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Aegis Icebreakers?

More info on the new class of three planned Coast Guard Polar Security Cutters has bubbled up.

In short, they will be big boys, at 460-feet long and 33,000-tons. For reference, the Coast Guard’s current 50-year-old icebreaker, USCGC Polar Star (WAGB-10), is 399-feet long and weighs in at comparatively paltry 13,800-tons.

However, the Polar Sea is a bruiser, packing 75,000 shaft horsepower in her CODAG plant. This allows her to crush up to 21 feet of ice by backing and ramming and cruise through 6-feet of pack at a continuous 3 knots. According to a statement released this week, the new PSC’s will have 42,500 shp but will still meet an 8-foot mark on ice-busting.

Hmmm.

Of note, the Coast Guard’s single medium icebreaker, the 11,000-ton Healy can crack ice up to 10 feet thick.

More from VTH in Moss Point:

As you can see, the design is based on Finnish and German tech that is being used on the (under construction) German research breaker Polarstern II, which is about the same size.

The plan for Polarstern II is a good starting point as that ship includes:

-Maximum 130 persons on board.
-44 person crew living in single and double rooms.
-Normal cruises up to 60 scientists.
-Safety equipment (lifeboats) on each side 100%.
-80 places for 20” Containers (laboratories and storage).
-Seakeeping stabilizer suitable for the transit cruises and station operation.
-Helicopter Deck and Hangar for 2-3 Helicopters.

In short, these big breakers, larger than the planned German ship, could potentially carry a light company-sized landing force with a couple of helicopters.

Currently, the USCG’s cutters just carry a small arms locker with the capability to mount a couple of M2 .50-cals if absolutely needed. The penguins and polar bears have not put up much of a fight in recent years.

That could be changing.

Changes from the design to make the Coast Guard’s new vessel capable of fighting are still being decided. However, according to the USNI, “The ship’s combat system will be derived from the Aegis Combat System, and the Coast Guard is still mulling over the weapons loadout, [USCG Adm.] Schultz told reporters on Wednesday.”

In 2017, Coast Guard Commandant Paul Zukunft said the new icebreakers would be fully weaponized to include canister launched anti-ship missiles.

This was repeated in 2018 when he said:

“We need to look differently at what an icebreaker does… We need to reserve space, weight, and power if we need to strap a cruise missile package on it… U.S. presence in the Arctic is necessary for more than just power projection; it’s a matter of national security… If they remain unchecked, the Russians will extend their sphere of influence to over five million square miles of Arctic ice and water.”

Things could get interesting.

Coast Guard awards new polar icebreaker (I mean Polar Security Cutter) contract

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

The Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star cuts through Antarctic ice in the Ross Sea near a large group of seals as the ship’s crew creates a navigation channel for supply ships, Jan. 16, 2017. The resupply channel is an essential part of the yearly delivery of essential supplies to the National Science Foundation’s McMurdo Station. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley)

It’s really happening.

After a 40-year drought of polar icebreaking construction for the USCG, they just issued a real contract.

For this:

VTH’s planned Polar Security Cutter

The interesting thing is, it will be built in a swamp right around the corner from me at a facility where I trained the security forces for years. They have built a number of phibs for the Army as well as frigate-sized survey/AGOR types for the MSC/NOAA and the Navy in recent years. As far as I can tell, this would be the largest ship they have ever produced.

Additional footnote: Ingalls, just down the river from VTH, used to build icebreakers back in the 1950s, and they made the largest U.S. Naval breaker, the 9,000-ton USS Glacier (AGB-4).

The contract announcement, issued by the Navy:

VT Halter Marine Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $745,940,860 fixed-price incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction of the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Polar Security Cutter (PSC) (formerly the Heavy Polar Ice Breaker). The PSC program is a multiple year Department of Homeland Security Level 1 investment and a USCG major system acquisition to acquire up to three multi-mission PSCs to recapitalize the USCG fleet of heavy icebreakers which have exhausted their design service life. The PSC’s mission will be to ensure continued access to both polar regions and support the country’s economic, commercial, maritime, and national security needs. This contract includes options which, if exercised, would bring the cumulative value of this contract to $1,942,812,266. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi (61 percent); Metairie, Louisiana (12 percent); New Orleans, Louisiana (12 percent); San Diego, California (4 percent); Mossville, Illinois (4 percent); Mobile, Alabama (2 percent); Boca Raton, Florida (2 percent); and various other locations (3 percent), and is expected to be completed by June 2024. If all options are exercised, work will continue through November 2027. Fiscal 2019 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard); and fiscal 2018 and 2017 shipbuilding and conversion (Navy) in the amount of $839,224,287 will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. This contract was competitively procured via the Federal Business Opportunities website, with three offers received. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, District of Columbia, is the contracting activity (N00024-19-C-2210).

Presser:

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy, through an Integrated Program Office (IPO), awarded VT Halter Marine Inc., of Pascagoula, Mississippi, a fixed price incentive (firm) contract for the Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) of the Coast Guard’s lead Polar Security Cutter (PSC).

The initial award is valued at $745.9 million and supports non-recurring engineering and detail design of the PSC class as well as procurement of long lead-time materials and construction of the first ship. The contract also includes options for the construction of two additional PSCs. If all options are exercised, the total contract value is $1.9 billion. PSCs support a wide range of Coast Guard missions including search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, environmental response, and national defense missions.

The U.S. Coast Guard is the nation’s lead agency responsible for providing assured surface access in the polar regions. This contract award supports the United States’ ability to recapitalize heavy polar icebreaker capabilities that are vital to our nation’s ability to conduct national missions, respond to critical events, and project presence in the polar regions.

“Against the backdrop of great power competition, the Polar Security Cutter is key to our nation’s presence in the polar regions,” said Admiral Karl L. Schultz, Commandant of the Coast Guard. “With the strong support of both the Trump Administration and the United States Congress, this contract award marks an important step towards building the nation’s full complement of six polar icebreakers to meet the unique mission demands that have emerged from increased commerce, tourism, research, and international activities in the Arctic and Antarctic.”

The acquisition of Polar Security Cutters is being jointly managed across the U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard through an IPO that leverages the expertise and utilizes best practices across each enterprise to deliver a fleet of highly capable, multi-mission ships in the most cost-efficient and timely manner possible. NAVSEA is the lead contracting authority.

“This contract award reflects the great benefit achieved by integrating the incredible talents of U.S. Coast Guard and Navy acquisition and shipbuilding professionals to deliver best value at speed,” said James Geurts, Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition. “Working with our industry partners, the team identified approximately $300 million in cost avoidances and accelerated the schedule for delivery of this capability to the nation by almost three years. This reflects the urgency in which we are operating to ensure we deliver capabilities necessary to support the U.S. Coast Guard and the nation’s missions in the polar regions.”

Construction on the first PSC is planned to begin in 2021 with delivery planned for 2024; however, the contract includes financial incentives for earlier delivery.

The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Navy are committed to working together to ensure the success of this program and to deliver the capabilities necessary to meet national defense and homeland security mission demands in the polar regions.

More on the Polar Security Cutter program here.

It should also be pointed out that this means just about every new vessel being built for the Coast Guard is being made inside a 300-mile ride down I-10 along the Gulf of Mexico from Panama City, Florida to New Orleans. Ingalls is producing the large (4,500-ton/418-foot) Legend-class National Security Cutter, Eastern Shipbuilding Group in PC makes the (3,700-ton/360-foot) Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter, Bollinger in NOLA makes the 158-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutter, and now VTH has the Polar Security Cutter.

Of Swamp Rats and Little Birds

The aging Reliance-class USCGC Decisive (WMEC-629) just returned to homeport in Pensacola, Florida, after 58-day patrol. I visited with the “Swamp Rats” when she was based at Pascagoula in 2011 and they have taken exceedingly good care of the now-51-year-old cutter.

On her helicopter deck, which regularly accommodate up to an HH-65-sized chopper and conduct HIFR on larger birds. A junior officer normally doubles as the ship’s LSO. (Photo: Chris Eger)

For an idea of just what era she dates from, for the first 20 years of her career, she carried a 3″/50 open mount forward as her main armament.

Sistership USCGC VIGILANT WMEC-617 12 May 1969, note her original 3″/50 and long helicopter deck. These ships were originally to be capable of supporting an 18,000-lb Sea King(!) augmented by a sonar and Mk32 torpedo tubes to conduct convoy operations/coastal defense in the event of WWIII. Those ASW upgrades never happened but these ships are still in service 50 years later. As far as helicopters went, they were only initially tested for and typically used with the 8,500-lb  HH-52 Seaguard, which is more of a baby Sea King than anything else. In wartime, they could have likely operated the SH-2 Seasprite, which went closer to 10,000-lbs.

Of interest in her latest deployment around the Gulf, which included a three-week TSTA at Mayport, saving a fishing vessel taking on water and conducting inspections, the Decisive became the first 210-foot Coast Guard cutter to conduct ship-helicopter operations with three U.S. Army MH-6 helicopters, “Little Birds,” from the elite 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (160th SOAR).

The crew of the Coast Guard cutter Decisive conducted helicopter operations with three Army H-6 helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico, March 9, 2019. The training is meant to help pilots land on a moving platform and for crewmembers to work with unfamiliar aircraft. (U.S. Coast Guard courtesy photo/Released)

Now that, is different.

Headed to work, 16 years ago today

Here we see the Hamilton-class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Dallas (WHEC-716) as she escorts the motor vessel BBC Spain. Aboard Spain‘s deck are a quartet of USCG 110-foot Island-class patrol boats headed via the Mediterranean and Suez for deployment to the Persian Gulf, March 19, 2003.

While Dallas was stricken and transferred to the Philippines in 2012– where she continues to serve in a haze gray scheme as BRP Ramon Alcaraz (FF-16)— and BBC Spain is now the Russian-flagged cargo vessel S. Kuznetsov — those four patrol boats are still under the same flag in the Persian Gulf, clocking in.

USCG Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), established in 2002 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom, is the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the U.S. The original four WPBs shown above on SpainAdak, Aquidneck, Baranof, and Wrangell– were joined by Monomoy and Maui in May 2004 bringing the number of 110s in the Arabian Gulf to six.

Why?

The Navy likes to use the Coast Guard’s small patrol boats (110s/87s) in confined littoral areas as the coasties have them while the Navy simply doesn’t. After all, why risk a $1 billion destroyer with a 300-man crew when the USCG has an $8 million patrol boat with a 22-man crew that can get in closer and already has hundreds of (often high-risk) boardings under their belt before they rotate into the Gulf.

Plus (and this is just my humble opinion) it would look worse if the Iranians shoot up a white hulled coastie than a haze gray warship. I mean these are lifesavers here.

180201-N-TB177-0211 U.S. 5TH FLEET AREA OF OPERATIONS (Feb. 1, 2018) Island-class patrol boats USCGC Wrangell left, USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309), middle, and coastal patrol ship USS Firebolt (PC 10) patrol the open seas. Wrangell, Aquidneck, and Firebolt are forward deployed to the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations in support of maritime security operations to reassure allies and partners and preserve the freedom of navigation and the free flow of commerce in the region. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kevin J. Steinberg/Released)

They did the same thing in Vietnam when some 26 82-foot Point-class cutters served as an assembled Patrol Squadron off the South Vietnamese coast from 1965 to 1970.

Since 2002, the Coast Guard has forward deployed six of their WPBs to Manama, Bahrain to serve in the Persian Gulf littoral. After all these boats can stay at sea for a week at a time, have a cutter boat, a decent surface search radar, can make 29-knots, and float in just 7 feet of seawater– which the Big Blue has a hard time pulling off. The force is very active, typically having 3-4 patrol boats underway in the Gulf at any given time looking for pirates, smugglers, terrorists out to pull off another USS Cole-style attack, and, well, the Iranians.

USCGC Monomoy in the PG, looking a bit more hard-ridden and heavily armed.

Whereas normally Island-class cutters deploy stateside with a 16 man (2 officer/14 enlisted) crew, those that are part of PATFORSWA typically run with a 22 person complement (3 officers/19 enlisted) as they conduct more high-risk boardings and have an increased ship’s battery. The stateside armament suite of a 110 is a 25mm Mk38 chain-gun (which is usually covered) and two single M2 .50-cal BMGs (which often are locked up below in the armory) plus a thin smattering of small arms.

Those cutters in the Gulf still use the 25mm (usually very much uncovered and loaded, ready to go) and up to five mounts for Mk19 Grenade launchers and *twin* M2’s for quite a bit more punch against boghammars and armed dhows if needed. Likewise, there are more M4s, Remmy 870s, hard plate body armor and Sig P229Rs on these forward-deployed ships than one that is poking around the Outer Banks.

Nevertheless, they still keep the same traditional white hull and red racing stripe, but with the welcome addition of a deck canopy to keep that Persian Gulf sun at bay and the non-skid from heating up to waffle-iron temperatures.

NORTH ARABIAN GULF–U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Maui (WPB 1304) is on standby as the Close Support Vessel during a security boarding in the North Arabian Gulf, Aug. 11. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ltjg. Peter Lang.

 

The country’s one-and-only polar icebreaker made it back home (barely)

Seattle saw the reappearance of “Building 10,” the common designation of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star (WAGB-10), as she returned this week to her homeport after an epic 105-day deployment to Antarctica in support of Operation Deep Freeze, the 63rd year for the annual mission to supply McMurdo Station in Antarctica.

This place:

Forget what you have heard about no more ice: Upon arrival in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica, Polar Star still had to break through 16.5 nautical miles of ice, six to ten feet thick, in order to open a channel to the pier for supply ships to follow.

As the vessel is 43-years-young and has seen lots of hard service (she rams icebergs on purpose) things did not go as planned along the 11,200-mile sortie.

From the Coast Guard:

During the transit to Antarctica, one of the ship’s electrical systems began to smoke, causing damage to wiring in an electrical switchboard, and one of the ship’s two evaporators used to make drinkable water failed. The electrical switchboard was repaired by the crew, and the ship’s evaporator was repaired after parts were received during a port call in Wellington, New Zealand.

The impact from ice operations ruptured the cutter’s centerline shaft seal, allowing water to flood into the ship. Ice breaking operations ceased so embarked Coast Guard and Navy Divers could enter the water to apply a patch outside the hull so Polar Star’s engineers could repair the seal from inside the ship. The engineers donned dry suits and diver’s gloves to enter the 30-degree water of the still slowly flooding bilge to effect the vital repairs. They used special tools fabricated onboard to fix the leaking shaft seal and resume ice breaking operations.

The Polar Star also experienced ship-wide power outages while breaking ice in McMurdo Sound. Crew members spent nine hours shutting down the ship’s power plant and rebooting the electrical system in order to remedy the outages.

On Feb. 10, the crew spent nearly two hours extinguishing a fire in the ship’s incinerator room while the ship was approximately 650-nautical-miles north of McMurdo Sound, Antarctica. The fire damaged the incinerator and some electrical wiring in the room was damaged by fire fighting water. There were no personnel injuries or damage to equipment outside the space. Repairs to the incinerator are already scheduled for Polar Star’s upcoming inport maintenance period.

Sheesh.

And keep in mind that for at least one pay period while underway the crew went without the eagle flying due to the lapse in appropriations.

The good news is, the Coast Guard is seeking to pick up six new polar icebreakers and the FY19 budget actually appropriated $655 million to begin construction of a new “polar security cutter” this year, with another $20 million appropriated for long-lead-time materials to build a second. So they may actually get two out of the planned six when all is said and done.

Hopefully, Polar Star can hold out till then.

Also, did I mention the Russians have 50 icebreakers?

Ghosts of Dolphins’ past

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Jessica Wright.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. j.g. Jessica Wright.

Above is an EADS HC-144B Ocean Sentry at Corpus Christi, Texas on Feb. 20, 2019. The Sentry is the navalised maritime patrol version of the CN-235 cargo plane made for the U.S. Coast Guard. The model recently was shifted from CGATS Mobile to Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi’s newest addition and has a number of upgrades from the earlier A-series that will allow aircrews to gather and process surveillance information that can be transmitted to other platforms and units during flight.

If the livery looks different, it is one of two modified in 2016 to celebrate the 100th year of U.S. Coast Guard aviation. The throwback scheme was carried by the bakers dozen Douglas RD-4 Dolphin seaplanes the Coast Guard flew from 1934 to 1943, with a dark blue fuselage, yellow on top of the wings, red and white on the tail, and silver metallic on the belly, underneath the wings, and for the engine cowlings and a stripe on the tail.

The Dolphin, a modification of Douglas’s 1930s Sinbad “flying yacht,” gave yeoman service in the 1930s and 40s in search and rescue and both the Army and Navy picked up a few of their own. Several saw WWII service.

Right side view of U.S. Coast Guard Douglas RD-4 Dolphin on water, men are about to be transferred to onto the aircraft from a burning motorboat which is to the right of the aircraft. 1936. NASM-XRA-4038

Only 58 were made and there was a flying example still airworthy in the early 1990s.

The last known surviving example of the venerable amphibian is at the Naval Air & Space Museum in Pensacola.

Remembering the Tampa

Signal boost here, from the USCG:

R 261000 FEB 19
FM COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC//CG-092//
TO ALCOAST
UNCLAS //N05700//
ALCOAST 062/19
COMDTNOTE 5700
SUBJ:  USS TAMPA PURPLE HEART MEDAL CAMPAIGN

1. The U.S. Coast Guard needs your help with locating and contacting descendants of the USS TAMPA, which was tragically sunk during World War I with all hands lost. The Service has yet to present 84 of the outstanding Purple Heart Medals awarded posthumously to the crew. We intend to recognize as many of the descendants as possible this Memorial Day. We need your help to do this.

2. Background:
   A. USS TAMPA, a Coast Guard ship and crew serving under the Department of the Navy, was lost with all hands after being torpedoed by a German U-boat off Wales on 26 September 1918. This tragic loss occurred just weeks before the end of World War I. It was the single largest loss suffered by the Coast Guard during that conflict.
   B. At the time of TAMPA’s loss, the Purple Heart Medal was not in use. In 1942, eligibility was extended to include the Coast Guard, but it was not until 1952 that the awarding of the Purple Heart Medal was made retroactive for actions after 5 April 1917. However, TAMPA was overlooked until 1999, when a retired Coast Guardsman submitted a proposal to award the Purple Heart to her crew.
   C. In 1999, then-Commandant Admiral James Loy authorized the posthumous awarding of the Purple Heart Medal to the crew of USS TAMPA. Today, over one hundred years after TAMPA was lost and twenty years after the first TAMPA Purple Heart was awarded, the Coast Guard is still
attempting to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ Purple Heart.

3. The purpose of this ALCOAST is to raise awareness of the Purple Heart award program and to continue to identify those families who have yet to receive their ancestors’ medals. You can help.

4. Summary of USS TAMPA Purple Heart Medals awarded:

   A. There were 130 men on TAMPA, including 111 Coast Guardsmen and 4 Navy men.
   B. 26 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals have been claimed since 1999.
   C. 3 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals are presently in progress.
   D. 84 TAMPA Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed.

5. The names of the 84 TAMPA crew whose Purple Heart Medals remain unclaimed are listed here: https://www.history.uscg.mil/tampa/.

6. To submit applications for TAMPA Purple Heart Medals, please contact Ms. Nora Chidlow, Coast Guard Archivist, at Nora.L.Chidlow@uscg.mil or 202-559-5142. She has served as the primary point of contact between the Coast Guard and many TAMPA descendants, and also with the Medals &
Awards branch.

7. To apply for their ancestor’s Purple Heart Medal, descendants are required to provide documentation showing the descendant’s relationship to the TAMPA crew member, such as family trees, pages from family Bibles, birth/death certificates, and/or pages from Ancestry or other
genealogical applications. Please expect about 4-6 weeks’ time for processing.

8. I encourage all members of our Coast Guard family to share this ALCOAST with the widest possible audience. We owe it to our shipmates in USS TAMPA and their descendants to ensure their heroism and sacrifice are recognized and remembered.

9. RDML Melissa Bert, Director of Governmental and Public Affairs, sends.

10. Internet release is authorized.

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