New FRCs are already giving hard service and proving useful
The big 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, built to replace the 110-foot Island-class patrol boats of the 1980s and 90s, (which in turn replaced the 1950s era 95-foot Cape-class cutters, et.al) are fast becoming a backbone asset for the Coast Guard. Designed for five-day patrols, these 28-knot vessels have a stern boat ramp like the smaller 87-foot WPBs but carry a stabilized 25mm Mk38 and four M2s as well as much more ISR equipment. The first entered service in 2012, just five years ago.
In a hat tip to the fact they are so much more capable, the USCG uses the WPC hull designation, used last by the old “buck and a quarter” 125-foot cutters of the Prohibition-era with these craft, rather than the WPB patrol boat designation of the ships they are replacing.
You can bet these cutters are being looked at for littoral work such as in the Persian Gulf where the Navy has a whole squadron of 170-foot Cyclone-class (PCs) that are showing their age. However, they are already proving themselves domestically.
With over 24 of the planned-on 58 of these vessels in service and hulls 25-44 in building stages, they have been very useful in the Coast Guard’s recent response to Hurricane Irma and Maria, with the latter in particular.
The smallest service has deployed 13 vessels in what they term a “Surface Asset Group” (like the Navy’s surface action group concept, only with cutters), and many of those 13 are FRCs.
With a draft of just over 9-feet, they can get to a lot of places that small tin-can style vessels cannot (FFG-7s draw over 22 while the LCS, depending on type and load, run 13-15). This has enabled them to appear in places where the larger craft would be off-limits.
USCGC Joseph Napier (WPC-1115), homeported in San Juan and commissioned last year, has been poking around small harbors in the USVI dropping off water and diesel fuel. Another FRC of 2016-vintage based in San Juan, USCGC Donald Horsley (WPC-1117), brought 750 liters of bottled water and 1,440 meals to Vieques. Yet another year-old San Juan-based 154-footer, USCGC Winslow W. Griesser (WPC-1116), brought Department of Homeland Security special agents and disaster relief supplies to St. Croix as well as critical prescription medication. Meanwhile, USCGC Joseph Tezanos (WPC-1118), as shown in the first image in this post, is providing escort and security for the 70,000-ton Mercy-class hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH-20), operating out of San Juan.
In another sign of the type’s flexibility, USCCGC Oliver Berry (WPC-1124) last week completed a 7,300-mile self-deployment from her builder’s in New Orleans to Key West where she did shake up work, to Pearl Harbor where she is the first WPC stationed there. Her last leg, from San Diego to Oahu was over 2,600 miles with no pit stops, a trip that showed the craft is capable of extended missions. Further, the class has deployed to the coast of South America in joint Operations Tradewinds exercises for the past two years.
It should be pointed out that typically patrol craft of that size are transported as deck cargo or on a heavy lift vessel for forward deployments. This could prove useful in transfers to the Persian Gulf.
Current contracts for FRCs are running at about $48 million per completed vessel, plus Navy-supplied ordnance, and it looks like a good investment.