The new Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) has been termed an operational “game-changer,” according to senior Coast Guard officials. Based on the Dutch Damen Stan 4708 platform with some mods for U.S. use, Louisiana’s Bollinger Shipyards won a contract for the first unit, USCGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC-1101), in 2008 and has been plowing right along ever since.
A couple weeks ago, the yard delivered the 40th FRC to the Coast Guard, not a bad job in just 12 years.
The newest vessel, USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140), was placed in commission, special status, on 30 July and will remain in Florida while the crew completes pre-commissioning trials and maintenance. The cutter is scheduled to arrive in Santa Rita, Guam, later in 2020, and will be the second of three planned FRCs stationed in Guam, an important upgrade to sea surveillance and patrol capabilities in America’s forward-deployed territorial bastion.
“The Fast Response Cutters are a real game-changer here in the Pacific for the Coast Guard,” said LCDR Jessica Conway, the Coast Guard 14th District’s patrol boat manager. “Already the FRCs stationed here in Hawaii are conducting longer missions over greater distances than the older patrol boats they are replacing.”
FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, a state of the art C4ISR suite, a stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat, and a combat suite that includes a remote-operated Mk38 25mm chain gun and four crew-served M2 .50 cals.
While listed as having a range of ~2,500nm, FRCs have deployed on 4,400nm round-trip patrols to the Marshall Islands from Hawaii– completing two at-sea refuelings from a Coast Guard buoy tender– and have shown themselves particularly adept at expeditionary operations in devastated littorals in the aftermath of hurricanes. Further, the class has deployed to the coast of South America in joint Operations Tradewinds exercises for the past two years.
“Here in the Pacific one of our greatest challenges is distance,” said Conway. “With the FRCs boasting a larger crew size and greater endurance, they are able to complete missions both close to shore and over the horizon, aiding both the people of Guam and our partners in the region.”
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 crafts, rather than the WPB patrol boat designation of the ships they are replacing.
Most important, later in 2020, Bollinger will be delivering the first of a half-dozen FRCs to the USCG that will be home-ported in Manama, Bahrain, to replace the 1980s-vintage 110-foot Island Class Patrol Boats supporting Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, the service’s largest unit outside of the United States. PATFORSWA is almost continually engaged with Iranian asymmetric forces in the Persian Gulf region.