Navy Rethinking Ship Designations–Time for the CG to do so too?

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Photo: Doesn’t this look like a Patrol Frigate?

The USNI is reporting that, “The modified Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) class will be redesigned as frigates, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced on Thursday at the Surface Navy Association 2015 symposium on Thursday.”

Mabus noted, ““It’s not an ‘L’ class ship,” he said. “When I hear ‘L’ I think amphib, so does everybody else.”

The FF designation for the LCS will be the first of a planned set of nomenclature changes for other ships classes as well that will come in the coming weeks, Mabus said.

Apparently he also intends to address the designations of the Afloat Forward Staging Base (AFSB), the Mobile Landing Platform (MLP), and the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV).

I will repost something I quoted in a comment to a previous post regarding an article by Norman Polmar in the US Naval Institute Proceedings “US Navy-LCS, JHSV, MLP…What?”

Quoting his conclusion: “Unquestionably, the LCS, JHSV, and MLP designations must be changed—it is logical and sensible to do so. It can be done with the stroke of a pen by a Secretary of the Navy notice. At the same time, two other ship classes should have their hull numbers changed: The three ships of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) class and the three submarines of the Seawolf (SSN-21) class should be assigned realistic hull numbers within their respective types, and thus be in accord with the 90-year-old directive that stated ships were to be designated in sequential order within their designation types…“The U.S. Navy’s basic ship-designation system is excellent and deserves to be carried out professionally and logically.”

Perhaps it would be a good time for the Coast Guard to take another look at their designation system too, and bring them back into line with the Navy system. I talked about this earlier, “Ship Type Designations–The Bertholfs are Minesweepers?”

The designations currently chosen for the Bertholf class (WMSL) and the Offshore Patrol Cutter (WMSM) are do not fit within the established and customary designation conventions of either the US Navy or NATO.

I would suggest, W-PFL (CG Patrol Frigate, Large) for the Bertholfs and W-PFM for the Offshore Patrol Cutters or more simply W-PL (CG Patrol, Large) and W-PM (CG Patrol, Medium). We might also apply the new designations to existing WHECs and WMECs as well.

We might also want to take a look at icebreakers and AtoN vessels, but those designations are really less problematic.

Loaning LCS to the Coast Guard

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Photo: 130222-N-DR144-367 The littoral combat ship USS Freedom (LCS 1), Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James R. Evans

This is a rather radical proposal, one that I never thought I would make, but the situation with the Coast Guard’s cutter fleet is almost certain to go from bad to worse as increasing age, budget cuts, and sequestration take effect. It is a long term problem and will take a long term solution.

The Eighth NSC should be funded in FY 2015 and hopefully, we will see this last ship of the class completed by 2019. But the NSCs only replace the 378 foot High Endurance Cutters (and only on an 8 for 12 basis). The Medium Endurance Cutters, some older than any of the 378s, still need replacement and the current plan is very slow to do so.

The first of the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), destined to replace the existing medium endurance cutters (WMECs), is not expected until 2020, followed by one in 2021, one in 2022, and two per year for the following years until a total of 25 are delivered, presumably in 2033.

The normal life for ships like WMECs is assumed to be 30 years. If we assume no change of plan, the last 210 should be replaced when the 14th OPC is completed. That will, presumably, be in 2028, and the last 210 will be at least 59 years old.

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USCG photo, USCGC Reliance (WMEC-615), 210 foot cutter

If we assume that the last 270 is decommissioned when the 25th OPC is delivered, about 2033, then the last 270 will be at least 43 years old at that time.

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USCG photo, USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC-903), 270 foot cutter

I propose that the Navy start lending the Coast Guard half of their Littoral Combat Ships (LCSs) as they are completed. They would be used as interim replacements for the Coast Guard’s oldest medium endurance cutters, until there are sufficient Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) to replace them all. There is ample precedence both for the Navy transferring ships to the Coast Guard and for Coast Guard manning of Navy ships.

I am not suggesting the Coast Guard keep them, because they are not the ship we want ultimately, but they would be an improvement over the ships we have now.

The LCS Program:

The Navy has already bought or contracted for 24 LCS. Multi-year contracts awarded in FY 2010 fund the building of 20 LCS of two classes, over five years, in addition to the four previously funded, two Freedom class and two Independence class annually. Originally the intention was to build 55, the Navy cut that to 52 and now it looks like DOD may stop the program at 32 ships. The jury is still out on the final number, and congressional support, particularly from the states where they are built has been strong. Even at only 32 that is an additional 28 ships yet to be completed.

Defense Industry Daily has an excellent summary of the LCS program you can access here.

The proposal:

Beginning as soon as possible, perhaps beginning with LCS 5, man half the LCSs with Coast Guard crews and put them under Coast Guard control, while continuing construction of the NSCs and OPCs as planned.

What’s in it for the Coast Guard:

Compared to the existing 210, 270, and 282 foot WMECs, the Coast Guard will be operating newer, larger, more capable ships, with much improved aviation facilities. LCSs are capable of hangaring and supporting both helicopters and UAVs, while the 270 is limited to a single helicopter in a retractable hangar and the 210s have no hangar at all. The LCSs are also much more capable of dealing with large numbers of Alien Immigrants, particularly if holding facilities are provided in the reconfigurable space. They are also much more capable of running down fleeing drug suspects in go-fast boats. The LCS are designed to operate with relatively small crews.  Currently the “core crew” is 50. In all probability, Coast Guards operating concepts would result in a crew similar in size to that of a 210 (75). So the crew costs should not be substantially different from those of the 210s, and might be lower than those of the 270s.

Most importantly, these newer ships will be supportable while this will become increasing difficult as the older cutters age.

What’s in it for the Navy:

The Navy will be able to call on the ship in wartime, but will not have the operating cost associated with running the ships on a daily basis.  The navy will save on manning, fuel, and maintenance. If they are looking for a way to reduce operating costs while preserving wartime capability, this is a viable option.

The  Navy already sees these ships as contributing to the counter narcotics effort. Handing them over to the Coast Guard would result in direct benefit to the drug enforcement effort without the Navy having to divert manpower and other resources.

The Timeline:

The program might work like this:

Vessels delivered to the CG:        Totals under Coast Guard control:     LCSs returned USN
FY                 LCS        OPC                    LCS        OPC
2016                 2                                       2
2017                 2                                       4
2018                 2                                       6
2019                 2                                       8
2020                 2          1                         10             1
2021                 2          1                         12             2
2022                 2          1                         14             3
2023                 2          2                         16             5
2024                 2          2                         18             7
2025                             2                         16             9                                        2
2026                             2                         14           11                                        2
2027                             2                         12           13                                        2
2028                             2                         10           15                                        2
2029                             2                           8           17                                        2
2030                             2                           6           19                                        2
2031                             2                           4            21                                       2
2032                             2                           2            23                                       2
2033                             2                           0            25                                       2

If this program were implemented as described, the last 210 could be replaced seven years earlier than currently planned, in 2021 instead of 2028, so that when replaced it will be “only” 52 years old. The last 270 could be replaced in 2024, instead of 2033, nine years earlier than planned, when the last 270 is 34 years old.

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U.S. Navy photo by Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Nicholas Kontodiakos, USS Independence (LCS-2) showing her large flight deck

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.

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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

Creative Tension in Ship Construction

As the Coast Guard builds it’s Acquisitions Directorate it may be useful to consider some ship building history. It’s almost two years old now, but Norman Friedman reflected on the “creative tension” that once characterized both American and British naval ship building in the July 2008 issues of USNI proceedings.

“In the past, warship procurement was very much a triangular process, marked by what might be called creative tension. The points of the triangle were the operational navy, the professional in-house designers, and the programmers responsible for paying for the fleet. Typically the operational navy (Office of the Chief of Naval Operations or OPNAV in our Navy) thought of what it would like, without much feeling for the technological (or cost) implications of what it wanted. Its ideas were reflected in tentative (“single-sheet”) ship characteristics. The Preliminary Design section of Naval Sea Systems Command sketched a corresponding ship. In effect it estimated what the stated requirements would cost and whether they were practicable at all. Continue reading

The FY2012 AC&I Budget Request for Vessels

The FY 2012 budget for “vessels” is a year without major funding for the National Security Cutter (NSC) project. It only includes $77M to finish funding the fifth ship. Consequently, even though vessel funding dropped from $851.7M in the FY2011 request to only $642M, we see the start of a program to update 140-foot WTGBs, 225-foot WLBs and 175- foot WLMs, beginning with the oldest WTGB and funding of five Mission Effectiveness Projects (MEP) for 270 foot WMECs. We also see an acceleration of the Response Boat-Medium and Fast Response Cutter Programs.

But of course the plan has been to complete the NSC program before starting the OPC program and having the first OPC delivered in 2019. I don’t see how this can happen without a major bump in AC&I funding or at least a major diversion from other areas. The funding for the first five NSCs was spread over eleven years. In the last ten budgets, from FY 2003-2012, NSC funding has averaged $312M. Only in FY 2011 did funding for the program approach the full cost of an NSC ($615M requested compared to a projected cost of $697M for NSC#5), that year, there was no funding for the Fast Response Cutter Program. The Coast Guard is unlikely to get $1.2B it needs in FY 2013/14/15 to complete the “In Service Vessel Sustainment” and WMEC Mission Effectiveness Projects and each year build:

  • one NSC (approx. $700M)
  • six FRC (approx. $350M)
  • 40 Response Boat-Medium (approx $100M)

Short of canceling one or more of the NSCs (my preferred alternative), the only way to deliver an OPC by 2019 is to build the NSCs and OPCs in parallel.

Continue reading

How We Got in This Mess-A Short History of CG Shipbuilding

Over the last 60 years the Coast Guard has typically fielded about 45 large patrol cutters, 1000 tons or greater (Is the Fleet Shrinking?) with as many as 36 WMECs. Theoretically we could build an average of 1.5 ships a year and maintain a fleet with an average age of about 15  years with progressive improvements introduced based on experience. This may be something to work toward, but it hasn’t been working that way. The Coast Guard’s current fleet is largely the product of two great spasms of ship building, WWII and one beginning in the 60s, a smaller bump in the 80’s, and long periods when no ships were built.

The last Lake class 255ft WPG/WHEC entered service in 1946. In the 64 years since then, this is the record of Patrol Cutter construction.

  • 1947-1963 (17 years) no new construction patrol cutters entered service. The service did acquire ex-Navy destroyer escorts (what would now be called frigates), 311 foot Barnegat Class former seaplane and torpedo boat tenders, 213 foot former submarine rescue vessels, and 205 foot former fleet tugs.
  • 1964-1972 (9 years) The 16 Reliance class 210s, built in four different yards, including five by the Coast Guard Yard, entered service 1964-1969. The 12 Hamilton Class 378s, all built at Avondale, entered  service 1967-1972. (The original plan was for 36 378s.) (28 ships/9 years=3.11 ships/year)
  • 1973-1982 (10 years) no new construction patrol cutters entered service.
  • 1983-1990 (8 years) The 13 Bear class 270s entered service between 1983 and 1990. (13 ships/8 years=1.625 ships/yr)
  • 1991-2007 (17 years) no new construction patrol cutters entered service.
  • 2008 Bertholf entered service
  • 2009 no new construction cutters entered service.
  • 2010 Waesche entered service.

45 of 64 years, no new construction patrol cutters entered service. All 43 new construction ships (210s, 378s, 270s, NSCs) were delivered in only 19 years. The current rate of construction (two ships in three years) is less than the minimum average long term construction rate (1.5 ships/year).

The program begun in the 60s was a timely effort to replace the ships built in WWII and earlier, unfortunately it was stopped short of completing their replacement.

In 1990 when construction of the 270s stopped, we still had 10 WMECs that dated from WWII: Storis, three 213s, three 205s, and three 180 ft former WLBs. Logically we should have continued building two ships a year to replace these. (In 1991 they were all at least 46 years old.) They would have all been replaced by 1995. Continuing two ships a year, the first 210s could have been replaced in 1996. When replaced, they would have all been at least 32 years old. Continuing two ship a year we could have replaced all the 210s and 378s by 2009. The first replacement for the 270s should have been contracted in 2010 to enter service in 2013.

We had an opportunity to have an orderly replacement program, but we blew it, beginning approximately FY87/88, when we failed to continue building ship, and let our engineering expertise atrophy.

All in a Day’s Work

(This piece as original published was incorrect in that the tow referred to, occurred a year earlier than reported, sorry for the misrepresentation, but Escanaba still has a story to tell. They were involved in a different tow a week before the repatriation)

From a press release:

“Today the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba repatriated 80 Haitian migrants to Cap Haitien, Haiti.

“The Haitian migrants were rescued from their overloaded and unstable 40-foot wooden sailing
vessel approximately four miles south of Matthewtown, Bahamas, Sunday, after being located
by a Coast Guard Air Station Detroit, Mich., MH-65 Dolphin helicopter crew deployed to
Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“After a request for assistance under a bilateral agreement with the Government of the
Commonwealth of the Bahamas, the crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba arrived on
scene, provided life jackets to the 80 Haitian migrants and, with the assistance of Royal
Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) personnel, safely embarked them on the cutter.

“Once aboard Coast Guard cutters, all migrants are provided with food, water, shelter and basic
medical attention.

“The RBDF (Royal Bahamian Defense Force) vessel HMBS Nortec destroyed the wooden sailing vessel as a danger to navigation.”