“Operation Kurukuru: USCGC Washington supports “noble cause” through teamwork” –D14 PAO

Below is a news release, quoted in full. A few points to note.

  • the huge area involved
  • Pacific Islanders need help to make this work
  • involvement of Australia
  • enforcement seems to be having an effect
  • Coast Guard is making a long term commitment

There is also information about the FRCs scheduled to go to Guam.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 14th District Hawaii and the Pacific
Contact: 14th District Public Affairs
Office: (808) 535-3230
After Hours: (808) 265-7748
14th District online newsroom

Operation Kurukuru: USCGC Washington supports “noble cause” through teamwork

Operation Kurukuru Operation Kurukuru USCGC Washington

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

Scattered clouds stretched across the sky, meeting the vivid blue Palauan waters on the horizon. The maritime law enforcement boarding team completes their final preparations on the fantail of the USCGC Washington (WPB 1331) as the small boat detail lowers the cutter’s ridged inflatable boat (RIB) into the water. Petty Officer 1st Class Ralph Pastore, Washington’s boarding officer, finalizes the details with the RIB’s coxswain, Petty Officer 3rd Class Michael Reo and Seaman Duke Joseph of the Palauan Division of Maritime Law Enforcement. Their target is a long-line fishing vessel making way about a half-mile off the cutter’s port bow.

Washington’s crew was patrolling Palau’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) as part of the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) Operation Kurukuru, a coordinated maritime surveillance operation. The operation’s goal is to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Success depends on the ability of partners, like Palau and the United States, to work together.

“This is my second time coming down here and working with a Palauan shiprider,” said Pastore. “Last time I was able to get a good idea of how they work both on land and out here on the ocean so it makes the job easier”

The operation, targeting the multi-million-dollar IUU fishing, was conducted from Oct. 7 to 18, across 8.2 million square miles. To put in perspective, that covers an area the size of Russia, India, and Egypt combined. Assets and crews from multiple counties were involved including the Washington, an HC-130 Hercules airplane and crew from Hawaii temporarily based out of Tonga, and an intelligence specialist working out of the Regional Fisheries Surveillance Center at the FFA headquarters in Honiara, Solomon Islands, where the joint operation was coordinated.

The 12-day operation saw around 132 sea days of active patrolling and 540 flight hours of maritime air surveillance. There were 131 total boardings both at sea and dockside, with only four violations found and no unknown vessels detected.

“The fact there were no unknown fishing vessels found with such thorough air surveillance converge and only four infringements imposed with such a high level of boardings is evidence that current regulations and law enforcement practices are working well with the four FFA operations leading the effort,” said the FFA Surveillance Operations Officer, Cmdr, Robert Lewis, seconded from the Royal Australian navy.

But what do those boardings look like? At sea, the team launches from the Washington and makes its way through the water to the fishing vessel. Upon boarding, the team’s interpreter speaks with the crew to ensure no human rights violations exist while Joesph talks to the master of the ship.

“I was looking for licenses, the fish log and also on deck we are looking for signs of catching sharks, shark fins, any parts of sharks, turtles and steel wires for fishing,” said Joseph after the boarding. “You’re not supposed to use steel wire for fishing.”

Kurukuru is a Japanese term meaning round and round. Fish are migratory animals and they annually travel throughout the Pacific providing an important renewable resource for Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs). As with anything of value, there will always be actors who wish to cut corners and skirt laws. IUU undermines efforts to conserve and manage fish stocks, presenting a dire threat to many PICT’s efforts to protect these vital resources for generations to come.

“I think for us Palauans, our nation is small, and we don’t have enough people and manpower to protect our waters,” said Joseph. “The waters are very big, so with the help of the United States and working together we can protect the waters for the Palauan people for the future.”

Bilateral shiprider agreements are a key tool for the Coast Guard 14th District. The United States maintains 11 of these agreements with Pacific Forum countries. By embarking ship riders, Coast Guard crews are able to support allies in the region and work toward expanded security addressing regional challenges to peace, prosperity, and social inclusion. These agreements also provide a framework to build valuable relationships between Coast Guard and PICT counterparts.

‘We were able to establish a nice camaraderie, especially with the Palauan national living with our crew,” said Pastore. “A shiprider is always a plus to have for us because we are able to sit down and ask questions Coast Guard law enforcement normally won’t be able to.”

Operation Kurukuru is one of Washington’s last operational patrols before being decommissioned in December. A number of the cutter’s crew will transfer to the three new Fast Response Cutters (FRC) scheduled to replace the cutter and its sister ships, Kiska (WPB 1336) and the already decommissioned Assateague (WPB 1337). FRCs are some of the Coast Guard’s newest platforms and are equipped with the latest technologies. The first FRC arriving in Guam will be the Coast Guard Cutter Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1339).

“Having experience in the area of responsibility will be beneficial,” said Lt. j.g. Victor Broskey, the Washington’s executive officer. “There’s quite a few crewmembers slated to be on the commissioning crew who served in Guam before, so I think the Coast Guard has set us up pretty well for the first crew.”

This retention of crewmembers in the area means the lessons learned from joint evolutions such as the one conducted between the Washington’s boarding team and Joseph will carry over to the new FRCs, ensuring the goodwill developed by the crew of the Washington will remain relevant.

With the information Joseph gathered from the boarding, Palauan authorities will be able to inspect the long-line fishing vessel when it pulls back into port. Thus ensuring the master is following the Palauan law by matching his records and his fish hold, contributing to the overall success of the efforts between the United States and its partners in the region to combat IUU.

As is usually the case in the Pacific, a successful operation depends on the teamwork between partners. The crew of the Washington strives to cultivate these critical relationships and lay additional groundwork for future joint activities. The cutter’s motto is “our cause is noble,” and throughout the ongoing efforts, the crew lives up to this saying, ensuring success in the region long after this cutter is replaced by new ships bearing the famous racing stripe and serving Pacific communities.

-USCG-

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.

Three Missile Armed Cutter X for Senegal, 20 Patrol Boats for Ukraine

OPV 58 S from PIRIOU

Two posts from Naval News. French shipbuilders are doing well in the patrol vessel market.

First, “The Ministry of Armed Forces of Senegal and French shipbuilder PIRIOU signed November 17 a procurement contract for three OPV 58 S for the Navy of Senegal. The vessels will be fitted with missile systems, a first for this African navy.”

Second, “The Government of Ukraine gave its green light for the procurement of 20 FPB 98 patrol vessels made by French shipyard OCEA.”

The Senegalese OPVs:

The ships for Senegal fall into that class significantly larger than the Webber class, but significantly smaller than the OPCs. They will be even a little smaller than the 210s. It would be at the lower end of a type, I have called cutter X, vessels with a crew and equipment similar to that of a Webber class FRC, but with better sea keeping and longer endurance. Specifications are:

  • Length: 62.20 meters (204′)
  • Width: 9.50 meters (31.2′)
  • Draft: 2.90 meters (9.5′)
  • Speed: 21 knots
  • Range / Endurance: 25 days, 4,500 nautical miles @ 12 knots
  • Hull / Structure: Steel / Aluminum
  • Accommodations: 48 (24 crew + 24 mission personnel)
  • Stern ramp for two RHIBs

For an Offshore Patrol Vessel, it is very well armed with:

  • A 76mm main gun on the Foc’sle
  • 4x Marte MK2/N anti-ship missiles forward, between the gun and the bridge
  • 2x 12.7mm manned manchine guns on the bridge wings
  • 2x 20mm remote weapon stations (Narwhal by Nexter) at the back of the bridge
  • A SIMBAD-RC surface to air system

The Marte MK2/N missile weighs 310 kg (682#) and is 3.85 metres (12.6′) long. The warhead weighs 70 kilogram (154 pound). The missile, has “an effective range in excess of 30 km, is a fire and forget, all weather sea skimming missile with inertial mid-course navigation through way points and active radar terminal homing. These missiles give these boats a range almost double that of the 57mm or 76mm guns.

SIMRAD-RC is a remote weapons station for launch of two Mistral missiles. Developed as a shoulder launched, Man Portable Air Defense (MANPAD) system, Mistral is a short ranged (6km) IR homing missile. It is claimed to be capable against a range of air targets as well as small surface targets.

Ukrainean OCEA FPB 98 patrol boat:

OCEA FPB 98 patrol boat (Credit: OCEA)

This is a deal, we discussed in July, when it appeared likely. I will repeat the description here.

They have a GRP hull and are powered by two 3,660 HP Caterpillar diesels using waterjets. Specs for vessels of this type sold to Algeria.

  • Displacement: 100 tons
  • Length: 31.8 meters (104’4″)
  • Beam: 6.3 meters (20’8″)
  • Draft: 1.2 meters (3’11”)
  • Speed: 30 knots
  • Range: 900 nmi @ 14 knots
  • Crew: 13

They will probably be equipped with a 20 to 30mm gun.

 

“US Builds Global Coalition to Protect Gulf Shipping” –Global Security

USCG Monomoy (WPB-1326) and Adak (WPB-1333), elements of PATFORSWA

Global Security reports that the US is attempting to build a coalition to escort merchant ships through the Straits of Hormuz.

We would almost have to assume that the WPBs of PATFORSWA would be involved.

It would not be surprising to see the Coast Guard contribute up to six already commissioned Webber class WPCs in the near future. These could ultimately replace the current 110s stationed in Bahrain rather than waiting for FRCs specifically procured to replace the PATFORSWA WPBs, but for the duration of escort mission, they would augment them.

I would like to see some modifications done to these vessels before they go, but it is a question of urgency.

The Webber class could make the trip on their own bottoms if needed, especially if escorted by an National Security Cutter.

 

 

“Ukraine, France discussing delivery of OCEA FPB 98 patrol boats ” –Naval News

A Suriname Coast Guard FPB 98 patrol boat (Credit: OCEA)

Naval News reports that Ukraine has announced they are in negotiations for joint production of 20 Patrol Boats to a French OCEA design for their “Sea Guard of the State Border Guard Service,” their coast guard. Sounds like it is a done deal with only minor details to work out.

As noted in the report, the Algerian Navy bought 21 of these and has ordered ten more.

They have a GRP hull and are powered by two 3,660 HP Caterpillar diesels using waterjets. Specs on the Algerian boats as follows.

  • Displacement: 100 tons
  • Length: 31.8 meters (104’4″)
  • Beam: 6.3 meters (20’8″)
  • Draft: 1.2 meters (3’11”)
  • Speed: 30 knots
  • Range: 900 nmi @ 14 knots
  • Crew: 13

Most of these boats are armed with a single auto-cannon forward. In most cases a 20mm, the Algerian boats have a 30mm. Given the Ukranians’ tensions with Russia, curious to see if they may choose to provide more weapons.

We have seen products from OCEA before. They provided four smaller patrol boats to the Philippine Coast Guard. These boats like those that went to the Philippines have provision for a RHIB launched by davit.

19 meter (62 foot) Motor Surf Boat, Maybe a Small Port WPB Alternative

Earlier, when I discussed  developing a WPB replacement, I was primarily concerned that in addition to a SAR response, that the Coast Guard in major ports have a response to unconventional maritime attacks by terrorists or other hostile forces. But there are also a number of WPBs in small ports where such attacks would have far less impact and consequently are far less likely. The US shipbuilder Metal Shark has new 87 foot patrol boats in series production for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) that were evolved from the Marine Protector class. They might fulfill the needs of these smaller ports. They appear to be relatively cheap. Looks like the last group had a cost per boat of about $4.3M each. That is way less than the approx. $60M we are paying for the more capable FRCs. Still there might be a better alternative,

A recent Marine Log report that the EU is buying nine large motor lifeboats to help the Turkish Coast Guard deal with their immigrant crisis, got me to thinking that perhaps, at these small ports, what is really needed is a larger motor lifeboat. Specs for the Damen designed Turkish Coast Guard boats are here. They are apparently a version of the Netherlands own motor lifeboat.

Damen SAR 1906 motor surf boats

There has been a lot of work on development of Motor Surf Boats since the 47 footers and the now over 50 year old 52 footers. Canada and the Netherlands have both made such craft over 60 feet in length. The RAFNAR hull form looks particularly promising. They may not be more survivable than the ones we have now, but they may be better in other ways. Where we don’t need the long term endurance of a WPB, we could have a boat of about Marine Protector class size or perhaps some what smaller, that could operate with a smaller crew, be faster, tow equally large or larger vessels, reduce G-forces on the crew, and still be able to operate in weather where the legacy WPBs could not. There might also be Foreign Military Sales potential for such a vessel. 

Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated May 22, 2019

Offshore Patrol Cutter future USCGC ArgusThe Congressional Research Service has once again updated their look at Coast Guard Cutter procurement.

I have quoted the summary below and will comment on some of the questions.

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests a total of $657 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2019 has funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. Six NSCs have been commissioned into service. The seventh was delivered to the Coast Guard on September 19, 2018, and the eighth was delivered on April 30, 2019. The ninth through 11th are under construction; the ninth is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $60 million in procurement funding for the NSC program; this request does not include funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $421 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard awarded a contract with options for building up to nine OPCs to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The second OPC and long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third were funded in FY2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $457 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth and fifth, and other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 56 have been funded through FY2019, including six in FY2019. Four of the 56 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four, a total of 52 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2019. The 32nd FRC was commissioned into service on May 1, 2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $140 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of two more FRCs for domestic operations.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  •     whether to provide funding in FY2020 for the procurement of a 12th NSC;
  •  whether to fund the procurement in FY2020 of two FRCs, as requested by the Coast Guard, or some higher number, such as four or six;
  •  whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
  •  the annual procurement rate for the OPC program;
  •  the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs; and
  •     the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.

Bertholf Class National Security Cutters (NSCs):

If there is going to be a 12th NSC, it almost certainly has to be funded this year. Future years will see the Polar Security Cutters and OPCs further crowding the budget. Frankly I see little to choose between the NSC and OPC for peacetime missions, but the replacement of the legacy fleet is becoming urgent and the price of the NSCs has decreased as funding became more regular, so a 12th might be reasonable. If we had started the OPC program earlier, it might have offered a lower cost alternative to additional NSCs, but we will not be ready to start multi-ship procurements of the OPCs until FY2021 and then only at the rate of two per year if we follow current planning.

Argus Class Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs):

There is probably good reason to accelerate the OPC program beyond the two per year currently planned to begin in FY2021. If we maintain that rate, the last 210 foot WMEC will not be replaced until 2028, the last 270 not until 2034. I expect we may see some catastrophic failures that will result in either sidelining ships or unacceptably high repair costs, before the program of record is complete.

The Coast Guard should plan on expediting testing of the first OPC so that production could move from the current contract with options to a true Multi-Year contract as soon as the design has proven successful.

We probably will need more than 25 OPCs. The Coast Guard has operated more than 40 cutters of more than 1,000 tons for decades. It seems likely we are going to need more than 36 total NSCs and OPCs. (See the discussion about the Fleet Mix Study below.)

Webber Class Fast Response Cutters (FRCs):

We are nearing the end of the Webber class program with 52 of the 58 program of record vessels, plus four additional vessels for Patrol Forces South West Asia (PATFORSWA), already funded. Buying only two for FY2020 raises the unit costs of these vessels. Congress has consistently increased purchases to four or even six per year when only two have been requested. Adding the final two additional FRCs intended to replace the 110s assigned to PATFORSWA would bring the total buy to four. That would leave only four to be purchased in FY2021 which could wrap up the funding. The question is, will Congress stop the program at the 64 vessels total when there may be justification for more?

Impact of Hurricane Michael: 

The Coast Guard budget is not the place to provide disaster relief for businesses. Maybe they have insurance. Maybe the state or Federal Government wants to provide aid, but renegotiating the contract for OPCs is not the way to do it. No way should it come out of the Coast Guard budget.

If on the other had we do renegotiate the contract, it is not to late to make it a “Block Buy.”

One solution might be for the contract to be converted to a block buy, using purchase amounts no more than current contract with options. That would assure the contractor and its creditor that they would have a steady stream of work. The contract might even have options for production of additional ships at rates higher than two per year.

We Need a New Fleet Mix Study:

The number of OPCs and FRCs actually required to fulfill Coast Guard statutory missions was examined in a fleet mix study (see pages 19 and 20 of the report) that found that the Program of Record (8 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 58 FRCs) fell far short of the number of vessels required to meet all statutory requirements. Phase One of the study (2009) found that the total “objective” requirement was 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs. Phase Two found that only 49 OPCs would be required but found the same requirements for NSCs and FRCs (see page 22).

The problem is that the analysis is getting pretty old and its assumptions were wrong. The Coast Guard will have at least 11 NSCs. The FRCs appear to be more capable than anticipated. Perhaps most importantly, the study assumed the NSCs and OPCs would use the “Crew Rotation Concept,” resulting in an unrealistic expectation for days away from homeport. From my point of view, the study failed to even consider the requirement to be able to forcibly stop a medium to large size ship being used as a terrorist weapon. None of our ships are capable of doing that reliably, and even our ability to stop small fast highly maneuverable ships under terrorist control is far from assured, even if the objective fleet were available.

The Procurement, Construction, and Improvements FY2020 budget request is about $1.2B. Adding NSC #12 and a pair of FRCs using the costs in the CRS report ($670M/NSC plus 2x$58M/FRC) which are probably high for the current marginal costs, would still leave the PC&I budget under the $2B/year the Coast Guard has been saying they need and about $250M less than the FY2019 PC&I budget.

For the Future:

While we are thinking about cutters, with the FRC program coming to an end, it is not too early to think about the 87 foot WPB replacement. I think there might be a  window to fund them after the third Polar Security Cutter if we have our requirements figured out. That means preliminary contracts such as conceptual designs have to be done during the same period we are building PSCs, e.g. FY2022 and earlier. .

To avoid always being constantly behind the power curve, as we have been for the last two decades, we really need a 30 year shipbuilding plan. The Navy does one every year. There is no reason the Coast Guard should not be able to do one as well. The Congress has been asking for a 25 year plan for years now, but so far no product.

Thanks to Grant for bringing this to my attention.