Surface Forces: Saved By The Dutch

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April 22, 2012:  The U.S. Coast Guard recently commissioned the first of 58 "Fast Response Cutters." These are 46.8 meter (154 feet) long, 353 ton vessels equipped with a 8 meter (25 foot) rigid hull boat launched and recovered internally from a ramp in the stern (rear) of the ship. Armament of the cutter (as seagoing coast guard ships are called) consists of a remotely controlled 25mm autocannon and four 12.7mm (.50 caliber) machine-guns, plus small arms. Top speed is 52 kilometers an hour and the crew of 22 has sleeping and eating facilities on board so the ship can be at sea five days at a time (and 2,500 hours, or over 100 days, a year at sea). The Fast Response Cutter is basically a slightly larger version of the Dutch Damen Stan 4,207 patrol vessel.

The Danish design was selected four years ago because a year before the Coast Guard was finally forced to admit defeat in its effort to build an earlier design for 58 new patrol ships (Fast Response Cutters). The ship builders (Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman) screwed up, big time. While the Coast Guard shares some of the blame, for coming up with new concepts that didn't work out, the shipbuilders are the primary culprits because they are, well, the shipbuilding professionals and signed off on the Coast Guard concepts. Under intense pressure from media, politicians, and the shame of it all the Coast Guard promptly went looking for an existing (off-the-shelf) design, and in a hurry. That's become urgent because of an earlier screw up.

Six years ago the Coast Guard discovered that a ship upgrade program made the modified ships structurally unsound and subject to breaking up in heavy seas. All eight of the modified 123 foot (40 meter) cutters have been removed from service after cracks were found in the hull and decks. The 123 foot "Island Class" ships used to be 110 feet (35.5 meters) long and displace 154 tons. After four meters (13 feet) were added to the hull length, ship displacement went to 166 tons. Crew size (16) didn't change but top speed (53 kilometers an hour) was reduced five percent. The ships are armed with a 25mm cannon and two 12.7mm machine-gun. The original plan was to spend $100 million to modify all 49 of the 110 foot ships, so as to extend their useful life (normally 15 years) a bit until a new class of cutters was built. The modification also added a rear ramp for launching a small boarding party boat.

The modification program was already in trouble for being behind schedule and over budget. The program was first halted and then killed. This left the coast guard short of ships and in danger of being in even more trouble over the next decade. The coast guard has 250 cutters, and the Island Class ships are 18 percent of that. With the failure of that first Fast Response Cutter program the coasties had to really hustle to even get an off-the-shelf into service before many of their current ships are unfit for service.

 


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