Selling (and Saving) the Offshore Patrol Cutter Project

Since seeing indications the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program may be in jeopardy (here and here), I’ve been thinking about how the program might be “sold.” There are a number of approaches that might be considered.

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

It Is a Money Saver

Get it started as an alternative to the NSC. As discussed in an earlier post (Rethinking the New Cutter Programs), we can get more new cutters on line more quickly if we truncated the NSC program at six and started the OPC program two years earlier. This could also be sold as a money saving step, in that we can probably get two OPCs for little more than the price of one NSC. There is very little the NSC can do that the OPC can’t. (If we include the features suggested below, the OPC will be able to do things the NSC cannot-further justifying the change.) This gets us “over-the-hump” of starting the program. Having built the first ships of the class it will be much harder to kill the project and much easier to revive it, if interrupted. The winning shipyard and their legislative representatives will work to keep the project going.  It will also mean the MECs and one HEC will be retiring at least a year earlier–the 210s will only be 54 to 56 years old.

Make the Consequences of Not Building Them Clear

Publish the decommissioning schedule. This should make the news in all the Congressional districts that will loose assets.

What is the performance difference. Publish an addendum to the latest “United States Coast Guard Fiscal Year 20XX Performance Report” showing the decrease in performance if there had been no MECs.

Publish a plan to scale back or delete missions if the the MECs are not replaced.

Pork with a Purpose:

An infrastructure (shipyard) program. It might be more expensive, but Congress can decide they want to spread the work around. They have been doing this, almost since the day the republic was formed. It would certainly be reasonable to say they wanted the construction contracted to more than one yard, perhaps even one West Coast, one East Coast, one Gulf Coast or some other split. As a stimulus program that also delivers a tangible good, building four a year, two each on the West and East Coasts would not be unreasonable. That this spreads the support base for the program wouldn’t hurt either. It might even promote some competition in the long term.

Mobilize our Allies

Mobilize the shipyards that hope to win contracts. They have political clout.

Get the fishing industry on our side. Some times they don’t like us, but we keep the foreign competitors out, and when there is a medical emergency or their boat starts sinking they’re mighty happy we are around.

Mobile the Navy League. Despite the name, this organization is a great ally of the Coast Guard as well, but I’ve yet to see us make the case for the OPC in the pages of their magazine.

Get the Navy to endorse the program. Not sure they will want to, but there are lots of reasons they should (Offshore Patrol Cutters, Why the Navy Should Support the Program), particularly if the design chosen has the potential to be a useful “low-end” warship. These are exactly the types of ships needed for partnership station, and they are the kind of ships many of our allies should include in their Navies and Coast Guards through Foreign Military Sales.

Strengthen the National Defense Angle

Bring back the ASW mission. Adding a passive towed array to the ship could help in our law enforcement mission, improving the chances of  detecting and tracking semi-submersibles, but the additional military capability could also make the ship easier to justify. Beyond the support for a passive sonar usable for law enforcement, the only additions needed for a credible ASW capability would be having magazine and other storage space for torpedoes, sono-buoys, etc. to support Navy MH-60R helicopters that would prosecute contacts. There is more than enough reason for rejuvenating American ASW assets. As illogical as a US/Chinese confrontation would appear, they have been acting increasingly bellicose. The Chinese Navy already has more submarines than the Germans had at the beginning of WWII, the largest submarine force in the Pacific, while we and our allies have far fewer escort ships than any time in at least the last 70 years. There seems to be a particular need for escort ships for the underway replenishment ships, normally unarmed and unescorted, as they move from the ports where they load their supplies, to the areas where they deliver them to forward deployed task forces. OPCs could perform that mission.

Use the LCS Module Concept. This is ideal for the Coast Guard because it makes the ships adaptable for war time roles without requiring the Coast Guard to maintain either the equipment or the people. It also potentially gives the ships greater flexibility to perform peacetime roles. This requires very little more than some open space, foundations, and bringing up connections for utilities.

The Back Story

As an alternative to the LCS. Not that we can take this as an official line, but if the LCS program continues to draw criticism, particularly if the OPCs are designed to accept mission modules, it is something friends of the Coast Guard can suggest. It has been suggested in the past:

On 5 July 2009, Retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Lyons, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, suggested the LCS “program should return to its original target of $220 million per ship and combine with the U.S. Coast Guard to build a dual-purpose ship with a credible integral combat system that can meet limited warfare requirements. This very different ship should be built in large numbers as part of the coming Ocean Patrol Cutter Program…Such a change would achieve huge savings for both the Navy and the Coast Guard tied to large production numbers. The funding saved from canceling the LCS could be used to procure the most capable high-end combatant ship with margins enough to allow future modernization.” –This could ally us with those in the Navy who would like to divert Navy money from the LCS program to other purposes.

Coming Soon-How We Got In this Mess

Navy Awards Contracts for 20 Littoral Combat Ships

T he Navy has awarded two contracts for construction of up to 20 Littoral Combat Ships at an average cost of approximately $440M each. In something of a surprise, the trimaran Austal design came in slightly below the Lockheed Martin offer.

“Lockheed Martin Corp., Baltimore, Md., is being awarded a fixed-price-incentive contract for the fiscal 2010-2015 block buy of Flight 0+ Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).  The fiscal 2010 LCS Flight 0+ ship award amount is $436,852,639.  There are additional line items totaling $54,742,639 for technical data package, core class services, provisioned items orders, ordering, a not-to-exceed line item for non-recurring engineering, and data items.  The total amount of the contract is $491,595,278.  The contract includes line items for nine additional ships and options for post delivery support, additional crew and shore support, special studies, class services, class standard equipment support, economic order quantity equipment, selected ship systems equipment for a second source and selected ship system integration and test for a second source which, if authorized/exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $4,570,604,367.  The cumulative value excluding any option items related to the second source is $4,069,913,166.  Work will be performed in Marinette, Wis. (56 percent); Walpole, Mass. (14 percent); Washington, D.C. (12 percent); Oldsmar, Fla. (4 percent); Beloit, Wis. (3 percent); Moorestown, N.J. (2 percent); Minneapolis, Minn. (2 percent); and various locations of less than one percent, each totaling seven percent.  Work is expected to be complete by August 2015.  Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year, except for fiscal 2010 RDT&E.  This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website with two offers received.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-11-C-2300).

“Austal USA, LLC, Mobile, Ala., is being awarded a fixed-price-incentive contract for the fiscal 2010-2015 block buy of Flight 0+ Littoral Combat Ships (LCS).  The fiscal 2010 LCS Flight 0+ ship award amount is $432,069,883.  There are additional line items totaling $33,398,998 for technical data package, core class services, provisioned items orders, ordering, a not-to-exceed line item for non-recurring engineering, and data items.  The total amount of the contract is $465,468,881.  The contract includes line items for nine additional ships and options for post delivery support, additional crew and shore support, special studies, class services, class standard equipment support, economic order quantity equipment, selected ship systems equipment for a second source and selected ship system integration and test for a second source which, if authorized/exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $4,386,301,775.  The cumulative value excluding any option items related to the second source is $3,785,807,006.  Work will be performed in Mobile, Ala. (50 percent); Pittsfield, Mass. (17 percent); Cincinnati, Ohio (3 percent); Baltimore, Md. (2 percent); Burlington, Vt. (2 percent); New Orleans, La. (2 percent); and various locations of less than two percent each totaling 24 percent.  Work is expected to be complete by June 2015.  Contract funds will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year, except fiscal 2010 RDT&E. This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website with two offers received.  The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity (N00024-11-C-2301).”

There is a good discussion of the implications here.

Coast Guard LEDETS and possibly Airborne Use of Force assets can expect to see a lot of these ships in the future for drug enforcement, counter-piracy, and partnership type missions.

There seems to be some surprise that they are getting a 3,000 ton ship for $440M (even though the rest of the world seems to do it for far less), but that doesn’t compare that well against the latest NSC contract for a 50% larger ship that cost less than 10% more. If we can maintain the same price per ton, approx. 2500 ton OPCs should cost about $270M. Perhaps if we could get a multi-year contract, they could be even less.

OPC–Some answers

Today, I’ll finish giving my answers to the questions I posed earlier.

My answer to the most basic question, “Why do we need them?” or in fact any large cutters, is here.

What missions will not get done if the program is canceled?

  • Drug Interdiction
  • Migrant Interdiction
  • Defense Readiness
  • Other Law Enforcement (foreign fisheries enforcement)
  • Living Marine Resources (domestic fisheries enforcement)

These missions are largely accomplished by the ships the OPCs are intended to replace and will be impacted severely if the OPC program is canceled.

“Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security” could also be adversely effected if the current terrorist threat levels take a turn for the worst.

Marine Safety and offshore SAR will also be adversely effected. Large cutters check compliance with commercial fishing vessel safety regulations on board U.S. vessels in isolated areas like the Western/Central Pacific and Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands. Additionally, flight deck equipped cutters with higher sea state capabilities are often essential for offshore SAR.

Are those tasks worth doing?

I have my own doubts about the efficacy of doing maritime drug interdiction, so I am not a fan of sending ships to operate off of Colombia, but that is only a small part of the drug enforcement effort, which is only a part of what these ships do. On patrol in the US EEZ, they are multi-mission resources, and if they are not involved in drug enforcement, they will be doing something else useful.

Frankly, I don’t think we have properly prepared for the possibility of our enemies using a medium to large ship to make an unconventional attack on a US port. Neither the ships we have now, nor the ships that we are building have weapons that can reliably stop a ship from reaching its objective. Nevertheless, adding the weapons that can do that, is easier and quicker than building ships. The ships are needed in any case, to hopefully intercepts inbound threats and make a determination if they are hostile before they get to our ports. (This likely requires attempting to stop and board the vessel.) The larger cutters, as opposed to patrol boats, are likely to make that determination further from the ports, giving us a better chance of successfully stopping an attack.

Offshore fisheries are already among the most dangerous professions in the US, I don’t think we want to make it any more dangerous.

Migrant Interdiction and Fisheries Patrols appear worthwhile, but ultimately the law makers are going to have to decide if the laws they have created are worth enforcing.

What can they do that you can’t do with the 154 ft Hero class fast response cutters (FRC)?

The new Fast Response Cutters are likely to prove unexpectedly useful, even so, they are certainly at a disadvantage compared to the OPC. Much less endurance. Much greater stress on the crew in even moderately bad weather. No helicopter facilities. Only one smaller, less capable ship’s boat. Smaller crews means less depth in the boarding teams, and less experience. OPCs can do boardings in more severe weather. The FRCs will also not have access to some of the intelligence resources that the OPC will have. In some limited circumstances, particularly operating in company with larger cutters, I think the FRCs will prove useful as a patrol asset, but bottom line, they are designed to “respond’ not to patrol.

Why don’t we let the Navy provide the ships, and “You can just put a detachment on board to do law enforcement missions.”

The Navy has been saying that they do not have as many ships as they need. They have about 288 and have repeatedly expressed a need for 313. Using Navy ships to do Coast Guard missions distracts them from their normal operations. Any navy ship used to replace an OPC is likely to cost more both to procure and to operate and will not have the benefit of the more focused and experienced Coast Guard Crew that routinely executes these missions.

Senators and Representatives will ask, “What’s in it for my constituents?”

  • For those concerned about the loss of American productivity, the program preserves the nation’s ship building infrastructure, including smaller yards that can’t build some of the more complicated Navy ships. Using more than one yard could foster competition while broadening political support for the program. Completion of these ships might allow a smaller shipyard to develop the skills and credibility to compete for more complex Navy contracts.
  • For those concerned about unemployment, the program can be thought of as a jobs program that also creates long lasting resources.
  • For environmentalists, these ships police fishing, protect endangered species, and support environmental policy.
  • For those concerned about terrorism and the National defense, in times of crisis these larger cutters will protect US ports from covert attack, freeing Navy ships for offensive roles.
  • For those concerned about the epidemic of drugs in the US, they help to curb the importation of illegal drugs.
  • For those concerned who advocate globalization, these ships insure that our part of the “global commons” are safe for commerce and the exploitation of our resources.

Why do they need to be so big and complicated?

The current concept is not much more complex than the 270s, and only slightly larger. Most of the additional complexity is to allow the ships to take advantage of intelligence resources which should also make them more efficient and effective.  I can even save fuel by pinpointing where the ship should be going instead of more random patrolling. Increasing size has only a small impact on life cycle costs, but it will make the ships much more capable than the smaller ships they replace.

Aren’t the current ships doing the job? Why can’s you build a simpler ship like the 210?

We can build simpler ships,  but depending on our choices they could be unable to catch up with a modern merchant ships, unable to use available intelligence information, unable to make a meaningful defense contribution, unable to use modern sensors, unable to function in severe weather, and unsurvivable in more demanding situations.

Do you really need that many?

25 is really is not that many. In fact it may not be enough. Even building 25 ships as planned the total fleet of large cutters is expected to drop from 43 to 33. The waters off the South Pacific islands and the rapidly expanding Arctic waters are already under served. The US has the largest EEZ in the world, but with only 33 ships, assuming 17 ships underway, their average patrol area would be over 200,000 nautical miles square.

Why don’t you buy Littoral Combat Ships and get economies of scale?

The average cost of Offshore Patrol Cutters are expected to be considerably less than the marginal cost of additional LCS. Perhaps more importantly, the LCS don’t have the endurance we expect from the OPC and their maintenance and operating costs is likely to be considerably higher (bigger ships, more complex and exotic propulsion). The LCS-1 FREEDOM class cannot use their diesels for more than cruising, and have to switch to very thirsty Gas Turbines for higher speeds. The LCS-2 INDEPENDENCE class trimarans have better diesel cruise performance, but their extreme beam, 104 feet, may be problematic for basing at existing Coast Guard facilities and will certainly be more expensive to dry dock.

The LCS manning concepts are yet to be proven and require unusually skilled crews that absorb a disproportionately large percentage of outstanding petty officers to man them, while providing little opportunity to “growing” junior enlisted into the highly qualified petty officer they require. That would have a more severe impact on a small service where these ships would constitute a much larger percentage of the total fleet.

Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Update, Nov. 2010

We have a bit more information since the last update in July. In addition to publishing a new conceptual design, the Acquisition Directorate held an industry day presentation and posted the slides as a pdf. If you would like to see the slides go here, and select “Industry Day Presentation.” Clearly they have not been sitting on their hands the last four months; there is substantially more specificity in the new briefing.

There is more detail on how they expect to award the contracts. The first ship is still expected in FY2019, which seems an awfully long way away. I might feel better about this, if we were making more progress on the National Security Cutter (NSC). If I understand the presentation (all subject to change of course), there will be two phases in the design process, first, up to three contracts will be awarded for competing preliminary designs (a two and a half year process), then after selection, a single contract will be awarded for detail design (a two year process) and construction of the first ship (a three year process with some overlap of the design process). This contract will also include options for ships 2-9. After #9 there will be another open competition for ships 10-25 (which you can bet, if they built the first nine ships the same yard will win). So it sounds like, as had been hoped, the Coast Guard will own the design and documentation shortly after the first ship is contracted, so there is a chance for real competition and the possibility of construction by multiple yards. This makes possible the sort of options discussed in “Rethinking the New Cutter Programs.”

There is a requirement the ships will be built for a projected Operational Tempo / Service Life of up to 230 deployed days for 30 years (this seems to imply multiple crewing); a fatigue Life of 30 years (threshold) –30 years +10 years (Objective); and a traditional monohull, hull form is specified, as is a steel hull and steel or aluminum superstructure.

Surprises and clarifications: Along with the the expected clarifications there were some surprises in the briefing,

  • There was a specific statement that there would be no stern launch boat ramp
  • The towing requirement now includes up to 10,000 LT through Sea State (SS) 2, in addition to equivalent tonnage through SS5
  • There is a cargo handling requirement for an organic capability to move single 5000 lb pallets between ship & pier and internally store 2 (threshold) / 10 (objective) 4’x4’x6’ high pallets
  • The requirement for total accommodations has increased to 120 (threshold) / 126 (objective) total racks capable of supporting mix gender crews with no more than 8 individuals (threshold) / 6 individuals (objective) per space
  • There is a requirement for .50 Cal ROSAM (and crew served machine guns) in addition to an aft minor caliber gun. ROSAM is a stabilized remote controlled mount and presumably the minor caliber gun will be a 25 mm Mk38 mod 2.
  • There is a requirement for a SCIF and a small space for signals intelligence exploitation. This is at least as important for law enforcement as it is for wartime.
  • In reference to the migrant interdiction mission, there is a requirement to embark, process and sustain up to 500 migrants for 48 hours and 300 migrants for 5 days; to provide a temporary shelter for protecting migrants from the elements in a tropical climate and which can be rigged on the forecastle (primary) and flight deck (secondary); and to be able to move migrants from embarkation point to holding location without entering interior spaces.
  • There is a “Rescue and Assistance” requirement to “Embark/debark large group of people directly from the water in SS3 (e.g. capsized migrant vessel with up to 150 people in the water)” and to “Bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own.” I’m not sure what that translates to. Will it require an opening in the hull near the waterline line, like on the NSC, with its attendant maintenance problems, or are we talking about having something like a basket and helo style powered hoist, or just J-davits and stokes litters?

There were things I did not see that I expected to. They included:

  • UNREP/Replenishment at Sea. The brief talks about underway refueling, but this is not specifically alongside. They do talk about “CG astern refueling” but that is not defined. Is the OPC being refueled or is the OPC refueling a WPB?
  • There is no stated requirement for a Helo In flight Refueling (HIFR) capability.
  • There is no stated requirement for an Air Search Radar. Its possible this could be covered by the gun firecontrol system, but rudimentary air search capability is now relatively inexpensive so choosing not to provide it is surprising.

There were things I had hoped for but didn’t see:

  • There was no provision for the support of Navy MH-60 R/S helicopters such as storage space for their sonobuoys and weapons. If these spaces were provided, they could certainly be used for storage of other items in until it becomes necessary. The specified endurance for the OPCs is already on the high side. Identifying spaces for this purpose and providing the required security systems would not necessarily take up more space. It would simply mean that when these spaces were used for support of embarked Navy helos, we would trade off some endurance in other areas.
  • 25 knots should be a minimum requirement, rather than 22 knots threshold /25 knots objective. Less than 25 knots and the ship will not be able to catch a modern cargo ship or work with an amphibious ready group.
  • There is no provision for containerized mission modules. Basically 8x8x20 CONEX boxes, the Navy is developing ASW and Mine Warfare modules for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), but modules could also be developed to support Coast Guard missions. Looking at the conceptual design for the OPC, it looks like there might be room for three or four of the boxes on the stern, in lieu of the third boat, and if properly configured, the boat crane on the stern might also satisfy both the organic cargo handling requirement and be able to launch and recover the LCS Mine Warfare and ASW mission module unmanned vehicles. Additional modules, as well a the required cargo pallets might be positioned under the flight deck.
  • Certainly the constructions standards will include some weight-moment margins, but too often these quickly disappear. I was hoping the specifications would call out some additional reservation for growth, including additional weapons for possible contingencies. Still the requirement to take on up to 500 additional people and possibly temporarily house them on the flight deck may provide such a margin, if it is recognized in the stability calculations. You would have to figure 500 people, averaging 150 pounds is 75,000 pounds or 37.5 tons on the flight deck, in addition to a helicopter and UAV(s). A Mk-144 RAM Guided Missile Launcher (GML) unit weighs only 12,736 lb 2 oz and stores 21 missiles. A Mk 15 Phalanx CIWS weighs 13,600 pounds. Presumably an 11 round “SeaRAM” with self contained fire control system should weigh about the same. A single Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile, with booster, weighs only 1,523 pounds, so presumably eight rounds with launchers or an 8 round vertical launch system would weigh less than 16 tons. In exchange for the capability of having 500 migrants on the flight deck, in wartime, the ship could carry substantial additional armament. The gun forward might even be exchanged for a 24 round vertical launch system or a 5″/62 Mk 45 to provide naval gun fire support.

The briefing talks a lot about the set of specifications the ship will be built to, “the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Guide for Building and Classing Naval Vessels (NVR) w/Coast Guard Appendix.” Generally I don’t think we are giving up much by accepting a lesser standard (or no standard) for shock, noise, and chemical, biological and radiological protection. In a naval environment, any significant hit on a ship this small is likely to take it out of action, and any torpedo hit is likely to sink it rapidly. Still, while I don’t have the specifics (or even access to the standard), I find the reduced requirement for equipment redundancy troubling and I think we need to be careful with this. It effects survivability in case of fire, grounding, or collision as well as wartime circumstances.

Today the “Cutterman” website, that I follow on facebook noted, “16 Nov 1992: The CGC Storis became the cutter with the longest service in the Bering Sea, eclipsing the U.S. Revenue Cutter Bear which had held that distinction since 1929. The Bear was decommissioned in 1929 after serving…for 44 years and two months.” It looks like long before they are replaced, over half of our existing large cutters will have broken that record.

Making the OPCs as versatile as possible, including planning in wartime potential, costs very little and gives more reason for the ships to be built, as well as increasing the potential for larger scale production in terms of foreign military sales and even possibly US Navy versions.

Whats next?

  • Specifications are to be released by the end of 2010
  • Draft RFP and pre-solicitation conference by end of June 2011

The Briefing did not talk about the rate at which these ships will be built, but there is ample evidence the thinking is two a year. As previously discussed, I think this should be reevaluated and the program accelerated. When shipbuilders bid on the contract for the detail design and lead ship, in addition to offering options for the construction of units 2-9 at the rate of two a year, I hope they will also include the options of three or four a year even if unsolicited.

New Renderings of Proposed OPC

OPC Conceptual Rendering (Unfortunately the rendering that originally appeared here is no longer available. This is a later version which appears similar.)

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

The Acquisition Directorate has given us some more information on the proposed Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), including some new renderings of its appearance and information on how it will use “green” technologies and concepts to reduce environmental impact.

I like the fact that the 57mm is up one deck from the foc’sle, because that will provide some protection from green water coming over the bow and, it will allow the weapon to train on targets at relatively close range over the bow. In fact the design looks very much like the successful Floréal class of light “surveillance frigates” designed for the French Navy in 1989.

Looks like they are planning on mounting a 25 mm Mk 38 mod 2 on top of the hanger instead of a CIWS. For our purposes, that is probably a better choice, provided we have the option of substituting a state of the art CIWS like SeaRAM should we go to war. I’d really like to know what they are anticipating for a fire control system. Radar and electro-optical or electro-optical only?

What surprises me is that there is no stern ramp, in spite of the fact that it looks like there is adequate room. I never liked the arrangement we have for launching the boat at the fantail of the 270s, because of what happens when the ship is pitching, and this does not look like an improvement. However, the fact that she has boats on both sides amidships is an improvement.

I would still like to see some space planned for interchangeable containerized mission modules. Maybe there could be an option to put these on the fantail in lieu of the third boat. Aside from the Littoral Combat Ship modules, these might include class rooms for cadet cruises, holding cells for migrant interdiction, operating rooms for disaster relief, or laboratories for scientific research.

Hopefully the larger flight deck means the ships will be capable of operating all the H-60 variants including the Navy’s MH-60 R and S versions and there will be space available to store their equipment and weapons.

Provided the price is reasonable, these ships should have definite Foreign Military Sales potential. I can see variations of this design with Harpoon launchers either on the fantail or foc’sle.

Related posts (newest to oldest):

Offshore Patrol Cutters–Why the Navy Should Support the Program

A number of things have happened that makes the Offshore Patrol Cutters potentially important to the national defense, and suggest that the Navy should support their design and construction, including helping with project administration if we need that and testifying before Congress to justify the additional cost of naval features.

  • The number of ships in the Navy has decreased dramatically. From almost 600 ships 20 years ago, the number has fallen to about 280, in spite of constant statements to the effect that 313 is the minimum number required. Many expect that the number of Navy ships will fall to as low as 230. Much of the decrease has been in ships at the low end of the high/low mix and the planned replacement is behind schedule, and in the eyes of many, a failure. Our allies’ fleets have also been shrinking, in many cases, more rapidly than our own, while new challenges to American naval supremacy are developing, so the importance of any Coast Guard contribution is proportionately greater.
  • Despite having entered service between 1979 and 1989, the FFGs, which are the “maid of all works” within the Navy, are being rapidly decommissioned and will soon be all gone because of maintenance problems. These are the ships that do most of the Navy’s partnerships station and drug enforcement work. (29 of 51 built currently in service)
  • The Cyclone Class Patrol Craft, that entered service between 1993 and 2000, have been found to have deteriorated much faster than expected and have been sidelined. Never quite what the Navy hoped for, too small for some roles and too large for others, they became busiest vessels in the US Navy with proportionately more underway time than any other type. (Of 14 built, 10 in service with the USN, 3 with USCG, one transferred to Philippine Navy)
  • The Littoral Combat ships (LCS) were supposed to fix some of these problems. This was a program to build 55 ships that would replace the Navy’s 14 Mine Warfare ships, the remaining FFGs, and the Cyclone Class PCs. They were to be cheap to build, minimally manned, and use removable mission modules that would allow them to become alternately mine countermeasures, anti-submarine, or anti-surface warfare ships. The LCS program is in trouble. Ship construction is behind schedule, and module development is even farther behind. The ships are much more expensive than expected. The manning concepts appears flawed and berthing limitations mean more people cannot simply be added to the crew. If the program is killed the Navy is going to need a replacement.

If the LCS project is killed, a class based on the OPC’s hull might be able to take its place. If the LCS program is terminated at less than the planned number, Navy ships based on the OPC can supplement the LCS and do many, perhaps all of it’s missions, at a lower cost. Even if all 55 LCSs are built, Coast Guard OPCs can still make a significant contribution to the Nation’s defense; particularly, if they can use systems designed for the LCS.

Navy vessels based on the OPC could cost less than half the price of an LCS. Even without mission modules, the Navy could use the class as the basis for a common hull that could be fill the partnership, patrol, presence, counter-piracy, and drug enforcement roles of the FFGs at a much lower cost and also perform many of the PCs missions with greater endurance and better sea keeping. They are potentially affordable, relatively low tech platforms, that can be exported under the Foreign Military Assistance Program to help our friends. If their aviation facilities are made adequate for MH-60R and MH-60S helicopters (not much different from our own H-60s), with LCS modules they could fill the LCS roles. (This might require them to operate in pairs to carry all the equipment planned for a LCS)

To fulfill its potential in these roles, the OPC need not be much different from current planning. The ship’s description over at the Acquisitions Directorate web site has gotten progressively fuzzier over time, but I will be specific about what I think it needs.

  • Speed: 25 knots
  • Aviation Facilities including a hanger for at least: one USCG MH-65 and one MQ-8 Firescout UAV/one USCG HH-60J or MH-60T/one USN MH-60R or 60S with magazines and storage space for independent operation with these aircraft, not just the ability to land and refuel.
  • Air Search Radar that can track our helos at least 100 miles
  • Launch/recover facilities for at least two boats, 11 meters or larger, including at least one “Long Range Interceptor.”
  • Medium caliber gun and associated radar/optical firecontrol system–presumably 57 mm Mk 110, but Mk 75 would work too and might save money
  • At least one/preferably two Mk38 mod2 auto-cannon positioned as required to cover any bearings not covered by the medium caliber gun
  • Four mounts for .50 cal. positioned to provide coverage by at least two mounts any bearing
  • Two OPC operated together, should have the sufficient space/weight reservation and necessary supporting connections/utilities/etc to take on at least one full suite of LCS MCM or ASW mission modules.
  • Fitted for but not with: CIWS, ESM/decoy systems, and anti-surface missile chosen for the LCS, ie NLOS or system chosen to replace it

Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)–The Navy’s Rodney Dangerfield

The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) has taken a lot of criticism, including editorials by Phil Ewing at Navy Times Scoop Deck (some of the most recent here and here). Ridicule of the program has become a regular feature of at least one Naval blog.

Perhaps most telling, in answer to Congressional inquiry, the GAO has completed an evaluation of the program and it isn’t complementary, finding that many of the decisions have been questionable, including the decision to deploy the ship on a law enforcement patrol, and that there is still substantial risk that these vessels will not fulfill their promise. Hopefully the Coast guard can learn from the Navy’s mistakes. You can read the entire GAO report it is here:

Navy’s Ability to Overcome Challenges Facing the Littoral Combat Ship Will Determine Eventual Capabilities

It is fairly long at 55 pages, but in addition to the criticism, its the best overview of the program I’ve seen.

How can something like this (or Deepwater) happen? One commentator has an explanation. Are loss of accountability, personnel assignment policies, and careerism at the root of the problem? Are these problems for the Coast Guard as well?

Mission Modules, a Possible CG System?

For those who might be interested, here is a “pdf” with a bit of information on how the Navy is implementing their mission module concept on the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS). Unfortunately the information only covers the 30 mm gun and 60 round missile system. They are also developing mission modules for ASW and Mine Warfare.

I like the concept for the Coast Guard, in that it provides a way for Cutters to be designed to be armed for wartime missions without the service bearing the cost of maintenance, training, and personnel in peacetime. It might be applicable to the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) and possibly other cutters, such as future icebreakers and arctic patrol cutters.

There have been some difficulties with the surface to surface missile (SSM) system being developed for the LCS, the non-line-of-sight launch system (NLOS-LS), which began as an Army project, but which has now been taken over by the Navy. There is a relative recent summary of the status of the project here. It does seem the Navy is going to develop something to fill this perceived need, as well as the existing hole in the decks of the LCSs. There is some additional pictures and information here. If the Navy does get NLOS-LS working, it may also be useful on much smaller vessels. Looks like a 15 round launcher might fit on the FRC.

National Security Cutter as Navy Patrol Frigate

Navy Times’ “Scoop Deck” asks what the Navy will do “After the frigates are gone” and suggest that variants of the National Security Cutter (NSC) might be a better solution than the Littoral Combat Ship (LSC).

Back in March, Defense News also suggested that the NSC might be the Navy’s best option.

This has been an on going discussion for a long time, fueled no doubt by Northop Grumman’s desire to sell more ships. But the suggestion has been taken seriously. In July 2009, the Congressional Budget Office Study did a study that included an upgraded 20 NSCs as an option to 25 of the LCS.

That study suggested that these 20 NSCs be upgraded as follows:

“For approximately $260 million, the Navy could replace the Close-In Weapon System (CIWS) currently used on the national security cutter with the SeaRAM Mk-15 CIWS. Unlike the former system, which consists of a rapid-firing gun designed to engage subsonic antiship missiles at close ranges, the SeaRAM CIWS would incorporate a rolling airframe missile on the same physical space but provide the ship with the ability to engage supersonic antiship cruise missiles out to 5 nautical miles. The SeaRAM system includes its own sensor suite—a Ku band radar and forward-looking infrared imaging system— to detect, track, and destroy incoming missiles.

“An additional layer of antiship missile defense could be provided by installing the Mk-56 vertical launch system with Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSMs) along with an Mk-9 Tracker/Illuminator system to detect, track, and engage antiship missiles. The ESSM can engage supersonic antiship missiles at a range of nearly 30 nautical miles. Installing 20 sets of a 12-cell launching system (which would carry 24ESSMs), buying the missiles, and integrating the weapons with the ships would cost about $1.1billion.”

So these upgrades would cost $1.360B/20 ships or $68M/ship

With many more critics than supporters, there is a lot speculation that the Navy will not build anywhere near the 55 LCSs currently planned. The black-eye lean manning is getting in the Navy lately, and the fact that the LCSs are designed for lean manning with no apparent option for growing the crew, is adding to criticism of its limited weapons and poor endurance. The Coast Guard is looking smart for providing the NSCs and OPCs with both realistic crews and room for growth.

If the government wanted to open an option for the future, it might be smart to increase the CG buy of NSCs to 12, to make up some of the shortage of ship days that is certainly in our future and direct that the last 6 be made as a “B” class with a weapons fit including the systems sited above, a towed array sonar, and all necessary space and equipment for support of two MH-60Fs, with the marginal cost paid out of the Navy budget. The nation would have an additional capability and the Navy would have have a ready option in a mature design, that could take on the functions of the FFGs.