BM3 Obendorf’s Death

Navy times has a story reporting the findings of a Coast Guard investigation regarding the death of BM3 Obendorf during small boat ops aboard the cutter Waesche. Some notable elements:

“He was in an area where crew members aren’t supposed to be stationed, according to the report, but was there because a piece of rescue equipment wasn’t working properly.”

Witness accounts said Obendorf was trapped twice by the net (emphasis applied-Chuck), but was uninjured the first time. He wasn’t supposed to be standing at the front of the boat during the passenger transfer, but Waesche’s crew had been placing someone in that position to overcome an equipment deficiency.”

“Waesche’s capture line never worked consistently, so the crew put a member at the front of the boat to connect it manually.”

“…the conditions Nov. 11 didn’t strike any of the key personnel as dangerous. However, they were operating outside of published safety limits…”

—Another Example of perhaps to much “can do” spirit?

The Commandant Answers–the National Security Cutters: Multiple Crewing, Build Rates, OPC Compared

The Commandant has been good enough to answer three more of our questions, and we expect to hear more in the near future. Today we hear more about the National Security Cutter (NSC).

File:USCG National Security Cutter BERTHOLF (WMSL-750).jpeg
USCG National Security Cutter BERTHOLF (WMSL-750)

Will the Coast Guard implement the National Security Cutter multi-crewing plan referred to as the Crew Rotation Concept?  Has the concept been adequately tested?  If the plan is workable, would it be implemented on smaller vessels? Continue reading

How much do the National Security Cutters Cost?

Earlier I asked this question regarding NSC #5 (WMSL 754 James), because what I had seen recently seemed out of line with the prices I had seen reported for #4 (WMSL 753 Hamilton). Someone from Headquarters was good enough to point me to a helpful 3,311 page document, the DHS 2012 budget justification (this is a large pdf), and even told me where to look (see page 1622 of the pdf). Turns out the total costs are pretty close. Continue reading

Progress on the National Security Cutters

In October, I questioned why there seemed so be so little progress on the National Security Cutters.

In fact there has been a significant milestone. Monday the contract for the fourth National Security Cutter was awarded and the contract includes an option on the fifth ship. The Acquisition Directorate said , “The contract is a fixed price incentive type. It is the first National Security Cutter production contract to be awarded directly to the shipbuilder, outside of the Integrated Coast Guard Systems commercial lead-system integrator contract framework.  The Coast Guard is the Systems Integrator for its recapitalization programs and is responsible for their management and execution.”

Rhode Islander hears from a relative, “Some long lead time equipments for NSC-4  (HAMILTON) have already been delivered to NORTHROP GRUMMAN SHIPYARD  (NGSB),  including the 2 main engines  (MTU), all 3 caterpillar generators, all the reduction gears, the air conditioners, and pieces of the weapons systems.   Therefore, you can conclude that NGSB should be ready to begin cutting steel on NSC-4 within a couple of months at the latest.   Meanwhile,  NSC-3 is proceeding well with key milestones such as generator light off and main engine light off occurring before Spring 2011, and Sea Trials still scheduled for latter next summer.   Final delivery of STRATTON (WMSL-752) to the active duty Coast Guard crew should happen in less than a year.”

Hopefully, we won’t have to wait four years for HAMILTON (WMSL 753) to be delivered and given that the option has already been negotiated that number 5, JAMES (WMSL 754) will follow close behind.

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.

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.

Multiple crewing of National Security Cutters

Considering the multi-crew concept for the National Security Cutters, I have my doubts. Here is a brief explanation from the official USCG acquisitions web site:

“Initially, the Coast Guard will employ four crews for three NSCs at a single homeport, rotating the cutters among the crews to limit crew PERSTEMPO to 185 days while maintaining each cutter’s operational tempo (OPTEMPO) at 230 days. The three-cutter, four-crew prototype will be evaluated in 2009 through an operational testing-and-evaluation process. Policy and procedures for CRC are based on the lessons learned by the Coast Guard and the U.S. Navy, as well as consideration of the recommendations made by auditors from the Government Accountability Office.”

First assuming the projections are correct, we are replacing 12 ships which would provide 2,220 operating days with eight ships that will provide at best 1,840 so we are already two ships short.

Then you will also note that the presumption is that the ships will be operated in groups of three from the same home port, but there are only eight ships planned, meaning there will be a rump group of two somewhere. Will they be operated by three crews or by a single crew per ship?

What we hope to save here is acquisition cost, because the operating costs per op day cannot be lowered by this strategy and will actually be higher. I don’t know the projected life cycle costs for the National Security cutters, but in general, I’ve heard that the acquisition costs for similar systems is about 15% of the life cycle cost. Fuel and personnel costs are the real driver. Fuel costs should be the same per op day. Personnel costs will actually be higher, since each crew under the multi-crewing concept will only provide 172.5 op days instead of 185, so personnel costs will be 7.25% higher.

In addition, because the ship will only be in port 135 days a year instead of 180, there will be fewer opportunities for the crew to make repairs. These repairs, normally done by the crew, will have to be done by contractors at additional costs.

I would also note that the acquisition costs we hope to save actually decline as we add more ships. Four additional units are likely to cost far less on the average than the first 8. There is also the long term value of having four additional ships in hand if the country should need them in the future.

Frankly I don’t think we will see any significant savings from this manning approach and it may actually cost us in the long run.

If a truly convincing argument can be made for the concept, I would like to see it. And if the argument involves lower overhead because we get more “mission” op days compared to RefTra day, remember the reason we go, is to train the crews, not the ships, so every crew will needs to go.