“Ship Class Designations Have Meaning” –USNI

USCGC BERTHOLF (WPF-750 or maybe WPL-750)

The March 2023 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an opinion piece in the “Nobody Asked Me, But…” section. The author notes,

“The Navy does itself a disservice with the public, Congress, and U.S. allies when it allows a program’s Pentagon PowerPoint acronym to become the class designation. There was some recent recognition of this issue when the JHSV (Joint High Speed Vessel) became the T-EPFs (expedition-ary fast transports), the MLP/AFSB (Mobile Landing Platform/Afloat For-ward Staging Base) became ESDs/ESBs (expeditionary transfer docks/expedition-ary sea bases), and the pending LAW (Light Amphibious Warship) became the LSM (landing ship medium), but there is still room for improvement.”

The author goes on to suggest several additional redesignations.

I have pointed out in the past that Coast Guard designations for the Bertholf class NSCs (WMSL) and the Argus class OPCs (WMSM) are particularly egregious examples of departure from historical and current standard US Navy and NATO designation practices.

Virtually no one outside the Coast Guard knows what they are supposed to mean, not to mention that there is virtually no difference in size between the NSCs and OPCs, so why are the NSCs “large” and the OPCs “medium?”

Really, WPF, Coast Guard Patrol Frigate or WPL, Coast Guard Patrol Large, would do nicely for both. If you still want to give the OPCs a lower rank or perhaps for the existing WMECs, WPK, Coast Guard Patrol Corvette (K for Corvette is a NATO standard) or WPM, Coast Guard Patrol Medium, would work.

If you really want to differentiate further, take a look at what the Japanese Coast Guard did–neat, simple, easily understood.

  • PLH (Patrol Vessel Large with Helicopter)
  • PL (Patrol Vessel Large)
  • PM (Patrol Vessel Medium)
  • PS (Patrol Vessel Small)
  • PC (Patrol Craft)
  • CL (Craft Large)

Really, WPB, WPC, WPK and WPF or just WPB, WPC, WPM, and WPL would work just fine.

We changed the designation system in the late ’60s. The Navy has changed some of their designations. Maybe it is time for the Coast Guard to return to a more rationale, easily understood, and meaningful system.

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.



Names for First Eleven OPCs Announced–Prematurely

Coast Guard public affairs asked me to take down this post, as previously written, because “The page was still under construction and not meant for public release.” The page that provided the information is no longer accessible.

That would seem to explain the gaps in the explanation of the significance of the names to Coast Guard history that I noted.

My comments about the type designations stand.


I am once again reminded how much I hate the WMSM and WMSL designations. They violate all the norms of ship type designation. Why don’t we just designate both class WPF–Coast Guard Patrol Frigate. The 75 Coast Guard manned frigates of WWII were designated PFs. It might even help the Commandant’s plea, that the Coast Guard be funded as a military service, if the vessel descriptions sounded more like warships.