go to Kodiak.) On the other hand, several years ago, Congress asked the Coast Guard if there weren’t missions or geographic areas that did not require ability to conduct helicopter and boat operations in such severe conditions?  That question was apparently never answered, as far as I know, but we know for a fact that less capable ships have been performing these missions for decades. We see it in the way the fleet was distributed. Most 378s went to the Pacific where long distances and ALPAT demanded great range and seakeeping. 210s generally went to the West Coast and SE and Gulf coasts where the weather tended to be more benign. 270s tended to based further North in the Atlantic since they were more seaworthy than the 210, if not as capable as the 378s.

We have a mixed fleet of WMECs, perhaps their replacements should be a mixed fleet as well, allowing the more robust OPCs to be used where those characteristics are most likely to be needed, while we also build more smaller, cheaper ship to provide the numbers we need. As before, I will refer to this class, slotted between the OPCs and the Webber class WPCs as Cutter X.

Considering Cutter X, to be significantly cheaper than the OPCs and have a significantly smaller crew, we probably should look to designs that are half the size of the OPC or smaller. That does not mean these ships will be small. In fact they could be larger than any of the existing WMECs, and more than twice the size of the 210s. The 327 foot Treasury class WHECs would qualify in terms of size. Average procurement cost for the OPCs, before the need for contract relief surfaced was $421M per ship. Cutter X should cost less than $250M. Actually it should be possible to build them for less than $200M.

I have pointed to a number of designs that might be considered, but to offer a concrete example, consider the Fassmer OPV-80 design used by the German Police Coast Guard, and the Navies of Chile, Colombia, and Honduras.  It can operate and hangar a medium sized helicopter, has two boats on davits and a third larger boat on a stern ramp, and can be armed with a medium caliber gun up to 76mm. The German versions are getting Bofors 57mm guns like those used by the Coast Guard. There is space for two containers under the flight deck. Its crew is 40 or less.

Some of this class have been ice strengthened.

Chilean OPV84, Cabo Odger

A possible program: 

I will offer what I believe to be a possible alternative to the current plan with the objective of replacing the aging fleet as rapidly as possible, ultimately increasing the number of larger patrol ships in the fleet and keeping the budget and manpower similar to what we have been experiencing.

In looking at an alternative program there a number of milestones that might be considered.

  • When would we replace all the 210s? At this point we should have at least 26 new generation large cutters (replacing 12 WHECs and 14 WMEC210s). This is currently planned to occur in 2032.
  • When would we get to 36 new generation large cutters currently planned? Now FY2037.
  • What kind of fleet will we have at the end of FY2037? Current plan 11 NSCs and 25 OPCs.

The proposal is in three parts:

  • Proceed with the OPC program as currently envisioned funding one OPC per year through FY2025. In FY2026 and 2027, fund one, rather than two, and halt the program at ten ship with the last delivered in 2030.
  • Continue to fund one NSC a year through FY2023, this will give us 15 NSCs, with the last delivered in 2026.
  • Start a program for Cutter X in FY2021. Fund construction for the first ship in FY2024, then two ships in FY2025 to 2027, then three ships a year in FY 2028 to 2034 (the last year for the current plan). This will provide a total of 28 ships with the last delivered FY2037.

This breaks down to:

  • FY2020 to FY2023 we would fund one NSC and one OPC,
  • FY2024 we fund one OPC and the first Cutter X.
  • FY2025 to FY2027 we build one OPC and two Cutter X (which should cost the same as two OPCs).
  • From FY2028 through 2034 we fund three Cutter X per year (which should cost less than two OPCs).

This is how the benchmarks break down:

  • When would we replace all the 210s? At this point we should have at least 26 new generation large cutters (replacing 12 WHECs and 14 WMEC210s). This is currently planned to occur in 2032. In 2028, 15 NSCs, 8 OPCs, three Cutter X (plus 13 WMEC270)
  • When would we get to 36 new generation large cutters currently planned? Now FY2037. In 2032, by the end of the year, 38 ships, 15 NSCs, 10 OPCs, 13 cutter X. 
  • What kind of fleet will we have at the end of FY2037? Current plan 11 NSCs and 25 OPCs. At the end of FY 2037, 53 ships, 15 NSCs, 10 OPCs, 28 cutter X. 

At the end of FY2037 we will have effectively replaced the 12 WHEC and the 13 WMEC270s with 25 more capable NSCs and OPCs. The 14 WMEC210 and Alex Haley will have been replace by Cutter X and 13 additional large cutters added to the fleet, 17 more than the current plan.

Even if we did not fund NSCs 13-15, it would only take one additional year to replace the 210s and to reach 36 new generation ships. and we would still have 50 ships at the end of FY2037.

We really need to do a new Fleet Mix Study and we need to follow it up with a long term shipbuilding plan, something Congress has been asking for for years.

“Coast Guard releases draft statement of work for Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Industry Studies” –CG-9

OPC “Placemat”

The Acquisitions Directorate, CG-9, has issued a draft statement of work for Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Industry Studies.

The deadline for comments is short.

A draft statement of work (SOW) was released by the Coast Guard Nov. 22 in support of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Program. The service is seeking industry feedback; responses to the draft SOW will be used to inform a future solicitation for industry studies to support OPC follow-on production.

The draft SOW can be found here.

The deadline to submit responses to this request is Dec. 6 at noon EST.

For more information: Offshore Patrol Cutter program page

Looking at the draft statement of work, one of the first things I noticed is that it describes the OPC as “360ft LOA and 4500LT.” I think that displacement should be full load. Even at that, it is significantly larger than previously stated. I had previously noted that dimensions and displacement did not seem to correspond, that the dimension for the OPC was larger than the Holland class OPV which are 3750 tons full load, but previous statements indicated that the ships would be 3730 tons full load. This was repeated in the Congressional Research Service Reports. If their full load displacement is actually 4500 tons, that means they are almost exactly the same size as the National Security Cutters which have been variously reported as 4500 or 4600 tons full load.

The draft SOW indicates, “The re-competed contract scope will be to complete the OPC Detail Design and to construct an initial OPC using that Detail Design, with options for constructing up to 10 additional OPCs.”

Section 2.2.2.2 does at least mention the possibility of a block buy.

 “The impact of block buys of OPCs as a cost reduction strategy shall be addressed in this section.”

The draft SOW states:

“References Available at Award.  The following references will be made available not later than award of the Industry Studies contract.

1. Updated draft OPC System Specification

2. List of Long Lead Time Materials (LLTM)

3. Selected Detail Design Deliverables for information only, including Functional Design artifacts, ABS design review information, Transitional (3D) Design artifacts, Production Design artifacts, Schedules, Test Procedures, and Test Reports.  The maturity of the Functional Design artifacts exceeds 95%.

4. Selected Construction Deliverables for information only, including: Equipment Configuration List, Test results, Engineering Change documents, and schedules

5. Selected Non-Proprietary Management Planning Deliverables for information only

6. USCG Notional OPC Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) Schedule

7. Placemat summarizing OPC Functional Design “

Frankly, I don’t see how you could bid on the contract without having this information first.

The notional schedule does not appear to have changed, meaning, if followed, the contract will not be awarded until the end of FY2022, and the first ship (OPC#5) will not be delivered until near the end of FY2026 and the last ship of the class will not be delivered until near the end of FY2037, three years after the previous plan. At that time the youngest 270 would be 56 years old. We will not have fourteen OPCs to replace the 210s until 2032, by which time the youngest 210 will be 63 years old. This is starting to look ridiculous, but it does looks like there may be some flexibility.

“Contractors will evaluate the referenced design artifacts and propose their most cost effective and schedule efficient plan to transition the Functional Design into a Production Design and to construct OPCs per the contract scope described above. “

This has to be very frustrating. We already went through a year of proposal evaluations, a year of competing preliminary designs, and a year of detail design, and now it looks like we are starting over almost from ground zero.

I anticipate these ships are going to cost considerably more than the original Eastern contract or the original benchmark cost. That, and the considerable delay, are a good argument for funding a 12th NSC in FY2020.

Hopefully the contractors would offer options that would depart from the notional timeline and allow earlier completion of the program as a cost reduction strategy.

On the other hand, if we are going to take this much time, maybe we could make the  ship a bit faster and better armed, since it appears we are firmly back in the great power competition mode.

Canada’s New Icebreaker, John G. Diefenbaker

Canadian Polar Icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker

Some information from Canadian ship design agency VARD, on the planned Canadian polar icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker. The project is long delayed and construction has not yet begun.

There is much more detail in the VARD brochure and Wikipedia entry linked above, but a few significant data points.

  • Displacement, full load: 23,500 tons
  • Length overall: 150.1 m 492’-6”
  • Length waterline: 137.6 m 451’-5”
  • Breadth moulded 28.0 m 91’-10”
  • Design draft: 10.5 m 34’-6”
  • Generators: 39,600 kW 53,100 hp
  • Propulsion: two 11 MW (14,751 hp) wing shafts and a 12 MW (16,092 hp) azimuth thruster. total 34 MW (45,595 hp),
  • Speed: 18 knots ice free, 3.0 kn, 2.5m ice 
  • Range:  26,000 NM @ 12 kn ice free 
  • 1,800 NM @ 3.0 kn 2.2 m of ice
  • 60 core crew + 40 program personnel
  • Endurance  270 days

For comparison these are figures for the planned Polar Security Cutter. Projected delivery dates, 2024, 2025, 2027.

  • Displacement, Full Load: 22,900 tons
  • Length: 460 ft (140 meters)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 meters)
  • HP: 45,200
  • Accommodations: 186
  • Endurance: 90 days

In many ways the designs are remarkably close. Looks like the Canadian breaker will be slightly larger than the PSC, but will have a much smaller crew.

Presumably there will be no provision for armament since the Canadian Coast Guard does not arm its vessels.

The Diefenbaker’s very long endurance is a bit of a surprise, in view of Canada’s lack of a requirement to go to Antarctica, a feature that has driven the design of the PSC.

Propulsion power is almost identical, a bit over 45,000 HP, and both designs include three propellers, but the way it is done is different. While the PSC has a conventional shaft on the centerline and rotatable drive units to port and starboard, the Canadian design has a single rotating drive unit on the centerline and conventional shaft driven props port and starboard. This may provide the PSC with a redundancy advantage in that it might allow steerage even if one unit is damaged. On the other hand the single Canadian unit may be less likely to be damaged because of its position.

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS, October 21, 2019, A New Version Reflects RFI

Congressional Research Service has again updated their review of the Coast Guard’s Cutter acquisition programs. (Again only five days after the previous update) The changes reflect the Request for Information (RFI) issued Oct. 18, 2019. You can see the new CRS report here.

The significant changes begin on page 11, and continues through page 14 with quotes from the RFI, and in the “Issues for Congress” section, beginning on page 18 under “Follow-On Competition,” continuing through page 20.

It still seems strange to me that Eastern’s team is not being required to complete the detail design and that the Coast Guard would take the time to develop a second detail design.

As I understand, it the design team is Vard. They should not have been significantly  effected by the hurricane that struck Eastern. Have they been unable to complete a detail design? Shouldn’t they be able to complete one before the re-compete contracts for design studies, evaluates design studies, awards another contract, and completes a second detail design? That the Coast Guard is considering this course make be suspicious that that something is terribly wrong within the Eastern team. I hope I am wrong.

It is gratifying to note that two posts from this blog are referenced in the report: