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.

Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), the Other LCS

This is another post I prepared for Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) as part of “Corvette Week.”

The US Coast Guard is currently in the first part or a two part program to select a design for a planned class of 25 ships referred to as Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) also called the Maritime Security Cutter, Medium (WMSM). In many respects these might be thought of a third class of Littoral Combat Ships. They have different characteristics and different strengths and weaknesses, but there is considerable overlap in there characteristics. Like the LCS they will be small, shallow draft, helicopter equipped warships with the 57mm Mk110 gun. It seems likely the OPC will be 2,500 to 3,500 tons, similar in size to the Freedom and Independence class LCS.

The existing LCS classes emphasize adaptability, are faster and have more spacious aviation facilities. The cutters will emphasize seakeeping and will:

  • have greater range (minimum 7,500 miles @14 knots) and endurance using all diesel propulsion. Typical operations as outlined in the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) were 14 days between refueling, 21 days between replenishment, and 45-60 day patrols.
  • be ice-strengthened,
  • have ballistic protection over critical areas,
  • have a larger crew, and
  • be able to operate their boats and aircraft in higher sea states (through sea state 5).

The acquisition process:

A two step Acquisition process is being used. First, up to three contractors will be selected to develop their concepts into fully detailed contract proposals. This selection is expected by the end of the second quarter of FY2014. These three will then compete for a contract which will include all documentation, construction of the first OPC (expected delivery in FY2020) and options for up to ten follow-on ships.

Eight yards have submitted bids:

  • Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La.
  • Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla.
  • General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine
  • General Dynamics Nassco, San Diego
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries, Pascagoula, Miss.
  • Marinette Marine, Marinette, Wis.
  • Vigor Shipyards, Seattle; and
  • VT Halter Marine, Pascagoula, Miss.

There has been international interest in the project. VT Halter has partnered with French Defense Contractor DCNS. Vigor is allied with Ulstein, Bollinger is working with Dutch Ship builder Damen. It appears Eastern may have teamed with STX (supposition on my part, based only on their concept‘s similarity to the New Zealand Navy’s Protector Class OPV.

VT Halter Marine, Inc. (VT Halter Marine), a subsidiary of VT Systems, Inc. (VT Systems), today announced its partnership agreement with DCNS to submit a proposal to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the design and construction of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). VT Halter Marine will be the prime contractor and DCNS will be its exclusive subcontractor for the OPC platform design.

An early DCNS concept

The funding schedule is expected to look like this:

  • FY 2016 Detail Design
  • FY 2017 OPC #1 Construction
  • FY 2018 OPC #2
  • FY 2019 OPC #3
  • FY 2020 OPC #4 and #5
  • FY 2021 OPC #6 and #7
  • FY 2022 OPC #8 and #9
  • FY 2023 OPC #10 and #11

There was also a statement of intent to hold the maximum price of units four through nine to $310M each.


The ships are to be built to modified American Bureau of Shipping Naval Ship Rules excluding explosive or underwater shock hardening.

They are expected to operate in cold climates. They will be equipped “to operate in areas of broken plate, pancake, and sea ice ranging from 10 to 30 inches thick.”  There is also a required capability to operate an ice capable small boat and to have automated topside de-icers.

“The WMSM will provide increased protection for (sic.) small caliber weapons and shrapnel fragmentation around the bridge, CIC, and magazine spaces.”

It will tow up to 10,000 tons.

The ships are expected to be able to do Fueling at Sea (FAS), Replenishment at Sea (RAS), Vertical (Helicopter) Replenishment or VERTREP, and to refuel smaller vessels (apparently reflecting an expectation of sustained operations with smaller patrol vessels (WPCs or WPBs) at locations remote from their bases).

I did not have access to the latest specifications, but have deduced some details of the proposed equipment from the Allowance Equipage List included in the Draft RFP. All the systems below are referenced. (In a few cases there may be duplicate listing if different nomenclature is used for the same system.) The outfit, in most respects, repeats or even improves on that of the National Security Cutter:


  • Military SAT com
  • Tactical Data Link System
  • IFF
  • SBU (presumably “Sensitive but Unclassified”) Network
  • SIPRNET (Classified Network)
  • NIPRNET (Unclassified Network)
  • Entertainment System


  • TSR-3D RARAD System, a multimode surface and air surveillance and target acquisition radar
  • Electro-Optic/Infrared Sensor system


  • Mk 48 mod 1 Gun Weapon System (pdf), which includes the Mk 110 57mm gun, AN/SPQ-9B  Surface search and Fire Control Radar, Electro-Optical sensor system Mk 20 mod 0, the Mk 160 GCS Mod 12, and Mk 12 Gun Computer System
  • Mk 15 mod 21-25 CIWS (Phalanx) (apparently equipped for but not with)
  • Mk 38 mod 2 25 mm
  • Gun Weapon System SSAM (remotely controlled stabilized .50 cal)
  • Four crew served .50 mounts including Mk 16 and Mk 93 mod 0 or mod 4 mounts
  • Mk 46 optical sight

Electronic Warfare:

  • Mk 53 Decoy launcher
  • AN/SLQ-32 (v)2


  • Encrypted GPS
  • Electronic Chart Display and Information System


  • Ships Signals Exploitation Space
  • Special Purpose Intel System


  • Hangar for helicopter up to and including Navy and Coast Guard H-60s (There may have been some backtracking on the requirement for a helicopter larger than the HH-65)
  • Facilities for the support of unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
  • Visual Landing Aids

Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphins


Having watched this program develop over a number of years, it is remarkable that the specifications have moved from specific to general as the need to minimize cost has resulted in softening of the requirements. As with many contracts, threshold and objective characteristics were defined, but if there are incentives for going beyond threshold requirements, they have not been made public. For this reason there seems little reason to expect the capabilities to exceed the threshold requirement which include a speed of 22 knots (objective 25).

The aviation support requirements also seem to have gone soft and may result in the ability to support only smaller helicopters and UAVs

Potential Naval Roles

Weapons–A minimal projected fit has been identified, but the Commandant has stated that the ships will have space and weight reservation for additional weapons, but I have not been privy to the extent of this reservation. It may be limited to replacing the Mk38mod2 with a Phalanx, but there is reason to hope the ships have greater potential.

The ships do have an unusual specification. For the Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations, they are required to be able to feed and provide basic shelter for up to 500 migrants for 48 hours, all while keeping them on the main deck or above.  This actually constitutes a substantial weight/moment reserve for other missions. If we assumed 150 pounds for each person, that would equate to 37.5 tons.

Modules–While there was apparently no stated requirement to host mission modules or containers in the specifications, some of the foreign designed potential contenders may already include provision for taking containers. For instance, the Damen designed OPV 2600 (ton) has provision for five 20 foot containers. Others may use containers as part of their plan to meet the 500 Alien Migrant holding requirement.

Vigor Offshore Patrol Craft 01

Vigor concept with its Ulstein X-bow. It was reported to have a length of 328 feet, a beam of 54 feet, a draft of 16.5 feet, and a max speed of 22knots. It included a reconfigurable boat hangar.


The Coast Guard’s latest Manpower Estimate for the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), completed 18 March 2011, was 104 (15 officers, 9 CPOs, 80 E-6 and below) plus an aviation detachment (five personnel) and Ship’s Signals Exploitation Space (SSES) detachment (seven personnel) for a total of 116. Accommodations are planned for at least 120 (threshold requirement) and hopefully as many as 126 (“objective”). The manning assumes four section underway watches.

Unlike the two current LCS classes, the OPCs are expected to train junior personnel: “The Coast Guard depends on cutters to expose our junior personnel, officers and enlisted, to our wide mission set. With this real world experience derived from a first tour operational assignment, these sailors populate critical billets such as law enforcement detachments, independent duty corpsmen, and XOs on patrol boats.”

These ships, like the LCS are expected to have multiple crews, with four crews for a group of three ships, allowing them to operate up to 225-230 days away from home port per year. (I personally don’t like the concept as proposed)

Survivability: The preliminary manning documents assumes that two full Repair Lockers (27 crew members in each locker) plus a Rapid Response Team (RRT) will be constituted for General Emergency Situations, but only one full Repair Locker and the RRT will be available at General Quarters. Two engine rooms will provide a degree of propulsion redundancy.

LCS Council:

The CNO saw the need for high level coordination of the introduction of the LCS to insure that they made the most of their potential. Since established they have added oversight of the Joint High Speed Vessels.

I see a need for the Coast Guard to also have a seat the Council to

  • share experiences with multiple crewing and other lessons learned
  • maximize the wartime potential of the Offshore Patrol Cutters by exploiting commonality with the LCS
  • ease coordination of Navy’s LCS and JHSVs partnership station, drug interdiction, and constabulary efforts which often involving Coast Guard detachments.

LCS 2.0, or a Missed opportunity?:

I keep hearing that many, including former undersecretary Bob Work, may not be entirely happy with the characteristics of the existing LCS designs, but that because they are the design we have, we should continue to build them. I have hoped that the Offshore Patrol Cutters would offer a possible alternative for an LCS 2.0. It may be that cost considerations and program choices will make them unsuitable, but at the very least, the eight design proposals and the three fully developed contract proposals should make interesting reading for those who would like to consider alternatives to the existing designs.

In addition, these ships, or designs developed from them, may offer a cheaper alternative basis upon which to offer our allies interested in American built corvettes or OPVs.

If I had my druthers:

If I had my druthers these ships would be designed, but not necessarily equipped, from the start, for wartime roles including ASW and NSFS.

Background: “What might Coast Guard cutters do in wartime.”

What Might Coast Guard Cutters do in Wartime? Part 1, Navy Shortfalls

Many of the new generation cutters may be around for another 50 years so it is likely they will see some conflict as previous generations have. What might cutters be doing if we go to war? What sort of environments? What possible missions? What capabilities do they have? And what might we want to be added?

We need to start with the question, what limitations does the Navy have that might prompt them to call on the Coast Guard? Why would the US Navy, by far the most powerful in the world, need help from the Coast Guard? Let’s look at their missions and the forces available.

Navy Missions

The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas.

Included in that might be:

Protecting the US and its allies from attack from the sea in any of a number of forms, overt or covert, by air, surface, sub-surface, or missiles (both cruise and ballistic).

Projecting power against hostile forces, by a similar diverse range of options.

Protecting US and friendly nations’ use of the oceans and the air above them for purposes including (but not limited to) both military and economic exploitation.

Denying that use to hostile powers.

Those objectives entail a huge range of subsidiary tasks. New missions, like defending population centers against ballistic missile attacks, have been added, but centuries old historic missions still must also be addressed.


The Navy currently has approximately 285 vessels, but not all these are combatant ships. The exact composition changes frequently but they have roughly:

  • 2 Fleet command ships
  • 11 aircraft carriers (there is talk that this may go down to 9. In the not to distant past 15 was the norm)
  • 28 Amphipbious assault ships (LHA/LHD/LPD/LSD)
  • 83 Guided missile Cruisers and Destroyers
  • 26 Frigates (soon to be decommissioned)
  • 2 Littoral Combat ships (LCS) (55 ships planned, expected to replace remaining frigates, the 14 mine countermeasures ships, and the 11 Cyclone class patrol craft)
  • 57 SSN and SSGN submarines armed with torpedoes and tactical missiles
  • 14 SSBN Strategic Defense Ballistic Missile submarines
  • 14 Mine Counter Measures Ships (MCM) (soon to be decommissioned)
  • 11 Cyclone Class Patrol Craft
  • 37 Underway replenishment ships

This is the fewest ships in the US Navy in almost a hundred years. Additionally in view of current budget limitations the size of the fleet is likely to shrink further. Nine cruisers and three LSDs are expected to be decommissioned including some as young as 20 years old, and since the “super committee” has failed to act, the entire LCS program may be in jeopardy, and the fleet may be reduce to approximately 230 ships.

Even if its budget is not cut, if it only remains static, the fact that ship prices are going up faster than inflation, and the Navy is choosing to concentrate more and more technology in fewer and fewer ships means the number of ships will likely continue to fall.


Most of these ships are individually superbly capable, but the US Navy has some known weakness.

  • Inshore
  • Mine Counter Measures (MCM)
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
  • Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS)
  • Sea Control
  • Base Security

INSHORE: The Navy has very few shallow draft patrol craft of a type useful for boarding and  inspecting coastwise traffic. This is why the Coast Guard has been in Iraq, and why 82s were sent to Vietnam. Fortunately recent requirements have been small because the Iraqi coast line is short. Almost anywhere else, controlling coastal traffic will be much more difficult.

MCM: Despite the fact that since WWII, mines have done more damage to US Navy ships than any other weapon, the US Navy’s MCM capability is modest and generally regarded as both more poorly equipped and less professional than their European counterparts. The LCS program has been expected to address this, but the mine countermeasures systems planned for the LCS are still a long way from maturity. Still the concept of add-on, portable, modular systems is appealing.

ASW: Anti-submarine Warfare capabilities were allowed to decline after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This was understandable under the circumstances, but now the ASW problem is reemerging. Historically ASW has been a “numbers” problem as well as a quality problem. Certainly the US Navy has the quality, but they no longer have large numbers. Not only is the number of escort vessels down dramatically including the impending total disappearance of specialized ASW escorts, carriers no longer have fixed wing ASW aircraft, and Maritime patrol aircraft numbers are way down. Reserve fleets have disappeared and additionally, allied fleets have also declined even more precipitously.

NSFS: Since the decommissioning of the Iowa Class battleships, there has been concern that there has not been enough Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) assets. This concern went as far as resulting in a Congressional mandate (Section 1011 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1996 (Public Law 104-106; 110 Stat. 421)). There have been several attempts to address this need including putting NLOS missiles on the LCS ships and a plan to build 32 “Land Attack” Zumwalt Class Destroyers with advanced gun systems. The NLOS missile has been canceled and the Zumwalt class has been truncated at only three ships. In a benign environment close air support can fill this void, but if there is an active air defense or air superiority is contested, NSFS may be essential.

SEA CONTROL: Julian Corbett was the disciple of Sea Control and as he would say, Battle force ships make sea control possible, but cannot be exercised by “battleships” alone. There is the question of simple numbers.  At the end of WWII the Navy had 6,768 ships, including 1,600 ships of over 1,000 tons, and those ships were complimented by similarly large numbers of allied vessels. The number of ships in the Navy has been steadily declining and it appears they may decline even more. Numerically this is the smallest US Navy since World War I, almost 100 years. Salt water covers approximately 69% of the earth’s surface or about 352,103,700 km²–roughly 100 million square nautical miles (rounding down a bit). That is roughly 352,113  sq. miles/ship. If we look at only cruisers, destroyers, and the projected LCS force (less than 140 ships) then that is about 715,000 square miles per ship. Spread evenly across the ocean they would be more than 800 miles apart, but of course ships are not spread evenly across the ocean and they are not all underway all the time, and they have missions other than sea control. Our attempts to control the flow of Narcotics by sea and attempts to prevent piracy off Africa demonstrate how truly hard Sea Control can be. The US and its close allies no longer control the majority of merchant and fishing fleets. Potential enemies control substantial numbers of ships that could damage the US and its allies in a number of ways including landing agents, smuggling weapons, laying mines, or directly attacking assets. Russian attempts to market the “Club-K” cruise missile as a containerized system that can weaponize any vessel with space for a standard 40 foot container highlights the potential dangers of failure to control enemy shipping.

BASE SECURITY: Once the US Navy was present in virtually every American port and there were a host of small ships that provided security for these bases. Navy resources are increasingly concentrated and the flotillas of small craft are gone. The Chinese vision of how to counter the US includes attacks on vulnerable rear area and logistical support. In Adm. Liu’s vision. “In applying tactics to ‘active defense’ operations, we would act on the guiding principle that we advance if the enemy advances. That is, if the enemy attacked our coastal areas, we would attack the enemy’s rear.”…Liu recounts addressing a June 1984 forum. He was gratified that the navy had embraced “a unified guiding ideology for its combat operations. It had made clear the combat principle of ‘active defense, offshore battles’ and the combat forms of ‘positional warfare for firm coastal defense, mobile sea warfare, and sabotage guerrilla sea warfare.’”


When you start with only 120 to 140 surface combatants, after assigning ships to escort eleven carriers and ten Amphibious ready groups, assigning ships for Ballistic Missile Defense, and factoring in maintenance requirements, there simply is very little left for other missions.

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.

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.