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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.