Navy Chooses Existing LCS Designs as Basis for Small Surface Combatant

Photo: A modified Littoral Combat Ship design based on the Lockheed Martin Freedom-class. US Navy Image. Click on the image to enlarge. Note the USNI post also includes an image of a modified Independence class LCS

USNI is reporting that the existing Littoral Combat Ship designs will be modified to become the new Small Surface Combatant. It is not clear if they mean they will continue to build two designs in parallel, or if they mean they will select only one of the two. Perhaps there will be a competitive bid.

In spite of apparently incorporating all the elements of both the anti-submarine and anti-surface modules plus over-the-horizon Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, it is reported they will have a lighter displacement than the existing LCSs. Surprisingly they apparently will not include VLS, but will include a multi-function towed array sonar, over the horizon ASCMs, upgraded radars, EW, and Cruise Missile decoy systems, torpedo countermeasures, a Mk38 Mod2 25 mm, and additional armor, in addition to the Mk110 57mm, two Mk46 30mm, Hellfire, MQ-8 UAVs and HM-60 helicopters. Both designs will use SeaRAM.

The question for the Coast Guard now is, how much commonality with this new class can be incorporated into the Offshore Patrol Cutter either as equipment actually installed or as equipment fitted for but not with? The more commonality that can be achieved, the more supportable the ships will be over the long haul.

The world seems to be becoming a more dangerous place, where the US may need every warship it can muster. We cannot afford the luxury of building the OPCs without wartime potential.

Sonar Systems for Vessels as Small as Webber Class WPCs

Photo credit: NavyRecognition. Thales CAPTAS 1

As expected, the EuroNaval 2014 trade show is offering some interesting products. This one might be of interest if the Coast Guard ever decides to get back into the ASW mission. Thales, maker of some of the most highly respected sonars in the world, is offering both hull mounted and towed active/passive sonars for vessels as small as 300 tons. The towed sonar is the CAPTAS 1, joining two previous members of a family of systems that share common technology. The Largest of these, the CAPTAS 4 is being evaluated for the ASW module for the LCS.

Submarines for Counter-Drug Ops?


There has been a report that the Colombians are purchasing two subs from Germany, and that “The U206s are critical to Colombia’s fight against the drug gangs’ semi-submersible vessels.”

I also see a need for ASW assets to deal with the problem, but the Type 206A subs are tiny, slow, and old enough to be Coast Guard Cutters (They have crossed the Atlantic for exercises). The newest entered service in 1975. Their systems have been updated, they do have passive detection systems, but there have got to be easier and cheaper ways to detect drug subs and self propelled semi-submersibles.

It will be interesting to see how they are actually used. If this does work, will the Coast Guard get their own subs?

(Photo credit Zatoichi1564 (talk) via Wikimedia Commons)

What Might Coast Guard Cutters do in Wartime? Part 2, Coast Guard Roles

This is the second of two parts. The first part focusing on what I believe are the current shortfalls in the US Navy force structure is here.

Since part one, additional cuts to the Navy’s plans have been announce. Attack submarines which have an important ASW role are now expected to decline from a current 55 to 40 in 2030 and all SSGNs will be removed from service. Additionally the Navy will prematurely retire seven cruisers and two amphibious warfare ships. The planned five year building program is going from 57 ships to 41.

Now we will look more closely at what Coast Guard Cutters may be called upon to do in future conflicts, what changes to our existing force might be prudent, and desirable characteristics for future cutters. Continue reading

Navy to Review Ship Needs–Opportunities for Cooperation?

File:BAMS-UAS.jpgAccording to Reuters, when the new Chief of Naval Operations addressed the Surface Navy Association on January 10, he offered some clues as to how he thought the Navy might address the changing environment and stated that a review of the Navy’s force structure is expected this spring.

There are a few areas where CG and Navy interests might intersect.

“The four-star admiral mapped out some areas of continued investment, including unmanned aerial and undersea vehicles…”

The CG could benefit, if Navy systems don’t become so sophisticated they are priced out of reach. Hopefully the Navy will apply their Broad Area Maritime Surveillance System (BAMS) (Navy illustration left) to areas of interest to the Coast Guard and the CG will be able to use it to help maintain maritime domain awareness.

“Greenert, who took over as the Navy’s top uniformed officer in September, told a packed audience that he made some changes to the Navy’s budget plan after visiting the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important shipping lane, which Iran last month threatened to shut off if new U.S. and EU sanctions over its nuclear program halted Iranian oil exports.

“He said funds were added for more mine warfare equipment, counter-swarm, and anti-submarine warfare.”

This could refer to mission modules for the Littoral Combat Ship program, but increased emphasis on ASW could mean another ship type may be needed. There could be an opportunity to share a hull with the OPC.

“Other priorities for the Navy in coming years included work on a next-generation destroyer to replace the Arleigh-Burke DDG-51 destroyers, a ship that he said would need a common hull and modular systems.”

So modular systems are being extended beyond the LCS program. This may be a way for cutters to have a meaningful war time role without the burden of maintaining weapon system on board in peacetime.

He also underscored the Navy’s interest in development of an anti-torpedo torpedo and new electronic warfare capabilities.

An anti-torpedo torpedo, might also be the basis of a system even small cutters could use for stopping large merchant ships.

OPC Draft Specs

Monday, June 20, was the deadline for industry comments on the draft specs for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). I wasn’t privy to the draft, but did have a limited opportunity to discuss them with someone who was, so I’ll offer my own, admittedly unsolicited, comments. Our last substantial discussion of the ships’ characteristics was here. The general description doesn’t seem to have changed much since the last presentation to industry–go here, and select “Industry Day Presentation” for a pdf of the slides.

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

The selection criteria (section M of the RFP) was not included in the draft. Perhaps the Coast Guard thought it would be premature, or perhaps they were unable to reach a consensus before the draft specs were released, but this was unfortunate, in that the vendors were unable to comment on how the selection criteria will influence the design. Additionally, in the interim they will be unable to proceed in any meaningful way, in formulation of the design.

The draft specs do define a range of characteristics, a minimum threshold and a higher desired level, but without a selection criteria, it is impossible for the vendor to determine if meeting the higher criteria will help him get the contract. Is it a significant selling point or just nice to have? If value is not specified in some way, it may mean that the minimums are the only truly relevant specifications. The selection criteria drives everything and unless you can define your priorities, and how much it is worth to you, it is unlikely you will get what you really want. One way to do this might be to assign a monetary value to higher levels of performance, with perhaps a formula for identifying the value of intermediate levels of performance. How much is going from an 8,500 mile range to a 9,500 mile range worth? To go 25 knots instead of 22? If you can’t decide this before the request for proposal (RFP), it’s going to be very hard to explain why you want to give the contract to a higher bid with more capability when it’s time to make the award. Ambiguity can lead to protracted legal disputes. Continue reading

18 March 1945, CG manned DEs Sink U866

The Naval History and Heritage Command noted, “On 18 March 1945, USS Menges (DE 320), USS Mosely (DE 321), USS Pride (DE 323) and USS Lowe (DE 325) sank the German submarine U 866 south of Nova Scotia.”

These four Destroyer Escorts were among the 30 manned by the Coast Guard.

Here is the story of one of them:

WASHINGTON DC 20374-5060


“Harry James Lowe, Jr., born 6 January 1922 In Paducah, Ky., entered naval service as a seaman apprentice 28 August 1940. He served in San Francisco from 6 December 1940 to 12 November 1942, when he was killed in action off the Solomon Islands when he refused to abandon his gun in the face of an onrushing Japanese torpedo plane. For his extraordinary heroism, Gunner’s Mate Third Class Lowe was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. (The torpedo plane crashed into his gun mount-Chuck) Continue reading

Shipbuilding, Dealing with Reality

The Coast Guard’s fleet of large cutters  is facing a budgetary “perfect storm,” and if it is to survive without a major reduction in numbers, a change in procurement strategy is required.

The NSCs cost as much as an entire year’s AC&I budget for vessels. An analysis of the Coast Guard’s FY 2012 budget request for vessels and the funding history of the National Security Cutters (NSC), funding only about one half the cost of an NSC each year, and with three more NSCs still to be funded, suggest it is unlikely the Coast Guard will see the first Offshore Patrol Cutter in 2019 as has been planned. In fact there is reason to believe the Coast Guard will not be allowed to proceed with the OPC program as currently envisioned.

There are rumblings that some parties want to kill the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program all together, and many of those who understand the need to replace old ships question why all of our replacements are notably larger than the ships they replace.

  • 378s, 3,050 tons, full load (fl) to be replaced by NSCs, 4,375 tons
  • 210s, 1050 tons (fl) to be replaced by OPCs, 2,500 to 3,000 tons
  • 110s, 165 tons (fl) to be replaced by RFCs, 353 tons

We haven’t generated the “Fleet Mix Study” that might justify these larger and more capable ships. Saying we need larger ships to provide better living conditions for the crew won’t cut it and frankly it does a disservice to our crews who have shown a willingness to accept spartan condition on shipboard, particularly since now most, if not all, will have a place to live ashore as well.

If we want to actually arrest and reverse the aging of the large cutter fleet and have a more capable fleet in the long run, we have to do something different, and we have to do it soon.

Additionally it appears that we may have funded enough NSCs and the Coast Guard needs a different kind of cutter to address the emerging new ways drugs are being smuggled.

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

Disclaimer by Acquisition Directorate (CG-9): (This) conceptual rendering (is) for artistic display purposes only and do not convey any particular design, Coast Guard design preferences, or other requirements for the OPC.

This is an alternative plan.

  • Stop NSC production at five or at most six ships and put them all in the Pacific.
  • Forget the Crew Rotation Concept (CRC), at least for now.
  • Kick start the OPC program by building the first six or seven as lower cost, smaller replacements for the remaining 378s and give them the sensors needed to find drug running semi-submersibles and true submersibles.
  • To provide “value added,” work with the Navy to make sure they have credible wartime mission capabilities.

NSCs go north, OPCs go south. NSCs will specialize in ALPAT while OPCs will specialize in drug interdiction, with at least some of them being made capable of interdicting true submersibles.

Normally it takes three ships to keep one on station, suggesting six NSCs to keep two on ALPAT at all times, but mixing in an occasional OPC during the summer months, 5 should be enough.

The OPC, at 2,500 tons or more, is a hard sell as a replacement for 1,000 ton 210s, but as a replacement for the 3,000 ton 378s, at what should be close to half the price of an NSC, the Coast Guard is clearly being a team player. This gets the program started and, in quantity, the price should start coming down substantially. After the first six or seven are built as 378s replacements, and they prove their worth, they may not be as hard to sell as MEC replacements as the economy improves.

Earlier posts (here and here) addressed multiple crewing of National Security Cutters and, following the numbers, demonstrated why, even if it works as planned, the current plan could only provide the equivalent of 10 conventionally manned cutters, not 12, and the total operating costs are likely to be higher compared to conventionally manned ships providing the same number of ship-days.

The only example I know of, where multiple crewing of complex ships works is the Fleet Ballistic Missile submarine program and there, the incentives to make it work are huge. Total numbers of submarines are limited by treaty so there is a desire to get maximum use out of an artificially limited supply and the capital cost per crew member is probably an order of magnitude greater than it is for Coast Guard Cutters. The Navy with all their experience does not attempt to multi-crew it’s attack submarines even though this is a closely allied program, again with a far higher ratio of capital cost to crew cost. If we want to try this concept, try it on the Fast Response Cutters first, where it is more likely to work, but kill it as a planning consideration for large ship procurement. Consider it just another hoax perpetrated on the Coast Guard by Integrated Deepwater Systems.

Since we started planning the new fleet of large cutter, our needs have changed. Drug smugglers have begun to change their tactics, using semi-submersibles and even true submersibles (here, here, here, and here). A ship equipped with a towed array and an embarked Navy MH-60R ASW helicopter detachment would substantial improve our chances of intercepting these.

Having a credible wartime capability can also help convince members of congress these ships are a worthwhile investment. Once we have given the ship a towed array and the ability to operate Navy ASW helos, at almost no costs we can add the ability to operate them in a war time role by insuring we have spaces appropriate for storing their weapons and other equipment, spaces that can be used for other purposes until required.  It also should not be difficult, working with the Navy, to insure they can accept at least some of the LCS Mission Modules.

A 2,500 ton OPC, as currently planned, is in many respects an excellent replacement for a 378 and it will have lower operating costs. More importantly, if the OPC program survives and goes on to replace the 210s and 270s, we will have a far more capable fleet overall.

We need to start this change with the FY2013 budget.


The Battle for Convoy ON-166, 25 February 1943

The Navy History Center is featuring a short narrative and photos from this classic convoy battle between eight escorts lead by Coast Guard Cutters Spencer and Campbell and 19 U-boats during the critical winter months of 1943.

For more information on the Coast Guard’s battles against the U-boats, there are a series of extensively captioned photos of 327s here, an accounting of “U.S. Coast Guard Combat Victories of World War II” which also lists significant losses is here, and a twenty page pdf on the Battle of the North Atlantic is here.

File:USCGC Spencer WPG-36.jpg
USCGC Spencer (WPG-36) in 1942 or 1943. Spencer sank U-175 with assistance of USCGC Duane, on April 17, 1943.


New Type Narco Sub–a “Snot Boat?”

Columbia claims to have found their first fully submersible narco submarine. Looking at the pictures and the specs given, its apparent that this is a different sort of craft. The claimed maximum dive depth is only three meters (10′) and there is what appears to be a permanently fixed snorkel 5 meters (16.5′) in length, meaning, even when at maximum depth, the top of the snorkel will be above the surface. Unlike the true submarine found in Ecuador, there is no mention of an electric motor. It’s not really a true submersible, but it’s not a typical semi-submersible either. It seems this craft is intended for “SNOrkel Transit” so my shorthand description would be that it is a “Snot boat.”

Continue reading