GAO says National Security Cutters have issues

The Coast Guard’s latest 418-foot National Security Cutter, James (WSML 754), is underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Thursday, July 30, 2015. The James is the fifth of eight planned National Security Cutters – the largest and most technologically advanced class of cutters in the Coast Guard’s fleet. The cutters’ design provides better sea-keeping, higher sustained transit speeds, greater endurance and range, and the ability to launch and recover small boats from astern, as well as aviation support facilities and a flight deck for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist David Lau)

The Coast Guard’s latest 418-foot National Security Cutter, James (WSML 754), is underway in the Atlantic Ocean, Thursday, July 30, 2015. The James is the fifth of eight planned National Security Cutters – the largest and most technologically advanced class of cutters in the Coast Guard’s fleet.  (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist David Lau)

A report by the GAO issued last month has gripes with the USCG’s new 418-foot National Security Cutters which have been slowly joining the fleet. While quantum leaps over the old 378s they are replacing on a 1:1.5 ratio due to the fact they have longer legs, better accommodations, stern launched small boats, capabilities for both a Dolphin and a UAV at the same time as well as more up-to-date EW, ELINT, radar and commo gear, they are still having problems with making their weapons suite do what it is designed for.

Now keep in mind that the weapons on Coast Guard cutters are actually “owned” by the Navy so there has always been a degree of disconnect, but there are still some pretty bad things that have surfaced over the course of Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E) and Combat System Ship Qualification Trials (CSSQT).

national security cutter weapon systems

While the CIWS, NULKA launcher, and air search radar were all repaired following IOT&E, post operational reports indicate that problems persist with these systems as they were often unavailable during operations. For example, the CIWS was inoperable on the Stratton for at least 61 days in 2014; the NULKA was inoperable on the Stratton from October 2013 through April 2014; and, according to Coast Guard officials, the air search radar has had 18 casualties, or failures, across the three operational NSCs over the past 19 months, with a lead time for repairs of up to 18 months. Further, the ship was not tested to see if it could achieve a hard and soft kill against a subsonic anti-ship cruise missile due to a moratorium on using target drones.

Also, getting ammo to the CIWS is a bitch:

The ammunition hoists are difficult to use in their current configuration, and the crew of the NSC prefers to carry ammunition for the CIWS by hand rather than use the hoist.

Then there are engine problems which include overheating engines in tropical waters and cracked heads at an alarming rate:

The NSC has encountered casualties with the engines’ cylinder heads at a higher than expected rate, averaging four cracked cylinder heads per cutter per year. According to Coast Guard officials, cylinder heads are not normally expected to fail at this rate. The equipment manufacturer has redesigned the cylinder heads in an effort to prevent them from cracking, and all of the operational NSCs have been equipped with the re-designed part, but the NSCs have continued to experience cracked cylinder heads even with the new design, which can result in an inability to conduct operations. For example, in 2014, the Waesche missed 11 planned operational days as a result of this problem.

However, as the report states, a series of mods, upgrades and “we’re working on it(s)” are planned.

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