The Coast Guard Shipbuilding Program, 1964

I recently had an occasion to dig out an article, “Developments and Problems in Coast Guard Cutter Design,” that appeared in the 1964 US Naval Institute Naval Review (published at that time as a separate hard bound book, copyright 1963, United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 62-21028) that discussed the then new generation of Coast Guard Cutters.

Yes, this was a long time ago, even before I entered the service, but this was a great spasm of ship building, the 82 footers may be gone, but the 210s and 378s designed and built at that time still constitute the majority of our large cutters.

The perspective of the time make an interesting contrast to today’s ship building program. 41 of the 82s had been built, 210s were building, the first three entering service in 1964, and the 378s (referred to as 350′ WPGs) were still in the design phase, with the first, Hamilton, being laid down in 1965 and entering service in ’67.

The article was written by officers intimately involved in defining the requirements and design those ships, Cdr. Robert J. Carlson and LCdr. William F. Tighe. They described the Navy’s ships as old and the Coast Guard’s ships as “ancient.” Somethings don’t seem to change, but in fact the standards were different and, while they were facing block obsolescence,  they were in much better shape than the Coast Guard is now. Continue reading

Fast Response Cutter Alternative? FRC-A?

The following are excepts from a news release found here:

14 January 2011:

“The Department of the Navy announced Friday the award of a $29 million shipbuilding and support contract to Maritime Security Strategies, LLC, (MSS) of Tampa, Florida. The contract, under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, was awarded for a 43-meter Coastal Security Craft (CSC) for the Lebanese Navy. MSS will work with its primary design agent and shipbuilding partner, RiverHawk Fast Sea Frames, LLC, also of Tampa, to design, produce and outfit the ship.

“The MSS/RiverHawk … currently has two 60-meter Offshore Supply/Command Vessels under construction for the Iraqi Navy….MSS/RiverHawk use epoxy resin (instead of carbon fiber) for the AMP hulls because of its virtual indestructibility and the fact that it is so easy and inexpensive to repair and maintain. The deck and superstructure are aluminum, which allows topside arrangements to be reconfigured in a modular fashion as mission requirements dictate over the life of the ship.”


There are several things I find interesting here.

  • Why didn’t they choose either the 87 ft WPB or the Webber (Hero) class WPC, which are relatively well know quantities? Is the Navy attempting to open up additional sources of combatant craft? Is it just the fact that three of the four principals in the company are retired Navy admirals? Interestingly all three have backgrounds in minesweepers.
  • This is a fixed price contract ($29M) for a first of class, with no learning curve. The the price is already significantly less than that for the Webber Class ($88M for the first and $41.5M each for the most recent buy) for a vessel with very similar capabilities. In fact it appears this vessel is closer to the original specifications for the Fast Response Cutter–composite construction and 30 knots–than the Webber class. Is it really that cheap to build?
  • If I interpret their web site correctly, the vessel was apparently already under construction before the contract was finalized. Is this a lost leader, sold for less than the true cost, to prove their capability in hopes of attracting additional orders?
  • Jargon used to describe the vessel sounds a lot like that used for the LCS. They call it a “sea frame” and talk about its adaptability, including the ability to take aboard two 40 foot containers (or presumably four 20 foot container?). Will the use of LCS containers make these vessels useful as anti-submarine and mine countermeasures vessels? The company appears to be positioning itself, if not to replace the LCS, to at least supplement it and exploit its supporting technology.
  • This web site description shows variations on the basic design that seem optimized for supporting special operations (two 12 meter fast interceptor boats, or a helo deck for not just any small helo, but specifically the “little bird,” a reference to the MH-6/AH-6 special operations helicopter). Is this the replacement for the Cyclone class PCs that were always considered a bit too large for the Special Operations role? The fiberglass construction should also tend to make the vessels more stealthy.


The original Concept for the Fast Response Cutter, FRC-A, included a composite hull. These comments are from the Acquisition Directorate web site:
“12. I’ve heard talk of the FRC-A, and Sentinel Class patrol boat, what’s the difference?
“The FRC-A designation referred to the first revision of the original FRC design specifications which called for, most notably, a composite-hulled ship. After careful research and evaluation, the Coast Guard concluded that not only was the technology not yet mature enough to produce the conceived design, but that it would not possibly be available soon enough to meet the critical mission requirements and capability needs of the service, both now and in the foreseeable future. As such, the Coast Guard proposed a revised design specification, identified as the Sentinel Class patrol boat, through a “parent craft” acquisition strategy. Parent craft describes the use of an existing ship design that has successfully performed equivalent missions.
“13. Is a composite technology out of the picture now?
“Following the award of the Sentinel Class patrol boat contract, and to ensure that mission needs are met as quickly and cost-effectively as possible, the Coast Guard will examine and develop options to procure the remaining Fast Response Cutters based on the overall performance of the Sentinel and the ability of the Sentinel Class to meet original FRC A-Class requirements.  No decision with regard to composites has been made.”
There is a lot more information on their web site, but to briefly compare the two classes.
  • The “AMP 145” is 145 ft. long, the FRC is 154.
  • AMP, 28 ft beam, FRC 25.4 ft
  • AMP displaces 230 tons, FRC 353 tons, I am sure the builders of the AMP would credit at least some of the lighter weight to the construction techniques and suggest that this will result in fuel savings.
  • AMP 30+ knots, FRC 28+

The AMP 145 is propelled by two diesel engines using water jets. (There is a three engine option for 40+ knots.) They claim a maneuvering speed of 1-3 knots. One of the things that has always bothered me about the Webber class was the decision to delete the controllable pitch props, which were included on the parent craft, in favor of cheaper fixed pitch propellers. Potentially this may mean that the vessels may have low speed maneuverability problems. The conning officer will have a choice between engaging the engines which will accelerate the vessel to a minimum speed, dictated by the idle speed of the engines and the pitch of the prop, or disengaging the engines entirely.  His choice of speeds is not infinitely variable between zero and maximum, as is the case with controllable pitch props. In most cases, of course, this can be dealt with, but there are situations, including towing or when the berthing space is tight, where it can be problematic.

The adaptability of the design is also interesting. In addition to the containerized options, the ability to carry two boats or to provide a flight deck for the Fire Scout UAV are both interesting.

As always, the devil is in the details, but it appears that the cutter we wanted earlier may now be available. At any rate, competition is a good thing. It appears the Coast Guard may have another option available, possibly at considerable savings. Will the Coast Guard, as stated above, revisit their choice?

(Thanks to Lee Wahler for bringing this to my attention.)

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):

“We need icebreakers”–Adm Papp

The Commandant has come out and said what we already knew. Navy Times is reporting Admiral Papp stated “We need icebreakers up [in the Arctic], and right now our icebreakers are in a sorry state…They need replacement or very thorough renovation to allow the United States to sustain an active presence and support our sovereignty up there.”

Let’s be clear, a “very thorough renovation” may be needed, but it is not enough. The two Polar Class breakers are already 34 and 36 years old. Hopefully we will get them running again, but they will need to replaced within any prudent planning horizon. It seems to take us ten years to get a new ship built, so if we start on their replacements now, they will be about 46 years old when they are replaced. We need to start with the assumption that we will build new icebreakers, then we can make intelligent decisions about how much to invest in the Polar Class.  The replacement ships may not need to be as large or as powerful, but even a ship of comparable capabilities should be possible that is cheaper to man, run, and maintain. The question is not do we need new icebreakers, it is how quickly? Expecting these ships to soldier on without a planned replacement is unrealistic.

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

Rethinking the New Cutter Programs

Preparing to write this, I reread some older material from the Acquisition Directorate and was surprised to find that my long held assumption that the Coast Guard would be building OPCs at a rate of three a year (since that was the rate we had built the 210s they are replacing) is not the case. The plan as expressed in the CG9 Newsletter for Oct/Nov 09 by Captain Brian Perkins was to build only two ships a year.

Plus, the same newsletter notes, the OPC program is linked to the NSC program in that it will not be started until after the last NSC is contracted.

As we have discussed the progress on the National Security Cutter Program has been slow. In the nine years since the ships were ordered, only two ships have been delivered and a third is building. Instead of seeing one new ship a year as might have been expected, there was an almost two year gap between the Bertholf and the Waesche, another almost two year gap between the Waesche and the Stratton, and it looks like an almost three year gap between Stratton and the forth NSC, Hamilton. Assuming that Hamilton is awarded this year (FY 2011) and one a year after that, the eighth and last NSC won’t be awarded until FY 2015 and we probably won’t see it in service until 2019. The first OPC(s) will not be funded until FY2016. The last 210 replacement will be funded in 2023 with deliver not likely until at least 2026 at which time the last 210 will be 57 years old. When the last 270 is replaced, in 2031 it will be 41 years old.

This is a plan for disaster.  That our fleet is already in trouble was demonstrated by the difficulties we encountered during the Haiti earthquake relief. How are these same ships going to perform in 10, 15, or 20 years.

There has got to be a better way.

First it surely isn’t necessary to take four years to make a decision on the OPC design. Its been discussed and mulled over for years. Might it not be possible to truncate the NSC program at six ships, fund the first OPCs in FY2014 and build them at the rate of three or four a year? And rather than multicrew the NSCs, increase the OPC program by six to provide one for one replacements for the 378s for a total of 6 NSCs and 31 OPCs. That still leaves us four ships short of where we are now, but a lot closer than the eight ships short currently planned.

Because the OPCs are considerably smaller than the NSC and made in greater quantity, they are potentially much cheaper while providing nearly all the capability of an NSC or 378. We are typically spending around $600M per NSC. I’ve heard that the Acquisitions Directorate expects to keep the costs for the OPC around $200M/ship. The ship I think they should build would be a bit more, because it would have added value for national defense, but building three or even four instead of one NSC is not a huge increase in the total Coast Guard budget and will save money in the long run.

The OPCs will have a smaller crew than the NSCs and a much smaller crew than the 378s.  The crew may even be smaller than that on the 270s. They are also likely to be much cheaper to maintain than the legacy ships. The sooner we get them in the fleet, the more we will save in manning and maintenance.

If we truncate the NSC program at 6 and begin the OPC program in FY 2014, funding three ships a year, we will have the 33 new ships currently planned by 2025, six years ahead of the current plan, and the entire program, including four additional ships, will be finished by early 2027.

If instead, in 2014 we began funding four ships a year, we would have our 33 new ships finished early in 2024, seven years ahead of the current plan and the the entire program would be completed in early 2025. Still a long way away, but better than the current plan. If we did that, the last 210 to be replace will only be 51 years old.

Progress (or lack of it) on the National Security Cutters

Over at I got into an off topic discussion of the NSC deliveries, when another poster, “RhodeIslander,” asked me why the contract for the for the fourth  National Security Cutter had not been awarded.

He shared this with me,
“Chuck, one of my old co-workers down in Mississippi sent me an interesting Build Schedule for NSC. Evidently this is only for… (STRATTON) 752 which is next to be finished off for USCG.

“At the moment of Contract start, there begins a 4 year cycle for WMSL-752:

“FIRST YEAR: Pre-fab begins down in Mississippi yard. While down in Washington D.C. the USCG orders long lead time stuff, like engines, generators, gears, etc. After about 2 months, “Start Fabrication” commences. And scattered all around the large Mississippi shipyard, many various modules are being constructed.

“SECOND YEAR: Keep is “laid” which now-a-days means the shipyard starts moving all those modules slowly down to the waterfront and welds them all together. This erection process goes fairly quickly and the cutter is all put together outwardly in less than 7 months. Production continues inside the cutter while on land.

“THIRD YEAR: The cutter is “launched” with really means “float off” in modern yards like the one in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Production continues in the water, electrical cables and Command and Control soon start testing. Then diesels engines get lite off, followed by generators and gas turbine.

“FOURTH YEAR: Sea Trials and Dockyard Trials are conducted at the beginning of Year #4, and the cutter is soon delivered to the Coast Guard. The crew moves onboard, trains up, does a few short underway periods. The Mississippi shipyard corrects some deficiencies and finally the new cutter sails away for California. Once in their permanent homeport, the ship gets a short post shakedown overhaul period, where the Mississippi Northrop Grumman yard does Warranty work. At the very end of the fourth year, the Warranty period expires and the Cutter is no longer ever associated with DEEPWATER INC. again.”

“RhodeIslander” was disappointed in the time required from award to completion. My concern was more that we were falling behind on even a one per year delivery schedule. If we awarded a contract every year and we were using the four year cycle as a routine, you would think there would be four or at least three ships in the pipeline. That does not seem to be happening.

Acquisition directorate says “The U.S. Coast Guard commissioned the second National Security Cutter, Waesche (WMSL 751), on May 7, 2010. Stratton (WMSL 752) was christened on July 23, 2010 and is 59% complete.”

It appears that the NSC2 is in the last 2 months of the cycle (although it has lasted more than four years) and that NSC3 is in the third year. This means we have more than a two year gap (instead of only one year).

Here are some of the milestones for the first three ships. All three were nominally ordered in 2001 and were/are being built at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Pascagoula, Mississippi:

NSC 1: Bertholf
Laid down:     March 29, 2005
Launched:     September 29, 2006
Christened:     November 11, 2006
Commissioned:     August 4, 2008
Formally Accepted: May 8, 2009

NSC 2: Waesche
Laid down:     September 11, 2006
Launched:     July 12, 2008
Delivered:   Nov. 6, 2009
Commissioned:     May 7, 2010

NSC 3: Dorothy C. Stratton
Contract awarded: Aug. 8, 2007
Laid down:     July 20, 2009
Christened:     July 23, 2010

From Wikipedia, “‘On 7 July 2009, the Government Accountability Office reported that delays in the NSC program are likely to result in “the loss of thousands of cutter operational days for conducting missions through 2017.’ The GAO also that month reported that problems in the NSC program have delayed the OPC program by five years.”

Frankly I think we will continue to see the ripples of this disaster until at least 2027 when it looks like the last OPC might be finished. By that time the newest 270 will be 39 years old. When the youngest 210 is replaced it will likely be at least 54 years old. And if the Acushnet can last until she is replaced by the first OPC she will be 75 years old.  (While the average Navy ship  is something like 14 years old.)

Here is RhodeIslander’s latest comment, “…WAESCHE NSC-2 is evidently in California getting her post delivery overhaul and last of warranty. Stratton is supposed to Deliver towards end of next summer. That means NSC-4 Hamilton, if and when they ever commence her, will break up the “assembly line” of NATIONAL SECURITY CUTTERS that has finally started to look pretty good down at the Pascagoula yard. So NSC-4 will gap and some expertise will be lost forever, early retirement, taking jobs on other Navy ships, moving to the offshore oil well industry, etc. Even worse than breaking up the “assembly line”, will be the big gap between delivery of NSC-3 and NSC-4 to USCG…Too bad that NSC-4 is not already under construction, and finishing her first year, and beginning to start KEEL LAYING. It’s both a mystery and a shame for the Coast Guard sailors on those ancient High Endurance cutters.”

What really bothers me is that I don’t see that there is any attempt to play catch-up on the part of the Administration, the Congress, or the Coast Guard.  I hope I’m wrong, but at the rate we are going, the eighth NSC will not be operational for at least nine years and possibly longer, meaning the newest 378 will be at least 47 years old when it is replaced. We really ought to be awarding a multi-year contract and building more than one ship a year. If we want to award contracts for the OPCs in FY2014 and we don’t want to have to award a contract for NSC(s) in the same FY, it means that we will need to contract for NSCs 5-8 in FY 2012/2013. (Perhaps more evidence we ought to be looking at getting other ships to fill the gap.)

I know Acquisition Directorate is still getting their feet on the ground, and they are short of people, but I hope we will recognize the urgency and that we will get some support from the Administration and Congress. We have to do a lot better than we have so far.