The Hamilton Class 378 foot WHECs, an Appreciation

USCGC Douglas Munro (WHEC-724)

The Navy League’s magazine, Seapower, reports that the last of the US Coast Guard’s Hamilton class 378 foot WHECs, Douglas Munro, will be decommissioned at the end of the month.

The designers of these ships certainly made them aesthetically pleasing, and the preliminary design work was done in house by Coast Guard engineers.

The 378s were the crowning achievement of a recapitalization program begun in the late 1950s that resulted in the 82 foot Point class patrol boats, the 210 foot Reliance class WMECs, and ultimately the 378 foot Hamilton class WHECs, all built to preliminary designs developed in house.

Between October 1960 and August 1970 the Coast Guard commissioned 79 Point class WPBs. The Point class followed closely on the heals of the 95 foot WPB, the last of which had been commissioned in July 1959.

Between June 1964 and July 1969 we commissioned 16 Reliance class WMECs. Between February 1967 and March 1972 we commissioned 12 Hamilton class WHECs.

So between Oct. 1960 and March 1972 the Coast Guard commissioned 107 new patrol cutters. In 1967 alone we commissioned 17 Point class WPB. 1968 was the peak year for the larger cutters. In that year the Coast Guard commissioned four 378s and seven 210s. (Makes it clear we should be able to complete more than two Offshore Patrol Cutters per year, doesn’t it?)

USCGC Gallatin WHEC -721 (378), USCGC Rockaway WHEC-377 (311), and USCGC Spencer WHEC-36 (327)

When the 378s were built, the WHEC designation had just recently been coined. 36 ships were classed as WHECs, six 327 foot 2,656 ton full load Secretary class cutters, 18 Casco class 311 foot 2,529 ton cutters, and 12 Owasco class 255 foot 1,978 ton cutters. The plan was to build 36 of Hamilton class to replace all of them, but the termination of the Ocean Station program resulted in only twelve being built. The 378s were 15 to 54% larger than the ships they replaced at 3,050 tons full load, and they were a much more advanced design.

CODOG Propulsion:

The COmbined Diesel or Gas turbine (CODOG) propulsion was a bold choice in the early 1960s. The Royal Navy had commissioned their first combatants with gas turbines (combined with steam) in 1961  The US Navy would not complete their first gas turbine powered Perry class frigate until 1977. (I think you can see the influence of the Hamilton class in the design of the Perry class frigates.) A pair of Danish Frigates, the Peder Skram class, would also use the same FT-4 turbines, but the first of that class was laid down only four months before Hamilton, so it was more contemporary than predecessor. 49 months after Hamilton was laid down, the Canadian laid down the first of the Iroquois class destroyers that used more powerful versions of the FT-4 in a COGOG arrangement with smaller 7500 HP Allison gas turbines. We would see the FT-4 gas turbine again in the Polar class icebreakers beginning in 1976.

The Coast Guard had done some experimentation with gas turbines. As built, USCGC Point Thatcher (WPB-82314), commissioned in Sept. 1961, was equipped with controllable pitch props and two 1000 HP gas turbines (later replaced by two 800 HP diesels that would became standard in the class). The first five 210 foot cutters of the Reliance class, commissioned June 1964 to February 1966, had two 1,000 HP gas turbines in addition to two 1,500 HP diesels, that they retained until they received major renovations 1985-1990.

The Hamilton Class’s Navy contemporaries were the 3,371 ton full load Garcia and 4,066 ton Knox class frigates (classified as Destroyer Escorts until 1975). Those ships were larger and used high temperature and pressure steam propulsion to produce 35,000 HP (compared to 36,000 for the 378s on their turbines). The frigates used only a single shaft for a speed 27 knots. The Hamiltons’ turbines gave them a two knot speed advantage, while their diesels gave them more than double the range. Two shafts gave them a greater degree of redundancy.

ASW Capability: 

While the contemporary Garcia and Knox class were much better equipped for ASW, the newly commissioned 378s, with their AN/SQS-38 sonar and helicopter deck were not only larger and faster, but also compared favorably as ASW ships to all but the newest Navy Destroyer Escorts (those completed 1963 and later).

CGC DALLAS (WHEC-716)… Vietnam… During seven combat patrols off the coast of Vietnam, Dallas undertook 161 gunfire support missions involving 7,665 rounds of her 5-inch ammunition. This resulted in 58 sampans destroyed and 29 Viet Cong supply routes, bases, camps, or rest areas damaged or destroyed. Her 5-inch (127 mm) guns made her very valuable to the naval missions in the area. Original 35mm Slide shared by Capt W.F. Guy, USCG… Circa May 1970.

Electronic Warfare, Gun and Fire Control: 

The 378s introduced the post WWII Coast Guard to electronic warfare with the WLR-1.

Unlike the earlier WHECs, the 378s were completed with the Mk56 gun firecontrol system which was much more capable than the short to medium range Mk52 used by the older cutters. Their 5″/38s proved useful when deployed to Vietnam. Below is quoted from Wikipedia’s description of USCGC Morgenthau‘s Vietnam deployment.

From records compiled by then-Lieutenant Eugene N. Tulich, Commander, US Coast Guard (Ret), Morgenthaus Vietnam numbers included: Miles cruised – 38,029 nautical miles (70,430 km; 43,763 mi); Percentage time underway – 72.8%; Junks/sampans detected/inspected/boarded – 2383/627/63; Enemy confirmed killed in action (KIA) 14; Structures destroyed/damaged – 32/37; Bunkers destroyed/damaged – 12/3; Waterborne craft destroyed/damaged – 7/3; Naval Gunfire Support Missions (NGFS) – 19; MEDCAPS (Medical Civic Action Program) – 25; Patients treated – 2676.

The FRAM:

During the late 1980s the Reagan administration was pushing for a 600 ship Navy. The FRAM of the Hamilton class was one of the small ways the Coast Guard played a part in the competition that may have driven the Soviet Union into dissolution.

While the 378s would still might not have been first class fighting units, electronic warfare was brought up to date, a newer air search radar, a modern gun, and firecontrol was installed. Harpoon anti-ship cruise missiles were add along with a Close in Weapon System (CIWS), a hangar was added and the ships were equipped to operate with a LAMPs I ASW helicopters.

Ultimately, following the collapse of the threat from the Soviet Union, the ASW equipment and anti-ship cruise missile were removed, but benefits of modernization, remained.

The After Life: 

These ships are now 49 to 54 years old and, thanks to the hard work of their crews over a half century, they are still doing good work, no longer for the US Coast Guard, but for Navies and Coast Guards around the world. Virtually all of their contemporaries have gone to the ship breakers, as have many younger ships.

BRP Andrés Bonifacio (FF-17), the former USCGC Boutwell.

  • Hamilton (715), Dallas (716), and Boutwell (719) serve in the Philippine Navy.
  • Mellon (717) serves in the Bahrain Naval Force
  • Chase (718) and Gallatin (721) serve in the Nigerian Navy
  • Sherman (720) serves in the Sri Lanka Navy
  • Morgenthau (722), Midgett (726), and Munro (724) serve or will serve in the Vietnam Coast Guard
  • Rush (723) and Jarvis (725) are in the Bangladeshi Navy

The Vietnam Coast Guard patrol vessel CSB-8020, formerly the US Coast Guard cutter Morgenthau (Photo: Vietnam Coast Guard)

“New Missions Push Old Coast Guard Assets To The Brink” –Forbes

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Bruckenthal participates in a fueling exercise with the Coast Guard Cutter Campbell on the Chesapeake Bay, April 11, 2020. The Coast Guard acquired the first Sentinel Class cutter in 2012, with the namesake of each cutter being one of the service’s many enlisted heroes. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Isaac Cross)

Forbes evaluates the Coast Guard’s performance and the dangers inherent in its aging fleet.

“With all the new interest, America’s Coast Guard is transitioning from an overlooked national security afterthought into a more significant geopolitical player, befitting what is, after all, the world’s 12th largest naval force.”

But,

“It all looks pretty good so far. America’s Coast Guard can be proud of its current operational record and new strategic potential. But as the geopolitical importance of Coast Guard missions ramp up, so too will the ramifications of mission failure. The Coast Guard has a lot of fragile ships that can break at any time. The stress may already be showing…”

There is a lot of criticism of the 270 foot WMECs here. I have never been a great fan. When they were being built, the Chief Engineer made keeping the cost down a number one priority. He saw cost closely related to length. Contrary to stories that they were supposed to have been longer, in fact the original design was three feet shorter. I heard at the time, that Naval engineers went “down on bended knees” to get an additional three feet of shear on the bow.

USCGC Citrus, 1984, after conversion from buoy tender to WMEC. US Coast Guard photo.

When the 270 program began, the Coast Guard still had 18 World War II vintage WHECs and WMECs

  • Six larger, slightly faster, and much loved 327 foot cutters.
  • USCGC Storis, 230′, but actually a little larger in displacement
  • Three 213′ former Navy rescue and salvage  vessels, Escape, Acushnet, and Yacona
  • Five 205′ former Navy fleet tugs, Chilula, Cherokee, Tamaroa, Ute, and Lipan
  • three converted 180′ buoy tenders, Clover, Evergreen, and Citrus

Twelve of those, including all the 327s, were decommissioned 1980 to 1991. Tamaroa and Citrus were decommissioned in 1994, Escape in 1995, Yacona in 1996, Storis in 2007, and Acushnet hung on until 2011.

210s Courageous and Durable were decommissioned September 2001.

Until the first National Security Cutter, Bertholf, was commissioned Aug. 4, 2008, the only addition to the fleet, after the completion of the 270s, was 283′ Alex Haley, transferred from the Navy in 1999.

So at the end of 1991, the year the last 270 was delivered, we had 47 WHECs and WMECs (12 x 378s, 13 x 270s, 16 x 210s and 6 WWII vintage ships). By the time the first NSC came out, we were down to 41 (12 x 378s, 1 x283, 13 x 270s, 14 x 210s and 1 WWII vintage ship). We are currently at 37 (8 x NSCs, 1 x 378s, 1 x283, 13 x 270s, 14 x 210s) and working toward 36 (11 NSCs and 25 OPCs). I suspect we will the the number drop below that before the OPC program is complete.

USCGC Tahoma (WMEC-908)

While I always felt we would have been better off evolving an improved 327, the 270 was a net improvement. Unlike the ships they replaced, they had a helicopter deck and hangar. Even the 378s did not have a hangar at that point. The 270s introduced the digital Mk92 fire control, 76mm Mk75 gun, SLQ-32 ESM, and Mk36 SRBOC. They were a half knot slower than the 327s, but were substantially faster than the other ships they replaced, none of which were capable of more than 16 knots.

It was perhaps a lost opportunity to build something better, for only a little more money, but they were an improvement. We should have built at least six more to replace the WWII built ships, and maybe another 16 to replace the 210s beginning in 1994 (perhaps a block 2 with a bit more bow). We should have awarded contracts to start replacing the 270s more than a decade ago.

Now that we do have bipartisan support in Congress, we need to translate that into consistently larger Procurement, Construction, and Improvement funding and an accelerated build rate for the OPCs. After all, we currently have only one WMEC less than 30 years old, that just barely. We really should not wait 17 or 18 years to replace them all.

 

 

A Reevaluation, Ruminating on Homeports While Playing the Red Cell, Part 2

This is the second part of a reexamination of where critical ports are in the US and where the cutters that might be needed to protect them are homeported.

Consolidated Target and Homeport List:

I have reproduced this listing from part 1. It has been changed slightly to reflect the move of USCGC Seneca from Boston to Portsmouth, VA. Again, we have 31 target ports or port complexes in bold  and 23 current or planned cutter homeports with the cutters in bold. In many cases a critical port is also a homeport for cutter(s).

CCGD1:

  • Bath, Me–Major Naval shipbuilder
  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH –Naval Shipyard: 2×270 (908, 909)
  • Boston, MA: 2×270 (905, 907)
  • Newport, RI Plan to add 2xOPC (919, 920)
  • Groton, CT–Submarine base
  • Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ–a major cultural target, #3 US Port by tonnage, #3 Container port, #4 Cruise ship port (NYC) and #13 cruise ship port (Cape Liberty, NJ)

CCGD5:

  • Delaware Bay/River Complex–Strategic Seaport (Philadelphia), Wilmington DE/Cape May, NJ: 3xFRC (1119, 1120, 1135)
  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, Major naval shipbuilder, Strategic Port, #9 port by tonnage, #5 container port; plus water route to Washington, DC (major cultural target) and Baltimore, MD–#14 port by tonnage, #13 container port, #12 cruise ship port/ 7×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903, 904, 906, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)
  • Morehead City, NC–Strategic Seaport/Atlantic Beach, NC: 2xFRC (1127, 1128)
  • Cape Fear River–Strategic Seaport, Wilmington, NC

CCGD7:

  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA–#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL: 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL: 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale, FL–#11 container port, #2 Cruise Ship port
  • Miami, FL–#12 container port, #1 Cruise Ship port/ 6xFRC (1101 to 1106)
  • Key West, FL: 2×270 (910, 913), 6xFRC (1107 to 1112)
  • San Juan, PR–#5 Cruise Ship port, #15 container port/ 7xFRC (1113 to 1118, 1133)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/
  • St. Petersburg, FL: 2×210 (620, 625)

CCGD8

  • Pensacola, FL–4×210 (615, 616, 624, 629)
  • Mobile, AL–major naval shipbuilder, #11 port by tonnage
  • Pascagoula, MS–major naval shipbuilder/ 2xFRC (1123, 1125)
  • Gulfport, MS–Strategic Seaport
  • Mississippi River Complex, LA–New Orleans #6 port by tonnage, #14 container port, +#10 Cruise Ship port; South Louisiana #1 port by tonnage; Baton Rouge #8 port by tonnage; Port of Plaquemines #13 port by tonnage.
  • Lake Charles, LA–#12 port by tonnage
  • Sabine Pass complex (Beaumont/Port Author/Orange, TX)–#4 port by tonnage (Beaumont), Strategic Seaport (both Beaumont and Port Author), It also has an LNG exporting terminal
  • Houston/Galveston/Texas City, TX–#2 port by tonnage (Houston),  #13 port by tonnage (Texas City), #5 container port (Houston), #6 Cruise ship port (Galveston)/Galveston, TX: 3xFRC (1136, 1137, 1138)
  • Corpus Christi, TX–#7 port by tonnage, Strategic Seaport

CCGD11:

  • San Diego, CA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, major naval shipbuilder (NASSCO), Strategic Seaport
  • Los Angeles/Long Beach/Port Hueneme, CA–A major cultural target, #5 port by tonnage (Long Beach), #9 port by tonnage (Los Angeles), #1 container port (Los Angeles), #3 container port (Long Beach), #9 cruise Ship port (Long Beach), #11 cruise ship port (Los Angeles), Strategic Seaport (Long Beach and Port Hueneme)/San Pedro: 4xFRC (1129 to 1132) Plan to add 2xOPC (915, 916)
  • San Francisco Bay complex,, CA–A major cultural target, #6 container port (Oakland), Strategic Seaport (Oakland and Concord)/Alameda, CA: 4xNSC (750, 751, 752, 755)

CCGD13:

  • Warrenton, OR: 2×210 Plan to add two FRCs (Longview, WA is a significant port, but it is 66 miles up the Columbia River, so unlikely to be a target)
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA–Base for aircraft carriers (Bremerton), SSBNs (Bangor), and submarines, major naval bases, #8 container port (Seattle), #10 container port (Tacoma), #8 Cruise ship port (Seattle), Strategic Seaport (Indian Island and Tacoma, WA)/Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

CCGD14:

  • Honolulu/Pearl Harbor, HI–Major Naval base, including submarines/2xNSC (756, 757), 3xFRC (1124, 1126, 1134)
  • Apra, Guam–Submarine Base, Strategic Seaport/ Plan to add 3xFRC (1139, 1140, 1143)

CCGD17:

  • Ketchikan, AK: 2xFRC (1121, 1122)
  • Kodiak, AK: 1xWHEC, 1×282 WMEC Plan to add 2xOPC (917, 918)
  • Planned to be based in Alaska, ports have not been identified 4xFRC
  • Anchorage, AK–Strategic Seaport

The Present and Future Coast Guard Fleet: 

Bertholf class National Security Cutters: 

These ships are only based in three ports, all three of these are potential target ports.

  • Charleston, SC two NSCs now, three additional planned
  • San Francisco Bay Complex, CA, four NSCs
  • Honolulu, HI, two NSCs

That might suggest that these ports are well protected, but as I have said, these ships don’t spend any time on standby, and when they are in port they are usually down hard.

Honolulu is also a Naval bases and has three Webber class WPCs assigned, so it is about as well protected as any port could be with our current equipment.

The Webber class WPCs:

As I have noted, currently the Webber class are potentially the most important asset for port protection.

Of the 31 potential target ports, these nine have, or we know will have, two or more Webber class cutters assigned.

  • Delaware Bay/River Complex–Strategic Seaport (Philadelphia), Wilmington DE/Cape May, NJ: 3xFRC (1119, 1120, 1135)
  • Morehead City, NC–Strategic Seaport/Atlantic Beach, NC: 2xFRC (1127, 1128)
  • Miami, FL–#12 container port, #1 Cruise Ship port/ 6xFRC (1101 to 1106)
  • San Juan, PR–#5 Cruise Ship port, #15 container port/ 7xFRC (1113 to 1118, 1133)
  • Pascagoula, MS–major naval shipbuilder/ 2xFRC (1123, 1125)
  • Houston/Galveston/Texas City, TX–#2 port by tonnage (Houston),  #13 port by tonnage (Texas City), #5 container port (Houston), #6 Cruise ship port (Galveston)/Galveston, TX: 3xFRC (1136, 1137, 1138)
  • Los Angeles/Long Beach/Port Hueneme, CA–A major cultural target, #5 port by tonnage (Long Beach), #9 port by tonnage (Los Angeles), #1 container port (Los Angeles), #3 container port (Long Beach), #9 cruise Ship port (Long Beach), #11 cruise ship port (Los Angeles), Strategic Seaport (Long Beach and Port Hueneme)/San Pedro: 4xFRC (1129 to 1132) Plan to add 2xOPC (915, 916)
  • Honolulu/Pearl Harbor, HI–Major Naval base, including submarines/2xNSC (756, 757), 3xFRC (1124, 1126, 1134)
  • Apra, Guam–Submarine Base, Strategic Seaport/Plan to add 3xFRC (1139, 1140, 1143)

With four additional FRCs going to Alaska, I have to assume Anchorage, AK will be protected. Its geography protects it to a great extent. It is far up Cook Inlet. Kodiak’s position South of Cook Inlet pushes the US EEZ out, so it is much further than 200 miles from the edge of the EEZ to Anchorage. Homer, at the mouth of Cook Inlet, has been an Island class WPB in the past and may be a Webber class homeport in the future.

These seven potential target ports have, or we know will have, two or more Webber class cutters homeported within 100 nautical miles, offering some degree of protection.

  • Cape Fear River–Strategic Seaport, Wilmington, NC (WPCs from Atlantic Beach)
  • Port Everglades/Fort Lauderdale, FL–#11 container port, #2 Cruise Ship port (WPCs from Miami)
  • Mobile, AL–major naval shipbuilder, #11 port by tonnage (WPCs for Pascagoula)
  • Gulfport, MS–Strategic Seaport (WPCs for Pascagoula)
  • Lake Charles, LA–#12 port by tonnage (WPCs from Galveston)
  • Sabine Pass complex (Beaumont/Port Author/Orange, TX)–#4 port by tonnage (Beaumont), Strategic Seaport (both Beaumont and Port Author), It also has an LNG exporting terminal (WPCs from Galveston)
  • San Diego, CA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, major naval shipbuilder (NASSCO), Strategic Seaport (WPCs from San Pedro)

The following 14 potential target ports have no Webber class WPCs assigned or currently planned to be based within 100 nautical miles:

  • Bath, ME, –Major Naval shipbuilder
  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH–Naval Shipyard, currently homeport 2×270(908, 909)
  • Groton, CT–Submarine base
  • Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ–a major cultural target, #3 US Port by tonnage, #3 Container port, #4 Cruise ship port (NYC) and #13 cruise ship port (Cape Liberty, NJ)
  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, Major naval shipbuilder, Strategic Port, #9 port by tonnage, #5 container port; plus water route to Washington, DC (major cultural target) and Baltimore, MD–#14 port by tonnage, #13 container port, #12 cruise ship port/7×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903,904, 906, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)
  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA-#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL currently homeport for 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL: 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/
  • Mississippi River Complex, LA–New Orleans #6 port by tonnage, #14 container port, +#10 Cruise Ship port; South Louisiana #1 port by tonnage; Baton Rouge #8 port by tonnage; Port of Plaquemines #13 port by tonnage.
  • Corpus Christi, TX#7 port by tonnage, Strategic Seaport
  • San Francisco Bay complex,, CA–A major cultural target, #6 container port (Oakland), Strategic Seaport (Oakland and Concord)/Alameda, CA: 4xNSC (750, 751, 752, 755)
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA–Base for aircraft carriers (Bremerton), SSBNs (Bangor), and submarines, major naval bases, #8 container port (Seattle), #10 container port (Tacoma), #8 Cruise ship port (Seattle), Strategic Seaport (Indian Island and Tacoma, WA)/Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

Most likely future Webber Class Homeports: 47 of the planned 64 Webber class cutters have already been paired with their homeports as noted above (including six to go to Bahrain). Of the 17 remaining we know two will go to Astoria OR, and four will go to Alaska.  That leaves eleven to potentially protect other ports. Grouped two or three to a port, that means we will have no more than four or five additional Webber class homeports. In my view, the most likely additional ports are:

  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH (also within 100 nmi of Boston and Bath, ME)
  • New London, CT (to protect sub base at Groton, CT might also protect the Long Island Sound approaches to Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ)
  • Corpus Christi, TX–#7 port by tonnage, Strategic Seaport
  • San Francisco Bay complex,, CA–A major cultural target, #6 container port (Oakland), Strategic Seaport (Oakland and Concord)/Alameda, CA: 4xNSC (750, 751, 752, 755)
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA–Base for aircraft carriers (Bremerton), SSBNs (Bangor), and submarines, major naval bases, #8 container port (Seattle), #10 container port (Tacoma), #8 Cruise ship port (Seattle), Strategic Seaport (Indian Island and Tacoma, WA)/Seattle, WA: 1xWHEC, Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

Where we are naked: Potential target ports that likely will not have a Webber class within 100 nmiles:

  • Hudson River complex, New York, NY/Elizabeth and Bayonne, NJ)
  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA–Base for aircraft carriers and submarines, Major naval shipbuilder, Strategic Port, #9 port by tonnage, #5 container port; plus water route to Washington, DC (major cultural target) and Baltimore, MD–#14 port by tonnage, #13 container port, #12 cruise ship port/6×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903,904, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)
  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA-#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL currently homeport for 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/ St. Petersburg, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (620, 625)

The Hudson River Complex is protected to some extent by geography, given the length of its approaches. WPCs at Cape May and New London would provide a degree of protection though both are a bit more than 100 nmi away.

The strong Navy presence in the Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA should provide a degree of protection. 

7th District has 8 of the 31 critical ports and 19 of the 58 Webber class homeported in the US (I understand they will get a 20th), but all are in three ports, Miami, San Juan, and Key West, which is not a critical port. Five ports have no Webber class within 100 nautical miles.

  • Charleston, SC–#7 container port, #15 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ 2xNSC (753, 754) Plan to add 3xNSC (758, 759, 760)
  • Savannah, GA-#4 container port, Strategic Seaport
  • Jacksonville complex, FL (including Kings Bay, GA)–SSBNs, Navy Base Mayport, #14 cruise ship port, Strategic Seaport/ Mayport, FL currently homeport for 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Tampa, FL–#7 Cruise Ship port/ St. Petersburg, FL currently homeport for 2×210 (620, 625)

There are of course other considerations, but from the perspective of protecting ports we would be much better off redistributing all but three WPCs in Miami and three in San Juan to Charleston (which would also provide a degree of protection for Savannah), Jacksonville, Port Canaveral, and Tampa/St Pete. This would leave Key West without WPCs, but it does look like a good place for OPCs.

We would also have no Webber class within 100 miles of the Mississippi River Complex.

  • Mississippi River Complex, LA–New Orleans #6 port by tonnage, #14 container port, +#10 Cruise Ship port; South Louisiana #1 port by tonnage; Baton Rouge #8 port by tonnage; Port of Plaquemines #13 port by tonnage.

Fortunately it is protected to some extent by the long and relatively difficult passage up the Mississippi River before these ports can be reached. You are not likely to make it up the Mississippi with a ship without getting a pilot. Also Webber class at Pascagoula are only a little over 100 nautical miles from the mouth of the Mississippi.

HECs and MECs and OPCs, Oh My:

There are currently 29 WHECs/WMECs. They are to be replaced by 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs). Because of the nature of their operations and scheduling, they are unlikely to respond to a threat from their homeport, but they may be employed locally off shore for fisheries, drug, or Alien Migrant enforcement. Where will they be based?

We could say 25 ships divided among eight districts means three ships in seven districts and four in one. That might not be a bad way to start, but in all likelihood the OPCs will be distributed much as the one remaining WHEC and 28 WMECs are now, but some changes are likely because of tendencies observed of late.

  • There will be a tendency to base in groups, so at least two and preferably three or more will be based together.
  • There will be a tendency to move closer to the drug transit zones in order to shorten transit.
  • There may also be a tendency to put some additional emphasis on the Western Pacific.

Breaking it down by district even though they are Area assets, I will note how many in the district and what percentage of the current WHEC/WMEC fleet that constitutes.

CCGD1: 4 or 13.8%

  • Kittery, ME/Portsmouth, NH 2×270(908, 909)
  • Boston, MA: 2×270 (905, 907)
  • (Newport, RI Plan to add 2xOPC (919, 920))

CCGD5: 9 or 31%

  • Chesapeake Bay Complex, VA 7×270 (Portsmouth 901, 902, 903, 904, 906, 911, 912), 2×210 (Little Creek 626, 627)

CCGD7: 7 or 24.1%

  • Jacksonville complex, FL  Mayport, FL: 1×210 (617)
  • Port Canaveral, FL–#3 Cruise Ship port/ Cape Canaveral, FL: 2×210 (619, 621)
  • Key West, FL: 2×270 (910, 913)
  • Tampa/St. Petersburg, FL: 2×210 (620, 625)

CCGD8: 4 or 13.8%

  • Pensacola, FL– 4×210 (615, 616, 624, 629)

CCGD13: 3 or 10.3%

  • Warrenton, OR: 2×210
  • Puget Sound Complex, Seattle/Tacoma, WA Port Angeles, WA: 1×210

CCGD17: 2 or 6.9%

  • Kodiak, AK: 1xWHEC, 1×282 WMEC (Planned homeport for 2xOPC (917, 918))

If we distributed the 25 OPCs in the same proportion we would have:

  • D1: 3
  • D5: 8
  • D7: 6
  • D8: 3
  • D11: 0
  • D13: 3
  • D14: 0
  • D17: 2

But we already know that two OPCs will be based in San Pedro, they probably represent a movement Southward from D13, and there is a good possibility they will be joined by a third OPC.

In the same vain I think we will see one or two fewer OPCs in D5. They might go to D7, but there is also a possibility they could go to PAC Area.

This is what I think we will ultimately see, with destination of three OPCs much less certain. Possible locations for these three are in parenthesis. It is going to be a very long time (Late 2030s) before we see the last three, so much can change.

  • D1: 3 (we already know two are going to Newport, RI. Probably the third as well.)
  • D5: 6 (presumably all in Portsmouth)
  • D7: 6 (+1 or 2) (Most likely in Key West and St. Petersburg, possibly Mayport or Charleston)
  • D8: 3 (presumably in Pensacola)
  • D11: 2 (+1) (We already know two are going to San Pedro, CA. Probably a third as well)
  • D13: 0 (+2) (If it happens, Port Angeles, WA)
  • D14: 0 (+2) (Honolulu)
  • D17: 2 (+1) (We already know two are going to Kodiak. A third is less likely here.)

Historically the Coast Guard has based two thirds of its large cutters in Atlantic Area and one third in the Pacific Area. If that were to be the case, PAC Area should get six OPCs in addition to the six NSCs they have now, and LANT Area should have 19 OPCs in addition to the five NSCs currently planned.

If you look at the distribution of the US EEZ, I think there is a strong case for more ships in the Pacific.

  • Total US EEZ: 11,351,000 km2
  • East Coast EEZ: 915,763 km2
  • Gulf Coast EEZ: 707,832 km2
  • Puerto Rico EEZ: 177,685 km2
  • Total LANT Area EEZ: 1,801,280 km2 15.9%
  • Total PAC Area EEZ: 9,549,720 km 84.1%

With the increased emphasis on IUU and capacity building in the Western Pacific, we may see up to eight OPCs going to PAC AREA.

Alternative Mission Set:

PAC Area has been very aggressive in the use of their resources for drug interdiction, sending FRCs down to the Eastern Pacific transit zones off Central and South America, but PAC AREA could have more cutter time for operations in the Western Pacific, without adding cutters, if LANT AREA took full responsibility for the Eastern Pacific drug interdiction effort. There are good reasons, that might be desirable.

  • East Coast ships, particularly those based in the South East, are generally closer to the drug transit zone than PAC Area ships.
  • Forth Fleet is the Naval component commander for SOUTHCOM. Fourth Fleet is part of LANT Fleet and is headquartered in Mayport, Jacksonville, FL.  SOUTHCOM is located in Doral, FL, part of greater Miami.
  • LANT AREA is the Coast Guard counterpart of LANT Fleet and so should be the primary point of contact between Navy and Coast Guard for the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone.

US Navy Fleet Organization

The Missing Class–Response Boat, Large–the WPB replacement:

All along, I have been saying our cutter are not adequately armed to have a high probability of being able to stop a terrorist controlled vessel. Currently the Webber class WPCs seem to be the most likely craft to be in a position to take on that role, but in many scenarios they simply would not be up to the task. In addition we know that about half the critical ports or port complexes will have no Webber class homeported there so that they might respond most rapidly in the case of an attack.

We still need to replace the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. As we have discussed here and here, properly equipped, a vessel half the size of the Webber class could take on this job.

There were 74 Marine Protector class built. Wikipedia indicates there are 73 currently active and we know there is a proposal to decommission eight in the belief that their missions will be performed by Webber class and response boat, mediums. That would still leave 65.

Assuming we put two WPB replacements in position to protect each of the 31 critical ports, so that we could always have one either on standby or underway near by, it would only require 62. It the Webber class were better armed, and we only needed to protect those critical ports with no Webber class homported there, we would need no more than 34. If we also redistributed the D7 Webber class as suggested we would need only 26.

Basing for Larger Patrol Cutters

W B Young asked,

“I was wondering if they are going to base these two WMSM in R.I., what base/homeport is losing ships to make up for this? What with 25 tentative WMSM replacing 28 current WMEC some homeport(s) were already going to be losing a currently based ship{s}”

Trying to answer this turned out to be a bit more than I wanted to put in just a comment. I am going to look at homeports for the larger patrol cutters, WHECs, WMECs, OPCs, and NSCs, breaking it down by district, as we move toward 36 large patrol cutters (11 NSCs and 25 OPCs).

Keep in mind these changes will not happen quickly. First OPC is not expected to be delivered until 2022 and then only one per year through 2028. Then only two per year, so we are looking at #25 arriving in 2037.

TRENDS:

There are some trends that seem to be playing out here:

  • Fisheries, Alien Migrant interdiction, and D7 drug interdiction are increasingly being done by Webber class WPCs.
  • Ships of a class are increasingly being based in groups of three or more for better support.
  • 210s are being moved South where they are closer to the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific drug interdiction areas and where the weather is less demanding.

LOOKING BACK: 

When I looked at homeports in 2015:

  • There were six large cutters in CGD1, three in Portsmouth, NH/Kittery, ME (two 270s and one 210) and three 270s in Boston.
  • There were nine in D5, six 270s and three 210s.
  • Nine in D7, two NSCs, two 270s, and five 210s.
  • D8, two 210s
  • A total of 26 in LANTAREA
  • In PACAREA, 14 total, three NSCs, seven 378s, one 282, and three 210s (That is really 11 “high endurance cutters” (NSCs, 378s, and Alex Hailey, rated a WMEC but really an HEC) and three 210s).

WHAT WE HAVE NOW

Currently we have 38 large patrol ships, already down two:

  • D1, five 270s
  • D5, Total of eight, six 270s and two 210s
  • D7, no change, Total of nine, two NSCs, two 270s, and five 210s
  • D8, Four 210s
  • LANTAREA total 26
  • PACAREA total twelve, six NSCs, two 378, one 282, three 210s

The LANT total has not changed, but D1 and D5 have each donated a 210 to D8.

PACAREA is down two ships. One from D11 and one from D13.

What we know about the future:

The last two 378s, both in PACAREA, will not last much longer.

Three more Bertholf class NSCs are going to be based in D7 at Charleston. As unlikely as it may seem, this is actually closer to the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone than San Diego.

The First two OPCs will go to San Pedro. The second pair will go to Kodiak. The third pair will go to D1 in Newport, RI.

What will happen to Alex Haley when the two OPCs arrive in Kodiak is not clear, but there is a good chance it has more life in it than many of the 210s. It is newer and more capable than any of them. In many ways it is close to a SLEPed 270. Hopefully it will be kept on.

Six 270s will undergo life extension program renovations. My presumptions are that,

  • These will probably last about a year, but hopefully less for later ship after we acquire some experience.
  • We will do only one at a time,
  • That the crew that brings it to be renovated will be reassigned, and
  • That a new crew will be assigned, much as if it were new construction.
  • After renovation it is likely that the ship will be assigned to a new homeport.

These renovations will need to start relatively soon. We need to complete the project by 2027, if we are going to get at least 10 years service out of all six before the 25th OPC is completed in 2037. (Wonder if perhaps we can install more powerful engines to get a bit more speed.)

The four OPCs going to PACAREA are really replacing four WHECs not WMECs. There used to be 10 WHECs on the West coast. When the two Webber class currently planned to be homeported in Astoria arrive, they may effectively start to replace the West Coast 210s in PACAREA.

PURE SPECULATION: 

This is what I think we will see, as all the WHECs and WMECs disappear and we are left with eleven NSCs and 25 OPCs.

We will certainly see homeport changes as the healthier ships are moved to ports vacated by those being decommissioned.

As their SLEPs are completed, 270s will replace 210s in D7 and/or D8. Those 210 will then be decommissioned or moved to replace other 210s that are decommissioned. Will be interesting to see if we simply decommission a 210 whenever an OPC is commissioned, or will we do a sequence for the first few ships, commission an OPC, but wait until a 270 completes SLEP before decommissioning a 210. It would be a way to maximize cutter days. The SLEP is going to cost us some ship years.

First District will end up with four OPCs. All probably in Newport, RI. Boston and Kittery will probably loose all their large patrol cutters.

Fifth District will end up with six OPCs. All homeported close together in Virginia, in one or two locations.

Seventh District will, we know, have five NSCs in Charleston, I suspect five OPCs for a total of 10 ships. Currently D7 has large patrol cutters based in five ports: Charleston, Mayport, Cape Canaveral, Key West, and St. Petersburg. Likely only two or three will continue to host this class of ship. Charleston is a certainty. My guess is that Mayport and Cape Canaveral will loose their patrol Cutters. Key West and possibly St. Petersburg (less likely) will have OPCs. Charleston could host OPCs as well, which would probably mean none in St Pete.

The Eight District will have four OPCs, probably all in Pensacola.

The number of large cutters in PACAREA will soon drop to 10 but will ultimately work back to 12, a total of six NSCs and six OPCs. Where do those last two OPCs go? Best guess–to San Pedro for a total of four, but it could be two to San Diego (still close to San Pedro) or one each to San Pedro and Kodiak.

Eleventh District will end up eight, four NSCs and four OPCs.

Thirteenth District will end up with no large patrol cutters, but will host three Polar Security Cutters. Could be wrong. Those last two PACAREA OPCs could end up in D13.

Fourteenth District will have two NSCs.

Seventeenth District will have two OPCs.

Readers with rationale why my suppositions are wrong, please weigh in.

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

FFG(X) Contract Goes to Marinette, NSC#12 Less Likely?

200430-N-NO101-150
WASHINGTON (April 30, 2020) An artist rendering of the guided-missile frigate FFG(X). The new small surface combatant will have multi-mission capability to conduct air warfare, anti-submarine warfare, surface warfare, electronic warfare, and information operations. (U.S. Navy graphic/Released)

The Navy has announced that the contract for the first of the new FFG(X) class frigates has been awarded to Marinette Marine.

“Navy awarded a contract to design and produce the next generation small surface combatant, the Guided Missile Frigate (FFG(X)) today.  The contract for detail design and construction (DD&C) of up to 10 Guided Missile Frigates (consisting of one base ship and nine option ships) was awarded to Marinette Marine Corporation (MMC) of Marinette, Wisconsin, officials announced. “

One of the arguments for continuing the construction of the National Security Cutters (NSC) has been that it kept a production line open that might roll into production of the FFG(X). That is now no longer the case. The argument that we are replacing 12 ships, so we should build 12 is still valid to a degree.

Currently eleven NSCs are seen as replacing 12 WHECs, but we have yet to hear that 25 OPCs are not enough to replace 32 WMECs: 13 WMEC 270s, 16 WMEC210s, Alex Haley,  Acushnet, and Storis. Maybe what we need is 33 OPCs, to make up for the shortfall in replacing both 12 WHECs and 32 WMECs, 44 ships to replace 44.

Thanks to Secundius for bringing this to my attention. 

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.

Philippines Awards Contract for Upgrade of Former WHECs

BRP Andrés Bonifacio (FF-17), the former USCGC Boutwell.

Updates added below

NavyRecognition is reporting that the Philippines has awarded a PHP1.5 billion ($28.6M) contract to a South Korean firm for upgrades to their Del Pilar Class Frigates. These are the former cutters Hamilton, Boutwell, and Dallas.

“The project has an approved budget of PHP1.5 billion which will be sourced from the Armed Forces of the Philippine Modernization Trust Fund. The upgrade seeks to enhance the ships’ combat management systems, electronic support and sonar capability to make it capable of operating with incoming and more modern naval assets like the two Jose Rizal-class missile frigates being completed by Hyundai Heavy Industries in South Korea.”

The AN/SPS-40 air search radar, SLQ-32 Electronic Warfare System, 25 mm Mk38 guns, and the Phalanx CIWS were removed before the vessels were transferred to the Philippines.

Presumably in addition to sonar, this upgrade will include torpedo tubes and Korean manufactured torpedoes (Update: apparently not–not included in this contract). The EW system will likely also include countermeasures. An air search capable radar like the Hensoldt TRS-3D Baseline D multi-mode phased array C-band radar being installed on the Jose Rizal-class frigates, to replace the AN/SPS-40 will almost certainly be included (Update: Sea Giraffe multi-role radar had been purchased from the US for this purpose, this is the same radar being purchased for the OPCs). Provision for anti-ship cruise missiles is a possibility, but at this point the full extent of modernization is not clear. I would assume the former WHECs will share some systems with the new frigates. 

Future USCGC Midgett Underway

Just wanted to pass this along because the ship looked so good in the video. Future USCGC Midgett (WMSL-757) is headed to her planned homeport in Honolulu. She is to be commissioned in August.

This does not mean the current USCGC Midgett (WHEC-726) will be decommissioned before the new Midgett is commissioned. In fact WHEC-726 has already been renamed USCGC John Midgett. We had a similar situation when the new USCGC Munro was commissioned while USCGC Munro (WHEC-724) continued to serve.

(Incidentally there was a Navy destroyer escort named after Munro, USS Douglas A. Munro (DE-422).)

Thanks to Lee for bringing the video to my attention. 

“Coast Guard patrols South Pacific in support of international fisheries”

A boarding team from the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) approach a fishing vessel on the high seas in January 2019 while patrolling in support of counter-Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing and global security missions. Mellon’s crew is supporting international fisheries on the high seas and enforcement of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Mellon)

When I reported Betholf’s departure for the Western Pacific, Jan. 22, 2019, I speculated that after Munro’s visit to the Solomon Islands and Fiji, reported Dec. 8, 2018, that perhaps we were seeing the start of a new trend. Apparently I was a bit late in my prediction because, apparently Mellon had already followed Munro into the Western Pacific, departing Seattle shortly after Christmas. The CCGD14 news release below will explain.

Something else I noticed in the news release, was that while in Hawaiian waters, Mellon had conducted Astern Re-fueling-at-Sea training with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126). We also had a report of an underway refueling of a Webber Class Cutter when USCGC Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) completed a 2,200 mile transit for Operations in the Marshall Islands. Could this be preparation for multi-unit operations in the Western Pacific?

Crew from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mellon performed two community outreach events while in Suva, Fiji, in January 2019. Children admitted at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital in Suva had the opportunity to meet with and hear stories from the crew during their community relations event at the hospital led by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sarah Patanapaiboon and the crew also refurbished the hospital gardens. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Coast Guard Cutter Mellon)

The News Release

HONOLULU — Following a stop in Fiji in late January, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Mellon (WHEC 717) continue their South Pacific patrol in support of counter-Illegal, Unregulated and Unreported fishing and global security missions.
 
The presence of a high endurance Coast Guard cutter conducting operations in the region demonstrates the U.S. commitment to regional partnerships and strengthening a coalition of like-minded countries to strengthen regional maritime governance and promote a rules-based regime for fisheries.
 
Mellon’s crew is supporting international fisheries on the high seas and enforcement of the Western Central Pacific Fisheries Commission (WCPFC). Upon arrival in the WCPFC convention area, they partnered with the Canadian Armed Forces who flew seven reconnaissance flights improving maritime domain awareness and aiding in the enforcement of the WCPFC convention. Patrolling over 1,110 square miles within the WCPFC convention area, the Mellon’s law enforcement team boarded two vessels, one fishing vessel and one bunkering vessel. Both boardings resulted in potential violations of conservation management measures including high seas transshipment and specifications for the marking and identification of fishing vessels. 
 
“Participating in the WCPFC ties into a broader strategy the Coast Guard is pursuing in the Indo-Pacific region,” said Capt. Stephen Burdian, commanding officer, cutter Mellon. “Throughout the area, the U.S., and by extension the Coast Guard, is encouraging relationships respecting the sovereignty, supporting fair and reciprocal trade, and the rule of law in an open and free Oceania. Through a tactical lens, that strategy looks like a Coast Guard boarding of a foreign fishing vessel, while on the high seas or in a sovereign Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) jointly with a member of that country’s enforcement team. On this patrol, we are fortunate to have excellent support from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, and our Canadian counterparts.”
 
While on a port call in conjunction with the US Embassy in Suva, Fiji, the crew strengthened partnerships with Pacific Islands Nation communities by participating in community relations events at a local animal shelter, children’s hospital and garden.  At the animal shelter crew members engaged with kittens and puppies while giving animals baths and general clean-up of the shelter.  At the children’s hospital and garden, the crew read books to children and tidied up the garden area.  
 
Mellon’s crew of 150 departed their homeport of Seattle shortly after Christmas. They made a brief stop in Hawaii for fuel and supplies. This stop was leveraged for training as the crew conducted Astern Re-fueling-at-Sea training with the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126). Also, they worked with Air Station Barbers Point crews to complete 72 shipboard helicopter evolutions over three days, resulting in the qualification of three M H-65 Dolphin helicopter pilots and 10 flight deck personnel aboard Mellon.  The cutter also embarked two Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans Officers, two U.S. Navy Aerographer’s Mates, and one U.S. Marine Corps Mandarin translator while in Hawaii for the upcoming operations. The crew is more than 8,000 miles into their patrol and have taken every opportunity for professional development with more than 40 crew earning new qualifications.
 
Oceania covers an area of 3.3 million square miles and has a population of 40 million and is home to some of our valued strategic partners in the Pacific Island Nations as well as Australia and New Zealand, with whom the U.S. has aligned for more than a century.
 
The importance of the Pacific Islands is very evident as the Coast Guard continues operations in the region and the U.S. strengthens partnerships with the governments of these nations. We recognize tourism and exports, both requiring a great deal of commercial vessel traffic, are a primary economic driver. Tuna represented a nearly $5 billion industry in 2015 with more than half the world’s tuna is sourced from the Western Pacific. In 2017 reported landings were 2.5 million tons of fish.
 
The presence of a high-endurance cutter in this part of the Pacific to enforce Conservation and Management Measures established by the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission represents the U.S. and the Service’s commitment to our partnerships in the region. This body represents another essential collaboration. The WCPFC is an international body made up of 43 nations and international organizations. Members agree to allow the 13-enforcer nations in the pact to board and record any potential violations on their nationally flagged vessels. The findings go to the WCPFC who notifies the vessel’s flag state of the suspected infraction for further investigation.
 
“The U.S. Coast Guard and the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans have a long history of working together to ensure the viability of fish stocks off North America.  Working with experts from Canada and regional leaders like Fiji is vital to ensuring food security and the rule of law in Oceania,” said Capt. Robert Hendrickson, Chief of Response for Coast Guard 14th District. “Working together we are helping to ensure a more secure, free and open Indo-Pacific.”

Update on Coast Guard Acquisition Programs and Mission Balance and Effectiveness–Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure

This is not going to flow well, I apologized for the mishmash. The video above is of a House Sub-Committee hearing that occurred on July 24. I think it is still worth a look. The video does not actually begin until just before time 19:55

Before watching the video, I would suggest a look at the “Summary of Subject Matter.” This is what the Congressional Representatives are looking at.

End of Service Lives for Medium Endurance Cutters (MEC) with Planned Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Delivery Dates:

Check out the charts on page 2. The second chart shows “End of Service Lives for Medium Endurance Cutters (MEC) with Planned Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Delivery Dates.” It illustrates the risks and loss of capacity that appears likely, if OPCs are funded at the planned rate of no more than two ships a year. It is unclear why the WMECs are to be retired in the order intended since it is not the order of their completion. Presumably it is based on an assessment of the condition of the ships, but it is very clear that they will all be well over aged. The 210s will retire first. The youngest retirement would be at age 53 and some would qualify for Social Security before replacement.  (Diligence, 66)

How they arrived at the expected service life shown is hard to understand, because every 210 is going to be 53 years old or older at the end of projected service life plus 15 year life extension. The 210s were, of course, substantially reworked during a “Major Maintenance Availability” 1986 to 1990, but no further life extension work is apparently planned based on the testimony in the video.

It may appear we are in much better shape with respect to the 270s, but these more complex ships may actually be harder to keep operational. We saw this in the number of breakdown experienced after the Haitian Earthquake eight years ago. They were commissioned between 1983 and 1991 and are expected to be replaced between 2130 and 2135. Legare, second to newest, is planned to be the first replaced, and would be “only” 40 years old. Harriet Lane one of the earliest completed is expected to be one of the last replaced and would be 50 years old. The rest fall within that range. SLEP for 270s beginning 2021, but it is not certain it will be applied to all 13 ships. 

Because ships are not being replaced as quickly as they were originally built, we see a growing gap between the end of the ship’s projected service life, even with a 15 year service life extension, and the projected date of replacement.

Cutter Capability (by operating hour):

See also Appendix A, which illustrates the current shortfall in cutter hours available compared to the “Legacy Fleet” the recapitalization program was intended to replace. The “Legacy Fleet” is based on 12 WHECs, 29 WMECs, and 49 island class WPBs. (Not sure why they used 29 WMECs, since we had 32 as recently as 2001.)

There are two charts, the first includes WPBs and Webber class WPCs as well as WHECs, WMECs, NSCs, and OPCs. The second considers on the only the larger vessels, excluding WPCs and WPBs. 

The first chart shows that we are currently down 20,450 hours (8.6%) relative to the legacy fleet, but that when the recapitalization is complete the total will be 31,970 hours (13.4%) greater than the legacy fleet. This increase is all due to the greater number Webber class and the greater number of hours each is expected to operate annually compared to 110s.

The second chart looks only at the larger ships, leaving aside the Webber and Island class WPCs and WPBs. It shows we are currently down 13,950 op hours (10%) and further, that when the program is completed, we will be down 15,030 hours (10.7%)reflecting the smaller number of large patrol cutters. If we could view this as a chart of actual cutter available on a yearly basis, it suggest that we will never be down by more than the 10.7% that shows upon completion of the program. Actually that is unlikely to be the case. The aging fleet means a higher probability of unplanned maintenance and even catastrophic failure that may result in WMECs being decommissioned prematurely and becoming parts donors like the Polar Sea.

The saving grace may be that the Webber class have proven capable of performing some WMEC like duties and they are coming on line very rapidly. In all probability, the 58 cutters in the FRC program of record will all be delivered by the end of 2024.

At some point Coast Guard leadership is going to have to tell Congress the ugly truth that we have started the OPC/WMEC replacement program much too late, and we need to double down on the production rate. As soon as the first ship is completed and tested we need to issue a Multi-Year Procurement contract and it should include building up to four ships a year, at least until all sixteen 210s are replaced and at least three ships a year until all the WMECs are replaced.

We need to tell the Congress this as soon as possible, because bad news does not get better with age. Unfortunately it did not happen in this hearing. In fact when asked about the possibility of accelerating OPC production, time 1:10:00, VAdm McAllister seemed to dismiss the possibility saying we had other higher priorities. This was the wrong answer. You don’t always get to decide how money is spent. If we should get the opportunity to accelerate OPC construction, as has happened with the FRCs, we should welcome it.

Mission Needs Statement:

You can see the “Mission Needs Statement” referred to here. It is 70 pages plus about 45 pages of Appendices, but as noted, “…  it does not identify asset gaps or a material solution to meet Coast Guard’s mission needs.”

GAO findings, failure to plan long term:

The GAO has taken the Coast Guard to task because their acquisition portfolio planning has been limited to apparently short term planning using the annual budget and five year Capital Investment Plan (CIP). That this has resulted a bow wave of unfunded requirements being pushed progressively further into the future.

“When you are up to your ass in alligators, it is difficult to remember that your initial objective was to drain the swamp.”

I have to think GAO has a point here.

We still have not provided a 20 year acquisition plan that the Coast Guard said they would provide in 2014, much less the 30 year plan I have suggested that would parallel the Navy’s planning process.

We have only done one fleet mix study. It was completed in 2007 and included the apparent assumption of applying the now rejected Crew Rotation Concept to both the NSCs and OPCs. Even so, it is still being used as a basis for critiquing the program of record that was last re-baselined in 2005. Things change, we now have better information about how our assets actually function. It is long past time for updated planning.

The Video: 

Witnesses were:

  • Vice Admiral Daniel Abel, Deputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Vice Admiral Michael McAllister, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony

Here is a brief outline of the topic discussed. Video actually begins 19:55.

23:00 Administration and CG leadership priorities do not demonstrate a commitment to rebuild infrastructure.

42:00 Appropriation deleted $1.4B including $750M for the Heavy Polar Icebreaker and the rest from an account to repair of replace hurricane damaged infrastructure.

46:00 Icebreaker schedule is overly optimistic.

47:00 WMEC gap.

49:00 No service life extension program for 210s. Some, but not all 270s, will have 10 year life extension.

51:00 Capabilities vs hours.

55:30 WMECs are operating at higher than anticipated tempo. Anticipate catastrophic failures within in the WMEC fleet. 5 out or 14 WMEC 210s are at high risk.

59:30 Maintenance backlog.

1:08:00 Still no 20 year plan has been provided since it was requested in 2014.

1:10:00 accelerate OPC procurement?

1:12:30 OPC homeports, of the first four, two will go to Kodiak and two to LA

1:14:00 Great Lakes icebreaking,  Mackinaw replacement? SLEP of 140′

1:15:45 Will be doing a fleet mix study for the Great Lakes.

1:17:00 Inland fleet. Doing alternatives analysis.

1:20:00 Homeport for icebreakers has not been decided. Working on homeport decisions for the entire fleet.

1:23:00 UAS

1:24:00 Counter UAS capability. The six WPBs in CENTCOM have some capability.

1:25:00 Manpower analysis

—-

Opening Statement of the Sub-Committee Chair:

The Subcommittee is meeting today to review how the Coast Guard is integrating their acquisition, manpower, and maintenance plans to align to their mission needs and assure the Service has the assets, personnel, and expertise needed to carry out its missions.

On June 1, 2018, Admiral Karl Schultz became the 26th Commandant of the Coast Guard.  His guiding principles for the Service are: Ready, Relevant, and Responsive.  He said, “These guiding principles frame my direction and will support the Department of Homeland Security, the Secretary of Defense and Combatant Commanders, and other national and global maritime interests.”  Admiral Schultz and his senior leadership team are in the midst of reviewing the status of the Coast Guard and making changes to align the Service with those guiding principles.  Today, we will hear from two members of that team, and look forward to better understanding their perspectives on the status of the Coast Guard.

The ongoing recapitalization of the Service’s cutters was planned two decades ago to address mission demands at that time.  The world and the demands on the Coast Guard have since changed and it is critical that the Service be ready to respond to the demands of today, as well as those that will exist in decades to come. It is also important that the Coast Guard is prepared to manage capability gaps that are occurring and likely to continue to occur as recapitalization continues.

The decisions being made today will shape the Coast Guard of the future.  The cutters being built today have a planned 30-year service life and will probably serve longer, and the final OPC is projected to be patrolling the seas until 2064. Like Admiral Schultz, Congress wants to ensure the Coast Guard is Ready, Relevant, and Responsive for years to come.  In order to do so, we need accurate information from the Service to determine whether current plans will provide the capabilities to meet future demands.

Even more important than Coast Guard ships and aircraft are the people who operate them.  The Coast Guard’s active duty workforce is only slightly larger than that of the New York City police department and less than ¼ the size of the next smallest U.S. Armed Force.  Congress has encouraged the Coast Guard to better understand and articulate its workforce needs to meet current and emerging needs. Looking forward, it is likely that the Service will need to make tough, strategic decisions regarding how Coast Guard personnel are allocated.  Even before the advent of a new cybersecurity operating domain, the Coast Guard was struggling to meet mission demands; creating a cybersecurity workforce while also conducting legacy operations poses an additional challenge that must be addressed immediately.

In addition to our focus on Coast Guard assets and personnel, this Subcommittee has continually pushed the Service to improve its shore infrastructure made up of approximately 43,400 assets nationwide.  Unfortunately, even after several years of us stressing the need for action, much of that property is in dire need of rebuilding or repair.  While Coast Guard leaders consistently stress the importance of investing in shore infrastructure, the budgetary trade-offs being made within the Coast Guard and the Administration do not reflect a genuine commitment to address this need.  For example, despite a shore infrastructure backlog of more than $1.5 billion, the Coast Guard’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget request only includes $30 million to address those projects.

Shore infrastructure is critical to every Coast Guard mission – cutters need piers, aircraft need runways, inspectors need buildings, etc. – and if the Service truly desires to remain Ready, Relevant, and Responsive, it needs to find ways to address these critical needs.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a number of reports since 2012 reviewing Coast Guard acquisition programs and providing recommendations to improve those programs.  Over the years, the Coast Guard has agreed with many of those recommendations and agreed to take action on them.  However, the new GAO report released today notes that the Coast Guard has not fully implemented those prior recommendations.  Hopefully, today’s hearing will help us understand why that is.

A new senior leadership team brings new perspectives, new ideas, and new priorities.  I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today on how they see the Coast Guard and how we can best position the Service for success going forward.