Is the Fleet Shrinking?

Is the Fleet Shrinking?

I got curious and did a small survey of the fleet size using resources I had at hand (that’s why I used 1982 instead of the more logical 1980). So here is a comparison of the  fleet composition in 1982, 1990, 2000, and 2010 with some notes about the future. To make the information more meaningful, I have grouped the ships in categories by displacement and provided subtotals of all the ships in that category or larger. There is a more specific evaluation of patrol vessels near the bottom.  My sources are at the foot.

(note: loa is length over all.  tons (fl) is full load displacement)

Type         Class               loa    tons (fl)      1982    1990    2000    2010

WAGB     Healy              420    16,000          –           –             1           1
WAGB     Polar               399    12,087           2          2            2           2
WAGB     Glacier            310      8,449           1           –            –            –
=> 8,000 tons                                                  3         2           3           3
WAGB     Wind               269      6,515            2          –             –            –
WAGB     Mackinaw      290      5,252             1          1            1            –
WMSL     Bertholf          418      4,306              –          –            –            2
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Guns vs. “The Swarm”

When I first saw the video of the Bertholf’s trial of the Phalanx Close In Weapon System (CIWS) against a small fast surface target, I was a bit disappointed to see the wide dispersion of projectiles, knowing how small a cruise missile, seen end on, would be, but it didn’t think a lot about it. This blog post (post is not longer available, Chuck) has caused me to look at the trials in a different light, and I find it a bit disturbing.

Paired with the video of the Bertholf’s trial is one of a new Navy Guided Missile Destroyer engaging unmanned fast surface drone targets. His conclusion is that apparently we still have a problem with reliably stopping small boats.

I imagine both exercises were considered successful, and undoubtedly the targets in both videos were hit several times. Being on one of these boats would have been very dangerous, but the fact remained that the boats seemed to loose none of their speed or maneuverability.

I would like to be able to say that the failure to stop the boats was due to exercise artificialities, that there was an intentional offset in bearing or range so that we avoided hitting the target, but that does not seem to be the case. Or perhaps we were using practice ammunition that could not penetrate the target which service ammunition would have?

Several years ago the Navy had a landmark exercise in which a Carrier Battle Group was set upon by a swarm of small boats that got a mission kill on the Carrier. Ever since that exercise and the attack on the Cole, they have started paying attention to this type of attack. Countering swarms of small boats was a primary mission driving the creation of the of the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). The Iranian Revolutionary Guards expect to use swarm tactics.

I pulled the videos out separately if you would like to get a better look at them. Here is the Bertholf’s trial, which, judging by the delay from the gun firing until the fall of shot, appeared to be at ranges beginning at about 3000 yards and ending at about 1,000 yards.

Here is the video of the USS Howard (DDG 83)’s layered defense exercise of 25 September 2005 using 5″, 25 mm, and .50 cal in addition to the CIWS, which began at a bit over 7,200 yards.

Realistic testing and training, along with a realistic assessment of your probabilities of success are essential to good tactical decision making. Why weren’t we able to stop these boats?


When the new Bernard C. Webber class Fast Response Cutters are commissioned, I hope we will use the traditional designation for this type, “WPC” rather than “WFRC.” The “PC” type designation is widely recognized. Using “WFRC” would have people outside the CG (and probably more than one inside) scratching their heads.

There is a long history of WPCs in the Coast Guard. Currently we have the three WPCs of the Cyclone Class that were originally built for the Navy, that are virtually the same displacement as the Webber class. More importantly, before that, we had the  33 units of the 125 ft Active class, and the 17 units of the 165 ft Thetis Class like the Icarus and Triton, that were also the same size as the Webber Class.

PCs are typically a bit larger than PBs, making them clearly distinct from the 87 ft WPBs and the 110s WPBs  that will remain in the fleet until replaced.

It may seem trivial, but this is about both a historical link to successful cutters of the past and the integrity of a designation system that goes back almost 100 years.

Israeli Navy Developments, with possible CG connections

Thought some of you might find this article interesting.  It touches on a number of items that might be interesting.

The Typhoon gun mount, now being equipped with the Spike ER missile system, is the same mount planned for installation on the Fast Response Cutter under the US designation Mk 38 Mod 2. This mount has lots of interesting non-military potential as a search, survaillance, and navigation aid as well.  I would think we would want in on the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC).

It discusses how the Israelis are dealing with the threat of booby trapped fishing vessels that have been used in three attacks on boarding vessels.

It talks about development of a persistent, radar equipped maritime version of their Heron high altitude UAV. This might be an alternative for the CG.

It reports how the Israelis are using kits to convert RHIBs to unmanned armed surveillance craft.

It also notes that the Israelis are in the market for a ship about the same size as the Offshore Patrol Cutter, and because the money will likely be provided by the US, there is a good chance it will have to be built in the US.  There might be an opportunity for cooperation here.

US/Finish/German Naval Construction Research on Aluminum Ships

Here is a tidbit about a navy program looking at ships of Coast Guard size. It appears they are looking to tap into Finish/German expertise on Aluminum hulled ships, and find out a bit more about how they age and how damage resistant they are. As part of the research they are going to do a SINKEX on two Finish Fast Attack Craft (FAC).

A footnote in CG history from 1935-38

Found a bit of history with a CG slant, that I was not aware of. It starts in 1935 and involves Guano, Amelia Earhart, politically connected Pan American Airways founder, Juan Trippe, and several Coast Guard cutters in an effort to grab islands on the air route from Hawaii to New Zealand before the British could claim them. In 1979 these islands were ceded to the newly formed nation of Kiribati.

More news on the 123 WPB front

As reported here there is more news on the 123 WPB legal fight:

“Yesterday the United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division denied a motion to dismiss Deepwater whistleblower Michael DeKort’s false claims act suit against Integrated Coast Guard Systems LLC (ICGS) and Lockheed Martin Corporation. The court has not prevented the case from moving forward, finding that DeKort’s allegations to be true, ‘well-pleaded factual allegations.'”…

Check the link for more details and background.

Can-Do-itis, Can it be cured?

When we talked about the requirements for an Arctic Patrol Vessel, I had suggested that in this harsh and unforgiving environment, there would be circumstances when we would want to launch two helos or at least have a second helo on standby on deck. (Long range, far from help, marginal weather.) The response was that one helo would be enough.

Spoken like a true operator. Yes, Coast Guardsmen take calculated risks all the time. There is a mission to do. We have only one helo available. It would be better to have two, but that is not an option, so we go with one. We get away with it, so next time, we also go with one without even thinking about it. It becomes the standard.

But step back.

When we are in the procurement phase, we need to change our mind set. Having two helos is an option. The question is fundamentally different. I think the Coast Guard has been suffering from “Can-Doitis.” This is why we are still using ships that should have been replaced 15 years ago. Why our budget is being cut while the Navy’s is being increased. Why we must now decommission five ships before their replacements come on line. (Frankly, I think the decision to do so reflects refreshing realism on the part of the leadership, but it is why we got in this mess.)

I hope the operators’ attitude never changes, but when the operator moves to the position of stating our needs, the question has to change. Not, “If I have only this, are the risks acceptable?” but “What do we really need to do the job safely, reliably, and consistently without making unreasonable demands on our people?”

If we go to the administration or Congress and ask for the minimum we can get away with, we will never get more than the minimum. Worse yet, they will assume we have padded our request and will be only too happy to cut it further.

When our leadership decides that we can make do, they are not deciding for themselves. They are deciding for young people that we frequently demand too much of, the engineers that are working 18 hours a day, when they should be with their families, to get an ancient and unreliable plant ready to sail thousands miles from home, for the crew of a 110 that is, in fact, going in harms way, or the crews of cutters responding to the earthquake in Haiti only to have their ships fail them.

It is difficult, but going from the field to deciding what the service should ask for, means going from heroic, impetuous youth to being an overprotective parent looking out for the safety and well being of our most important asset, our people.