Tag Archives: Coast Guard

Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), the Other LCS

The US Coast Guard is currently in the first part or a two part program to select a design for a planned class of 25 ships referred to as Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) also called the Maritime Security Cutter, Medium (WMSM). In many respects these might be thought of a third class of Littoral Combat Ships. They have different characteristics and different strengths and weaknesses, but there is considerable overlap in there characteristics. Like the LCS they will be small, shallow draft, helicopter equipped warships with the 57mm Mk110 gun. It seems likely the OPC will be 2,500 to 3,500 tons, similar in size to the Freedom and Independence class LCS.

The only information we have on Huntington Ingalls’ concept for the OPC is this photo tacked onto the end of a DefenseNews.Com report.

The existing LCS classes emphasize adaptability, are faster and have more spacious aviation facilities. The cutters will emphasize seakeeping and will:

  • have greater range (minimum 7,500 miles @14 knots) and endurance using all diesel propulsion. Typical operations as outlined in the Concept of Operations (CONOPS) were 14 days between refueling, 21 days between replenishment, and 45-60 day patrols.
  • be ice-strengthened,
  • have ballistic protection over critical areas,
  • have a larger crew, and
  • be able to operate their boats and aircraft in higher sea states (through sea state 5).

Illustration from Bollinger Shipyards

The acquisition process:

A two step Acquisition process is being used. First, up to three contractors will be selected to develop their concepts into fully detailed contract proposals. This selection is expected by the end of the second quarter of FY2014. These three will then compete for a contract which will include all documentation, construction of the first OPC (expected delivery in FY2020) and options for up to ten follow-on ships.

Eight yards have submitted bids:

  • Bollinger Shipyards, Lockport, La.
  • Eastern Shipbuilding, Panama City, Fla.
  • General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine
  • General Dynamics Nassco, San Diego
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries, Pascagoula, Miss.
  • Marinette Marine, Marinette, Wis.
  • Vigor Shipyards, Seattle; and
  • VT Halter Marine, Pascagoula, Miss.

There has been international interest in the project. VT Halter has partnered with French Defense Contractor DCNS. Vigor is allied with Ulstein, Bollinger is working with Dutch Ship builder Damen. It appears Eastern may have teamed with STX (supposition on my part, based only on their concept‘s similarity to the New Zealand Navy’s Protector Class OPV.

VT Halter Marine, Inc. (VT Halter Marine), a subsidiary of VT Systems, Inc. (VT Systems), today announced its partnership agreement with DCNS to submit a proposal to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the design and construction of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). VT Halter Marine will be the prime contractor and DCNS will be its exclusive subcontractor for the OPC platform design.

An early DCNS concept

The funding schedule is expected to look like this:

  • FY 2016 Detail Design
  • FY 2017 OPC #1 Construction
  • FY 2018 OPC #2
  • FY 2019 OPC #3
  • FY 2020 OPC #4 and #5
  • FY 2021 OPC #6 and #7
  • FY 2022 OPC #8 and #9
  • FY 2023 OPC #10 and #11

There was also a statement of intent to hold the maximum price of units four through nine to $310M each.

Specifications:

The ships are to be built to modified American Bureau of Shipping Naval Ship Rules excluding explosive or underwater shock hardening.

They are expected to operate in cold climates. They will be equipped “to operate in areas of broken plate, pancake, and sea ice ranging from 10 to 30 inches thick.”  There is also a required capability to operate an ice capable small boat and to have automated topside de-icers.

“The WMSM will provide increased protection for (sic.) small caliber weapons and shrapnel fragmentation around the bridge, CIC, and magazine spaces.”

It will tow up to 10,000 tons.

The ships are expected to be able to do Fueling at Sea (FAS), Replenishment at Sea (RAS), Vertical (Helicopter) Replenishment or VERTREP, and to refuel smaller vessels (apparently reflecting an expectation of sustained operations with smaller patrol vessels (WPCs or WPBs) at locations remote from their bases).

I did not have access to the latest specifications, but have deduced some details of the proposed equipment from the Allowance Equipage List included in the Draft RFP. All the systems below are referenced. (In a few cases there may be duplicate listing if different nomenclature is used for the same system.) The outfit, in most respects, repeats or even improves on that of the National Security Cutter:

Communications:

  • Military SAT com
  • Tactical Data Link System
  • IFF
  • SBU (presumably “Sensitive but Unclassified”) Network
  • SIPRNET (Classified Network)
  • NIPRNET (Unclassified Network)
  • Entertainment System

Sensors:

  • TSR-3D RARAD System, a multimode surface and air surveillance and target acquisition radar
  • Electro-Optic/Infrared Sensor system
  • RADIAC

Weapons:

  • Mk 48 mod 1 Gun Weapon System (pdf), which includes the Mk 110 57mm gun, AN/SPQ-9B  Surface search and Fire Control Radar, Electro-Optical sensor system Mk 20 mod 0, the Mk 160 GCS Mod 12, and Mk 12 Gun Computer System
  • Mk 15 mod 21-25 CIWS (Phalanx) (apparently equipped for but not with)
  • Mk 38 mod 2 25 mm
  • Gun Weapon System SSAM (remotely controlled stabilized .50 cal)
  • Four crew served .50 mounts including Mk 16 and Mk 93 mod 0 or mod 4 mounts
  • Mk 46 optical sight

Electronic Warfare:

  • Mk 53 Decoy launcher
  • AN/SLQ-32 (v)2

Navigation:

  • Encrypted GPS
  • Electronic Chart Display and Information System

Intelligence:

  • Ships Signals Exploitation Space
  • Special Purpose Intel System

Aviation:

  • Hangar for helicopter up to and including Navy and Coast Guard H-60s (There may have been some backtracking on the requirement for a helicopter larger than the HH-65)
  • Facilities for the support of unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS)
  • TACAN
  • Visual Landing Aids

Coast Guard HH-65 Dolphins

Unresolved

Having watched this program develop over a number of years, it is remarkable that the specifications have moved from specific to general as the need to minimize cost has resulted in softening of the requirements. As with many contracts, threshold and objective characteristics were defined, but if there are incentives for going beyond threshold requirements, they have not been made public. For this reason there seems little reason to expect the capabilities to exceed the threshold requirement which include a speed of 22 knots (objective 25).

The aviation support requirements also seem to have gone soft and may result in the ability to support only smaller helicopters and UAVs

Potential Naval Roles

Weapons–A minimal projected fit has been identified, but the Commandant has stated that the ships will have space and weight reservation for additional weapons, but I have not been privy to the extent of this reservation. It may be limited to replacing the Mk38mod2 with a Phalanx, but there is reason to hope the ships have greater potential.

The ships do have an unusual specification. For the Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations, they are required to be able to feed and provide basic shelter for up to 500 migrants for 48 hours, all while keeping them on the main deck or above.  This actually constitutes a substantial weight/moment reserve for other missions. If we assumed 150 pounds for each person, that would equate to 37.5 tons.

Modules–While there was apparently no stated requirement to host mission modules or containers in the specifications, some of the foreign designed potential contenders may already include provision for taking containers. For instance, the Damen designed OPV 2600 (ton) has provision for five 20 foot containers. Others may use containers as part of their plan to meet the 500 Alien Migrant holding requirement.

Vigor Offshore Patrol Craft 01

Vigor concept with its Ulstein X-bow. It was reported to have a length of 328 feet, a beam of 54 feet, a draft of 16.5 feet, and a max speed of 22knots. It included a reconfigurable boat hangar.

Manning:

The Coast Guard’s latest Manpower Estimate for the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), completed 18 March 2011, was 104 (15 officers, 9 CPOs, 80 E-6 and below) plus an aviation detachment (five personnel) and Ship’s Signals Exploitation Space (SSES) detachment (seven personnel) for a total of 116. Accommodations are planned for at least 120 (threshold requirement) and hopefully as many as 126 (“objective”). The manning assumes four section underway watches.

Unlike the two current LCS classes, the OPCs are expected to train junior personnel: “The Coast Guard depends on cutters to expose our junior personnel, officers and enlisted, to our wide mission set. With this real world experience derived from a first tour operational assignment, these sailors populate critical billets such as law enforcement detachments, independent duty corpsmen, and XOs on patrol boats.”

These ships, like the LCS are expected to have multiple crews, with four crews for a group of three ships, allowing them to operate up to 225-230 days away from home port per year. (I personally don’t like the concept as proposed)

Survivability: The preliminary manning documents assumes that two full Repair Lockers (27 crew members in each locker) plus a Rapid Response Team (RRT) will be constituted for General Emergency Situations, but only one full Repair Locker and the RRT will be available at General Quarters. Two engine rooms will provide a degree of propulsion redundancy.

LCS Council:

The CNO saw the need for high level coordination of the introduction of the LCS to insure that they made the most of their potential. Since established they have added oversight of the Joint High Speed Vessels.

I see a need for the Coast Guard to also have a seat the Council to

  • share experiences with multiple crewing and other lessons learned
  • maximize the wartime potential of the Offshore Patrol Cutters by exploiting commonality with the LCS
  • ease coordination of Navy’s LCS and JHSVs partnership station, drug interdiction, and constabulary efforts which often involving Coast Guard detachments.

LCS 2.0, or a Missed opportunity?:

I keep hearing that many, including former undersecretary Bob Work, may not be entirely happy with the characteristics of the existing LCS designs, but that because they are the design we have, we should continue to build them. I have hoped that the Offshore Patrol Cutters would offer a possible alternative for an LCS 2.0. It may be that cost considerations and program choices will make them unsuitable, but at the very least, the eight design proposals and the three fully developed contract proposals should make interesting reading for those who would like to consider alternatives to the existing designs.

In addition, these ships, or designs developed from them, may offer a cheaper alternative basis upon which to offer our allies interested in American built corvettes or OPVs.

If I had my druthers:

If I had my druthers these ships would be designed, but not necessarily equipped, from the start, for wartime roles including ASW and NSFS.

Background: “What might Coast Guard cutters do in wartime.”

Chuck Hill blogs at http://chuckhillscgblog.net/. He retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life long interest in naval ships and history.

A Unified Chinese Coast Guard

 

Dragons of a feather stick together
                                                                      Dragons of a feather stick together

Our friend Chuck Hill, of Chuck Hill’s CG Blog fame, has a short synopsis of news that went mostly unremarked in the past few weeks – namely the consolidation of several of China’s various civilian maritime services (or “dragons”) – into something approaching a unified Coast Guard in the mold of a naval auxiliary:

The new agency will combine the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) of the State Oceanic Administration (SOA), Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC), the anti-smuggling force of the General Administration of Customs, and their “Coast Guard” (aka Maritime Police in Chinese).

 

Ironically from the US point of view, SAR is not one of the agency’s responsibilities as the Maritime Safety Administration (MSA) of the Ministry of Transport will remain separate.

Read the full story here, including analysis on the potential impact on the region’s maritime stand-offs.  

9th Season of “Deadliest Catch” to Film in South China Sea

International Maritime Satire Week Warning: The following is a piece of fiction intended to elicit insight through the use of satire and written by those who do not make a living being funny – so it’s not serious and very well might not be funny – but apparently producer Todd Stanley thought so (see comments below).

 

SILVER SPRING, MD—Following a loss in ratings to NBC’s Stars Earn Stripes, the Discovery Channel has decided to change the setting of its award-winning reality fishing show Deadliest Catch to the South China Sea. 

 

Sources indicate that Discovery intended to cancel the series until Deadliest Catch producer Thom Beers presented the idea of moving the setting to either the Strait of Hormuz or the South China Sea.  With the annual ratings boost from Shark Week a year away, Discovery elected to keep the show and film the next season in the hotly contested Southeast Asian waters.

 

When asked about the drastic change, Beers said, “The South China Sea is a great move for the series and the hardy American fishing crews viewers have come to love – Wizard, Time Bandit, Northwestern, Cornelia Marie, they’ll all be there.  It’s home to a competitive fishing environment and surrounded by countries that have a passion for the sea.  You’ve got Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Malaysians, and Indonesians out there sailing together.  Now we’re throwing Americans right into the middle of this great, dynamic environment.”

 

Beers explained that the region’s depleted fishing stocks will actually enhance the show’s intensity because it raises the stakes for the competing fishing vessels.  “These guys will be fighting each other for every single fish—literally,” said Beers said with a grin. 

 

Sig Hansen, Captain of the fishing vessel Northwestern, also expressed confidence in adapting to the new environment.  “If there’s one thing that we need to master right away, it’s persistence.  We can’t turn around no matter what or who is in front of us.”  Hansen also talked about the safety situation.  “In the Bering Sea, we didn’t always have the Coast Guard backing us up because of the conditions.  However, we’re told that in the South China Sea all these different nations send in their Coast Guard and military vessels to patrol the area.  It’s a lot safer in my opinion.”

 

The crews of Deadliest Catch will face many exciting new challenges in the 9th Season.

The lack of an American port does not deter Beers from basing the show in the region.  His team plans to set up their base on one of the sea’s many islands.  Producer Todd Stanley, Beers’ partner, said “Look, a lot of these islands, like the Spratly’s, don’t have any residents.  We’re thinking, why not go in take one for ourselves?  Of course, we would do the proper legal thing and make sure to hoist an American flag to keep everyone calm.” 

 

Stanley revealed that the ships could just anchor at the Scarborough Shoal if they cannot find an island.   “We’ll just follow the Chinese model, if necessary, and show up with an old-looking map with some lines drawn around things.  I’ve got an old place-mat from my childhood.  Do these dashes around Australia mean I own it? Who knows, they could just be spaghetti stains – the important point is it would take the UN years to sort through our claim.”

 

When asked for a statement, the Association of Southeast Asians (ASEAN) could not respond with an official comment.  Deputy Press Secretary Naoko Saiki believes that the story is a hoax.  “It’s hard to believe America is home to a television series about crab fishing…this is probably fabricated by one of the nationalist groups in the region.  Everyone knows that Americans only watch Jack Baur.”

 

Discovery announced that they are also moving Sons of Guns to Iraq and American Loggers to the forests in Colombia. Production on Season 9 starts in October and will premiere on the Discovery Channel in early April.

Winter is Coming

Heat waves, rising temperatures, and retreating ice grab headlines today. However, receding sea ice in the Arctic and a concurrent increase in shipping traffic will intensify attention on the globe’s (still) frigid northern reaches. Though the United States issued a forward-looking Arctic policy with National Security Presidential Directive 66 in 2009, it has not seriously faced the implications of matching these policy goals to strategic ends and backing its interests in the region with capital investments. Our Canadian allies have, and we should seek to learn from their experience.

The Arctic was important to Canada and the United States well before the ice started melting.

Canada’s adaptation to the Arctic’s changing maritime geography is instructive. For starters, it serves as a reminder of Canada’s importance as an ally of the United States. Geography, heritage, and shared sacrifice have forged a special relationship between Canada and the United States and, like the Night’s Watch in the cold Northern reaches of the fictional world in Game of Thrones, I think we too infrequently give them proper credit for their support of our defense. This isn’t the first era requiring US-Canadian security cooperation in the Arctic – both countries jointly manned the “Distant Early Warning” Line of radar stations above the Arctic Circle during the Cold War.

The United States can look to Canada’s experience in matching ends, ways, and means in a new Arctic geography while under austere fiscal constraints to inform our own decisions as we contemplate our role in the region.

Canada is an Arctic nation, and this identity figures heavily in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Among the most important declarations in the strategy:

In Canada’s Arctic region, changing weather patterns are altering the environment, making it more accessible to sea traffic and economic activity. Retreating ice cover has opened the way for increased shipping, tourism and resource exploration, and new transportation routes are being considered, including through the Northwest Passage. While this promises substantial economic benefits for Canada, it has also brought new challenges from other shores. These changes in the Arctic could also spark an increase in illegal activity, with important implications for Canadian sovereignty and security and a potential requirement for additional military support.

and:

Canadian Forces must have the capacity to exercise control over and defend Canada’s sovereignty in the Arctic. New opportunities are emerging across the region, bringing with them new challenges. As activity in northern lands and waters accelerates, the military will play an increasingly vital role in demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in this potentially resource rich region.

Canada First proposes Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS) as the primary strategic means to accomplish the policy goal of demonstrating a visible Canadian presence in the Arctic. In early July of this year, the Canadian Government announced a preliminary contract to draft an execution strategy for the project and execute a design review of the proposed vessel, which will be based on the Norwegian Svalbard-class of ships. While representing a significant step towards realizing Canada’s goals in the Arctic, the proposed class has received a fair amount of domestic criticism. Some Canadians call the design too small, too light, and too slow. Others point to the vessel’s lack of armament, though some propose incorporating space for future weapons systems into the design. A final criticism of the class is that it is designed for light icebreaking duties, earning them the moniker “slushbreakers” in the Canadian American Strategic Review. Vessels designed for polar cruising typically conform to a “Polar Class” indicating a specific level of icebreaking capability. The proposed AOPS will be Polar Class 5, which means “Year round operation in medium first-year ice which may include old ice inclusions,” and represents the lowest year-round capability to negotiate polar waters.

A portent of future Arctic FONOPS?

The AOPS represents, as some Arctic watchers have noted, a compromise between an offshore patrol vessel and a dedicated Arctic warship. This is the essential difficulty in planning an Arctic force structure: though the ice is retreating, there is still plenty of it and significant seasonal variations present new design challenges to Naval and/or Coast Guard vessels. True Arctic vessels require completely different hull, mechanical and engineering systems that significantly impact their tactical performance. No bow mounted sonar. Poor speed and maneuverability. Et cetera. Indeed, given the fact that American and Soviet/Russian submarines have a long, distinguished history of operating under the sea ice, I would question a surface vessel’s ability to operate in a submarine threat environment while noisily plowing through ice floes. This is just one challenge among many to tactical surface operations in the Arctic, and they are probably the reason why (as noted at Information Dissemination yesterday) the US Navy hasn’t seriously considered itself an Arctic player beyond ICEX and some limited research and development projects.

There are similarities between Canadian and US Arctic policy. While, geographically speaking, Canada seems to have a stronger need for an Arctic presence due to its more extensive maritime claims in the region, the Bering Strait – a critical choke point – is in Alaska’s back yard. US policy for the Arctic includes the following as summarized in a recent report:

The USA names several military challenges with implications for the Arctic, including missile defense and early warning; deployment of sea and air systems for strategic sealift, strategic deterrence, maritime presence, and maritime security operations; and ensuring freedom of navigation and overflight.

It’s possible to fulfill many of these goals with submarines, but once the discussion veers towards sealift, missile defense, and freedom of navigation, a polar surface combatant seems a necessary part of an Arctic force structure. The United States will have to answer many key questions raised by these stated goals:

  1. Should Navy, Coast Guard, or joint assets fulfill these roles?
  2. How important is it to the United States to lead the exploration and militarization of the Arctic?
  3. What metrics of civil use and sea ice change will determine the extent and timing of the United States’ Arctic presence?
  4. What functions can/should an Arctic ship fulfill?
  5. How does receding ice impact the existing Polar Classification system? What baseline of Polar Class is appropriate to Arctic warships/coast guard cutters?

Answering these questions is the work of strategy, and it’s telling that a recent letter signed by both of Alaska’s senators requested just such a strategy. If the United States does forge a detailed Arctic plan, it would do well to consider the experience of Canada’s government. Canada has pioneered the militarization of the Arctic region and revealed many of the challenges inherent in operating beyond “The Wall.”

LT Kurt Albaugh, USN is President of the Center for International Maritime Security, a Surface Warfare Officer and Instructor in the U.S. Naval Academy’s English Department. The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.