Category Archives: homeland security

USCG Updates: Healy makes North Pole while Austal Gets Closer to making Cutters

On a solo mission, the one-of-a-kind medium icebreaker USCGC Healy (WAGB 20) reached the North Pole last week after traversing the frozen Arctic Ocean, marking only the second time a U.S. ship has reached the location unaccompanied, the first being Healy in 2015.

Healy departed Dutch Harbor, Alaska on 4 September for a months-long, multi-mission deployment with the intention to reach latitude 90 degrees North in support of oceanographic research in collaboration with National Science Foundation-funded scientists throughout their transit to the North Pole and recently helped keep tabs on a Sino-Russian surface action group that was poking around the Aleutians– the latter a sort of empty gesture as the icebreaker is unarmed. 

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20) cuts a channel through the multi-year pack ice and snow as Healy transits the Arctic Ocean to the North Pole, September 27, 2022. This is the third time the icebreaker has traveled to the North Pole since its commissioning in 1999 and the second time she has reacehed the pole unescorted. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Deborah Heldt Cordone, Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 1.

Capt. Kenneth Boda, commanding officer of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (WAGB 20), monitors the passage of the cutter as the crew approaches the North Pole, Sept. 30, 2022. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Deborah Heldt Cordone, Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 1.

The U.S. Coast Guard Healy (WAGB-20) transits through multi-year pack ice in the Arctic Ocean as the cutter approaches the North Pole, Sept. 27, 2022. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Deborah Heldt Cordone, Auxiliary Public Affairs Specialist 1.

More details from USCG HQ:

“The crew of Healy is proud to reach the North Pole,” said Capt. Kenneth Boda, commanding officer of the Healy. “This rare opportunity is a highlight of our Coast Guard careers. We are honored to demonstrate Arctic operational capability and facilitate the study of this strategically important and rapidly changing region.”

Healy, which departed its Seattle homeport on July 11, currently has thirty-four scientists and technicians from multiple universities and institutions aboard, and nearly 100 active duty crew members.

During the cutter’s first Arctic leg of the patrol throughout July and August, Healy traveled into the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas, going as far north as 78 degrees. As a part of the Office of Naval Research’s Arctic Mobile Observing System program, Healy deployed underwater sensors, sea gliders and acoustic buoys to study Arctic hydrodynamics in the marginal and pack ice zones.

In addition to enabling Arctic science, Healy also supported U.S. national security objectives for the Arctic region by projecting a persistent ice-capable U.S. presence in U.S. Arctic waters, and patrolling our maritime border with Russia.

On their second Arctic mission of the summer, while transiting to the North Pole, Healy embarked a team of researchers as a part of the Synoptic Arctic Survey (SAS). SAS is an international collaborative research program focused on using specially equipped research vessels from around the world to gather data throughout the Arctic across multiple scientific disciplines. Dr. Carin Ashjian, from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, is currently serving alongside Dr. Jackie Grebmeier as co-chief Scientists onboard Healy with support from the National Science Foundation.

“We are excited to reach the Pole!” said Ashjian speaking on behalf of the embarked science party. “We have little information from the ocean and seafloor at the top of the world so what we collect here is very valuable. It also fills in data from a region, the western Central Arctic, which was not sampled by other ships in the SAS. Our joint efforts with the Healy crew are producing important science results.”

After deploying a series of scientific equipment to collect valuable data at the North Pole, crew members and the science team were granted ice liberty. During this time, they enjoyed taking pictures and posing with a “North Pole” that had been erected on the ice. Healy also used the unique setting to advance two crewmembers and conduct a cutterman ceremony for three crewmembers who each recently achieved the career milestone of five years of sea service.


We’ve talked about the 25-ship Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program of record several times in the past few years and it is one of the most exciting shipbuilding initiatives for the American maritime service. Intended to complement the capabilities of the service’s 418-foot frigate-sized National Security Cutters, growing flotillas of 154-foot Fast Response Cutters, and planned (armed) Polar Security Cutters “as an essential element of the Department of Homeland Security’s layered maritime security strategy.”

The OPCs will replace the 12 remaining 1960s-built 210-foot Reliance-class and 13 1980s-built 270-foot Bear-class cutters, on a hull-per-hull basis, with a larger and much more capable class of large OPVs or “surveillance frigates” that can likely still serve in lots of constabulary roles around the world, freeing up Navy destroyers for more combat-oriented tasks.

OPC Characteristics:
•Length: 360 feet
•Beam: 54 feet
•Draft: 17 feet
•Sustained Speed: 22 Plus knots
•Range: 8500 Plus nautical miles
•Endurance: 60 Days

The main armament is a Mk 110 57mm gun forward with a MK 38 Mod 3 25mm gun over the stern HH60-sized hangar, and four M2 .50 cal mounts. 

I say replace the Mk38 with a C-RAM, shoehorn a towed sonar, ASW tubes, an 8-pack Mk41 VLS crammed with Sea Sparrows, and eight NSSMs aboard and call it a day. The Mexicans do the same loadout with the new Reformador-class frigates on a hull the same size, so why not us? 

The first flight of 11 OPCs has been awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG) and they have a quartet– class leader USCGC Argus (WMSM 915), followed by USCGC Chase (WMSM 916), USCGC Ingham (WMSM 917) and USCGC Rush (WMSM 918)— in various stages of completion already at their Nelson Street facility in Panama City.

Well, the Coast Guard, in an effort to get all 25+ of these hulls completed ASAP, announced earlier this year that a second yard, Austal in Mobile, Alabama, would get to work on the second flight of 11 OPCs, a contract estimated at being worth $3 billion smackers (which is a deal these days for 11 American frigate-sized OPVs).

The latter just got a lot closer to getting real as ESG removed their protest over the award.

As noted by the Coast Guard on Wednesday:

The Coast Guard today issued a notice to Austal USA, the offshore patrol cutter (OPC) Stage 2 contractor, to proceed on detail design work to support future production of OPCs. The Coast Guard issued the notice following the withdrawal of an award protest filed in July with the Government Accountability Office by an unsuccessful Stage 2 offeror.

The Coast Guard on June 30, 2022, awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract through a full and open competition to Austal USA to produce up to 11 offshore patrol cutters. The initial award is valued at $208.26 million and supports detail design and long lead-time material for the fifth OPC, with options for production of up to 11 OPCs in total. The contract has a potential value of up to $3.33 billion if all options are exercised.

The Coast Guard’s requirements for OPC Stage 2 detail design and production were developed to maintain commonality with earlier OPCs in critical areas such as the hull and propulsion systems, but provide flexibility to propose and implement new design elements that benefit lifecycle cost, production and operational efficiency and performance.

Uruguayan 87s

Originally intended as a 50-vessel class of patrol boats (WPBs) meant to replace the Vietnam-era 82-foot Point class vessels in Coast Guard service, the 87-foot Marine Protector class started to hit the water in 1998 at a cost of about $5 million a pop. Derived from the Dutch Damen Stan 2600 design and cranked out by Bollinger, the Coast Guard kept hitting the “buy more” button on these until a whopping 74 were completed, including four paid for by the Navy and used to escort Boomers in and out of domestic homeports (notably, the latter all have hybrid submarine names– Sea Devil, Sea Fox, Sea Dragon, and Sea Dog— saluting WWII fleet boats).

Economical, they cost about $3,200 an hour to operate and can stay deployed for up to a week at a time, stretching their legs up to 200 miles offshore if needed.

A close-up of USCGC Moray (WPB-87331) and USCGC Tiger Shark (WPB-87359), taken by me at Gulfport harbor.

I featured one of these great boats as a character in my zombie novel, having shipped out on one on a day patrol out of Gulfport for research.

The Coast Guard even has an innovative maintenance schedule for the 87s on the East/Gulf coasts to keep the in top shape. The Recurring Depot Availability Program (RDAP) project is a four-year recurring maintenance cycle for the Coast Guard’s entire Atlantic Area 47-boat coastal patrol boat fleet in which each cutter is at the Yard for a 66-day planned maintenance period. Crews arrive with a “used” 87-foot patrol boat and pick up a freshly overhauled patrol boat from the Yard, which they immediately sail back to their homeport.

Well, as the class ages and the USCG finds itself flush with new and much more capable 154-foot Sentinel-type Fast Response Cutters, the service is trimming high-mileage 87s. Thus far, eight have been withdrawn from service and they will no doubt see much further use in Third World service.

Case in point, the Coast Guard Yard recently completed a $1.3 million overhaul of three such long-serving Protectors that were transferred to Uruguay as part of the USCG Foreign Military Sales Program. The 11-month program included partial rebuilds and training Uruguayan Navy crews, which took final possession last month to sail the trio to new climes in Montevideo.

The program saw the ex-USCGC Albacore (WPB-87309), ex-USCGC Cochito (WPB-87329), and ex-USCGC Gannet (WPB-87334) slowly become the ROU-14 Río Arapey, ROU-15 Río de La Plata, and ROU-16 Río Yaguarón.

They sortied out as a group in late September from Baltimore, escorted by an active USCG member of their class.

And their last U.S. stop was at USCG Station Key West just before Hurricane Ian came ashore.

Make Ready the Boarding and Capture team!

The Coast Guard Historian’s Office has the 316-page CG-260 manual of organizations and regs for 378-foot high endurance cutters, dated January 1973, digitized online.

USCGC Morgenthau (WHEC-722), a 378-foot high endurance cutter, by John Wisinski

Covering the dozen Hamilton-class cutters, it makes interesting reading, especially for those interested in Cold War/Vietnam-era Coastie and by extension Naval lore.

I found the Landing and VBSS (Visit, board, search, and seizure) bills particularly interesting.

They include a two-squad 27-man Landing team, a 6-man Visit/Search team, a 31-man Boarding and Capture team, and a 27-man Prize Crew with the number of pistols (at the time M1911s) and rifles/SMGs (M1 Garands and M1 Thompsons) listed.

The Hamiltons would, in the 1980s, upgrade their WWII-era small arms lockers to M9s and M16A2s while ditching their 5″/38 main battery for a MK 75 76mm OTO. Also gone were the 26-foot whaleboats in lieu of RHIBs.

And don’t scream about OPSEC, as all this stuff is a few generations outdated.

Anyway, enjoy!

Coast Guard Keeps tabs on China in Aleutians, Maldives, and West Pac

The Coast Guard, flush with capable new vessels, has been steadily stretching its legs as of late, taking up the Navy’s slack a bit, and waving the flag increasingly in overseas locations. This new trend makes sense as, besides the formal People’s Liberation Army Navy, the growing (200 white hulled cutters) China Coast Guard and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (4,600 blue hulled trawlers) are everywhere.

Case in point, this week the USCG’s 17th District, which covers Alaska, announced the USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756), while on a routine patrol in the Bering Sea, encountered the 13,000-ton Chinese Type 055 “destroyer” (NATO/OSD Renhai-class cruiser) Renhai (CG 101), sailing approximately 75 nautical miles north of Kiska Island. A state-of-the-art vessel comparable to a Ticonderoga-class cruiser but larger, Renhai has a 112-cell VLS system as well as two helicopters and a 130mm naval gun. Compare this to Kimball’s single 57mm MK110 and CIWS, and you see the disparity.

A Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crewmember observing a foreign vessel in the Bering Sea, September 19, 2022. (USCG Photo)

Kimball also noted other ships as well.

Via 17th District:

The Kimball crew later identified two more Chinese naval vessels and four Russian naval vessels, including a Russian Federation Navy destroyer, all in a single formation with the Renhai as a combined surface action group operating in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).

As a result, the Kimball crew is now operating under Operation Frontier Sentinel, a Seventeenth Coast Guard District operation designed to meet presence with presence when strategic competitors operate in and around U.S. waters. The U.S Coast Guard’s presence strengthens the international rules-based order and promotes the conduct of operations in a manner that follows international norms. While the surface action group was temporary in nature, and Kimball observed it disperse, the Kimball will continue to monitor activities in the U.S. EEZ to ensure the safety of U.S. vessels and international commerce in the area. A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 Hercules aircrew provided support to the Kimball’s Operation Frontier Sentinel activities.

This is not the first time Coast Guard cutters deployed to the Bering Sea and North Pacific Ocean encountered Chinese naval vessels inside the U.S. EEZ/MARDEZ. Last August, Kimball and her sister Berthoff kept tabs on a surface action group– a guided missile cruiser, a guided missile destroyer, a general intelligence vessel, and an auxiliary vessel– transiting within 46 miles of the Aleutians.

Meanwhile, in the Maldives

Kimball’s sister, the Hawaii-based USCGC Midgett (WMSL 757) and crew, on a Westpac patrol under the tactical control of 7th Fleet, arrived in the Maldives last week, the first Coast Guard ship to visit the 1,200-island Indian Ocean country since USCGC Boutwell in 2009.

The class of large (418-foot/4,500-ton) frigate-sized cutters have done numerous Westpac cruises in the past few years. Since 2019, the cutters Bertholf (WMSL 750), Stratton (WMSL 752), Waesche (WMSL 751), and Munro (WMSL 755) have deployed to the Western Pacific.

Micronesia and the Solomans

Capping off a six-week extended patrol across Oceania, the 154-foot Webber/Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) arrived back at homeport in Guam on 19 September.

The 20-member crew, augmented by two Guam-based shoreside Coasties (a YN2 and an MK2) two Navy rates (an HS2 and HM3), and a Marine Korean linguist, conducted training, fisheries observations, community and key leader engagements, and a multilateral sail.

How about that blended blue and green crew? “The crew of the Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC 1140) takes a moment for a photo in Cairns, Australia, Sept. 5, 2022. The U.S. Coast Guard is conducting a routine deployment in Oceania as part of Operation Blue Pacific, working alongside Allies, building maritime domain awareness, and sharing best practices with partner nation navies and coast guards. Op Blue Pacific is an overarching multi-mission U.S. Coast Guard endeavor promoting security, safety, sovereignty, and economic prosperity in Oceania while strengthening relationships with our regional partners.” (U.S. Coast Guard photo Petty Officer 2nd Class Sean Ray Blas)

They covered more than 8,000 nautical miles from Guam to Cairns, Queensland, Australia, and returned with several stops in Papua New Guinea and one in the Federated States of Micronesia. They also operated with HMS Spey, the first Royal Navy warship to be forward deployed to the Pacific since Hong Kong went back to China.

The two ships were also– and this is key– refused a port visit in the Solomans which is now under a treaty with China that allows PLAN ships to refuel in Honiara. The local government there later clarified that not all foreign military ships were off limits to their ports, as Australia and New Zealand will be exempt (both countries have significant economic ties with the island nation) but it is still a bad look. Of irony, Spey and Oliver Henry were conducting an Operation Island Chief mission in the region, policing illegal fishing of the kind China is noted for.

The Coast Guard currently has three new FRCs in Guam including Henry, Myrtle Hazard (WPC 1139), and Frederick Hatch (1143), giving them options in the Westpac.

150 Years of Cruisers sent to Mothballs

Over the weekend, the Pascagoula-built Ticonderoga-class sisters USS Hué City (CG-66) and USS Anzio (CG-68) were decommissioned, ending the lengthy careers of the two cruisers. Ordered on the same day in 1987 as part of a money-saving bulk buy, they were the first and second U.S. Navy warships named after their respective Vietnam and WWII-era battles.

Commissioned just nine months apart (14 September 1991 and 2 May 1992) they served 61 years combined.

ATLANTIC OCEAN (July 4, 2016) The guided-missile cruiser USS Anzio (CG 68) transits the Atlantic Ocean alongside aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman (CVN 75), not pictured. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Justin R. Pacheco/Released) 160704-N-NU281-142

U.S. 5th FLEET AREA OF RESPONSIBILITY (Sept. 27, 2012) The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Hue City (CG 66) is deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility conducting maritime security operations, theater security cooperation efforts and support missions as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Scott Pittman/Released) 120927-N-FI736-273

They were preceded by the younger USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), decommissioned last month on 4 August just shy of 29 years of service, and the slightly older USS Monterey (CG-61), decommissioned on 19 September after 32.

A fifth Tico, USS Port Royal (CG-73), is set to decommission on Thursday– at Pearl Harbor– bringing a close to her 28th year with the fleet. Port Royal is the youngest of her class and will likely be the last cruiser ever built for the U.S. Navy.

Truly the end of an era.

NEW YORK CITY (May 20, 2009) The guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) transits the Hudson River during the Parade of Ships as part of Fleet Week New York City 2009. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class David Danals/Released)

ATLANTIC OCEAN (Oct. 6, 2020) The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Monterey (CG 61), front, the Arleigh-Burke class guided-missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116), center, and the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) sail in formation with the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN 69), not pictured. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Aimee Ford) 201006-N-VG565-0001

PEARL HARBOR (June 24, 2011) The Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Port Royal (CG 73) passes by the Waianae Mountains as the ship departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for a scheduled deployment in the western Pacific region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Daniel Barker/Released) 110624-N-RI884-060

These five decommissionings strip the Navy of 610 strike-length VLS cells, 10 5-inch MK45 guns, 60 ASW torpedo tubes, 80 Harpoons, five helicopter hangars, and assorted Aegis systems with companion air defense commander suites.

It could be argued that six Flight III Burkes could more than replace the capabilities lost with the five paid-off cruisers and the Navy plans on buying two destroyers per year from FY 2023 through FY 2027 but that seems like a long way away, especially considering the 17 remaining Ticos are all set to be retired by then.

Meanwhile, the DDG(X) program, which is supposed to fill the gap left by the cruiser slaughter, isn’t set to even start fabrication until FY2028. 

Bears growling

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.

The crew of Coast Guard Cutter Northland conducts a live firing of the MK 75 76mm weapons system while underway, September 20, 2020, in the Atlantic Ocean. The cutter returned to its homeport of Portsmouth, Virginia, Wednesday after a 47-day patrol conducting counter-drug and migrant interdiction operations in the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo)

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.

Bear-class Coast Guard Cutter Escanaba (WMEC-907) leads the formation of International Maritime Forces at UNITAS LVIII in Callao, Peru, Wednesday, July 19, 2017.

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.”

Included in the image is HMCS Margaret Brooke, Bear, French support ship  Rhone, Her Danish Majesty’s Ship (HDMS) frigate Triton, HMCS Goose Bay, and Canadian Coast Guard Ship (CCGS) Leonard J. Cowley. Bear is in the top right corner. 

Operation Nanook 22 USCGC Bear (WMEC 901) with RCN French and Danish forces (RCN photo)

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.

Crew members assigned to USCGC Legare (WMEC 912) interdict a low-profile vessel in the Eastern Pacific Ocean in July 2022. Legare’s crew returned to Portsmouth Wednesday, following an 11-week deployment in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea in support of the Coast Guard’s Eleventh and Seventh Districts and Joint Interagency Task Force South. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Andrew Bogdan)

The Sentinel-class is suddenly everywhere

The Coast Guard’s very successful Fast Response Cutter (FRC) program, the 154-foot Sentinel-class patrol craft, just keeps ticking along, with lots of important milestones this month. It makes you wish the Navy could get on board with a similar shipbuilding impetus.

50th Delivered

Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, Louisiana– builder of the 110-foot Island-class and 87-foot Maritime Protector class patrol boats for the Coast Guard going back some 35 years– on 4 August delivered their 176th hull to the service, the future USCGC William Chadwick (WPC-1150). Chadwick, as the hull number points to, is the 50th FRC delivered since the first, USCGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101), was contracted in September 2008. All in all, not a bad record for just under 14 years.

USCGC Chadwick will be the first of six FRCs to be homeported in Sector Boston, which is known as “The Birthplace of the Coast Guard.” Photo via Bollinger.

Based on the Dutch Damen Stan 4708 patrol vessel, the Coast Guard expects to order 64 of the increasingly useful vessels.

At a cost of about $65 million for each hull, the entire program of record is set to come in at under $4 billion which sounds like a lot but keep in mind the Navy has sunk nine times that much, over $36 billion, into the Littoral Combat Ship program already (even with the “cost savings” of decommissioning ships only a few years old, hyping that each LCS hull costs $70 million per year to keep in the water).

Besides a 25mm MK 38 Mod 2 forward, the FRCs have at least four mounts for M2 .50 cals, a decent C4ISR suite for their size, a 28-knot flank speed, and the capability to sortie over 2,000 nm on a two-week patrol without refueling or re-provisioning. They also have a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot, over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat.

Douglas Denman arrives in Alaska after a 7,000-mile cruise

Set to be commissioned at her new home port at Ketchikan in September, the future USCGC Douglas Denman (WPC-1149), the Coast Guard’s 49th Fast Response Cutter, traveled nearly 7,000 miles from the most southeastern city in the U.S. to the most southeastern city in Alaska, transiting through the Caribbean Sea, the Panama Canal, and up the west coast of Central America and the U.S. in a 36-day voyage.

USCGC Douglas Denman (WPC-1149) via Bollinger

After delivery from Bollinger, FRCs and their plankowner crews spend almost two months at Key West where there is no shortage of missions in the Florida Straits on which to sharpen up.

From the 17th Coast Guard district on that process:

Following production of the ship in 2020, the first crewmember arrived in Ketchikan summer of 2021. Since then, the crew has undergone a year of administration and training in preparation to take ownership of the cutter. The engineering department alone attended a total of three months of school in addition to the crew’s seven weeks of familiarity training in Lockport, La., and seven weeks of Post Delivery Availability phase in Key West, Fla.

Full FRC six-pack in the Middle East

On 23 August, USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146) and USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. (WPC 1147), joined four other examples of the newest Sentinel-class fast response cutters as part of the Coast Guard’s long-standing Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), stationed in Bahrain where U.S. 5th Fleet is headquartered.

The two FRCs completed a 10,000-nautical-mile transit to Bahrain, escorted by 270-foot medium endurance cutter USCGC Mohawk (WMEC-913), which acted as a mothership, rather than having to be loaded as float-on cargo.

The Coast Guard has been using more of these mini surface action groups (or “Surface Asset Group” in USCG parlance), such as in the response to 2017’s Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and you can easily imagine such white-hulled SAGs in the event of a conflict.

Scheuerman and Sutphin were met by two other FRCs of the Coast Guard’s Persian Gulf squadron– USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144) and USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145)— flying their characteristic oversized U.S. ensigns, for a great photo op through the Straits.

220822-A-KS490-1182 STRAIT OF HORMUZ (Aug. 22, 2022) From the left, U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutters USCGC Glen Harris (WPC 1144), USCGC John Scheuerman (WPC 1146), USCGC Emlen Tunnell (WPC 1145) and USCGC Clarence Sutphin Jr. (WPC 1147) transit the Strait of Hormuz, Aug. 22. The cutters are forward-deployed to U.S. 5th Fleet to help ensure maritime security and stability across the Middle East. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Noah Martin)

Harris and Tunnell only recently arrived in Bahrain themselves, joining USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) and USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141), to retire the six aging Reagan-era Island-class cutters that had been there since 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Legacy 110 foot Island class cutters compared to the new 154-foot Sentinel (Webber) class FRCs

Besides their stabilized MK 38 25mm gun and half-dozen (up from four as seen on stateside FRCs) M2 mounts, the Sentinels in Bahrain are equipped with the CG-HALLTS system, a hailer that has laser and LRAD capabilities, as well as a special S-band Sierra Nevada Modi RPS-42 pulse doppler with full-time 360-degree coverage, and other goodies to include four dedicated Long Range Acoustic Devices (LRADs) on the O-1 deck. Additionally, the already experienced cutter and boarding crews of PATFORSWA have to go through 5-6 weeks of Pre Deployment Training (PDT) with the service’s Special Mission Training Center at Camp Lejune and undergo more training once they reach Bahrain.

Hosting RIMPAC Marines ISR team

Finally, it should be pointed out that the FRC USCGC Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134)— who has been working with embarked teams of Hawaii-based Marines for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance tests in the littoral since 2021– apparently did more of the same in the recently-concluded RIMPAC exercises.

Hart has been very active in presence missions in Oceania, recently completing a 10-day voyage to Samoa last winter in Operation Kurukuru and then operating alongside ships from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and France to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing (often from Chinese trawlers) in the region while on a 39-day patrol— which is a long time to spend on a 154-foot ship.

Still, they are getting it done and on the cheap at that.

USCG at the ‘Canal

In July 1940, the Coast Guard numbered just 13,766 officers and men of all ranks, spread out from the Philipines to the Virgin Islands. By July 1942, it would balloon to 58,998 men (and was starting to recruit women as well) on active duty (excluding the CONUS “Corsair Fleet” in the Temporary Reserve), with many of those overseas serving under Navy control. Besides manning sub-busting cutters, frigates, and destroyer escorts, one of the main uses for the Coasties by its bigger brother was in manning landing craft desperately needed in amphibious warfare.

A dedicated landing craft school at the U.S. Marine Base, New River, North Carolina, instructing cutter boatswains, coxswains, and surfboat crews in landing craft handling and engine operation. Pioneering the art of taking Marines and Soldiers from troopships and transports via strange new flat-hulled LCVPs (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) and LCMs (Landing Craft, Mechanized) to the beach and returning with wounded and prisoners. It was there, along North Carolina’s Onslow Beach, that the foundations of the Torch, Husky, Avalanche, Overlord, Iceberg, and Detachment landings, among others, were laid.

In the spring of 1941, the Navy formed Transport Division Seven out of former U.S. Army troop transports, including the 21,000-ton Coast Guard-manned troopships USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27), USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26), and USS Leonard Wood (APA-12), along with the smaller (9,000-ton) USS Arthur Middleton (AP-55). Of these, Hunter Liggett was tapped for Operation Watchtower, the invasion of Guadalcanal while 18 of the 22 other Navy-manned transports on that mission would carry USCG landing crews to man their small boats.

USS Hunter Liggett (AP-27) Halftone reproduction of a photograph taken in 1942. Courtesy of Donald M. McPherson, 1978. U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command Photograph. NH 86976

It was in August 1942 that the Coasties caught their first whiff of landing craft operations in a war zone.

From the USCG Historian’s office on Hunter Liggett off “The Canal” some 80 years ago this week:

She arrived off Guadalcanal the night of 6 August 1942. In this assault, America’s first amphibious operation since 1898, the ship was assigned to a later wave but sent her boats to aid in the initial landings, on 7 August. Air attacks began on the day after the landing, sinking fellow transport George F. Elliott, Hunter Liggett’s gunners shot down several of the attackers as she remained off the beaches. Early on the morning of 9 August, men in the transport area could see the flashes of light from an engagement off Savo Island. As the Japanese attempted to reinforce their Solomons garrison and destroy the transports they surprised an American Task Force and inflicted heavy losses. The Hunter Liggett and the other vulnerable transports got underway but soon returned to the transport area. After noon on 9 August, they began the grim job of rescuing survivors from the sunken cruisers Vincennes, Astoria, and Quincy. That afternoon the transport sailed with the wounded, in company with the damaged Chicago, to Noumea, where she arrived 2 days later. With the Guadalcanal campaign began the refinement of amphibious techniques which was to pay off so handsomely as the war progressed.

Original caption: As landing craft, manned by Coast Guard crews, bring in streams of supplies to the American base on Guadalcanal, a Coast Guardsman directs traffic with his signal flags. In the distance, a transport and a cargo ship stand on the horizon. From the landing barge in the foreground, a jeep emerges and runs down the ramp on the beach.

Original caption: With the nonchalance of long practice, Coast Guard-manned barges are lowered away as dawn breaks over Guadalcanal. For troops aboard the transport it means the end of a long trip, the beginning of a great adventure.

Original caption: Three Coast Guardsmen from a Coast Guard-manned assault transport in the South Pacific are engaged in salvaging useful material from battered and beached Japanese landing craft on an island near Guadalcanal. They are, left to right: Peter Caruso, seaman second class of Brooklyn, N.Y.; Frank Brewer, fireman first class, of Chicago, Illinois; and Lieut. (j.g.) Gordon C. Reinoehl, of Jasper, Texas.

Keep in mind the Coast Guard’s only MOH recipient, Signalman First Class Douglas Munro, earned his decoration posthumously while taking Marines off of a surrounded beach position in Guadalcanal via landing craft in September 1942.

Douglas A. Munro Covers the Withdrawal of the 7th Marines at Guadalcanal by Bernard D’Andrea. 

A display containing Petty Officer First Class Douglas Munro’s Medal of Honor and accompanying citation hangs in Munro Hall at the U.S. Coast Guard Training Center in Cape May, N.J., (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Warrant Officer John Edwards)

By 1943, the Coast Guard had evolved to manning larger LCI(L)s and LSTs, running 28 of the former and no less than 77 of the latter.

USS LST-831 approaching the beachhead at Okinawa on D-Day, 1 April 1945. (Note: the unauthorized letters “USCG” stenciled on her inner hull above the main ramp. US Coast Guard photo from the collections of the Office of the US Coast Guard Historian.

United States Coast Guard-manned LST beaching at Cape Gloucester, New Britain, Bismarck Islands, Dec 1943

LCI landing craft in the wake of a USCG-manned LST en route to Cape Sansapor, New Guinea, mid-1944

Photograph of Coast Guard Landing Barges Ferrying the Flood of Fighting Men Who Are Spreading Our Over Normandy. Original caption: The Invasion Stream Floods the Beaches of France. Bulging with reinforcements from the liberation waves that struck the French beaches and beached the vaunted Atlantic Wall, Coast Guard landing barges ferry the flood of fighting men who are spreading our over Normandy. They are transferred from a Coast Guard assault transport in the English Channel. In the distance, in a rhino loaded with ambulances easing toward the beach.

“The Coast Guard-manned landing craft LCI(L)-85 approached the beach at 12 knots. Her crew winced as they heard repeated thuds against the vessel’s hull made by the wooden stakes covering the beach like a crazy, tilted, man-made forest… The Coast Guard LCI(L)-85, battered by enemy fire after approaching Omaha Beach, prepares to evacuate the troops she was transporting to an awaiting transport. The “85” sank shortly after this photograph was taken. The LCI(L)-85 was one of four Coast Guard LCI’s that were destroyed on D-Day.”

US Coast Guardsmen assisting a wounded Marine into an LCVP after the Marine’s LVT sustained a direct hit while heading to the landing beaches on Iwo Jima, Feb 18, 1945.

US Coast Guard LCVP landing craft carried invasion troops toward Luzon in Lingayen Gulf, 9 Jan 1945

“He’s only 15, but he’s doing a man’s job, this Coast Guard “Invasion Kid.” Gerald W. Haddon, a seaman second class, has been under the fire of battle and is a veteran of 13 landings on Normandy Beach. Granted to be the youngest invader in the Allied Forces, “The Kid” enlisted when he was 14 and celebrated his 15th birthday under a Nazi bombing attack in the Mediterranean. The truth of his age came out after Normandy when he failed to report for morning muster aboard a Coast Guard-manned LST. He was found fast asleep in his bunk, too tired to “hit the deck.” But Coast Guardsman Haddon, now in England, is fighting to stay in the fight. He is the son of Mr. and Mrs. William A. Haddon, of 4150 West Harrison Street, Chicago, Ill.”

Besides this, some 288 of the Army’s ships— AMRS (Army Marine Repair Ship), TY (tankers), LT (large tugs), FS (freight and supply vessels), and F (Freight vessels)– were manned by the Coast Guard and were responsible for keeping those chains of islands in the Pacific as well as ports along the Med supplied and running.

By 1945, with the Coast Guard counting 171,192 officers and enlisted (including 8,877 women in the SPARS), the service was more than pulling its own. If it came across a beach in any theatre, odds are the Coasties had a hand in putting it there.

RIMPAC Review (and Coasties, too)

The 28th biennial RIMPAC, the world’s largest maritime warfare exercise, wrapped up last Friday. In all, some 26 nations sent 38 ships, four submarines, more than 170 aircraft, more than 30 unmanned systems, and 25,000 personnel to take part in the six-week exercise that stretched across the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.

We’ve detailed some of the interesting ships already, but be sure to check out this great PHOTOEX of the combined fleet steaming in perfect formation in bright daylight.

Batteries released

There were two SINKEXs, the first of which was the recently-retired OHP-class frigate ex-USS Rodney M. Davis (FFG 60) sent to the bottom in waters more than 15,000 feet deep and over 50 nautical miles North of Kauai. From the sea, U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Chaffee (DDG 90) shot her Mark 45 5-inch gun. Units from Australia, Canada, Malaysia, and the U.S. participated in the sinking exercise “to gain proficiency in tactics, targeting, and live firing against a surface target at sea.”

The second of which was the old gator ex-USS Denver (LPD 9), sent down almost on top of Davis. From the land, the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force and U.S. Army shot Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles and practice rockets. From the air, U.S. Navy F/A-18F Super Hornets assigned to Fighter Attack Squadron 41 shot a long-range anti-ship missile. U.S. Army AH-64 Apache helicopters shot air-to-ground Hellfire missiles, rockets, and 30mm guns. U.S. Marine Corps F/A-18C/D Hornets assigned to Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 232, Marine Air-Ground Task Force 7, fired an air-launched cruise missile, air-to-surface anti-radiation missiles, an air-to-ground anti-radiation missile, and joint direct attack munitions.

Coasties for the layup

Of note, the Coast Guard, stretching its legs via the service’s new and long-ranging frigate-sized (4,600t, 418-feet oal) Ingalls-built Legend-class national security cutters, contributing to the largest Coast Guard participation in the history of RIMPAC. This included the NSC cutter Midgett (WMSL-757) and the new 154-foot Fast Response Cutter William Hart (WPC 1134), the Pacific Dive Locker (who took part in port clearance operations with members of the ROK Navy), and Maritime Safety and Security Team Honolulu (who did survey work in the port in support of clearing).

Importantly, although her largest currently embarked weapon is a 57mm Bofors, Midgett has long-range sensors (a 3D TRS-16 AN/SPS-75 air search radar with an instrumented range of up to 250 km plus a AN/SPS-79 surface search set) and logged “at least nine constructive kills” during RIMPAC’s war at sea phase of RIMPAC, feeding targeting information to other assets via Link 16, an underrated force multiplier.

Midgett also embarked Navy MH-60Rs off and on during the exercise, something you can be sure of seeing during a real live shooting war. This is reportedly the first time the platform has operated from a cutter during RIMPAC

The Marines at Schofield Barracks have used FRCs in the past to set up commo nodes afloat, a task that it is super easy to imagine these shallow draft littoral vessels performing in time of crisis around scattered West Pac atolls. This worked with a mesh between the USCG’s Rescue 21 C4ISR system and an embarked Marine SATCOM team.
Marines and the @U.S. Coast Guard establish communications aboard USCGC William Hart (WPC 1134) during Large Scale Exercise 2021, at U.S. Coast Guard Base Honolulu. LSE 2021 is a live, virtual, and constructive exercise employing integrated command and control, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, and sensors across the joint force to expand battlefield awareness, share targeting data, and conduct long-range precision strikes in support of naval operations in a contested and distributed maritime environment. 

Guarding the P.R.

While the Commonwealth has a ton of reserve force installations (Fort Buchanan, Fort Allen, Campamento Santiago, Isla Verde training area, Punta Borinquen tracking station) that host the 8,700-strong Puerto Rico Army and Air Guard as well as reserve tenant activities from across DOD, there is little visible active military presence in Puerto Rico. After all, NAS Isla Grande closed in 1971, Ramey Air Force Base shut down in 1973, the Navy’s SOSUS facility at Ramey shuttered in 1976, and the famed “Rosey Roads” Naval Station wound down in the early 2000s following protests,

However, the Coast Guard maintains an extensive operation in the PR.

Coast Guard Puerto Rico’s Sector San Juan encompasses a 1.3 million square nautical miles area of responsibility throughout the Eastern Caribbean. The Sector includes two of the busiest ports in the nation, which receive over three million visitors and 11,000 vessel arrivals annually, including almost 1,600 cruise ships.

The Sector comprises more than 500 Active Duty and Reserve Sector personnel in 13 subordinate units, including seven fast response cutters, a Marine Safety Detachment, two Resident Inspection Offices, an Aids to Navigation Team, and a Tactical/Pursuit Station with two Boat Force Detachments.

Puerto Rico has an impressive squadron of seven new 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters, all received in the past seven years:

USCGC Richard Dixon (WPC-1113), a new FRC, one of seven deployed in Puerto Rico

  • Richard Dixon (WPC-1113)
  • Heriberto Hernandez (WPC-1114)
  • Joseph Napier (WPC-1115)
  • Winslow W. Griesser (WPC-1116)
  • Donald Horsley (WPC-1117)
  • Joseph Tezanos (WPC-1118)
  • Joseph Doyle (WPC-1133)

And they have been very busy earning snowflakes for large narco busts at sea.

Coast Guard artist Robert Selby recently compiled a triptych of the Sector, entitled, “Guardians of the Puerto Rican Coast,” after shipping out on one of the FRCs.

Sector San Juan operations are supported by Coast Guard Base San Juan and Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen, one of three major air stations in the Coast Guard’s Seventh District.

Coast Guard Air Station Borinquen operates from part of the old Ramsay AFB reservation and runs four MH60T Jayhawks– which replaced smaller MH65 Dolphins last year– while also supporting a variety of forward-deployed aircraft.

All told, the air station is home to 170 enlisted personnel, 35 officers, and 150 civilians.

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