“Cutter X” Revisited

Photo: French Patrol Vessel, L’Adroit, DCNS photo

Almost two years ago I made a proposal for an alternative fleet mix. Since then the cutter recapitalization program has moved along. Funding of the eighth and final National Security Cutter is expected in FY2015. 30 Webber class WPCs have been funded and the contract with Bollinger has run its course. The Administration has asked for funding of two more in FY2015. If the Congress does what they have done in the past the Coast Guard may get funding for as many as six.

Like the original post, the purpose here is to offer another possible cutter fleet mix that might be procured at the same cost as the “Program of Record” (POR) that would include approximately the same number of units but provide more large “cruising cutters”, eg, over 1000 tons (49 vs 33), while hopefully replacing the existing WMEC fleet earlier, avoiding the worst of the disastrous drop in the number of major cutters that appears likely in the 2020s, and providing more cutter days while requiring fewer or at least no more personnel than either the legacy fleet or the POR.

The original post was largely in response to a Department of Homeland Security study modeling the effectiveness of alternative fleet mixes, “Options for the Future USCG Cutter Fleet Performance Trade-Offs with Fixed Acquisition Cost,” by Alarik Fritz • Raymond Gelhaus • Kent Nordstromr (.pdf). My hope was to offer a better alternative that might be evaluated by a follow-on study.

What comes through loud and clear, from that study is that:
◾The Coast Guard need some ships with the capability to do boat and helicopter ops in State Five Seas particularly for operations in the Northeast and Alaska.
◾In the Southeast and West, where the primary missions are Drug Enforcement and Migrant Interdiction, we are a long way from a point of diminishing returns, that is, mission performance is directly linked to the number of cutters, effectiveness increasing in almost direct proportion to the number of cutters available.
◾The cutters’ ability to launch boats and helicopters in State Five conditions are much less important in the West and Southeast where most of the cutters are normally deployed.

Meanwhile the Coast Guard’s responsibilities continue to grow.

The concept of Cutter X was basically to take the equipment and crew of the Webber class and put them in a larger, higher endurance, more seaworthy hull and augment the crew only as necessary to deal with the additional endurance, the availability of two boats and helicopter and/or UAV operations. The original post provided several examples of similar ships, and since then I have posted another example. Basically the result is a relatively simple vessel, only a bit more sophisticated than a 210 but grown about 50% larger with the possibility of a hangar in addition to the flight deck. My presumption would be that these ships would rely more on shore based aircraft rather than an organic air search capability, meaning the tempo of air operations would be lower than for larger cutters. They might operate more frequently with UAVs rather than helicopters. In other words, a ship of about 1,500 tons, about half the size of the OPC, closer in size to a 270 than a 210 (but perhaps longer than the 270, L’Adroit at 1,450 tons full load is over 285 feet long), and about four times bigger than a Webber class WPC. Other characteristics I would expect are a speed of approximately 24 knots, a range of 5,000 miles or more, and an endurance of at least three weeks. Weapons would initially be limited to a single Mk38 mod2 25mm and crew served .50 cal.

Photo: L’Adroit, looking forward from the flight deck toward the superstructure and the hangar.

Basically my assumption was and is that the tradeoffs between ship typed would work something like this:

1 NSC = 2 OPCs = 4 “X” class = 12 FRCs

This equates to approx. prices of: $700M/NSC, $350/OPC, $175M/Cutter X, and $60M/FRC.

It is no longer possible to trade-off NSCs for X class cutters, so the new alternative mix would look like this:

8 NSCs, 15 OPCs, 26 “X” class, and 42 FRCs

This gives us as many vessels as the program of record (91), more “cruising cutters” capable of sustained distant operation (49 vs 33) including 23 ships (8 NSCs and 15 OPCs) that are capable operating boats and aircraft in sea state 5 for Alaska and the Northeast, and 15 OPCs with ice strengthened hulls for operation in the Arctic and potentially the Antarctic.

Like the previous post I’ll compare this possible fleet mix to the Coast Guard Fleet as it existed in 2000/2001 (which was larger than the existing fleet) and the fleet in the Program of Record (POR), on the basis of cutter days available and crewing requirements using both conventional and augmented crewing.


For the analysis below I have used the following as the personnel allowances for the new classes:
◾NSC 122
◾OPC 90 (still to be firmed up)
◾FRC 24 (includes two extra junior officers assigned to gain experience)

While some of the vessels cited in my previous post as comparable to Cutter X are crewed by as few as 30, which I will use as a lower limit, I believe the Coast Guard would use more, if only as an opportunity to provide more at sea experience. At most, the personnel allowance should not be more than that of the 210s. My figures may be out of date, but at least at one point that was a crew of 62. I’ll use this as the upper limit.

Cutter Days AFHP and Crew Requirements:

The 2000/2001 fleet: Theoretically the 2000/2001 fleet could have provided 8,140 cruising cutter days away from homeport (AFHP) (44 cruising cutters x 185 days) and would have required a total personnel allowance of 5,477 (1.49 cutter days/crew member).

The Program of Record: Without augmentation, the program of record would theoretically provide 6,105 cruising cutter days AFHP (33 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of 4,618(1.32 cutter days/crew member).

With Augmentation (increasing their personnel allowance by a third and running the cruising cutters 230 days/year) the program of record would theoretically provide 7,590 cruising cutter days and require a total personnel allowance of 5,693 (1.33 cutter days/crew member).

Proposed Mix: Without augmentation, the proposed mix would theoretically provide 9,065 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 4,114 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X, 2.2 cutter days/crew member) and 4,946 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X, 1.83 cutter days/crew member).

With Augmentation (increasing the personnel allowance of the cruising cutters by a third and running them 230 days/year) the proposed mix would theoretically provide 11270 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 230 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 5,150 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X, 2.19 cutter days/crew member) and 6,259 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X, 1.80 cutter days/crew member).

What about the loss of FRCs? The proposal would trim 16 FRC from the POR. They are projected to operate up to 2500 hours per day. If we assumed that all 2500 hours were devoted to offshore cruising for the 16 additional units, that would add 1667 days AFHP to the POR for a total of 7,772 days AFHP for the un-augmented fleet (1.68 cutter days/crew member) and 9,257 days AFHP for the augmented POR (1.63 cutter days/crew member)(disregarding the 42 additional FRC that are included in both the POR and my proposed fleet mix).

In summary Cutter Days Available:
◾————————————–————–Un-Augmented———Augmented by 1/3
◾2000/20001 (cruising cutters only)—————–8,140———————N/A
◾POR (cruising cutters only)—————————6,105——————-7,590
◾POR (w/1,667 additional FRC day AFHP)——-7,772——————–9,257
◾Proposed Mix w/Cutter X (cruising cutters only)9,065—————–11,270

It looks like this alternative provides an improvement of at least 16.6% over the program of record, possibly as much as 48.5% depending on how you view the FRCs as a patrol asset. It appears that the un-augmented version gives virtually the same number of ship days away from homeport (within 2% assuming both we count the additional WPCs as cruising cutters and that the augmented ships provide 230 days AFHP. If they provide only 225 days AFHP even this small advantage goes away) as that of the augmented version of the program of record while requiring 13 to 28% fewer crewmembers (several hundred to over 1,000). And without the possibly problematic requirement for augmentation.

Is it doable? What is the timing? How would it effect with other programs?

The eight NSC should be essentially fully funded by the end of FY 2015. Thirty FRC are already funded. Funding twelve more to bring the total to the proposed 42 by the end of FY2017 would only require funding four per year, and might be done in only two years if Congress continues funding six a year, meaning funding for construction of X class cutters could begin in FY2018.

I think the funding could look something like this

————-OPC—X class
FY 2017—–1
FY 2018—–1——–1
FY 2019—–1——–1
FY 2020—–1——–1
FY 2022—–1——–2
FY 2023—–1——–3
FY 2024—–1——–3
FY 2025—–1——–3
FY 2026—–1——–3
FY 2027—–1——–3
FY 2028—–1——–3
FY 2029—–1——–3
FY 2030—–2——–0
FY 2031—–1——–0

The proposed mix funds 33 new generation large cutters by FY 2026, four years before the POM. The cutter X program would be fully funded in FY2029. Through FY2030, when the Program of Record is expected to be completed, it will have funded 48 new generation large cutters compared to the 33 new cutters of the Program of Record. In FY 2031 the proposal will add a 49th cutter. Since the X class cutters are nearer the size of existing cutters, they might also reduce the expense of modifying the shore establishment to support a larger number of OPCs. Additionally eliminating the requirement for augmentation will minimize new construction ashore to support the augmentation crews.

Other Considerations:

The proposed fleet mix has a pyramidal structure that may work well as a training ground for COs, e.g., assuming O-3s command the 42 Webber class (I know currently we have been using O-4s), O-4s command the 26 X class, O-5s command the 15 OPCs, and O-6s command the 8 NSCs.

Politically it is probably better for the Coast Guard to have two concurrent shipbuilding programs (OPC & X class) rather than just one, since that will normally lead to budgetary support from two Congressional delegations.

Susitna Ferry, Funded by Office of Naval Research, Sea Warfare & Weapons Dept., Tranformer, More Than Meets the Eye

Ice breaking, Catamaran, SWATH, variable draft. At the very minimum this has to be a challenge to the Marine inspectors.



Implications for the Arctic?

Israeli Navy Developments, with possible CG connections

Thought some of you might find this article interesting.  It touches on a number of items that might be interesting.

The Typhoon gun mount, now being equipped with the Spike ER missile system, is the same mount planned for installation on the Fast Response Cutter under the US designation Mk 38 Mod 2. This mount has lots of interesting non-military potential as a search, survaillance, and navigation aid as well.  I would think we would want in on the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC).

It discusses how the Israelis are dealing with the threat of booby trapped fishing vessels that have been used in three attacks on boarding vessels.

It talks about development of a persistent, radar equipped maritime version of their Heron high altitude UAV. This might be an alternative for the CG.

It reports how the Israelis are using kits to convert RHIBs to unmanned armed surveillance craft.

It also notes that the Israelis are in the market for a ship about the same size as the Offshore Patrol Cutter, and because the money will likely be provided by the US, there is a good chance it will have to be built in the US.  There might be an opportunity for cooperation here.

Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship

We discussed our Arctic Patrol Cutter earlier. This announcement of a alliance between Canada’s Washington Marine Group and European defense contractor Thales, to compete for a contract to build Canada’s Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) sounds more like a company news release than real reporting, but it gives an idea what the Canadians are doing–six ice breaking patrol ships at an estimated cost of  $2B (presumably Canadian $).

The ships would have patrol duties in other waters when the Arctic is not accessible. Who will operate these ships is still an open question. The stated intention is that they will be Canadian Coast Guard, but many in Canada feel they should be operated by the Navy, because the Canadian Coast Guard is more that of a civilian agency than a military force.

Germans to Place Pirates on Trial, a Refreshing Change

The German government apparently intends to prosecute pirates recently taken in custody by the Dutch frigate Tromp, after Dutch Marines fast-roped down from her helicopter to retake the ship.

Actually prosecuting pirates has been rare. In most cases they are released after apprehension. The problem has been finding a venue for the trials, compounded by the difficulty of getting witness to the trial site to testify. Kenya had agreed to provide a venue, but they have a backlog, and are now refusing to accept any more cases. There is currently a resolution before the UN, presented by the Russians, asking the UN to review the situation and make recommendations so that there will actually be some consequences to the crime, beside a good meal and medical treatment before being freed to try again.

US/Finish/German Naval Construction Research on Aluminum Ships

Here is a tidbit about a navy program looking at ships of Coast Guard size. It appears they are looking to tap into Finish/German expertise on Aluminum hulled ships, and find out a bit more about how they age and how damage resistant they are. As part of the research they are going to do a SINKEX on two Finish Fast Attack Craft (FAC).

UAVs Starting to Score

From U.S. 4th Fleet Public Affairs, “EASTERN PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) — During a routine test flight, a MQ-8B Fire Scout Vertical Take-off and Landing Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (VTUAV) supported its first drug interdiction with USS McInerney (FFG 8) and a U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (USCG LEDET) Apr. 3.” Read the rest of the story here.

Looks like UAVs are starting to show what they can do. UAVs flying from the Seychelles, in this case Air Force MQ-9s Reapers, are also having some success looking for pirates.

Hope we start seeing some Coast Guard use of these assets soon.

A footnote in CG history from 1935-38

Found a bit of history with a CG slant, that I was not aware of. It starts in 1935 and involves Guano, Amelia Earhart, politically connected Pan American Airways founder, Juan Trippe, and several Coast Guard cutters in an effort to grab islands on the air route from Hawaii to New Zealand before the British could claim them. In 1979 these islands were ceded to the newly formed nation of Kiribati.

More news on the 123 WPB front

As reported here there is more news on the 123 WPB legal fight:

“Yesterday the United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division denied a motion to dismiss Deepwater whistleblower Michael DeKort’s false claims act suit against Integrated Coast Guard Systems LLC (ICGS) and Lockheed Martin Corporation. The court has not prevented the case from moving forward, finding that DeKort’s allegations to be true, ‘well-pleaded factual allegations.'”…

Check the link for more details and background.