“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.

Seneca Moves From Boston to Portsmouth, VA

Below is a First District news release. This is the latest in a pattern showing two trends:

  • Clustering ships of a class, and
  • Ships moving South to be closer to the drug transit areas.

Thing is, Seneca was one of three 270s in Boston, so she was in a cluster. Since this leaves only two in Boston, I suspect this is only the first to leave and that ultimately the other 270s will leave Boston as well.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 1st District Northeast
Contact: 1st District Public Affairs
Office: (617) 223-8515
After Hours: (617) 717-9609
1st District online newsroom

Boston-based Coast Guard cutter to end 33-year homeport tenure in Massachusetts

The 270-foot medium endurance Coast Guard Cutter Seneca sits moored at Coast Guard Integrated Support Command in Boston as the sun rises over the city May 16, 2008. The Seneca and its namesake cutter are both rich with maritime history. The original Revenue Cutter Seneca was the first cutter to engage in official ice patrol duties after the RMS Titanic sank in 1912. Shortly thereafter, Seneca was called on to protect convoys from submarine attacks between Gibraltar and Great Britain in World War I. Today, the Seneca, homeported in Boston, continues to carry out law enforcement, search and rescue, alien migration interdiction, and homeland security missions. (Coast Guard photo/PA3 Connie Terrell)

Editors’ Note: Click on images to download high resolution version.

BOSTON — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Seneca departed Coast Guard Base Boston Wednesday, en route to their new homeport in Portsmouth, Virginia.

After 33 years homeported in Boston, Seneca will continue service with six other 270-foot, medium endurance cutters, homeported at Coast Guard Base Portsmouth. This will allow the Coast Guard to better leverage efficiencies gained by clustering vessels of the same class.

Seneca was formally commissioned in Boston on May 9, 1987. Since then, Seneca’s crew has conducted nearly all of the Coast Guard’s missions throughout New England, the Caribbean Sea, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, all while calling Boston home.

In the late 1990s, Coast Guard Cutter Seneca, along with Coast Guard Cutter Galatin, was part of Operation New Frontier, a counter-narcotics operation that tested the use of high-speed pursuit boats and armed helicopters. The operation was successfully completed March 13, 2000, and lead to the creation of the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Florida.

More recently, Seneca’s crew assisted in the rescue of 187 Haitian migrants approximately 17 miles southwest of Turks and Caicos Islands on December 22, 2019. The Coast Guard, Royal Bahamas Defense Force, and Turks and Caicos Islands Police worked together to rescue all 187 people after they were spotted onboard a single 30-foot vessel.

Seneca shares its name with the Revenue Cutter Seneca, the first cutter to engage in official ice patrol duties after the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, and one of five Coast Guard cutters that made up Squadron 2 of Division 6 of the Atlantic Fleet Patrol Forces during World War I.

Second 270 Goes to the Arctic

As part of the Operation Argus search and rescue exercise, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) and HDMS Triton (F358), a Royal Danish navy vessel, conducted towing evolutions off Greenland Aug. 18, 2020. Interoperability and rescue responses are vital in the high latitudes of the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

Below is a press release reproduced in its entirety. This operation seems to represent a significant change in Coast Guard operations. This is the first reference to a Coast Guard “Arctic Patrol” I have seen other than WWII historical references. Significantly this is on the Atlantic side. When I have seen the Coast Guard participate in this exercise in the past, it was with a buoy tender. Here we have participation by two 270 foot WMECs. We talked about this exercise earlier here. It seems to mark a change for the US Navy as well as the Coast Guard with a Navy destroyer participating as well. 

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
Contact: Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs
Office: (757) 398-6521
After Hours: (757) 641-0763
Atlantic Area online newsroom

U.S. Coast Guard carries out support of joint Arctic missions

As part of Operation Nanook, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) maneuvers with vessel from the Royal Canadian navy and coast guard, the Danish navy, and French navy, in the Atlantic Aug. 9, 2020. Strong partnerships are imperative to success in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) Royal Danish navy members attached to HDMS Triton (F358) ran through search and rescue exercises aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) as part of the joint Arctic Operation Argus, Aug. 20, 2020, off Greenland. The Triton crew dispatched small boat crews to board the Tahoma, responding to the ‘distress call’ made by Tahoma. The scenario included multiple ‘injured’ parties and a pipe casualty exercise. Each ship’s crew shared techniques throughout the engagement, leading to a successful evolution. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) Coast Guard Cadet 1st Class Rochelle Parocha looks on to the Royal Canadian Navy supply vessel Asterix after guiding in the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) during approach drills as part of Operation Nanook in the Atlantic in mid-August 2020. Strong partnerships are imperative to success in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

 Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Fetzner, Lt. Katy Caraway, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Christianson, an aviation maintenance technician, crew an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter on search and rescue maneuvers above Greenland, Aug. 19, 2020. The team comprises the aviation detachment aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908), taking part in joint Arctic Operations Nanook and Argus strengthening relations with strategic partners. They carried out multiple search and rescue drills involving lost hikers along the Arctic Trail and boaters in distress along Greenland's coast. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) The HDMS Triton (F358), a Royal Danish navy vessel, approaches Greenland as seen from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908), Aug. 15, 2020. Both vessel crews are participating in the 10th year of Operation Nanook. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) As part of Operation Nanook, a Royal Danish navy MH-60 Seahawk Helicopter crew conducts cross-deck maneuvers over the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) in the Atlantic Aug. 10, 2020. Strong partnerships are imperative to success in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) became the first Coast Guard 270-foot medium endurance cutter crew to cross the Arctic Circle, Aug. 17, 2020. They took part in joint Arctic Operations Nanook and Argus, (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) As part of Operation Nanook, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) boat-crew participates in a search and rescue exercise with the HDMS Triton, a Royal Danish navy vessel Aug. 17, 2020 off Greenland. Operation Argus part of Nanook, focused on search and rescue interoperability, highlights the importance of cooperation between international partners. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) As part of the Operation Argus search and rescue exercise, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) and HDMS Triton (F358), a Royal Danish navy vessel, conducted towing evolutions off Greenland Aug. 18, 2020. Interoperability and rescue responses are vital in the high latitudes of the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

Editors’ Note: Click on images to view more or download a high-resolution version.

KITTERY, Maine  — The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell (WMEC 909) will relieve the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) on Arctic patrol, Sunday near Greenland.  

In mid-July, Tahoma began operations for the overall two-month patrol to the Arctic in support of joint operations Nanook and Argus, to secure the maritime domain, protect resources and strengthen partnerships. 

“I’ve been doing this for more than 33 years and thought I’d seen everything until I saw how positively this crew responded. There’s nothing more humbling than being surrounded by such a great crew. Their families and friends should all be proud of them; that they accomplished something important and accomplished it with style. They represented themselves, their families, their Service, and their country as well as could ever be expected. The finest traditions of the Coast Guard are alive and well within the Tahoma crew,” said Cmdr. Eric Johnson, commanding officer, Tahoma. 

As the Nation’s primary maritime presence in the Polar Regions, the Coast Guard advances our national interests through a unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance.  

“The Coast Guard has been in the Arctic for over 150 years,” said Capt. Thomas Crane, commanding officer, Campbell. “This signature exercise began in 2007. We are committed to enhancing our multinational capability to operate effectively in the dynamic Arctic domain, strengthening the rules-based order through the presence and joint efforts, and adapting to promote regional resilience and prosperity. We are proud to bring USCGC Campbell back to Greenland as the previous Campbell (W32) supported Coastal Operations in and around Greenland during World War II.”

These exercises evaluate interoperability and build relationships between responders to identify shortfalls in communication and coordination of efforts. Each agency holds individual capabilities that complement each other’s efforts and bolsters the overall success of the regional defense and SAR system. The purpose is to continue building and improving operational cohesion between different agencies and the Coast Guard.

Tahoma participated in patrols and mutual exchanges with partners as part of Operation Nanook. Inuit for polar bears, Nanook is an annual joint exercise and the Canadian armed forces’ signature northern operation, which comprises a series of comprehensive, joint, interagency, and multinational activities designed to exercise regional defense and secure our polar regions. The Coast Guard is primarily supporting Nanook-Tuugalik, a defense readiness and security exercise, with multiple foreign partners off Northern Canada involving U.S. Navy 2nd Fleet, Royal Canadian navy and coast guard, the Danish navy, French navy, Royal Canadian air force, and multiple Canadian federal, state, local, and tribal agencies. This year crowns a decade of Operation Nanook.

Both Tahoma and Campbell participated in Operation Argus, a three-day search and rescue exercise in Greenland’s coastal search area with the Danish navy, French navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and Air Greenland. Campbell will also conduct exchanges, fisheries boardings to safeguard resources and protect domestic fisheries and serve as a platform for research and innovation.

“We continue to work with our allies and partners to ensure a safe, secure, and cooperative Arctic, even as our aspiring near-peer competitors maneuver for strategic advantage in the area,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “We are leaning forward, and our persistent presence continues to counter those entities’ efforts as the strategic value, economic, and scientific importance of the Arctic grows.”

Tahoma and Campbell’s home port is the historic Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Both cutters have a crew of roughly 100 who regularly patrol the Atlantic from Canada to the Caribbean. Like the other Famous-class cutters, they are designed and built for multi-mission operations, including law enforcement, search and rescue, marine environmental protection, and defense readiness.

Due to COVID-19, the service is taking extensive precautions and closely monitoring all operations. As needed, unit schedules adapted to ensure missions occur as planned. Any port calls or personnel exchanges are evaluated for risk and conducted in close coordination with the host nation and relevant agencies.

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)

Seapower’s July/August Coast Guard Issue.

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

The July/August issue of the Navy League’s magazine Seapower included a lot of Coast Guard content. I will not try to cover everything included, much of which has already been covered here, but I will mention a few things that stood out for me.

The Commandant’s Interview:

There was an interview with the Commandant, Admiral Schultz, that I found most interesting. There was a fair amount of information that was new to me.

Icebreakers:

Perhaps most significant was a comment regarding the Medium icebreaker.

“We also are looking to build probably a medium breaker, potentially what we’re going to call the Arctic security cutter — a little less capability in terms of icebreaking, but that capability would get us back to being an Atlantic and Pacific icebreaker Coast Guard.(emphasis applied–Chuck)

It may be that, if this ship is intended to transit the St Lawrence Seaway and work part time in the Great Lakes, like Canada’s proposed six “Program Icebreakers,” it would preclude the option of simply building six Polar Security Cutters rather than the three heavy and three medium icebreakers called for in the High Latitude Study. Alternately we might have four heavy Polar Security Cutters (PSC) in the Pacific and two Arctic Security Cutters (ASC) in the Atlantic.

The interview goes on to state, referring to its planned five year long progressive service life extension program, “…we could keep the 44-year-old Polar Star around here probably through the end of the decade if things go well.” (emphasis applied–Chuck)

The Western Pacific:

The Commandant noted that the Coast Guard had advisers in the Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji, and that an additional adviser would go to Malaysia and an attache to Australia to work with Australia and New Zealand. That there would also be an advisor assigned to Guam to work with the Commonwealth of Micronesia and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Coast Guard is becoming more involved in countering Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing, and will be providing leadership in international forums.

In reference to the forthcoming Tri-Service Maritime Strategy the Commandant said we could expect, “…to see the Coast Guard bring some unique capabilities to that conversation, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” 

Unmanned Systems:

Regarding land based systems the Commandant noted, “..we’ve completed prototype deployment of ScanEagle in Puerto Rico and Texas.” and “We teamed with U.S. Southern Command and CBP and employed one of those (MQ-9–Chuck) in an operation out of Panama that proved tremendously successful.”

He also mentions the possibility of using UAS of all sizes and mentioned the possibility of unmanned surface systems as well.

Cyber:

Sighting the FY2021 budget, Admiral Schultz said, “That is one of the biggest growth areas for humans in the Coast Guard here in the past budget cycle or two. There is somewhere north of 150 additional cyber warriors in the budget before the Congress right now.” 

“Insitu’s ScanEagle Performs ISR for Coast Guard”

There is a short one page report on the use of ScanEagle. It notes that ScanEagle is currently installed on six National Security Cutters and will be installed on all NSCs.

“A standard pack-out for a deployment of three ScanEagle UASs. The sensor systems include an electro-optical/infrared camera, a laser pointer, a communications relay, an automatic identification system (AIS), and visual detection and ranging (VIDAR)–a surface search capability.”

Interesting that it includes a laser pointer on the Coast Guard aircraft because that is usually used as a designator for laser homing weapons.

“The Era of the New Cutters”

This was a three page story, most of which is familiar to regular readers of this blog, but there was one nugget I had not seen before. “…the Coast Guard still will need to pursue a service-life extension program on six of the ships to ensure sustained fleet capability until the OPC program is finished.”

This almost certainly refers to the service life extension program (SLEP) for 270 foot WMECs. This is, I believe, the first time I have seen a number of ships mentioned, so not the whole class of 13. Notably it is only six so don’t expect a SLEP for 210s. They will soldier on in their current configuration until their long delayed retirement.

“Japan To Build Six Patrol Vessels For Vietnam’s Coast Guard” –Naval News

Japan Coast Guard(JCG) PL42 Dewa. Photo credit: Wikipedia, No machine-readable author provided. Sizuru~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims).

Naval News reports that,

The Vietnamese government signed an agreement with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) on July 28 to finance a project to build six patrol vessels for the Vietnamese Coast Guard (VCG). The vessels, based on the Aso-class of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG) will be built in Japan.

There are some things that are noteworthy here.

  • Japan has started providing assistance to many of its neighbors and helping to strengthen their coast guards seems to be a favorite method. Helping the Philippines here and here. Malaysia here.
  • In this case it is in the form of a very low interest loan (0.1%) with generous repayment terms, to have ships constructed in Japan (good for the Japanese shipbuilding industry).
  • The speed of construction is also noteworthy, six ship with the last to be delivered Oct. 2025.
  • The cost of each of these 79.0 m (259 ft 2 in) cutters is about the same as that for our Webber class WPCs.

The ASO class has not been built since 2006, but they are smaller and presumably cheaper than the larger classes of Japanese Coast Guard large patrol vessels (PL) that followed. The class was built shortly after the Battle of Amami-Ōshima and apparently incorporated lessons from that engagement including a heavier weapon, the Bofors 40mm/70, and ballistic protection for selected areas of the ship. They are also relatively fast at over 30 knots.

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.

Coast Guard Awards Contract For Cutter Boats

The following is a quoted from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) web site. The boats referred to here do not seem to be the same as the Over the Horizon Boats currently being used on Bertholf class NSCs and Webber class FRCs discussed on the linked page. An earlier release available here outlines the Request for Proposal, indicating an intent to replace an existing fleet of 36 boats, with total procurement of up to 46 boats over the next five years.


The Coast Guard awarded a firm-fixed price indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity contract Aug. 30, to MetalCraft Marine U.S. Incorporated of Cape Vincent, New York, for a fleet of cutter boats-large (CB-L).

The contract has a maximum value of $20 million and allows for the acquisition of more boats over an ordering period of five years. The initial delivery order for two CB-Ls, trailers, delivery, training and associated logistics documentation was placed for approximately $590,000.

The CB-L will replace the current fleet of 24-foot cutter boats in service onboard 210-foot medium endurance cutters, 225-foot seagoing buoy tenders, and Coast Guard Cutters Alex Haley and Mackinaw. The boats will support operations on the East, West, and Gulf Coasts, as well as in Hawaii, Guam and Alaska.

“We are very excited about getting this asset out to the fleet,” said Cmdr. David Obermeier, deputy program manager for boats acquisition. “A single boat class for multiple cutter classes will provide enhanced operational flexibility.”

For more information: Cutter Boats program page