Getting Outflanked along the California Coast

FierceHomelandSecurity is reporting the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection are admitting that Pangas smuggling north from Mexico are going around existing patrols. Shouldn’t surprise anyone, there is a lot of money in it. In addition to drugs they could be  smuggling terrorist just as easily.

Perhaps we need a few of those Webber Class WPCs in the Pacific. Reportedly the administration is taking another look at border security. Its time to make our case that the water side is way too porous.

Seventh Webber Class WPC to be Commissioned Saturday, 16 Nov.

Press release announcing the planned commissioning of the seventh Fast Response Cutter, Charles W. David, Jr. (WPC-1107) (The press release says, this is “…the eighth Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) to arrive to Coast Guard Seventh District”  but by my count this is the seventh to be commissioned. Suppose it may be possible both statement are true. Last one commissioned was Paul Clark, on 24 August.) They are coming out at approx. three month intervals.

This will be the first FRC homeported in Key West.

Six more FRCs and Approval of Full Rate Production, Time for a Multi-year Contract

File:USCG Sentinel class cutter poster.pdf

You may have already seen that the Coast Guard exercised a $250.7M option for six more Webber Class WPCs (Fast Response Cutters). I have seen it reported in six to eight different blogs. Here is the Acquisition Directorates (CG-9) news release. These will be units 19 though 24 of the class.

It is certainly welcome news, but I is worth remembering that this was not in the original budget request. A year ago I reported a similar event, the exercise of an option for six FRCs when only two had been requested in the budget. I called for a multi-year contract at that time.

Quoting the CG-9 news release, “This contract action follows the Sentinel-class FRC acquisition project receiving DHS approval to enter full-rate production Sept. 18, 2013.   Also known as the “Produce, Deploy and Support” acquisition phase, approval was granted after the cutter successfully completed Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E).  This approval allows the Coast Guard to continue with FRC acquisitions.”

A year ago three vessels had been delivered, now we have seven. FY2014 is the last year of the current contract with Bollinger. In February 2012, the Coast Guard exercised a $27.2M option to purchase the “Procurement and Data License Package” for the Cutters so the Coast Guard now owns the design which would allow other shipyards to bid to build follow-on ships of the same class.

Everything is in place to make this program a multi-year procurement. We have a proven design that we wish to procure in fairly large numbers, 34 more over at least the next six fiscal years, and the Coast Guard owns the design. The Coast Guard can put the contract out to bid, if not FY2014, at least by in FY-2015.

All the most successful Navy ship building contracts (DDGs and SSNs) have been multi-year contracts.  These contracts are a win-win-win. The shipyard gets steady work that they can make a rational plan to fulfill efficiently. The service gets a predictable stream of new ships, and the nation saves from five to 15% on the cost of the assets. Its time the Coast Guard took advantage of this option.

File:The USCGC Margaret Norvell, delivered to the USCG 2013-03-21, but not yet commissioned.jpg

USCGC Margaret Norvell, USCG photo

Robert Yered Commmissioned

The forth Webber Class Fast Response Cutter Robert Yered (WPC-1104) has been commissioned. This Miami Herald report includes some good video, including structural test firing of the ships weapons, mooring using a wired remote controller they call a pendant, and interior shots from the ship.

The bridge is certainly large; so large it was apparently used for the pre-fire brief. The watch will need to be careful not to be distracted, if meetings on the bridge becomes common.

This report mentions that the cutter is capable of 32 knots, which is substantially more than the usually reported 28 knots.

This report from NavalToday, includes a video with a more personal look at the heritage the ship represents.

Fast Response Cutter Alternative? FRC-A?

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.”

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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.

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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.)

Fast Response Cutters–Named for Heroes

Today the Coast Guard Compass announced the first fourteen names to be assigned to the Fast Response Cutters (the Bernard C. Webber Class). They are also doing a series explaining the accomplishments of each of the service members the vessels are named for. These are the first two: