The Coast Guard’s 1,780-ton, 270-foot medium endurance cutters, the “Famous” or Bear-class are getting around in the news this week as two of them have just wrapped up lengthy patrols.
Built in the 1980s and akin to a patrol frigate/destroyer escort of old, these 13 cutters are downright elderly by modern surface warfare escort comparisons. While they are of the same vintage as the remaining Ticonderoga class cruisers (which the Navy is shedding as quickly as Congress will allow), their contemporaries in terms of “little boys” in naval service, the FFG-7 class, have long ago faded away.
In fact, the Bears have been living on lots of parts cannibalized from old frigates that were stripped away before being expended in SINKEXs– the class is the last American user of the MK75 OTO Melara 76mm gun system and its associated “boiled egg” MK92 GFCS components.
One of their Cold War selling points was that they could be cheap ASW vessels in time of war, fitted with Light Airborne Multipurpose System III (LAMPS III) integration and the ability to carry a TACTAS towed passive sonar array and a set of Mk32 sub-busting torpedo tubes. It was also planned to fit them with CIWS and Harpoon somehow. Coupled with the cutter’s refueling-at-sea rig, SLQ-32 electronic support measures (the first such fit on a cutter), SRBOC countermeasures, and main battery, they promised a lot of interoperability with the Fleet if Red Storm Rising ever kicked off and were leaps and bounds ahead of the cutters they replaced– the old circa 1930s 327-foot Treasury class of WWII fame and converted fleet tugs.
Well, the Bears never did get their ASW teeth, or Harpoon, or CIWS, but they do still have a Slick 32 and its 75mm gun and the ability to carry a lightly-armed (machine gun and .50 cal anti-material rifle) Coast Guard MH-65 helicopter– and do still practice Convoy Escort missions on occasion!
Class leader USCGC Bear (WMEC 901) returned to her homeport in Portsmouth Tuesday, after a 74-day patrol in the northern regions of the Atlantic Ocean.
During the deployment, Bear “sailed more than 10,000 nautical miles while simultaneously working in tandem with allied and partner nations as a part of the naval convoy in Operation Nanook, a signature military exercise coordinated by the Canadian Armed Forces.”
For approximately two weeks, American, Canadian, Danish and French forces navigated the waters of the North Atlantic Ocean performing multiple training evolutions that included search-and-rescue, close-quarters maneuvering, fleet steaming and gunnery exercises. Additionally, personnel from Maritime Security Response Team East, a specialized Coast Guard law enforcement unit, embedded with Bear to exercise their capabilities and assist with enhancing the training curriculums for other nations.
Bear also completed a living marine resource enforcement patrol for commercial fishing vessels as part of the North Atlantic Fisheries Organization, ensuring compliance with federal regulations while safeguarding natural resources.
Meanwhile, her sister, USCGC Legare (WMEC 912), just returned to her homeport Wednesday, after an 11-week counter-narcotics deployment that included key partner nation engagements and search and rescue operations throughout the Eastern Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea.
Legare patrolled more than 15,000 nautical miles in support of Joint Interagency Task Force South and the Seventh and Eleventh Coast Guard Districts, working in conjunction with U.S. Customs and Border Protection, the U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, and federal agents from throughout the U.S., the Royal Netherlands Navy, and partner nation coast guards in the Caribbean Sea and Eastern Pacific Ocean.
During the patrol, Legare successfully interdicted four smuggling vessels, including one specially designed low-profile craft, and seized more than 7,000 pounds of illicit narcotics, valued at approximately $67 million. The crew also offloaded approximately 24,700 pounds of cocaine and 3,892 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $475 million, at Base Miami Beach Sept. 15, 2022.