China Building Six Major Cutters a Year–How many are Enough?

China Defense Blog is reporting “In order to improve the capacity of marine law enforcement and safeguard marine rights, China plans to build 30 vessels for marine law enforcement in the next five years.” The source is here, but the blog has pictures, as well the complete text, while the source has none.

I found this quotation puzzling:

“China has a vast area of seas, but the number and the tonnage of vessels for marine law enforcement are both small. China’s fleet does not meet the standard of one vessel per 1,000 square kilometers (emphasis applied) and there is a huge gap compared to other developed countries, said Li Lixin, director of South China Sea Branch of State Oceanic Administration of China, on Monday.”

For comparison, from Wikipedia:

The US has the largest EEZ in the world: 11,351,000 sq km

Japan EEZ: 4,479,358 sq km

China’s EEZ is much smaller, 877,019 sq km. Even adding the EEZ of Taiwan and other areas claimed by China, but disputed by others (3,000,000 sq km) the total is 3,877,019 sq km.

Applying a one patrol vessel to 1,000 sq km would mean the USCG should have 11,351 cutters. In fact we have 43 patrol cutters over 1000 tons or about 1 per 264,000 sq km. If the Chinese had a ship to patrol area ratio like ours, they would only need three or four ships. Clearly there is a disconnect here.

We talked a bit about a comparison of the Japanese Coast Guard and their Chinese counterparts here, and it is clearly the Japanese they are comparing themselves to.  There is a pretty good article on the various agencies the Chinese use to do maritime law enforcement missions here.

The other nations with the largest EEZs are Australia, France, Russia. Japan, with the 9th largest EEZ, has the largest fleet of cruising cutters in the world. China’s EEZ is 32nd in size.

Still I think the Chinese may be on to something in terms of justifying their fleet. Maybe we ought to do some sort of resource to area of responsibility comparison. We know that our EEZs in the Southwest Pacific and Arctic are under served.

Leadership and Accountibility

“One day you will take a fork in the road, and you’re going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go. If you go one way, you can be somebody. You will have to make your compromises and … turn your back on your friends, but you will be a member of the club, and you will get promoted and get good assignments. Or you can go the other way, and you can do something, something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. … You may not get promoted, and you may not get good assignments, and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors, but you won’t have to compromise yourself. … That’s when you have to make a decision: to be or to do.”

These are the words of Col. John Boyd, USAF, who never made General, but was largely responsible for the F-15, F-16, and A-10. He was also the originator of the concept of getting inside your opponent’s Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action (OODA) loop as military strategy that became the basis of the Marines’ Maneuver Warfare Doctrine.

His moral dilemma, of making the hard decisions and hurting your career, or going with the flow, came to mind when I read this post concerning where responsibility lay for the death of a sailor on one of the Navy’s troubled LPD-17 Class ships. Were the officers on scene responsible or was it the result of leadership that provided poor tools to perform the job?

Recently the the author has apologized for possibly violating the Naval Institute’s editorial policy, but still, this is a great and thoughtful read.

I can’t help but think how these concepts echo our own “Deepwater” experience, and the resulting state of our cutter replacement program, now 25 years behind schedule in the case of the MECs.

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):

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.

Possible New Ships at a Bargain Price

Following a change of government, Trinidad and Tobago is attempting to renege on a 150M pound (US$237.8 M) contract for the purchase of three 90Meter (297ft) Offshore Patrol Vessels built by BAE in Britain. The contract included training the crews and five years of support. Two of the three ships have already completed sea trials and the third has been launched.

Some additional information on the contract, released upon completion of the sea trials of the second ship, is here.

Photos of the second ship are here (I think the speed quoted here is a mistake) and a nice video here:

At 150M UK pounds for three ships, that is less than $80M/ship, compared to over $600M per National Security Cutter and over $40M each for the much smaller Fast Response Cutter.

We are looking at a severe shortage of ships. The 210s will be about 54 years old before they are replaced. Maybe we ought to at least consider taking over the contract. We might even get them at a reduced price. They may not exactly fit the description of a OPC but they are very close and they compare favorably with our existing MECs. 2,000 tons, 25 knots, 5,500 NMi Range, helo deck (but no hanger), three auto cannon, two RHIBs and a crew of only 60.

If we don’t want to keep them permanently, we could use them only until the OPC project is complete and then sell them, but that is still probably at least 15 years away.

Is the Fleet Shrinking?

Is the Fleet Shrinking?

I got curious and did a small survey of the fleet size using resources I had at hand (that’s why I used 1982 instead of the more logical 1980). So here is a comparison of the  fleet composition in 1982, 1990, 2000, and 2010 with some notes about the future. To make the information more meaningful, I have grouped the ships in categories by displacement and provided subtotals of all the ships in that category or larger. There is a more specific evaluation of patrol vessels near the bottom.  My sources are at the foot.

(note: loa is length over all.  tons (fl) is full load displacement)

Type         Class               loa    tons (fl)      1982    1990    2000    2010

WAGB     Healy              420    16,000          –           –             1           1
WAGB     Polar               399    12,087           2          2            2           2
WAGB     Glacier            310      8,449           1           –            –            –
=> 8,000 tons                                                  3         2           3           3
WAGB     Wind               269      6,515            2          –             –            –
WAGB     Mackinaw      290      5,252             1          1            1            –
WMSL     Bertholf          418      4,306              –          –            –            2
Continue reading