Offshore Patrol Cutter Update

There seems to be some movement on the Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement and once again the requirements seem to have softened and become less specific. There are two recent news releases here and here. You can also access these and older news releases through the OPC website.

To review the basics, the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) are a projected class of 25 ships intended to replace all 29 MECs (Medium Endurance Cutters) currently in service including:
 13 Famous Class, 270-foot (82.3 m), which entered service 1983-1990
; 16 Reliance Class, 210-foot (64 m), (including two already sold under military assistance) which entered service 1964-1969; Acushnet (1944); and Alex Haley (1968)

The issues I have with the program currently are as follows:

First, we are replacing 31 ships with only 25. Possible, perhaps, in ideal circumstances, but Murphy has not retired. There will be teething problems with the first few and these ships, like all the ships before them, will have their problems.  This may be mitigated somewhat by the additional capabilities of the Webber class, in that they can, to some extent, take up the slack.

Second, the first ship is not expected until 2019. By that time the oldest of the 210s will have been in service for 55 years, the Acushnet for 75.  If one ship is delivered in 2019 and three ships a year after that, the last one will not be delivered until 2027 when the newest existing WMEC will have been in service for 37 years. For a nation that designed, contracted, and built over 100 aircraft carriers in less than four years, this is pretty sad, but it seems reforms intended to make procurement efficient have made efficient procurement impossible. Even so, I think we need to do better.

Now to the ships themselves. The following is quoted from Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Project CG-9322 | CAPT Brad Fabling | FEB2010 “Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)
Brief to ASNE”:

“Notional High-level Mission Requirements:

“Aviation –operate with CG/USN H-60, CG H-65 and UAVs

“Small Boats –Utilized multiple small boats for rescue and law enforcement operations

“Towing –up to equivalent tonnage

“Rescue –bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water
–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own.

“Sea Keeping –Full operationally through SS5 (i.e. Aviation and Small Boat)
–Limited operations through SS7 and survive through SS8

“Maneuverability –at slower speeds and in smaller ports

“Endurance – 8500 NM/9500 NM at 14KTS sustained
– 14 days between refueling & FAS capable

“Speed –25 KTS/22 KTS

“AFHP / Service Life for 30 years –capable of 185 days (230 days surge)/40 years to fatigue

“Accommodations –104/90 racks & support mix gender crews w/6 persons/space or less

“Combat System –limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready
**Classed to ABS NVR”

“In terms of engineering robustness, the needs of the modern USCG Cutter can be
considered similar to a small navy combatant, but for different reasons:

““Plus” aspects –increased range, seakeeping for Boat and Aviation operations, fatigue life (40 year), crewing number

“Minus” aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, &
Radiation (CBR) environment”

I find very little to argue with here but there are some things that are left unsaid and considerable room for additional specificity.

In the Aviation requirement, when it says “operate with” Navy H-60s, I presume that means land and hanger them, but does it also mean that there will be magazine space for their weapons and storage for sonobuoys and other equipment? I think there should be.

The boat handling requirement is not specific. I would think at least two RHIBs including at least one long range interceptor using a stern ramp like that on the NSC.

The towing requirement is modest, but probably realistic in view of what we really do and the competing requirements for space on the stern.

I don’t really know what the Rescue requirement, “bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own” means in terms of the ship characteristics. Does this mean there will have to be an opening in the hull at the waterline with a platform like the NSC or are we just talking about “J” davits and tethered rescue swimmers?

The “Sea Keeping” and “Endurance” requirements seem about right.

Presumably the “Maneuverability” requirement just means there will some form of thrusters, we hopefully will be more specific here as to the ability to turn the ship against the wind or move the ship sideways.

If the speed requirement is “25 KTS/22 KTS,” then the requirement is 22 knots and that is probably what we will get. This is little better than what we have now and is inadequate to keep up with or catch many modern merchant ships and it is not quite fast enough to keep up with Navy amphibious ships. At the minimum we need 24 knots sustained.

The planned accommodations are certainly more reasonable than those provided for the Littoral Combat ship. Realistically we can probably run the ship with fewer people, but being able to accommodate more is a good hedge against future requirements.

When the  “Brief to ASNE”  says “’Minus’ aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, & Radiation (CBR) environment” I presume they mean that there will be no pressurized, filtered NBC citadel as in the NSC not that there will be no Circle William fittings. (This is a change from previous descriptions of the OPC which included this capability.) Lets also hope that darkening ship will be a routine activity, with the proper fittings and door trips, that doesn’t require the ad hoc approach used on 210s.

I’m not sure what they mean by “limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready.” I would think that this would imply at least a medium caliber gun and its associated firecontrol system. If it does not include a Close In Weapons System (CIWS) then it should at least include space and weight reservation for a future installation. To cover the rear of the ship and provide unit security and better situational awareness a couple of Mk 38 Mod 2 25 mm mounts like those on the Webber Class cutters, sited to cover as nearly 360 degrees as possible, would also be a useful addition, but they are not a replacement for the medium caliber gun.

There should be significant weight moment margins built into the design for future growth. The margins provided for the NSC were obviously not adequate. They have already been used up. We should anticipate that over the life of the ships they will acquire additional missions and associated equipment. It would be short sighted to think otherwise.

There is no mention of provision for use of mission modules (basically specially configured 8x8x20 cargo containers). This is an approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance and is incorporated in the LCS and Offshore Patrol Vessels being built by Spain and the Netherlands. Hopefully this will be included in the final specifications.  If not, it would at least be a strong selling point for contenders for the contract.

Unless we are awarding a multiyear contract for the full 25 ships, which I doubt would be possible, in order to avoid being tied to a sole source ship yard, all engineering drawings and the license to use them should be included as deliverables in the first contract, along with any modifications in future contracts.

Related posts:

Canadian Icebreaker/Offshore Patrol Vessel Procurement

Arctic Patrol Vessel

WMEC 270 to OPC

Guns for the Offshore Patrol Cutters

“Design” an Offshore Patrol Cutter Today