India Builds an OPV (OPC)

India recently commissioned INS Saryu, the first of a new class of Offshore Patrol Vessels (five photos), that are in many respects similar to the planned Offshore Patrol Cutters. I don’t think anyone is considering these as contenders for the OPC contract, but with similar mission profiles, they do show what the OPC might look like. From the Wikipedia Description:

Displacement: 2300tons
Length: 105 metres (344 ft)
Beam: 12.9 metres (42 ft)
Draught: 3.6 metres (12 ft)
Propulsion: 2 x 7790 kW engines
Speed: 25 knots (46 km/h)
Range: 6,000 nautical miles (11,000 km) at 16 knots (30 km/h)
Complement: 8 Officers and 102 Sailors
Armament: 1 x 76 mm Oto melara gun with FCS
2 x 30 mm CIWS
Aircraft carried: 1x medium helicopter

The 2,300 ton displacement is probably the light displacement. Full load is probably more. The beam is essentially the same as the 378s, so the helicopter facilities look reasonable, although I hate to see them all the way aft, where they are most effected my pitching.

I’m hoping for a more sophisticated hybrid or integrated diesel electric powerplant on the OPC, but the two diesels on Saryu providing almost 21,000 SHP are certainly adequate, meeting the OPC’s objective speed of 25 knots.

Crew size is very similar, with a total of 110 compared with the OPCs’ projected Manpower Estimate of 104 total (15 officers, 9 E-7 and above, and 80 E-6 and below) plus up to 12 attached personnel. (Another source indicates Saryu will have a crew of 16 officers and 102 enlisted.)

Range is a little less at 6,000 nmi compared with 7,500 minimum for the OPC, but it is measured at a higher speed–16 vice 14 for the OPC. It is likely the Saryu would also have a longer range at lower speeds.

The armament is also similar, only a bit heavy on the Indian vessel compared to the 57mm Mk 110, single 25mm Mk38mod2 and two remotely controlled .50 cal projected for the OPC.

A little surprising, that these ships are being built for the Indian Navy, instead of the Coast Guard, which in India is part of the Navy, but there is also, reportedly, an outstanding contract for six similar ships for the Indian Coast Guard.

Case for the Five Inch Gun

Currently the largest Coast Guard cutters are being equipped with the Mk 110 (BAE/Bofors 57 mm Mk3) gun mount.  By all reports it is a good defensive weapon, effective against air threats and small fast surface vessels. But is this weapon also the most appropriate for the most likely scenarios?

The Choices: Given that we can only consider weapons supported by the US Navy, there are really only two choices, The Mk 45 5″ and the Mk110 57mm; three if you consider the Mk75 76 mm which seems to be going away.

Mk75 76 mm guns, are mounted on the once large, but now rapidly dwindling  FFG-7 class in addition to 378s and 270s. There are currently roughly 50 systems installed, but that can be expected to rapidly decrease with no new installations planned.  Still, this is based on perhaps the most successful post-WWII naval gun, the Oto-Melara (now Otobreda) 76mm, one that is still being installed on some of the most sophisticated new construction foreign made vessels. There has been some talk from USN sources that they may choose to install the Mk 75 on future LCS, but unless there is a change, it looks likely the 270s will be the last operational US vessels to use the Mk75.

The Mk110 57 mm, is found on the National Security Cutter (NSC) and the Littoral Combat Ship. It is also planned for the Offshore Patrol Cutter, and will be used as a secondary mount on the Zumwalt Class DDG. It is based on the Bofors 57mm Mk3, a competitor to the more successful Oto Melara 76mm. There are currently only about six units operational on US ships now, but if all four classes are completed as planned there will be 94 systems afloat.

The 5″ Mk 45, in its three mods, is the most numerous medium caliber gun in the USN inventory, and until the 155mm Advanced Gun System (AGS) becomes operational on the Zumwalt Class DDGs it is also the largest US naval gun. (Only 6 AGS on three ships are currently planned). There are currently about 106 USN mounts afloat. Numbers have declined somewhat particularly with the decommissioning of the Spruance Class. They are still being installed on new construction and planned Burke Class destroyers, but as DDGs with one mount replace cruisers with two, the number is likely to decrease further to between 80 and 90 mounts.  It is also in service with ten foreign navies. It is the most successful mount of its class in the world.

The Advanced Gun System planned for the Zumwalt Class DDGs is simply too large to consider for use on cutters.

Why do we have guns on our ships at all?

  • We use guns to signal, firing across the bow to tell a vessel to stop.
  • We use guns to intimidate law breakers into complying, making it obvious it is futile to resist.
  • To sink derelict vessels that may be hazards to navigation.
  • To protect ports, waterways, coastal areas, and marine traffic from attack in peacetime (PWCS).
  • To fulfill war time roles.

Self defense isn’t a requirement until it becomes necessary to accomplish one of these tasks.

Signalling or intimidating the typical drug smuggler doesn’t require even a 57mm. A .50 cal is usually adequate, and if not a 25 mm certainly is.

Derelict destruction is now rare, but it apparently was a common requirement at least into the ’30s. While rare, as the Anacapa found out, when it was tasked to sink an abandoned Japanese fishing vessel, it may be more difficult that might be expected. Even so, it is rare, and there are other ways to do this mission, so its not really a consideration in the choice of weapons.

The need for a larger weapon only surfaces for the last two purposes, protection of Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) and wartime tasking.

Forcibly compelling compliance.

Both PWCS and war time roles are likely to require cutters to be able to board and inspect merchant vessels and the ability to forcibly stop or sink them if they do not comply with instructions, regardless of their size. This requirement is likely to surface across the entire range of possible military conflicts from helping an ally in a counter-insurgency to a wide spread multinational conflict including operations against a great power.

If there is a major conflict, we are going to have to quickly neutralize the adversaries merchant fleet, which might otherwise engage in mining, providing intelligence, dropping off agents, supporting submarines, or even have aboard cruise missiles: http://elpdefensenews.blogspot…

The Coast Guard, and the Revenue Cutter service before it, have always needed a capability to compel compliance. Has our ability kept pace with the increased size of merchant ships?

From the 1920s through the the mid ’80s, when the 378s were FRAMed, the weapon of choice for the larger cutters was a 5″, first the 5″/51 and beginning in World War II the 5″/38. The 5″/51 was developed as secondary armament for battleships and also armed light cruisers, and a small number of destroyers. It was larger than the 4″ guns typically found on destroyers before the 1930s, when the 5/38 was introduced. (Destroyers, of course, did also carry torpedoes as their main armament.) Both the four 240 ft Tampa class (completed 1921-22) and the seven 327 ft Secretary Class (completed 1936-37) were built with two 5″/51s and two 57mm six pounders. The ten 250 ft Lake Class (1928-32) Cutters were built with a 5″/51, a 3″/50, and two 57mm.

240 foot Tampa Class cutter, original armament, 2×5″/51, 2x6pdr

From the reports of submarine successes during WWII, based on numbers of ships and total tonnage sunk, I infer that the average merchant vessels of the period, was about 5,000 tons. 20,000 tons was considered a big ship.

I don’t know what the average size is now, but they have gotten a lot bigger. Anything less than 20,000 tons is considered small and they go up to over 20 times that.

Give that size is a primary factor in ship survivability, today’s merchant ships are likely to be much harder to stop than the ships of the 60 to 90 years ago. Are our ships correspondingly better armed?

The boarding scenario minimizes the relative importance of gun range and sophisticated fire control. If the vessel refuses, combat is likely to commence at short ranges. Modern systems are capable of much greater accuracy at a distance, but even in the ’20s, when ranges were even less than now, because boardings parties were transported by pulling boats, virtually every round would have been a hit. There are at least two ways we can compare hitting power, first we can compare the weight of rounds the systems could have put on target and we can also compare the destructive potential of the individual rounds in terms of muzzle energy.

For reference there are the characteristics I used for calculations.

System              Projectile Weight      Muzzle velocity          Rate of fire
–                             (lbs/KG)             (ft/sec and M/sec)      rounds/minute

5″/51                       50/23                     3150/960                   8.5
5″/38                       55/25                     2500/760                  20
76mm Mk 75           14/6.3                    3030/925                  80
57mm Mk110          5.3/2.4                   3400/1035              220
5″/62 Mk45 mod4  70/31.75                 2650/807.7               20

In terms of potential for putting weight of projectiles on target, there is remarkably little difference if we compare the two 5″/51s that equipped the cutters of the ’20s and ’30s with a single mount of any of the modern systems. (Projectile weight x rate of fire)

  • System                  pounds/minute
  • two 5″/51                     850
  • 5″/38                          1100
  • 76mm Mk 75              1120
  • 57mm Mk 110            1160
  • 5″/62 Mk45 mod4       1400

I’m not sure this is the best metric for the task of disabling or sinking a ship. The projectiles need to reach the vitals of the ship. As ship have gotten bigger, the vitals become more difficult to reach and more damage resistant, which would favor the more powerful weapons.

File:USCGC Duane (WPG-33) off Greenland with SOC 1940.jpg

US Coast Guard Photo: The U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Duane (WPG-33) in Greenland waters, circa 1940

The potential of the individual projectiles to penetrate and cause damage is reflected in the muzzle energy.

System                Projectile Weight     Muzzle velocity       Muzzle energy
–                              (lbs and KG)         (ft/sec and M/sec)     MegaJoules

5″/51                          50/23                     3150/960                     21.2
5″/38                          55/25                     2500/760                     14.4
76mm Mk 75             14/6.3                    3030/925                       5.4
57mm Mk110            5.3/2.4                   3400/1035                     2.6
5″/62 Mk45mod4     70/31.75                 2650/807.7                   20.7

Here the oldest system is remarkable in that of all the systems considered, the 5″/51 had the highest muzzle energy. Only the 5″/62 Mk45 mod 4 is close.

File:USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) at New York Navy Yard 1940.jpg

USCGC Campbell (WPG-32) at the New York Navy Yard, in May 1940. USCG photo

Other Wartime Roles:

I have not been privy to war plans in a very long time, and as they say, plans seldom survive first contact with the enemy, but we have the experience of the past to draw on.

In the 67 years since the end of World War II, I do not believe any cutter has fired at an air target in anger. In fact, I know of no occasion when US Navy surface ships have engaged air targets with medium caliber guns. There have been some occasions when Navy vessels and even cutters have engaged surface targets with guns, but by far the most common use has been Naval Gun Fire Support (NGFS), now referred to by the more generic term Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS). Cutters did it frequently in Vietnam, firing over 77,000 5″ rounds. The US Navy did it in the Korean War, Vietnam, Operation Praying Mantis (1988), and the First Gulf War. It was done during the Second Gulf War by British and Australian ships. The USN was apparently doing NGFS as recently 2007 in Somalia.

Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS)

The US Navy has an acknowledged shortfall in NSFS capability. The number of ships capable of performing NSFS has dropped precipitously. For those that remain NSFS is a secondary mission to Ballistic Missile Defense (ABMD), AAW, or ASW. If there is a major conflict, they are likely going to be called upon for other missions that will leave them out of position to do NSFS.

The Zumwalt class destroyer with its 155mm advanced gun system was to have been the primary NSFS platform and there were to have been 32 of them, but the program has been cut back to only three.

If the Offshore Patrol Cutters were equipped with a Mk45 5″ they could provide a increase in US naval  NSFS capability out of all proportion to the small marginal increase in cost.

More about the Mk45 5″

File:US Navy 070111-N-4515N-509 Guided missile destroyer USS Forest Sherman (DDG 98) test fires its five-inch gun on the bow of the ship during training.jpg

Photo: US Navy photo by Joshua Adam Nuzzo. USS Forrest Sherman (DDG 98) fires its five-inch gun.

The Mk 45 was originally designed as a direct replacement for the 5″/38 single mount. Destroyers the size of the OPC carried five 5′/38 mounts in addition to torpedoes and numerous 40 and 20 mm guns. Even in its latest version, the Mod 4, its 33 ton weight is not unreasonable for a ship the size of the OPC.

As the most numerous US naval gun a large variety of projectiles are available and there remains great potential for further development. The 5″ is effective against air targets, and special projectiles have been developed for dealing with small high speed surface targets. Add on GPS guidance can make them precision strike weapons in the NGFS role.


In choosing the Mk110 57mm because it was seen as a better AAW weapon, a better anti-swarm weapon, as lighter, cheaper, easier to maintain or man, for whatever reason, the Coast Guard will have a weapon that is at best only marginally more capable, perhaps even less capable, of performing the most likely missions–stopping/sinking a surface target or performing NSFS–than the weapons of 60 to 90 years ago.

While the size, toughness, and survivability of merchant ships has increased dramatically, the Coast Guard has not provided its ships with a significantly improved capability to stop or sink a ship since the introduction of the 5″/51 in 1921. I still think the Coast Guard should add a light weight anti-surface vessel torpedo to its inventory as the cheapest way to have a truly effective ship stopper that can be made widely available. But until such a weapon becomes available, the Mk45 5″ is the best alternative available.

The 5″ Mk45 is a versatile weapon. Equipping the OPCs with this weapon make the ships more capable of performing both the PWCS and probable wartime mission and significantly enhances the NSFS capability of US Naval forces in a major conflict.

File:USCGC Cook Inlet (WHEC-384).jpg

USCGC Cook Inlet (WHEC-384), USCG photo

File:USCGC Duane (WHEC-33) returning from Vietnam 1968.jpg

USCGC Duane (WHEC-33) steaming home after completing her tour of duty in Vietnam, 1968. USCG photo

File:USCGC Rush WHEC-723.jpg
Photo: USCGC RUSH (WHEC-723) underway during Exercise Brim Frost ’85. photographer: SGT. Zachs

A photo of the Half Moon firing her main battery.

5″/38 fired from a Coast Guard 311 ft WHEC

The DHS Cutter Study, Trade-offs, and the Case for “Cutter X”

I have had an opportunity to look a bit more closely at the Department of Homeland Security Cutter Fleet Study, “Options for the Future USCG Cutter Fleet Performance Trade-Offs with Fixed Acquisition Cost,” by Alarik Fritz • Raymond Gelhaus • Kent Nordstromr (.pdf).

The Study

I highly recommend at least the synopsis, which is the first thirteen pages. I think the study is an honest attempt to determine the best mix for the Coast Guard fleet; it is quite well done. Basically it holds cost constant and looks at possible alternatives to build the most effective fleet possible. It builds on work done for the earlier Coast Guard Fleet mix studies, but unlike the CG studies, it looks at alternatives to the program of record. It looks at where the missions are being performed and considers the effects of weather on mission performance in four regions, the Northeast, Southeast, West, and Alaska.

The study considers:

  • trading National Security Cutters (NSC) for more Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) (Approx. two OPCs per NSC)
  • trading OPC as currently described for OPCs that have reduced capabilities but retain the seakeeping and endurance of the OPCs (This was postulated but not explored in depth. It did not appear to make much difference.)
  • trading OPCs for a modernized version of the 270 (approx. four mod-270s for three OPCs)
  • trading OPCs for an equal number of LCS (This was seen as a non viable choice because of the higher cost and lower seakeeping and endurance of the LCS)

The problems (and these were recognized by the study) are:

  • Further delays in beginning building ships severely impacts near term capability
  • A major Cutter fleet of only NSCs and mod-270s does not meet the needs for heavy weather capability where it does exist.
  • Because the Mod-270s have as large a crew as the OPCs, a larger number of ships would add to the operating cost of the fleet.

What comes through loud and clear, from this study is that

  • We need ships with the capability to do boat and helicopter ops in State Five Seas particularly in the Northeast and Alaska.
  • In the Southeast and West, where the primary missions are Drug Enforcement and Migrant Interdiction, we are a long way from a point of diminishing returns, that is, mission performance is most directly linked to the number of cutters, increasing in in almost direct proportion to the number available.
  • The cutters ability to launch boats and helicopters in State Five conditions are much less important in the West and Southeast where most of the cutters are normally deployed.

An Alternative

In simplistic terms, while we need some highly capable hulls, we also need even more hulls on patrol, but the additional hulls don’t need to be particularly sophisticated. This leads me to the conclusion to the we really need another option, another class of ship, I’ll call it “Cutter X.” Think of this new class as taking the crew and equipment of a Webber class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) and putting them in a larger hull with more endurance and seakeeping, while accepting lower top speed than the FRC. We can take advantage of the training and corporate experience with the FRCs, if we add similarly equipped larger cutters.

I am going to talk about one possible fleet mix including this additional class. It is not necessarily the optimum mix, I’ll leave that for further analysis, but I think it may illustrate the advantage of including this additional class. For this proposed new mix I believe we can hold acquisition and operating costs constant, ie the same as the program of record. The proposal would trade 24 units in the program of record (2 NSCs, 4 OPCs, and 18 FRCs) for 22 units of this additional class (depending on cost we might get more) and could allow us to:

I’ll compare this possible fleet mix to the Coast Guard Fleet as it existed in 2000/2001 and the fleet in the Program of Record (POR). on the basis of cutter days available and crewing requirements using both conventional and augmented crewing.

Before we do that, what would “Cutter X” look like? The design that I think comes closest to what I have in mind is the French built L’Adroit (also here and here). It is four times as large as the FRC at 1,450 tons but even with far less horsepower than the FRC (7,500 vs 11,600) it still does 21 knots. With the FRCs engines it would likely do about 24. It might be thought of as a modernized 210, in that unlike the 270 it has no medium caliber gun, fire control system, or ESM.

(There are other similar ships that could be used as examples, see the addendum at the end of the post.)

As we have noted earlier, increased size doesn’t necessarily add much to the cost of a ships. Adding only volume, storage, and larger fuel and ballast tanks, I think these ships can be produced for no more than three times the price of the FRCs, perhaps less than twice as much. I don’t have prices for other examples, but for one, BAEs “Port of Spain” class, the original price for  was only $80M each, less than twice the cost of a FRC and that figure included continued maintenance and training for the crew.

Basically my assumption is that the tradeoffs would work something like this:

1 NSC = 2 OPCs = 4 Cutter Xs = 12 FRCs

This equates to approx. prices of: $700M/NSC, $350/OPC, $175M/Cutter X, and $60M/FRC.

Lets compare the Fleets

As a baseline, take a look at the CG fleet as reported in the 2000/2001 Combat Fleets of the World (I happen to have a copy). It included:

  • 12 Hamilton class 378s
  • 13 Bear class 270s
  • 16 Reliance class 210s
  • Alex Haley
  • Acushnet
  • Storis
  • 49 Island class 110s

or 93 vessels including 44 “cruising cutters” to use the old generic term.

The Program of Record if completed will include:

  • 8 NSC
  • 25 OPC
  • 58 FRC

or 91 vessels including 33 cruising cutters.

The proposed alternative mix would include:

  • 6 NSC
  • 21 OPC
  • 22 Cutter X
  • 40 FRC

or 89 vessels including 49 cruising cutters.

Cutter Days AFHP and Crew Requirements:

For the analysis below I have used the following as the personnel allowances for the new classes:

  • NSC 113
  • OPC   90 (still to be firmed up)
  • FRC    24 (includes two extra junior officers assigned to gain experience)

The personnel allowance for new class could be as little as 30 but is likely going to be more, if only as an opportunity to provide more at sea experience. Using the assumed personnel allowances and the trade-off identified earlier, the proposed mix would require no more personnel than the program of record unless the personnel allowance for “Cutter X”  is more than 46. At most the personnel allowance should not be more than that of the 210s. My figures may be out of date, but at least at one point that was a crew of 62. I’ll use this as the upper limit.

The 2000/2001 fleet theoretically could have provided 8,140 cruising cutter days away from homeport (AFHP) (44 cruising cutters x 185 days) and would have required a total personnel allowance of 5,509.

Without augmentation, the program of record would theoretically provide 6,105 cruising cutter days AFHP (33 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of 4,526.

With Augmentation (increasing their personnel allowance by a third and running the cruising cutters 230 days/year) the program of record would theoretically provide 7,590 cruising cutter days and require a total personnel allowance of 5259.

Without augmentation, the proposed mix would theoretically provide 9,065 cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 185 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 4,188 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X) and 4,892 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X).

With Augmentation (increasing their personnel allowance by a third and running the cruising cutters 230 days/year) the proposed mix would theoretically provide 11270  cruising cutter days AFHP (49 cruising cutters x 230 days) and require a total personnel allowance of between 5264 (assuming a crew of only 30 for Cutter X) and 6203 (assuming a crew of 62 for Cutter X).

What about the loss of FRCs? The proposal would trim 18 FRC from the POR. They are projected to operate up to 2500 hours per day. If we assumed that all 2500 hours were devoted to offshore cruising for the 18 additional units, that would add 1875 days AFHP to the POR for a total of 7,980 days AFHP for the un-augmented fleet and 9,465 days AFHP for the augmented POR. (disregarding the 40 additional FRC that are included in both proposals).

In summary Cutter Days Available:

  • ————————————————–Un-Augmented———Augmented by 1/3
  • 2000/20001 (cruising cutters only)                     8,140                            N/A
  • POR (cruising cutters only)                                 6,105                          7,590
  • POR (w/1,875 additional FRC day AFHP)           7,980                          9,465
  • Proposed Mix w/Cutter X (cruising cutters only) 9,065                        11,270

It looks like this alternative provides an improvement of at least 13% over the program of record, possibly as much as 48.5% depending on how you view the FRCs as a patrol asset. It appears that the un-augmented version may be superior to the augmented version of the program of record while using far fewer people.

Is it doable? What is the timing? How would it mess with other programs?

Cutter X production could ramp up as FRC construction trails off. If we are unable to increase the FY2013 from the current two units, that will put the program at 20 units funded. With no NSCs planned for FY 2014 and 2015, hopefully there will be funding for six in FY2014. Out-years, beginning in FY2015 will require a new contract to complete the additional 14 units proposed. Assuming six units a year, in FY 2015 and 2016, the last two would be funded in FY2017.

If the CG starts soon they could fund the prototype unit of Cutter X in FY2017. L’ Adroit was completed in approximately 13 months, so it is at least theoretically possible the first unit could be delivered well before the first OPC (expected FY2020). Replacing the FRC in the budget, two units a year could be funded in parallel with OPC construction.

Addendum: Other Patrol Vessels similar in concept:

File:HMS-Clyde Fox-Bay.jpg

HMS Clyde, 267x45x12, 8,250 HP 21 knots, crew 42 + accommodations for 20 more, endurance 7,800 nmi @ 12 knots, 1x30mm, Flight deck for up to Merlin (16 ton helicopter)

HMS Tyne (P281) Offshore Patrol Vessel at sea

British River class OPV (UK) (and here), 261x45x12, 1,677 fl, 5,532 HP 20 knots, crew 30 + accommodations for 20 more, 1x20mm, no flight deck or hangar

File:T&T Port of Spain-1-tonal.jpg

BAE’s Port of Spain class  (Brazil and Thailand) (more here), 264x44x12, 1700 tons,  9,700 HP 25 knots, crew 34+5 trainees, endurance , 1x30mm, 2x25mm, Helo deck, but no hangar (Thai version HTMS Krabi has a 76mm Oto Melara and 2x30mm)

File:Vega P404.jpg

Italian Ship Vega, Cassiopia Class, Nov. 2001, by Antoio Munoz Criado

Cassiopea class (Italy), 262x39x12, 1,475 tons fl, 8,800 HP 21 knots, crew 60,  endurance 35 days, 3300 nmi @ 17 knots (probably 5,000 at 12 or 13 knots) 76mm gun and FCS helo deck and hangar.

Building Coast Guard Ships–for China

We’ve discussed the rapid build-up of China’s coast guard like agencies particularly the Chinese Maritime Surveillance Agency (CMS) (here and here), . Here are pictures of the build-up underway. We have not had a scene like this in the US for over two decades.

The type 056 referred to is a new Chinese Navy corvette program that is being built in large numbers by four different shipyards. They are also expected to be used to enforce China’s sovereignty.

DHS Cutter Fleet Study

FierceHomlandSecuroty brought to my attention a Study by DHS (.pdf) they obtained under the Freedom of information act.

A cursory scan of the study suggest that (at 392 pages), it is a rich source of data and probably of continuing interest, so I have added it to the blog’s references page. I’ll try to give a more in depth review later. I have also added an earlier report–GAO briefing slides for Congressional Committees, April 20, 2012, “Observations on the Coast Guard’s and the Department of Homeland Security’s Fleet Studies”[PDF]

The study helps explain the apparent cancellation of NSCs #7 and 8, in that the DHS study finds very little difference in mission performance between NSCs and OPC, to justify the NSCs apparently much higher price, but it also leaves room for a revision of this decision because, they expect not building NSCs would reduce the fleet’s capabilities at least into the 2030s. The study recognized there remain many unknowns and at least to some extent recognizes the urgency of replacing the cutter fleet, so, at least to my reading, it identifies no definitive single best course of action.


Webber Class FRCs, Multiyear Procurement in the Future?

File:Proposed modification to the Damen Stan patrol vessel for the USCG.jpg

MarineLog and gCaptain have both recently reported that the Coast Guard has exercised an option for six more Webber class Fast Response Cutters. These will be units 13 through 18 of the class. These are, I believe, all from FY2012 money. The Coast Guard had intended to defer ordering two of these to combine them with two being requested in FY2013 to keep the shipyard working at a consistent minimally sustainable rate of four units per year. That may be what they end up doing anyway, delivering one boat every three months.

I thought it was about time to review the status of the Fast Response Cutter project and look at the future. Where are we and where are we going with this project?

Phase One:

The third vessel of the class, William Flores (WPC-1103), was delivered to the Coast Guard August 17th, and is expected to be commissioned in November. If boats are delivered at three month intervals, the last of the FY2012 boats will be delivered May of 2016. If instead, the shipyard immediately begins to deliver boats at the two month interval they should be capable of, the 18th boat will deliver in February 2015.

The existing contract included options for up to 34 vessels, but because all options were not exercised, the maximum number that can be built under the existing contract would be 30. Two option years remain, FY 2013 and 2014, but because of funding difficulties, it appears unlikely that options will be exercised for all twelve units remaining in the existing contract. The FY2013 budget request included only two vessels, rather than the six that would be provided under full rate production.

So, there will be a second phase procurement aimed at building at least 28 vessels and probably more, perhaps as many as 36, if only two are funded in FY 2013 and two in 2014.

The DHS Inspector General has raised some questions about the progress of the Fast Response Cutter Program. The report faults the Coast guard for accelerating production before the completion of operational test and evaluation, which is not expected to be completed until March 2013. Considering that the program was well behind schedule in terms of replacing 110s, some urgency appears justified. Risk areas the DHS IG pointed out were the stern launching system for the ship’s boat, and that “the service has not verified that the FRC is capable of stowing all its gear.” Since the boat launch arrangement follows that used successfully on the last of the Navy’s Cyclone class PCs, and the vessels have much more volume than the 110s they replaced, it seems unlikely either of these is going to be a real problem.

Phase Two:

In October 2011 the Acquisition Directorate, CG-9, had already begun market research (pdf) for the second phase procurement of Fast Response Cutters that is expected to be awarded in FY2015. I am hoping the Coast Guard will seek Congressional approval to make this a “Multiyear Procurement” as defined here:

“Multiyear Procurement (MYP) and Block Buy Contracting in Defense Acquisition: Background and Issues for Congress” (pdf), Congressional Research Service (CRS), Ronald O’Rourke and Moshe Swartz, June 27, 2012 (Sorry you will need to copy and paste:

These types of contracts originated in the DOD, but have now been extended to other branches as well. The FRC project seems to meet all the requirements for this type of procurement. This is different from what was done in phase one, which was an annual contract with options for future years. A multiyear procurement offers the Coast Guard at least three possible advantages.

  • Savings as a result of the longer term of the contract,
  • Savings as a result of increased competitiveness in the contract award, and
  • Long term commitment by the Congress and Administration.

The longer term of these contracts, which can commit the government for up to five years, frequently means increased efficiency which can be passed along to the government. The CRS report identifies two primary reasons for the increased efficiency:

  • Contractor can optimize their workforce and production facilities.
  • Long-leadtime components can be procured in Economic order quantity (EOQ)

While it is difficult to know the true savings these advantages offer, they are estimated to be several percentage points.

“Compared with estimated costs under annual contracting, estimated savings for programs being proposed for MYP have ranged from less than 5% to more than 15%, depending on the particulars of the program in question, with many estimates falling in the range of 5% to 10%. In practice, actual savings from using MYP rather than annual contracting can be difficult to observe or verify because of cost growth during the execution of the contract due to changes in the program independent of the use of MYP rather than annual contracting.”

In February 2012, the Coast Guard exercised a $27.2M option to purchase the “Procurement and Data License Package” for the Webber class Fast Response Cutters, so when it is time to award phase two, the Coast Guard can allow other shipyards to bid to build follow-on ships of the same class.

If we don’t go to a multiyear procurement, the current contractor, Bollinger, will certainly have a massive advantage in an annual award process. Awarding a multiyear contract could go a long way toward leveling the playing field, in that other shipyards would see the benefit  in optimizing their facilities for the larger contract.

And last, but by no means least, this strategy would commit the Congress and the Administration to a constant, long term support of the program that is mature and obviously needed.

Unconventional Contender for the Offshore Patrol Cutter

Vigor Offshore Patrol Craft 01

The first conceptual design for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) by an American shipbuilder since the demise of the Deepwater program has surfaced, and it is unconventional. Vigor Industrial proposes using the Ulstein X-bow. gCaptain brings us the story.

The proposal is 328 foot long and has a 54 foot beam. More info here.

The information available does not include maximum speed or the configuration of the propulsion systems. On the video it is clear that it has a drop down trainable thruster under the bow, and it appears it may have a single conventional shaft.

It is also unclear if the ship can hangar an H-60.

I like the boat hangar idea, in that it provides some of the flexibility of a reconfigurable space that might be able to use some of the systems being created for the LCS.

Shipbuilding Trends

For those that might like some illustrations to clarify the the acronyms that are being used to describe various ways ships are being powered now, I found a pdf “Naval Shipbuilding, Current Developmental Trends with Combatants and Combat Support Ships,” that shows layouts for six of them:

• CODAD (Combined Diesel and Diesel)
• CODOG (Combined Diesel or Gas Turbine)
• CODAG (Combined Diesel and Gas Turbine)
• CODAG-WARP (Combined Diesel and Gas
Turbine — Waterjet and Refined Propeller)
• CODELAG (Combined Diesel Electric and
Gas Turbine)
• AE (All Electric).

It goes on to talk about hull forms, alternatives to conventional propellers, construction materials and modularity.

Beginning on the about fourth page (of nine, marked as page 29) it becomes a sales pitch for two concepts that were being promoted by Blohm and Voss. One of them, the MEKO CSL (combat ship, littoral). might be of some interest in that it is not too far from the specs for the Offshore Patrol Cutter, except that it appears too compromised toward higher speed and does not look like it has either the endurance or the seakeeping that would make a good cutter.

Arctic Tugs–Three for Foss

gCaptain is reporting more ships being built for the Arctic. This time it is three tugs being built by Foss in their own Rainer, Oregon shipyard.

General arrangement of Foss’ Arctic Class of tugs. Image: Foss Maritime

These tugs are expected to meet:

  • American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) A1 requirements, including standards for hulls, machinery, towing, anchors and cable;
  • American Bureau of Shipping (ABS) Ice Class requirements
  • International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) requirements, including an on-board rescue boat and davit; and
  • Green Passport, which requires an inventory of shipboard hazardous materials that make decommissioning of vessels far safer.

In addition to the low-emission Caterpillar engines, the vessels will incorporate several environmentally focused designs and structural and technological upgrades, including:

  • Elimination of ballast tanks, so there is no chance of transporting invasive species;
  • Holding tanks for black and gray water to permit operations in no-discharge zones (such as parts of Alaska and California);
  • Hydraulic oil systems compatible with biodegradable oil;
  • Energy efficient LED lighting; and
  • High-energy absorption Schuyler fendering.

Looking at the diagram, the tugs appear to be about 130 feet. When it is time to replace the nine 140 ft Katmai Bay class WTGBs, There may be a design already in the water. They did begin entering service 33 years ago.

Inflation in Shipbuilding

The Congressional Budget Office, July 2012 “An Analysis of the Navy’s Fiscal Year 2013 Shipbuilding Plan” (pdf), has an interesting sidebar, that applies to the Coast Guard as well as the Navy. It confirms what we have noted before (“Comparing Apples and Oranges-Ships and Cars”) The cost of ship building in the US is going up at a faster rate than inflation in general.

“Inflation in Shipbuilding

“An important factor affecting the Navy’s and the Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO’s) estimates is assumptions about future increases in the cost of building naval ships. The Department of Defense (DoD) has an overall estimate of future inflation (known as an inflator) that it uses to project increases in the costs of its procurement programs. However, according to the Navy, DoD’s inflator is lower than the actual inflation that occurred in the naval shipbuilding industry in the past decade. The Navy provided CBO with a historical shipbuilding index for 1960 through 2011 that incorporates the growth in the costs of labor and materials that the industry has experienced in the past. To project ship inflation for 2012 through 2018, the service extrapolated from that historical experience, using a weighted composite of annual percentage changes in the costs of labor and materials specific to shipbuilding. Those data are based on information provided by the shipyards about labor costs in the past, as well as on advance pricing agreements, vendor surveys, and projections of the cost of materials from the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“From 2012 through 2018, the Navy projects, the index will grow at an average annual rate of 2.9 percent. By comparison, the gross domestic product (GDP) price index, which measures the prices of all final goods and services in the economy, will grow at an average annual rate of 1.6 percent between 2012 and 2018, in CBO’s estimation. The difference between the two rates implies that annual inflation will be 1.3 percentage points higher for shipbuilding programs during that period than for the economy as a whole.”

This suggest a number of things.

To some extent, this additional inflation, combined with low production rates, explains growth in the cost of the Coast Guard’s recapitalization over and above normal inflation rates.

We can expect additional actual cost growth in the future. Since cost will be compared to overall inflation rates the Coast Guard can expect more criticism as the project is dragged out.

Since the 10 and 20 year treasury bond rate (about 2.2%) is actually less than the inflation rate in the ship building industry (2.9%), the government would actually save money borrowing to pay for the accelerated construction. In addition construction at a higher rate and possibly multi-year procurements might save as much as an additional savings, possibly as much as 30%.