ASW on Small Craft

The 425 ton, 187 foot corvette HMS Gävle of the Swedish navy in Visby harbor. To be fitted with the Kongsberg Maritime ST2400 variable depth sonar.  Photo by Mr Bullitt

It seems warships are getting bigger all the time, but technology can sometimes make it possible to do more with less.

If we ever again face a submarine threat, there will never be enough destroyers and frigates to meet all the needs. The larger Coast Guard cutters will certainly be pressed into service, but there may also still be a need for protection of ports, coastal traffic, or choke points. These are prime submarine hunting areas. The Webber class might be adaptable to meet this need.

Certainly we would not I expect to see these on Cutters any time soon, but I wanted to point out the possibilities. Adding any ASW sensor, with the possible exception of the hull mounted sonar, would probably require that we land the 26 foot boat.

Below are three examples of ASW sensors applicable to small vessels. Most of the sensor technology comes from ASW helicopters, which like patrol boats, are limited as to space and weight. While helicopters can provide rapid response and movement, patrol boats have the advantage of persistence, including the ability to drift for days at a time.

We have already discussed how tubes for light weight torpedoes might be fitted to the Webber class for use against surface vessels. They could of course also be used against submarines.

Elbit Systems:

Elbit Systems’ Seagull unmanned surface vessel (shown firing a light weight torpedo) recently exhibited its anti-submarine detection capabilities using a dipping sonar rig and proprietary software.

The smallest is actually aboard a 39 foot unmanned boat, but it includes both a sensor in the form of a dipping sonar and an ASW torpedo weapon system.

Dipping sonars are a common feature on most ASW helicopters. The current US Navy system is the Airborne Low Frequency Dipping Sonar (ALFS) subsystem. ALFS began life as a Thales system.

Kongsberg Maritime ST2400 VDS variable depth:

Presentation of the Kongsberg Maritime ST2400 VDS variable depth sonar in the video above time 12:00 to 13:50

NavyRecognition reports this system is to be fitted on the Swedish Navy’s two remaining Göteborg class corvettes, which are already 24 to 27 years old. They are 20% larger than the Webber class, but they also are equipped with:

  • 1 × Bofors 57mm Mk2
  • 1 × Bofors 40mm/L70
  • 8 × RBS15 MkII AShM
  • 4 × 400 mm tubes for Type 43/45 torpedoes
  • 4 × ELMA Antisubmarine grenadethrowers
  • Mines & Depthcharges

Thales BlueWatch and CAPTAS-1

DefenseNews announced a new ASW sensor suite for ships as small as 300 tons that might include both a hull mounted sonar based on the same transducer currently used on the currently used dipping sonar, ALFS, and a towed sonar with a both an active transmitter element and a towed linear towed array receiver, the CAPTAS-1.

Thales Blue Watch Sonar System. (A hull mounted version of the AN/AQS-22.)

 

 

The U. S. Coast Guard in the South China Sea: Strategy or Folly?–CIMSEC

CIMSEC has a brief discussion of the possibility of deploying a Coast Guard presence in the South Chia Sea.

First let me say, I don’t think using cutters for Freedom of Navigation demonstrations would be an improvement. Our warships have every right to be there. Substituting Coast Guard Cutters to be less offensive to the Chinese might be seen as a sign of  weakened resolve, and it would be a whole lot easier for them to make a move against a cutter than a DDG.

The presumption in these discussions seems to be, that if we do put a presence in the South China Sea, it will be a large cutter. There is another alternative. If we want a Coast Guard presence in the area, perhaps we should start small. We could move three 110 foot WPBs to a port in the South China Sea. When enough Webber class become available, we could replace the WPBs with the newer WPCs and donate the 110s to a navy or coast guard in the area. (It would not hurt if some of the members of the WPB crews were of Asian descent.)

They could do the same kind of capacity building our cutters in South West Asia do. They could help with local fisheries enforcement, particularly the increasingly aggressive members of Chinese maritime militia units. If our cutters occasionally provide force protection or operate with a DDG conducting a Freedom of Navigation Exercise, that’s good too.

 

 

Interview with Commandant

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Federal News Radio has an interview with the Commandant. There is a short written summary here or you can listen to it on their page or above. Some interesting developments with regard to drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific. Sea story about actual employment of a sea based Unmanned Air System.

Interestingly he again refers to Russia arming Icebreakers so I think perhaps we may see some movement to arm or at least make provision for arming our new icebreakers.

Libyan Coast Guard Sinks Tanker

We have reports from NavalToday and Maritime-Executive that the Libyan Coast Guard, using a 30mm auto-cannon, opened fire on and sank a Russian owned, Comoros-flagged oil products tanker, the GOEAST, believed to have been smuggling Libyan oil.

It is not the first time the Libyan Coast Guard has used deadly force, and apparently not the first time the GOEAST’s parent company has been accused of smuggling.

I found this particularly interesting because it seemed to contradict my long held belief that the Coast Guard is unlikely to be able to forcibly stop, much less sink, a medium to large merchant ship in a timely manner with gun fire if it were employed in a terrorist attack. There are many questions about the sinking for which I have not seen answers. What might this incident say about our own ability to stop a terrorist attack using a merchant ship?

The GOEAST was a small and elderly tanker. Admittedly a terrorist organization is more likely to have control of a ship like this, than a larger and more modern vessel. It displaced 9700 tons and was built forty years ago in 1977. It would have been considered relatively large in WWII, but not now. We don’t know its state of maintenance, but it was probably poor. We don’t know how it was loaded, incomplete or asymmetrical loading, and the resulting free surface effect may have contributed to its loss. We don’t know how long it took to sink or how long it could steer and make way. Even after being damaged, could it have completed a terrorist mission before sinking?

The actions of the Libyan Coast Guard were probably an excessive use of force. We have no information about what happened to the crew of the amount of pollution that resulted. Whatever the justification for the attack on the GOEAST, it is good to see a degree of success in using a relatively small gun to stop a sink a ship, but there are reasons why we may not be able to take much comfort in this example.

The Libyan Coast Guard vessel appears to have been a former Italian Bigliani II  class patrol boat equipped with a twin Oto Melara-Mauser 30mm gun.

The Bigliani IIs are not big ships. They are 84.7 tons full load and 27 meters (88.6 feet) in length, 6.95 m (22.8 feet) of beam, with a draft of 1.26 m (4.13 feet). That is actually  slightly smaller than our 91 ton full load 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. This illustrates that even our small patrol boats could carry much heavier weapons.

The 30mm gun, visible in the video has a relatively high rate of fire, but that is largely irrelevant for our purposes (unless we are being shot at) since even our 180 round per minute chain guns can exhaust their ammunition in only a few minutes.

The 30mm gun fires common NATO rounds which include the armor piercing fin stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS-T) round that A-10 Warhogs use against tanks. Compared to our 25mm gun’s corresponding APDS-T round, the 30mm has a higher muzzle velocity and weighs 71.6% more. This long rod tungsten penetrator is more likely to be able to disable a ship than even our 57mm rounds, which may penetrate the hull but will likely explode before reaching the engine.

The tanker was not returning fire, which could have kept the patrol boat at a distance, and radially reduced the accuracy of fire.

I still have doubts about the ability of a gun to reliably stop a medium to large merchant ship with a determined crew. There are other alternatives, but an upgrade to a 30mm gun on our patrol boats and larger vessels would certainly increase our chances of success.

DARPA Tests TALONS from Webber WPC sized ship

NavyRecognition reports DARPA conducted a three day demonstration of the “Towed Airborne Lift of Naval Systems” (TALONS) aboard the Cyclone class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC-8).

The Cyclone class is very familiar to the Coast Guard, three of them including Zephyr, having been loaned to the Coast Guard. Ten of the class are now homeported in Bahrain alongside six USCG 110s. The remaining three are stationed in Mayport and regularly work with the Coast Guard performing drug interdiction. As built they were slightly smaller than the Webber class, but most, including Zephyr, were lengthened and are now slightly larger than the Webbers (387 tons vs 353)

We have talked about TALONS previously here and here.

Reportedly they are working toward a fully automated launch and recovery system that would make the system even easier to use. The installation on Zephyr looked rather neat.

Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities–House Subcommittee Hearing

 

The hearing recorded above was held 7 June. The original video was found here. That page also provides the chairman’s opening statement and links to the witnesses’ written statements that are also provided immediately below. The video does not actually start until time 4:30.

Below, you will find my outline of the highlights.

Witness List:

  • Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director, Acquisition Sourcing & Management Team, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. John Acton, Chairman, Coast Guard Affairs Committee, Navy League of the United States | Written Testimony

The GAO’s written testimony is particularly comprehensive. They report that new assets (NSCs and FRCs) are not meeting planned availability. There have been an unexpected number of engine replacements. In the case of the National Security cutters it appears to me the down time was predictable, a normal part of introducing new ships and availability should return to planned levels as more ships join the fleet. The known defect, that when operating in waters 74 degrees or warmer, the NSCs cannot maintain maximum speed has apparently not been corrected. Max speed must be reduced two to four knots to allow adequate cooling.

Planning Documents:  The Congressional Representatives repeatedly complained that they were not getting an unsensored statement of the Coast Guard’s needs. It appears the Coast Guard is not being allowed provide this information. Rather it appears the GAO is telling the Coast Guard how much they will be getting and told to submit a budget that fits the predetermined amounts. Reportedly the Unfunded priorities list will be provided by the end of June. They also asked for the 5 year and 20 year plan (1h04:30). Coast Guard representatives were repeatedly told the Coast Guard does not say what they really need, that information provided by the Coast Guard is inadequate for the sub-committee to make decisions (1h48m).

It appears that the GAO continues to ask the Coast Guard to plan procurements based on historically low AC&I appropriations that were adequate for a time because of the sporadic character of Coast Guard ship building. They acknowledge that the current budget is not realistic. (43:45)

The Coast Guard is now consistent in requesting $2B in the AC&I annually and a 5% annual increase in its operating budget and that we need 5,000 additional active duty billets and 1,100 addtional reservists. There was a statement from one of the Representatives to the effect, We need you to fight for yourselves (1h50:30). The representatives were informed that the 5 year, 20 year plans and unfunded will be delivered together (1:56)

My opinion: we need a regularly revised Fleet Mix Study. That in turn should feed directly into a 30 year ship and aircraft procurement plan

Webber Class WPCs: The Coast Guard is reportedly pushing WPCs operations down as far as the coast of South America. (50:00) This confirms my earlier speculation that these ships would be operated in what had been WMEC roles. Six cutters for CENTCOM The representative confirmed that they had approved procurement of six Webber class requested by CENTCOM. Apparently their approval was in the form of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill which has still not been made law. Adm. Ray stated that these would be in addition to the 58 currently planned (9:30) and it is not clear how or when they would be funded. Adm Stosz indicated it was not certain six Webber class would be the Coast Guard’s choice in how to fill this requirement and the question required more study. (1h11)(1h41m).

Shore Facilities: Reportedly there is a $1.6B shore construction backlog. $700M shore facilities maintenance backlog. Some infrastructure improvements that directly support new operational platforms.are being accomplished under the platform programs (55:00) The representatives asked, why we have asked for only $10M if the total shore facilities backlog is $2.3B?(1h35)

Icebreakers: The possibility of leasing the commercial icebreaker Aiviq is still being considered. (1h27) The owners have offered a plan for Ice trials and the Coast Guard has said it would be interested in observing. (1h29:50)

Great Lakes Icebreaker: Rep. Lewis brought up icebreaker for Great Lakes.Adm Ray says for now we will address with the existing fleet. (1h00:30) Priority is still Polar Ice Breakers.

eLoran: There seems to be considerable interest in eLoran to deal with GPS vulnerabilities. (1:22) The Navy League representative supported the need. The Re-Authorization Bill directs Secretary of Transportation to initiate E-Loran testing. There was a clear anticipation that the Coast Guard would support implementation.

Coast Guard Health Care: Looks like the Coast Guard heath care records system which reverted to paper now may be able to piggy back on the VA’s conversion to the DOD system. (1h25)/(1h32:30) There is currently a major gap in funding for medical care of CG retirees

A Better Armed Coast Guard: Not that the Representatives were specific, but there was a statement, “We want to weaponize you.” (5:55) I think I heard essentially a second time as well. I’m not sure what that means.

Rising Sea Levels: There was concern expressed regarding rising sea level and how they might impact shore facilities (1h12:20)

WMEC Service Life Extension: The Coast Guard was given money several years ago to plan a service life extension program for 270. The Congress has not seen or heard any result and they questioned, why delay? (1:09) See fig. 4 on page 17 of the GAO’s written testimony

Operating Expenses: Replacement ships are costing more.(26:25)(50:55). This is becoming problematic without an increase in operating budget.

Changing the way we buy ships: Included in the Reauthorization Bill are changes in the way the Coast Guard can fund its shipbuilding, putting us on par with the Navy (5:50)

Cyber: Budget includes 70 additional billets. (19:45)  What are we doing for the ports? (1h13:45)

Inland Tender Fleet: Budget includes $!M to investigate alternatives. (52:30) (1h19)

It is remarkable that there seemed to be no sentiment that the Coast Guard budget should be cut, while there was considerable evidence the Representatives believe the Coast Guard is underfunded.

Contract Award for FRC 39-44, Thoughts on Patrol Craft

Coast Guard Cutter Bailey Barco (WPC-1122) enters San Francisco Bay during the 6,200-mile trip from Key West, Florida, to its homeport in Ketchikan, Alaska, April 28, 2017. The cutter is the second fast response cutter based in Alaska. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Following is quoted verbatim news from the Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) Website.

Acquisition Update: Coast Guard Exercises Contract Option For FRCs 39-44

June 16, 2017

The Coast Guard awarded a $289 million contract option to Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, Louisiana, June 9 for the production of six more fast response cutters (FRCs). This option award brings FRCs 39-44 under contract with Bollinger. The current FRC contract contains options for up to 58 cutters and is worth $1.5 billion if all options are exercised.

The Coast Guard is acquiring 58 FRCs to replace the 1980s-era Island-class 110-foot patrol boats. FRCs feature advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment; over-the-horizon cutter boat deployment to reach vessels of interest; and improved habitability and seakeeping. The cutters are designed for multiple missions, including drug and migrant interdiction; ports, waterways and coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense.

Twenty-two FRCs are in service, with six stationed in Miami; six in Key West, Florida; six in San Juan, Puerto Rico; two in Cape May, New Jersey; and two in Ketchikan, Alaska. Future FRC homeports include: Pascagoula, Mississippi; Atlantic Beach, North Carolina; San Pedro, California; and Honolulu.

Note a few things:

  1. While this is not the total cost of the vessel, the shipyard cost is less than $48.2M. As I recall this is a decrease from previous buys, reflecting the maturity of the program and the decision to order six at a time.
  2. This is presumably FY2017 money and it leaves 14 vessels for future funding. Both the previous and current administration have consistently requested four or fewer vessels be funded, but the Congress has been fairly consistent in funding six per year. It seems likely the remaining 14 will be funded over the next three years. If so all 58 will be fully funded by FY2020.
  3. Bollinger is delivering at a rate of five per year. We just commissioned #22, so we can expect the last of the currently planned 58 in FY2024.
  4. The first three of the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPB were commissioned in 1998. It was 26 years from the commissioning of the first 110 to the commissioning of the first Webber class WPC. If there is a similar 26 year span from the first 87 footer to the commissioning of the first of its replacement class, we should see that boat come on line in FY2024, just as Webber class construction is ending. To make that happen, we need to start market research and planning in FY2021, the year after the last WPC is funded or FY2022 at the latest.
  5. There is talk of building six additional WPCs to replace the six 110s currently in Bahrain. I’ll have more on this later.