Strengthening the Fleet

The United States Coast Guard’s multifaceted missions—ensuring public safety, enforcing laws, protecting natural resources and providing for maritime homeland security—require that the agency invest in a variety of operational vessels. The Coast Guard has committed, since the mid-1990s, annual investments of over $1.5 billion and a total of $30 billion for modernization and recapitalization, much of it directed towards replacing the Coast Guard’s aging vessels.

The frequency of the Coast Guard’s vessel ordering and delivery announcements demonstrate the scope of the Coast Guard’s recapitalization program. Just weeks ago, the Coast Guard awarded three contracts for preliminary and contract design for the offshore patrol cutter (OPC). Within the last few months, the Coast Guard took delivery of a new national security cutter (NSC) and ordered full-rate production for the fast response cutter. Also, last winter, the Coast Guard executed an icebreaker mission to Antarctica, highlighting the need to augment that fleet of vessels.

National Security Cutter

On October 26, 2013, the U.S. Coast Guard christened its fourth NSC, the Hamilton, at Ingalls Shipyards in Pascagoula, Miss. Having been launched on August 10, 2013, the Hamilton is undergoing continued production work at Ingalls Shipyard until its scheduled delivery to the Coast Guard in September of this year. The cutter will be homeported in Charleston, S.C.

Three NSCs have been delivered to the Coast Guard and commissioned into service. These cutters, Bertholf, Waesche and Stratton, are currently performing operations in support of Coast Guard missions. Those three are operational and all homeported in Alameda, Calif.

Three NSCs, including the Hamilton, are in production at Ingalls Shipyards. The fifth NSC, the James, is scheduled for delivery in 2015. The sixth NSC, the Munro, is scheduled for delivery in 2016. A contract option for long lead time materials for NSC 7, the Kimball—authorizing the contractor to prepare for production—was exercised by the Coast Guard in June 2013. Long lead time materials include main propulsion and navigation systems, generators, electrical switchboards, major castings, and other items needed for production.

“The program of record for the national security cutter is eight hulls,” said Commander Craig Wieschhorster, deputy in the Coast Guard’s Office of Budget and Programs. “The NSC is a multi-mission asset designed for a range of Coast Guard missions including counterdrug; alien migrant interdiction; living marine resources; ports, waterways and coastal security; search and rescue; and defense readiness.”

The NSC is the most technologically sophisticated cutter in the Coast Guard fleet, capable of performing its missions in the most demanding open ocean environments. The cutter is 418 feet long, has a top speed of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 miles and the endurance to perform 60- to 90-day patrols.

The NSC comes to replace the 378-foot high endurance cutter (HEC). As compared with its predecessor the NSC has greater range, endurance and sea keeping, according to Wieschhorster. “In addition,” he added, “the NSC also has a secure information system for transmitting and receiving classified data and a comprehensive aircraft launch and recovery control center.”

The NSC is the first fleet of Coast Guard cutters to feature both a helicopter flight deck and a small boat stern launch, allowing the deployment of boarding teams in worse weather than prior vessels. “The NSC can launch and recover larger and more capable helicopters than the HEC,” said Wieschhorster. “It also has two aircraft hangars, while the HEC only has one, three small boats, one more than HEC, and less crew than the HEC.”

The NSCs are naval capable, allowing them to support the U.S. Navy and joint U.S. combatant commanders on national defense missions as well as exerting jurisdiction over foreign-flagged ships transiting U.S. waters. They are expected to remain in service for 30 years.

Among its other features, the NSC is equipped with automated weapons systems, advanced command and control equipment, detection and defense capabilities against chemical, biological or radiological attack, and advanced sensors systems to provide enhanced maritime domain awareness. The design of the vessel emphasized crew quality-of-life features.

The NSC project began under the Deepwater program, an integrated acquisition and recapitalization program managed by the Integrated Coast Guard Systems industry consortium. The Coast Guard has since taken over as its own systems integrator and dropped the Deepwater name from its vocabulary.

As part of Deepwater, the NSCs initially were built under a cost-plus-award fee contract. Lessons learned through the design and construction processes of the first three NSCs demonstrated an improved efficiency of the building process. Beginning with NSC 4, the Hamilton, the vessels are being built at Pascagoula, Miss., under fixed-price, incentive-type production contracts.

Later NSCs have also benefited from more recent technological developments. “An upgraded command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance [C4ISR] suite is being rolled into the production of NSC 5 and beyond, with earlier NSCs being retrofitted with the upgraded suite,” said Wieschhorster.

Fast Response Cutter

The Coast Guard’s Sentinel-class FRC reached a major milestone in September of last year when it received approval from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to enter full-rate production, signifying successful completion of its initial operational test and evaluation. This approval allows the Coast Guard to continue to acquire the FRC.

In December, the Coast Guard accepted delivery of Coast Guard Cutter Charles Sexton, its eighth FRC. The Charles Sexton will be the second FRC to be homeported in Key West, Fla., and will provide support operations in the Seventh Coast Guard District, an area ranging from South Carolina to the Caribbean.

To date, seven FRCs have been commissioned into service. The Coast Guard plans to acquire 58 FRCs to replace the service’s 110-foot Island Class patrol boat fleet, all of which are over 20 years old. The Coast Guard has ordered a total of 24 FRCs to date. Nine are currently in production at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La. To date, the total value of the Bollinger contract amounts to $1.1 billion.

“FRCs are multi-mission assets primarily designed for counter drug, alien migrant interdiction operations, living marine resources, ports waterways and coastal security, and search and rescue missions in coastal regions,” said Wieschhorster.

FRCs can operate and remain fully mission-capable in significantly heavier seas than the legacy 110-foot patrol boats they are replacing. “Additionally, they have significantly improved C4ISR capability enabling interoperability with partners both within DHS and externally,” said Wieschhorster. “The FRCs also have a much more capable cutter boat than the legacy patrol boats, an improvement vital to successful execution of all the FRCs missions.”

The FRC can achieve speeds of over 28 knots and is equipped with state-of-the-market command, control, communications and computer technology that is interoperable with the Coast Guard’s existing and planned future assets, as well as DHS and DoD assets. The 153-foot FRC crews 24 and has an endurance of five days at sea with a range of 3,000 nautical miles.

The Coast Guard selected a parent-craft design—an existing ship design that has successfully performed equivalent missions—for the FRC to speed the design and productions processes and reduce risks. Using a parent-craft design streamlines the acquisition process by shortening the demonstration and validation phases and reduces costs and scheduling risks. The FRC’s parent vessel is the Damen 4708 Stan patrol boat built by the Netherlands-based company.

The FRC is equipped with a weapons systems built by BAE Systems known as the MK 38 MOD 2 upgrade. MK 38 MOD 2, which came about in response to the Cole attack in 2000, provides a solution to counter small boat threats and is equipped with a 25 mm ATK cannon. The system includes a dedicated electro-optical sensor for situational awareness and fire control. The maximum effective range is 2,900 yards and the gun can fire up to 180 rounds per minute. The control stations incorporated into the upgraded MK 38 resembles a video game console, with a 12-inch screen and two joysticks.

The FRC has already made a significant impact in the field. Last summer, Coast Guard Cutter Robert Yered participated in a multi-agency law enforcement operation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The FRC supported a narcotics interdiction resulting in the seizure of $35 million worth of cocaine.

“As FRCs are still very early in their planned life cycle,” said Wieschhorster, “it is premature to consider future modernization options.”

Offshore Patrol Cutter

On February 11, 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard awarded three firm fixed-price contracts for preliminary and contract design for the OPC acquisition project. The contracts were awarded to Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Lockport, La.; Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc., Panama City, Fla.; and General Dynamics, Bath Iron Works, Bath, Maine. The total value of the award was $65 million.

The Coast Guard issued the request for proposal for the preliminary contract in September 2012. Responses were received in January 2013.

The OPC is a vessel which will eventually replace legacy 210-foot and 270-foot cutters. It will fill Coast Guard and DHS offshore mission requirements and provide capabilities between the Coast Guard’s fast response cutter and national security cutter, although it is envisioned to be closer in capabilities to the NSC.

Both the OPC will have the capability, as the NSC does, of operating in Sea State 5, including the launch and recovery of helicopters and small boats. The OPC is not envisioned to be fully naval capable, as is the NSC, but will be equipped with advanced weapons and C4ISR systems. As compared to the legacy cutters it will be replacing, the OPC will feature increased range and endurance, more powerful weapons, a larger flight deck, and improved C4ISR capabilities.

The Coast Guard is using a two-phased design and build strategy to acquire the OPC. This approach is designed to establish stable requirements and design early on in the life of the acquisition, which helps mitigate cost and schedule risks. The first phase includes preliminary and contract design, and the second phase will include detail design and construction.

“The phased acquisition strategy implemented by the Coast Guard enhances industry competition to promote better affordability and maintains a competitive environment during the development of the contract designs until the Phase II down-select to a single contractor is made,” said Captain Doug Schofield, project manager of the Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter acquisition project. “A key deliverable from the Phase I contracts are fixed price incentive, firm target proposals to produce nine cutters. This means that the first nine cutters will be priced by industry in a competitive environment. The Coast Guard will then select the offeror meeting all contractual requirements at the best price.”

Affordability and producibility have been two key requirements for the offshore patrol cutter project since its outset, according to Schofield. “This led the Coast Guard to issue in 2008 a request for information as part of an effort to identify proven, in-service vessel designs and mature technologies capable of meeting Coast Guard requirements,” he explained. “Emphasis on proven designs and technologies avoids the risks and higher costs typically associated with developmental and leading-edge designs and technologies.”

The Coast Guard also engaged industry early in the acquisition process. “We sponsored industry day events and held one-on-one meetings with potential contractors to get a sense of how it might be produced and what the current state of U.S. shipbuilding capabilities are with regards to this type of project,” said Schofield. “We also invited industry to view and provide feedback on draft technical packages, specifications and solicitations to foster a greater understanding among industry of the Coast Guard’s intentions for the OPC.”

The actual selection of the first phase contractors was driven by the requirements provided by the request for proposals. “This encompassed the ability of the contractor to meet the OPC requirements in concept design and design approach as well as the ability of the contractor to execute the OPC program organizationally, produce the OPC in their physical plant, and the consideration of their past performance in similar contracts,” said Schofield. “Additionally they must meet DHS small business and mentor-protégé participation goals. And lastly, they must be affordable.”

Overall, Schofield assesses the response and participation from industry to these efforts to be strong. “Our engagement strategy provided us with a great deal of insight into the best ways to acquire a cutter that appropriately balances mission needs with affordability,” he said.


The U.S. Coast Guard faces an extraordinary challenge when it comes to executing its missions in the polar regions. Traffic in the Arctic has been increasing every year, yet the number of icebreakers in the Coast Guard’s fleet is now down to two, and one of those just came back into service last year after being refurbished. That vessel, the heavy icebreaker Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, recently completed a mission to Antarctica, the first such excursion by a Coast Guard vessel since 2007.

The Coast Guard’s current polar-capable fleet consists of one refurbished, 399-foot heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, one 420-foot medium icebreaker, the Healy, and several other ice-capable tugs and tenders. The service’s two heavy icebreakers, one of which is currently in inactive status, were built in the mid-1970s and designed during the 1960s. Acquiring a new heavy polar icebreaker has become a priority.

According to a Coast Guard study, the number of ships navigating through the Bering Strait grew 118 percent between 2008 and 2012. Several countries are staking claims to Arctic resources, but the U.S. currently lacks a substantial presence there. DHS estimates a million adventure tourists are visiting the Arctic each year.

The Coast Guard believes it could use four more icebreakers to fulfill its missions in the Arctic and Antarctic. Its latest study indicates the need for three medium and three heavy icebreakers to fulfill U.S. statutory duties in the polar regions, such as law enforcement, search and rescue, security, and environmental protection. The icebreakers also serve as scientific research platforms. At this point, the Coast Guard is settling for acquiring just one more icebreaker.

“The Coast Guard is not able to meet current federal operational requirements in the high latitude regions,” said Wieschhorster. “The Coast Guard is currently conducting pre-acquisition activities towards the procurement of a new polar icebreaker.”

Congress allocated $7.6 million to the Coast Guard’s Heavy Polar Icebreaker project as part of fiscal year 2013 appropriations. The Coast Guard is using those funds for further research and development, finalizing requirements, and acquisition planning.

The Coast Guard’s Research and Development Center (RDC) in New London, Conn., is involved in investigating requirements for the new icebreaker. As a result of a service-wide solicitation last year, the RDC is acting on all five of the icebreaker project’s recommendations that were received. Those include fuel economy versus icebreaking capability, affordability in construction, and technology to address environmental regulations. The icebreaker project team is working closely with the RDC, as well as with the U.S. Navy’s Naval Sea Systems Command and the Finnish Naval Research Institute through existing cooperative research agreements.

The Coast Guard has also been working with its Canadian counterpart’s polar icebreaker project, which began in 2008. The Canadians saw positive results in recent tests on a redesigned stern and centerline pod arrangement, and plan to continue testing at a Canadian National Research Council facility in St. John’s, Newfoundland, in the next few months. This effort will culminate in a final design review.

In February 2013, the U.S. and Canadian Coast Guards’ polar icebreaking programs signed an annex to a 2009 U.S.-Canadian shipbuilding memorandum, codifying ongoing cooperation between the two nations’ efforts to obtain a polar icebreaker.

Meanwhile, the Polar Star recently completed a mission to Antarctica called Operation Deep Freeze, to resupply McMurdo Station, the largest U.S. research station at the South Pole and the logistics center for other Antarctic facilities. The icebreaker cut a channel 12 miles long to the station through ice 10 feet thick at spots.

The shipping channel was used by a tanker to deliver 3.5 million gallons of fuel and a container ship to deliver 500 containers of supplies to McMurdo, allowing the station to operate for the next 12 months. The crew of the Polar Star also assisted with the deployment of a mile of fuel hose to Marble Point, an air station 20 miles west of McMurdo, which will allow the station to be refueled for the next 10-15 years.

Wieschhorster sees one major challenge in acquiring a new icebreaker. “It has been over 30 years since a heavy icebreaker was constructed in the United States,” he said. “The unique design and construction aspects of this type of vessel require some specialized shipbuilding skill sets.” ♦

Last modified on Thursday, 08 May 2014 16:35

Additional Info

  • Issue: 2
  • Volume: 6
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