The following are excepts from a news release found here: http://www.msstampabay.com/
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.
“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.)