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The USCG wants to buy 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRC), and these Sentinel Class boats are sorely needed by an overstretched US Coast Guard. An attempt to extend the lives of their aged Island Class cutters ended as an expensive failure in 2005, and string of blunders has delayed replacements. In February 2006, the Coast Guard’s Deepwater system-of-systems program ‘temporarily’ suspended design work on the FRC-A program due to technical risk. FRC-A was eventually canceled in favor of an off-the-shelf buy (FRC-B), and on March 14/07, the ICGS contractor consortium lost responsibility for the Deepwater FRC-B program as well. By then, even an off-the-shelf buy couldn’t get the Coast Guard any delivered replacements before April 2012.
When the Island Class refurbishment program was terminated in June 2005, 41 Island Class vessels like the USCGC Sanibel, above, still plied US and international waters. DID discusses the programs, their outcomes and controversies, the fate of the Island Class and FRC-A programs, and the work underway to replace them. The Island Class’ safe lifetime is running out fast, but by the end of 2013 FRC Sentinel Class deliveries were set to ramp up at full production pace.
Behind the Programs: The Modernization Imperative
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It has been clear for some time that the US Coast Guard needed a massive modernization effort, after years of neglect. In his February 14/07 statement to Congress, Adm. Allen said:
“By the mid 1990s, most of our ships and aircraft were approaching the end of their service lives. Our cutter fleet was then, and remains, one of the oldest among the world’s naval fleets. In light of a looming block fleet obsolescence, it wasn’t sensible to attempt piecemeal, one-for-one replacement of each class of assets. We also didn’t have the capacity to manage that many projects in parallel.”
The US Department of Homeland Security’s Inspector General agreed with Adm. Allen’s assessment. His report showed that out of 39 similar naval organizations surveyed, only 2 countries had fleets older than the United States Coast Guard. One of those countries was North Korea.
Former Commandant Collins had been sounding this clarion call throughout his 4-year stint, and elected representatives had been paying attention. In a July 2004 newsletter to her constituents, Nat Helms reports that Senator Olympia Snowe [R-ME] explained what Congress had done to help the Coast Guard improve itself in 2004:
“In the final hours of Congress’ legislative session this July, the Coast Guard Authorization conference report unanimously passed both the House of Representatives and the Senate. What is impressive is that it authorized $5.4 billion in operational funding for fiscal year 2005, a 14 percent increase over last year’s appropriation. Included in that funding is $1.1 billion to modernize the Coast Guard’s fleet under the Integrated Deepwater Systems – a major recapitalization of ships and aircraft required to operate in “blue water,” which is located more than 50 miles off shore. With this authorization, the Deepwater project will now be on a 10-year modernization time line, which could save the Coast Guard $4 billion and provide an added 943,000 additional and more capable mission hours over the 20-year plan.”
The program has not gone as planned. Just over a year after the Coast Guard’s record of excellent performance during Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath had firmed up Congressional support for the service and its modernization program, the Coast Guard and the Deepwater program have found themselves under sustained fire. A positive GAO report on the overall program in June 2006 was followed by December 2006 revelations that stretched beyond the Island Class and Fast Response cutters. Many of these revelations came courtesy of former Lockheed Martin employee Mike DeKort, who had hammered on his superiors without success to address obvious problems – like onboard equipment that couldn’t handle a maritime environment.
This article will focus on two interlinked aspects of that program, neither of which has gone as planned or fulfilled their initial hopes: the failed modernization of the USCG’s 49 Island Class cutters, and the Fast Response Cutters that are intended to replace them.
FRC Plan B: The Sentinel Class
Sentinel Class plans
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Appendix B details the failure of the initial FRC program, which aimed to field a composite-hull cutter to replace the Island Class. That forced an end to the contractor-managed effort, and the subsequent breakup of the Deepwater Lead System Integrator model brought the next steps under the sole control of the US Coast Guard.
The eventual winner of the FRC-B competition to field the USCG’s Sentinel Class cutter was Bollinger Shipyards, with a design based on the Damen of the Netherlands’ proven Stan patrol 4708 design. Bollinger’s partnership already had a successful history behind it: their Marine Protector Class Patrol Boats, which are currently being delivered to the Coast Guard, are also based on a Damen parent craft.
The USCG’s Sentinel Class cutters will be 153 feet long, with a 25′ 5″ beam and an 8′ 5″ draught. They will be armed with a Mk38 MOD 2 stabilized, remotely-operated 25mm chain gun that can fire accurately from a pitching ship, and 4 crew-served .50-caliber machine guns. The ships will be powered by 2 TIER II diesel engines rated at 5,760 bhp, driving fixed rather than controllable-pitch propellers. This saves weight & complexity, and improves top speed from 23.8 to over 28 knots.
The Sentinel Class will be built to ABS High-Speed Naval Craft Guide specifications, which has meant adding watertight bulkheads. Other modifications from the original Damen design include stern launch facilities for a rigid hulled inflatable boat, an electrical system that offers North American voltages, and a reconfigured interior.
The boats and their crews of 22-24 personnel are clearly intended for near-shore activities. The design’s base endurance at sea with full crew is just 5 days, but they can sortie often, giving them the ability to be underway for 2,500 hours per year. Like their fellow Deepwater cutters, FRCs will carry a subset of the Deepwater C4ISR (command, control, communications, computer, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance) system.
Old & New:
Nantucket & Webber
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A $1.5 billion contract for the Sentinel Class design/data package, and up to 34 Sentinel Class cutters, was issued in September 2008. It remains to be seen whether the 24 ships of the follow-on FRC Phase II buy will stay with the Damen design, or field a different design that meets FRC requirements. The Initial 2011 RFI leaves both possibilities open.
All of these boats will be be named after enlisted Coast Guard heroes, who distinguished themselves in USCG or military service. The first 14 have been named, but only a few have been commissioned:
CGC Bernard C. Webber, WPC 1101
CGC Richard Etheridge, WPC 1102
CGC William Flores, WPC 1103
CGC Robert Yered, WPC 1104
CGC Margaret Norvell, WPC 1005
CGC Paul Clark, WPC 1106
Charles David Jr.
The Coast Guard sees the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico as its top priorities, and has designated the first 20 Sentinel Class cutters to those regions. The first 6 FRCs were delivered to Miami, FL, and the next 6 will be homeported at Key West, FL. Boats 13-18 are slated for San Juan, Puerto Rico, and another 2 boats will be based in Pascagoula, MS.
FRC-B: Contracts & Key Events
Approved for full rate production. 7 delivered so far, option exercised for 6 more.
Sept 25/13: option exercised. The Coast Guard exercises a $250.7 million option with Bollinger for 6 FRCs to be delivered in 2016. This brings the total under contract so far to 24 ships for $1.1 billion against a contract ceiling of 34 ships and $1.5 billion. The contract requires that 3 to 4 cutters be ordered each year. 7 cutters have been delivered to date, and soon will all be commissioned as well. Sources: USCG, Senator Mary Landrieu [D-LA, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Homeland Security subcommittee].
CGC Robert Yered
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Sept 18/13: FRP. DHS approves the Sentinel-class FRC program for full rate production after it successfully completed its Initial Operational Test and Evaluation (IOT&E). This concludes a rather beefy LRIP phase of 12 ships out of the 34 total contracted in September 2008. In its August 2012 report [PDF], the DHG IG had noted that this was a rather aggressive acquisition plan which limited the Coast Guard’s ability to control risks.
IOT&E / FRP
Paul Clark commissioning
Aug 24/13: CGC. CGC Paul Clark (WPC 1106), the 6th FRC boat, is commissioned in Miami, FL. She was delivered to the Coast Guard on May 18/13.
Fireman First Class Paul Leaman Clark served as a landing boat engineer during the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. After his boat came under attack by an enemy fighter, Clark assumed control of the boat, brought his wounded crewmembers to the destroyer USS Palmer, then returned the damaged boat to the beach to complete its mission. He was 1 of just 6 Coast Guardsmen awarded the Navy Cross during World War 2. Sources: USCG Acquisition Directorate, May 21/13.
FRC #6 commissioned
Aug 17/13: #7 delivered. Coast Guard Cutter Charles David Jr. is accepted by the Coast Guard in Key West, FL, and is the 1st of 6 new FRC boats that will be based there. Her commissioning is scheduled for November 2013.
Steward’s Mate First Class Charles W. David Jr. was a crew member on CGC Comanche in 1943, and entered the waters of the North Atlantic as part of an effort that saved 230 men from the torpedoed USAT Dorchester. He ended up dying of pneumonia 3 days later. Sources: USCG June 29/13 release | Bollinger Aug 20/13 release.
June 13/13: Infrastructure. SitNews reports that the USCG plans to build a 405-foot floating pier and a new 3,000 square foot support building in Ketchikan, AK, in order to homeport 2 FRCs there by 2015. A 3rd FRC is slated to base in Juneau by 2020. Sitnews, “Coast Guard’s Ketchikan Project Making Progress”.
June 3/13: CGC. CGC Margaret Norvell (WPC 1105), the 5th FRC boat, is commissioned in Miami. She was delivered to the Coast Guard on March 21/13 in Key West, FL, but will be homeported in Miami.
Margaret Norvell was a lighthouse keeper near New Orleans, and is credited with a number of daring rescues during her 41 years of service. One had her rowing for 2 hours through a sever storm on Lake Pontchartrain in 1926, then heading back in with a downed naval aviator. Her lighthouse was also a key refuge for the local community during severe storms. Sources: USCG Acquisition Directorate, March 21/13 and June 3/13 | Coast Guard Compass, “Coast Guard Heroes: Margaret Norvell”.
FRC #5 commissioned
Feb 15/13: CGC. CGC Robert Yered (WPC 1104), the 4th FRC boat, is commissioned. The ship was delivered on Nov 17/12, and will be homeported in Miami.
The boat is named after Coast Guard Engineman and ammunition specialist First Class Robert J. Yered, who basically saved Saigon Harbor during the Vietnam War. A barge carrying several hundred tons of mortars had been hit by enemy rocket fire, and there were 15 Kilotons of explosives at risk, including 2 more ammunition ships nearby. Yered climbed onto the burning barge, under enemy fire, to extinguish the flames. He is one of only 12 Coast Guardsmen to ever receive the Silver Star medal for heroism. Unfortunately, he died of a heart attack at age 69 before he could see this, but his father and family were there. Sources: USCG Acquisition Newsroom, Nov 20/13 release | Coast Guard Compass, “Coast Guard Heroes: Robert J. Yered” | Coast Guard Compass, “He lived and breathed the Coast Guard”
FRC #4 commissioned
FY 2011 – 2012
6 more ordered, 3 commissioned.
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Nov 3/12: CGC. CGC William Flores (WPC 1103), the 3rd FRC boat, is commissioned into service in Tampa, FL.
She will serve from Miami, but Tampa was the site of the Coast Guard’s worst peacetime loss of life in 1980, when the oil tanker Capricorn hit CGC Blackthorn and ripped the buoy tender open with its anchor. Seaman apprentice William Ray Flores was 1 of 23 crew members who died in that accident, as he chose to stay aboard to help shipmates rather than abandon ship. He received the Coast Guard Medal as a posthumous honor, and now has a ship named after him. Sources: Coast Guard Compass, “Fulfilling a promise: The commissioning of Coast Guard Cutter William Flores.”
FRC #3 commissioned
Sept 21/12: The Coast Guard exercises a $250 million contract option with Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA for 6 more Fast Response Cutters. All 6 Sentinel Class boats are scheduled to be delivered in 2015, and homeported in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
This option brings the total number of FRCs ordered to 18 of a possible 34 boats, and the total value of the contract so far to nearly $880 million. FRC #4, the William Flores, will be commissioned Nov 3/12, and the Robert Yered will become the 4th cutter delivered sometime in November 2012. Sources: USCG.
6 FRCs, to 18
Aug 15/12: #3 delivered. Bollinger delivers William Flores, in Key West, FL. Flores will be commissioned into service in Tampa, FL on Nov 3/12, and homeported alongside the first 2 FRCs in Miami. Indeed, the first 6 FRCs are scheduled to be stationed in Miami to support operations in the 7th Coast Guard District, an area ranging from the South Carolina coast to the Caribbean. Sources: USCG | Bollinger Shipyards.
Aug 3/12: CGC. CGC Cutter Richard Etheridge (WPC 1102), the 2nd FRC boat, arrives at Port Everglades, FL and is commissioned into service. Her motto, “In Behalf of humanity,” stems from a letter written by the ship’s namesake. USCG Blog | USCG Flickr Stream.
FRC #2 commissioned
April 24/12: FRC, Ready for Sea. CGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC 1101) is certified “Ready for Sea” – the minimum capabilities to get underway for extended periods of time, safely manage major emergencies at sea, and effectively conduct follow-on training, testing and evaluation. The final stage is a certification of Ready for Operations. USCG.
Determination heeds no interference
April 14/12: CGC. The 1st FRC boat becomes CGC Bernard C. Webber (WPC 1101), at a commissioning ceremony in Miami, FL. USCG.
FRC #1 commissioned
Feb 24/12: Phase II RDLP. The Coast Guard exercises a $27.2 million contract option with Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA for the FRC’s Reprocurement and Data License Package (RDLP), bringing the total current contract value to $628 million
The RDLP will provide the Coast Guard with the required design data, drawings, materials list, and technical and testing information necessary to allow a competition for the follow-on Phase II FRC production contract. The RDLP will reflect the FRC’s design maturity as of Feb 23/12, and its production phase contract is scheduled to be awarded in fiscal year 2015. USCG.
Phase II RDLP
Feb 10/12: CGC Bernard C. Webber, the 1st FRC, arrives at her homeport of Port Everglades, near Miami, FL. When the contract was signed, delivery was slated for fall 2010. USCG Blog.
Webber to launch
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Sept 22/11: The Coast Guard announces a $179.7 million contract option to Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA, for 4 more Fast Response Cutters, bringing the total number of FRCs under contract with Bollinger to 12 of a possible 34, with a contract value so far of $597 million. USCG | Bollinger Shipyards.
4 FRCs, to 12
Sept 8/11: RFI. FBO.gov Solicitation Number HSCG23-11-I-FRCXXX: “Request for Information (RFI) to support the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) United States Coast Guard (USCG), Commandant (CG-9125), Fast Response Cutter (FRC) Reprocurement.”
Phase II will complete the FRC acquisition, bringing it up to 58 hulls. If the Coast Guard exercises all options on the initial FRC-B contract with Bollinger, Phase II will be 24 ships. That FRC-B contract makes all ships beyond the 1st options, however, which means the USCG could decline to buy additional cutters from Bollinger, or buy fewer than 34, and award “Phase II” construction options to a different vendor until 58 have been bought.
As the unofficial CGBlog points out, The Coast Guard’s last contract also covered the design rights, which means a different shipyard could conceivably produce the Sentinel Class design. They would begin from a disadvantage when compared to what Bollinger has learned by building that design to date, but a switch is not impossible. The RFI also implies that different designs might be considered, however, which could open the competition to options like Westport’s GRC43. From FBO.gov:
“At this time, the U.S. Coast Guard is interested in meeting only with U.S. shipyards that have the organic capability to design and construct cutters of the FRC’s complexity as described in the U.S. Coast Guard’s 2007 Request for Proposal (PDF).”
FRC Phase II RFI
Aug 18/11: #2 Launch. The Richard Etheridge is launched at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, LA. This 2nd Sentinel Class cutter will undergo a series of tests and evaluations prior to its planned delivery to the USCG early in 2012. Cutter #3, the William Flores, is tentatively scheduled to be launched on Nov 10/11.
In 1880, Richard Etheridge became the first African-American to command a life-saving station. In 1886, he and his crew earned the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal, for their daring rescue of the schooner E.S. Newman. USCG.
April 21/11: #1 Launch. The 1st FRC cutter, Bernard C. Webber, enters the water after a 3-day journey from the fabrication shop, which included a tow across Highway 308. It now sits pier-side in Lockport, LA. USCG Compass, incl. photos | Bollinger.
April 14/11: Leadership. Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. announces the appointment of Charles “Skip” Bowen as Program Manager for the FRC Sentinel Class Patrol Boat program. Mr. Bowen joins Bollinger after 32 years with the United States Coast Guard, culminating with the rank of Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard from 2006 – 2010.
Oct 27/10: Naming. The US Coast Guard announces its decision to name all FRC Sentinel Class cutters after enlisted Coast Guard heroes, who distinguished themselves in USCG or military service. The first 14 boats have now been named. USCG Compass.
FY 2009 – 2010
GAO protest denied. Low Rate Initial Production.
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Sept 23/10: State of the Fleet. US Coast Guard’s official Compass blog:
“During Haiti relief operations this past January, 10 of the 12 assigned Coast Guard cutters, or 83 percent, suffered significant mechanical problems that impeded their ability to respond to the catastrophic aftermath of the earthquake. Three had to suspend relief activities and leave the area to perform extensive repairs, including drydocking one ship.”
Sept 14/10: The US Coast Guard exercises a $166.1 million contract option with Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA for 4 more Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutters (FRCs), bringing the total contract value so far to $410.7 million for 8 ships. The entire FRC contract contains options for up to 34 cutters, and is worth up to $1.5 billion (vid. Sept 26/08 entry).
The lead Fast Response Cutter, Bernard C. Webber, is approximately 70% complete, and is expected to be delivered to the Coast Guard in the spring 2011. The other 3 FRCs ordered to date are currently under construction: #2 is about 40% complete, #3 is 15% complete, and #4 is just 1% complete, at the moment. USCG | Bollinger Shipyards.
4 FRCs, to 8
Dec 15/09: The US Coast Guard awards Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA a $141 million contract option to begin production of 3 more Fast Response Cutters.
Having successfully cleared its Critical Design Review last month and the Department of Homeland Security’s Acquisition Review Board earlier in December, the Sentinel project is now approved to begin low-rate initial production (LRIP). US Coast Guard | Bollinger Shipyards.
LRIP; 3 FRCs to 4
April 9/09: #1 Keel Laid. A keel laying ceremony for the first FRC takes place at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, LA. To honor past Guardians who stood the watch, each Sentinel-class FRC will be named for one of the Coast Guard’s many enlisted heroes.
The Bernard C. Webber will be home ported in Miami, FL, and is expected to be delivered in spring 2011. Webbers daughter, Ms. Pattie Hamilton, is the ship’s sponsor, and his granddaughters, Leah and Hilary, are the maids of honor. US Coast Guard| USCG iCommandant blog | Gannett’s Navy Times.
March 22/09: Naming. US Coast Guard officials announce that the first Sentinel-class cutter will change its name from Sentinel to “Bernard C. Webber,” in honor of a legendary Coast Guard member. Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Charles “Skip” Bowen:
“We were on the plane ride back from Bernie Webber’s funeral and we got to talking about what a great opportunity we have to tie these ships to our heritage and legacy… The commandant gave me leave to go and rattle the bureaucracy to change what we’d approved for the names of these cutters, to name them after enlisted Coast Guard heroes.”
This 1st Sentinel Class FRC will be named the Bernard C. Webber, after a coxswain from Station Chatham, MA. On February 18, 1952, Petty Officer Webber led his 3-man crew through a fierce Cape Cod winter storm’s 60-foot waves, in order to save the lives of 32 crewmen from the SS Pendleton, a 504-foot freighter that had been split by onboard explosions. His craft? The 32-foot Motor Life Boat CG36500. Petty Officer Webber and his crew, Andrew Fitzgerald, Richard Livesey and Irving Maske, were each awarded the Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal for their heroic actions in the rescue.
In a long-delayed echo, the USCG recently took the time to award Peter Kennedy of the Orleans Historical Society its Meritorious Public Service Award, for restoring Webber’s CG36500 and turning it into a floating museum. CG36500 was added to the US National Register of Historic Places in 2005. US Coast Guard | USCG ALCOAST transmission | USCG iCommandant blog | 8th Coast Guard District’s Heartland Guardian blog.
Jan 28/09: The U.S. Government Accountability Office denies Marinette Marine Corporation’s protest of Bollinger Shipyards’ contract win, which authorized the shipyard to design and build the Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutters based on a Damen design.
The FRC-B program, which had been frozen during the protest process, may now move forward. GAO decision | Washington Technology.
Oct 8/08: Bollinger shipyards files a formal protest with the Congress’ Government Accountability Office over the contract award to Marinette Marine. Meanwhile, the 2 firms continue to cooperate as joint members of the team building Lockheed Martin’s Littoral Combat Ship design. Defense News.
GAO gives FRC OK
FY 2007 – 2008
FRC-A shelved. Initial Sentinel-class contract.
FRC & RHIB concept
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Sept 26/08: The US Coast Guard announces that Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. will receive an initial $88 million firm-fixed-price contract with economic price adjustment contract to begin building the 1st Sentinel class (FRC-B) Cutter. With the global price of steel skyrocketing, economic price adjustment contracts are important addenda to shipbuilding contracts these days. The approximate maximum value of this contract, if all options are exercised and all 34 patrol boats are ordered, is about $1.5 billion over 6-8 years.
The ships will be built at Bollinger’s shipyard in Lockport, LA, and the first ship is scheduled for delivery to Miami’s Coast Guard District 7, in the fall of 2010. It will complete a comprehensive operational test and evaluation period, and then enter operational service in the Caribbean. USCG release [PDF] | USCG Backgrounder | USCG Sentinel Class page | MarineLog.
FRC-B Phase I contract, incl. 1st FRC
July 11/08: Gannett’s Navy Times reports that the early July 2008 target for an FRC-B purchase decision is going to slip to September or October.
The USCG has not disclosed how many companies responded to its Request for Proposals, but Rear Adm. Gary Blore says in a July 11 memo that a new round of discussions “will provide all offerors in the competitive range an opportunity to improve their proposals and address any deficiencies and/or weaknesses… To accommodate these additional discussions… the anticipated contract award date is now September or early October of this year.”
March 11/08: GAO Report. The US Government Accountability Office releases report# GAO-08-270R: “Status of Selected Aspects of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater Program” [Report page | Plain text | PDF, 20 pages]. Key passages related to the FRC program include:
“Since the FRC-A acquisition effort began, the Coast Guard obligated approximately $35 million to ICGS for the design of this asset, but a viable design has not been produced. Coast Guard officials told us that at this time design efforts remain suspended; they do not expect to incur any additional costs related to the FRC-A. The original estimate for the fleet of 58 FRC-As was approximately $3.2 billion. Due to high risk and uncertain cost savings, Coast Guard officials recommended to the Commandant that the Coast Guard not pursue acquisition of an FRC-A design that includes unproven composite hull technology. The officials told us this recommendation was largely based on a third-party analysis that found the composite technology unlikely to meet the desired 35-year service life under the Coast Guard’s operational conditions.”
Coast Guard officials do not plan to update cost estimates for the FRC-B until after the contract is awarded. The Coast Guard is currently evaluating proposals and expects to award the FRC-B contract in the third quarter of fiscal year 2008, with the lead cutter to be delivered in 2010. Coast Guard officials stated that their goal is still to acquire 12 FRC-Bs by 2012. The contract will include a 2-year base period for the design and production of the lead cutter and six 1-year option periods. The first option period includes 3 low-rate initial production cutters, and the subsequent five option periods include an option of 4 or 6 cutters each. The Coast Guard intends to award a fixed price contract for design and construction of the FRC-B, with the potential to acquire a total of 34 cutters… Coast Guard lowered the minimum requirement for sprint speed from 30 knots for the FRC-A to 28 for the FRC-B… [small boat] stern ramp launch… capability is not required on the FRC-B… would be safer and require fewer crew to operate… eliminating these design requirements would ensure more competition on the open market and meet their urgent need for patrol boats.”
March 11/08: VT Halter team. Raytheon, VT Halter Marine Inc., and URS subsidiary EG&G Technical Services announce that they are teaming on the Fast Response Cutter-B (FRC-B) program. The design is not specified, but it will almost certainly be a VT Halter hull. Raytheon release.
March 3/08: After receiving the service’s formal “Deepwater alternatives analysis” in February 2008, USCG Chief Acquisition Officer Rear Adm. Gary Blore forwards recommendations to Coast Guard senior leadership in a formal decision memorandum. Commandant Adm. Thad Allen is expected to approve Blore’s decision in the near future – which includes a decision not to proceed with development of the FRC-A composite-hull cutter. Inside the Navy’s March 10/08 report [PDF] explained:
“Despite a recommendation to pursue a composite hull for the Fast Response Cutter (FRC), the Coast Guard has decided to pursue an existing ship design yet to be selected, Blore said. The service felt the study “undervalued the cons” to using a composite material for the ship’s hull, the admiral added… They [ABSG] acknowledge that the technology readiness and manufacturing readiness of composite patrol boats is less than conventional construction by a good margin,” [USCG acquisitions director] Blore said. “We kind of think that” a showstopper,” he added. “We’re very much a state-of-the-market organization – we don’t have developmental funds…”.”
June 27/07: Legal wranging. Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman send a return letter, contesting the legality of the USCG’s revocation of acceptance – and hence the ICGS Deepwater consortium’s liability for refunds. ICGC had also sent a letter on May 23/07, which was followed by the Coast Giuard letter on June 5/07. The legal moves are on. POGO report | PDF of letter.
May 17/07: RoA Letter. The US Coast Guard takes the first legal steps to recoup up to $100 million from the contractors who oversaw the failed Island Class cutter modernization, via a revocation of acceptance letter. WIRED’s Danger Room later relays a Defense Daily report that:
“Richard Skinner, the IG, said his office is having difficulty getting accesses to people and records belonging to Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS) during its investigation of the cutter program. For instance, Skinner said that ICGS wants a lawyer to be present whenever one of its employees meets with the IG, something that would jeopardize the confidentiality of the encounter. This is something Skinner said he had never seen before as a government inspector.”
Whatever the merits or demerits of the contractor’s conduct, this seems like the only possible response after leading Congressmen have openly called for fraud charges to be laid against the firm and/or its employees. Though it’s hard for many politicians to grasp, there is sometimes real value in keeping one’s cards close and one’s words careful in these situations. Seattle Times article | WIRED Danger Room article.
April 17/07: Commandant Admiral Thad Allen announces that the converted patrol boats that had experienced hull cracking will be permanently decommissioned – and that the Coast Guard will take over the lead integrator role from ICGS Deepwater.
Island Class, ICGS both out
Appendices: A Chronicle of Failure – Island Class Upgrades, and FRC-A
Appendix A: Down on the Islands – The Suspended Modernization
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The Island Class extension program was just a small part of the Deepwater program constellation. While the proposal was still under development, Bollinger Shipyards, Inc. in Lockport, LA formed a consortium with Halter Marine, Inc of Gulfport, MS; creating Halter-Bollinger JV (HBJV). This firm was intended as a joint venture sub-contractor to Northrop Grumman Ship Systems for the Deepwater program, and immediately pursued the contract to modify and lengthen the 49 Island Class vessels specified in the interim plan.
On April 20, 2005, Adm. Collins told Congress that:
The 110-foot Patrol Boat fleet has experienced 23 hull breaches (literally an opening in the hull from corrosion) requiring emergency dry docks. The resultant loss in operational days poses unacceptable risks to our personnel. By the end of 2005, the Coast Guard will have taken delivery of eight reconfigured 123-foot patrol boats, which are upgraded 110-foot patrol boats designed to sustain this cutter class until replacement with the Integrated Deepwater System’s Fast Response Cutter.
Changes in the reconfigured craft included an extra 13 feet of length (to 123 feet), an 11-ton extension to their sterns, and a larger and slightly heavier upper works amidships. The modifications were intended to accommodate dual-gender quarters, a more robust communications suite, and a boat ramp on the stern.
The $367.5 million dollar conversion program had been announced during February 2003 by Fred P. Moosally, a Lockheed Martin luminary and former vice-chairman of ICGS. He is currently president of Lockheed Martin’s Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems (NESS) business segment. When the first modernized cutter was delivered on March 8, 2004, Moosally opined that the ICGS’ conversion of the aging vessels would produce “a modernized fleet and an interconnected Coast Guard that will be the envy of the world.”
They did not.
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During sea trials with the lead ship in the summer of 2004, the USCGC Matagorda cracked amidships at [structural] Frame 22 while running at approximately 24 knots near Key West in Sea State 5 conditions (8-12-foot seas). By March 2005, the converted cutters Nunivak and Padre also began experiencing problems with hull buckling. That same month, similar hull deformations were discovered in 3 other modified boats: the Metompkin, Vashon, and Monhegan. As a result of the deteriorating hull conditions, the Coast Guard imposed operational restrictions on the boats in April 2005.
Halter-Bollinger JV could not produce a viable plan to fix them. The alternations had changed the vessels’ center of gravity, and the vibration patterns throughout their hulls. This created new levels of stress in areas of the ship that had not been built to take them, in a set of hulls that were already quite old and fatigued when the conversions were started.
On November 30, 2006, the official word was finally given. All 8 ships were officially placed in limbo and taken out of service, more than 2 years after the first ship began buckling in heavy seas. The 8 stricken ships are all that remains of ICGS’s plan to “add 15 years of life” to all 49 Island Class patrol craft.
Scathing December articles by the New York Times and Washington Post would follow. An enlisted sailor who had served on one of the cutters was more succinct when talking to reporter Nat Helms:
Appendix B: Not-So Fast Response – The Catch With Composite Cutters
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Hence the acceleration of the Deepwater Fast Response Cutters – but these Island Class replacements haven’t fared much better. On June 22/05, Adm. Collins told the US Senate that:
“Last month, I directed that Deepwater’s conversion of 110-ft. patrol boats be terminated at eight hulls for several reasons… Several steps have been taken to mitigate the near-term operational impact of this termination. For the long term, the Coast Guard has advanced the design and construction of the new Fast Response Cutter by a full decade. The revised Deepwater implementation plan builds improved post-9/11 capabilities into this cutter’s design and delivers it far sooner than originally planned.”
On Sept.16/05, the U.S. Coast Guard and ICGS successfully completed the preliminary design review for the 58 FRC vessels, giving the project their official go-ahead. By April 28, 2006, the GAO gave Deepwater a review that lauded improvements to the program. The Coast Guard extended ICGS’ contract, and went into its June 2006 presentations on Capitol Hill buoyed with confidence fueled by improving assessments and the service’s excellent performance during the Gulf Coast hurricane disasters of 2005.
Right on the heels of those testimonies, however, the service was rocked by the release of a June 23, 2006 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report detailing the Coast Guard’s attempt to oversee the integration of composite materials into the current FRC design, involves building the FRC’s hull, decks, and bulkheads out of composites rather than steel or aluminum. As GAO noted in its June 23, 2006 report:
“It calls for the use of two types of composite materials: (1) a solid laminate form consisting of layers of glass-reinforced plastic and (2) a “sandwich” form consisting of two thinner layers of glass-reinforced plastic surrounding a core of either balsa wood or synthetic foam. The solid laminate form is to be used for the hull, which is to be constructed from a mold in a single process. The sandwich form, which weighs less than the solid form, is to be used on decks and bulkheads…
In February 2006, however, the Coast Guard suspended FRC design work after an independent design review by third-party consultants demonstrated, among other things, that the FRC would be far heavier and less efficient than a typical patrol boat of similar length, in part, because it would need four engines to meet Coast Guard speed requirements…”
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Composite materials have been used to build a number of foreign warships, from Sweden’s famous 74 m/ 250 foot Visby Class fast stealth corvettes, to Norway’s smaller and faster Skjold (“Shield”) Class 47.5 m/ 158 foot catamaran-hovercraft design. Composites provide substantial radar stealth benefits, and also offer the prospect of lower maintenance due to fewer corrosion problems in a salt-water environment. Both benefits continue to grow in importance as drug lords employ increasingly sophisticated technologies, and military maintenance budgets continue to grow.
On the other hand, composites come with trade-offs like less stiffness, and questions of long-term durability when subjected to the pounding of high waves on a regular basis. Learning how to use the new materials effectively isn’t something that happens immediately, and there has been criticism that the Coast Guard was over-optimistic about this prospect. Worse, they lacked a clear “Plan B.” Overall, the June 2006 GAO report was extremely critical of the project and its execution. Their bottom line? “The Coast Guard has spent approximately $26.7 million for design and test efforts on the FRC, although it has yet to produce a viable design.”
choppy waters ahead
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In response to these difficulties, the US Coast Guard initially took a “dual-path” approach. The first part of that path involved dividing the 58-ship Fast Response Cutter effort into two classes. 12 would be FRC-Bs bought as a near-term stop gap measure, based on an existing patrol boat design with minor modifications, and licensed for construction in America.
In pursuit of that approach, the Coast Guard looked at 27 designs, from 19 manufacturers around the world. An Oct 24/06 Defense News article quoted Rear Adm. Gary Blore, head of the Deepwater program:
“Blore noted that 19 international manufacturers with 27 different designs responded to a request for information put out in February to seek patrol boats that might meet Coast Guard requirements. None of the initial submissions met those requirements, Blore said, so the service modified some of its specifications. As a result, “five or six” of the designs show promise, Blore said.
The Coast Guard is looking for a vessel from 140 to 160 feet in length, Blore said – shorter than a number of the foreign designs.”
For the 46 subsequent FRC-As, the future initially involved more wait-and-see. The GAO’s March 8, 2007 report explains in more detail:
“…According to Coast Guard officials, unlike the original plans, [FRC-B] is not expected to meet all performance requirements originally specified, but is intended as a way to field an FRC more quickly than would otherwise occur and that can, therefore, serve as an interim replacement for the deteriorating fleet of 110-foot patrol boats.
The second component of the dual-path approach would be to completely redesign an FRC to address the problems in the original FRC design plans. However, due to continuing questions about the feasibility of its planned composite hull, the Coast Guard has delayed a decision about its development or acquisition until it receives results from two studies. First, the Coast Guard is conducting a business case analysis comparing the use of composite versus steel hulls… Second, the Coast Guard told us that DHS’s Science and Technology Directorate will be conducting tests on composite hull technology, and that it will wait to see the results of these tests before making a decision on the redesigned FRC. Until recently, the Coast Guard anticipated delivery of the redesigned FRC in 2010. However, the decision to not request funding for this redesigned FRC in fiscal year 2008, and to await the results of both studies before moving forward, will likely further delay delivery of the redesigned FRC…
…Concurrent with the first two strategies, the Coast Guard’s third strategy is to have a third party reassess the analyses used in the decision to use composite materials for the FRC to determine if the use of composite materials will, in fact, reduce total ownership costs. The result of the Coast Guard pursuing these strategies is that the Coast Guard would end up with two classes of FRCs. The first class of FRCs to be built would be based on an adapted design from a patrol boat already on the market, to expedite delivery, and a follow-on class that would be based on revisions made to address the problems identified in the original FRC design plans.”
If they could. In the end, they could not.
Enter Plan B: an FRC-B competition that would abandon development of a new design in favor of currently fielded designs around the world. It would eventually become the sole procurement strategy.
March 2007: What Next?
Adm. Thad Allen
Congressional Research Service report #RL33753, last updated on December 22, 2006, noted that “some observers have expressed concern the estimated total acquisition cost of the Deepwater program has grown over time from $17 billion to $24 billion.” While this is true, much of that cost growth stems from expansion of the Coast Guard’s mission after 9/11. A larger mission requires more assets and capabilities, and so the underlying Deepwater plan was revised. It would be far more accurate to say that the Deepwater I plan had an estimated cost of $17 billion, while the post/9/11 “Deepwater II” plan grew to over $24 billion.
Overall cost is not yet a major issue for Deepwater. Performance to date, and confidence in the Coast Guard’s acquisition system, are. This confidence is so shaken that The May 22, 2006 House Appropriations Committee report on H.R. 5441 (H.Rept. 109-476) denied the $41.6 million request for the production of the Fast Response Cutter (FRC): “Until ongoing problems are resolved, the Committee cannot continue to support a program that has so much risk of failure that it may be terminated or substantially revised…” The June 29, 2006 Senate Appropriations Committee report (S.Rept. 109-273) took a related approach: “To address this gap, the recommendation rescinds $79,200,000 from balances in the Fast Response Cutter program and reappropriates these funds for the purchase of off-the-shelf replacement patrol boats to address the patrol boat gap as soon as possible.”
This stance survived reconciliation into December 2006. The USCG can re-submit the FRC request in future, but changes will be required in order to secure political confidence.
At a lower level, the sunk cost dollars for Island Class conversions and FRC designs certainly contribute to cost issues with Deepwater II. Yet the key questions concerning the Island Class replacement effort are not really monetary. The first order of business is deciding how to approach the problem of having a serviceable patrol fleet, now that existing approaches have failed or stalled. As noted above, the full answer has not yet become clear – and the FY 2008 budget does not include an FRC-A funding request.
Meanwhile, broader changes are underway in order to restore confidence in the Deepwater program. The reassignment of the FRC-B procurement from ICGS is the first major change to flow out of that reality. Others are in the works. From Adm. Thad Allen’s testimony to Congress on February 8, 2007 [PDF]:
“I’ve taken steps to ensure that the Coast Guard maintains vigilant oversight of contractors and project management:
I’ve reaffirmed in writing the role of the Coast Guard’s chief engineer as the technical authority for all acquisition projects.
I’ve directed independent, third-party design reviews as new assets are developed or major modifications to assets are contemplated.
I am cultivating a more robust relationship with the Naval Sea and Air Systems Commands [DID: NAVSEA & NAVAIR] to leverage outside technical expertise.
“…In my opinion, the challenges we are dealing with in the Deepwater Program are not the result of a flawed contract or acquisition design. Rather, they are the result of the Coast Guard not being adequately positioned early on to manage an integrated acquisition of this size. We’re taking decisive action now to fix that. We cannot manage a simultaneous and complex acquisition of this size with a system integrator without an integrated Coast Guard…”
In a bureaucracy, people are policy. So…
“In the coming months, you will see significant changes inside the Coast Guard’s acquisition directorate to bring all acquisition efforts – traditional as well as system-of-systems – under one organization. Rear Admiral Blore will become the Coast Guard’s Chief Acquisition Officer, with responsibility over all procurement projects, including Deepwater and the continued management of ongoing projects such a Rescue 21, our Response Boat-Medium and Nationwide Automatic Identification System. The Program Executive Officer for Deepwater will work within the new organization. I have asked Rear Admiral Ron Rabago, a naval engineer, former Commanding Officer of the Coast Guard Yard, and a technical expert on naval engineering issues to take Deepwater’s “helm”…”
“Under the Blueprint, reinvigorating our acquisition training and certification process to ensure that acquisition staff, program man