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.
- 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.