Fast Response Cutter A (FRC-A) WPC Patrol Coastal
The Fast Response Cutters was designed to have an adaptable mission module and a maximum range of 5,000 nautical miles. The FRC was dramatically modified to meet post 9/11 mission requirements. The original steel-hulled FRC with an expected service life of 15-20 years was replaced with a composite-hulled craft with a 40-year hull-life. The FRC was to be designed from the keel up to be Deepwater interoperable.
The FRC was to receive enhanced Maritime Security Capabilities that would have supported Homeland Security and Homeland Defense in American waters through increased speed and lethality. The FRC speed requirement was to increase from 28 to 30 knots providing exceptional response and reaction capability. This increased transit speed was to allow for more time on station protecting port approaches. CBR D&D was to be integrated to allow the FRC to respond to WMD incidents and provide a federal on-scene presence. The FRC was to receive critical DHS and DoD communications Interoperability improvements that will equal those that exist in the fleet today, including Military Satellite Communications (MILSATCOM) and local responder-interoperable radio communications. Common Operational Picture enhancements to the FRC was to be fully integrated with the National Distress Response Modernization Program, known as RESCUE 21, which will provide the port commanders with real-time tracking of the FRC and seamless data sharing, including the Automated Identification System (AIS).
Electronic surveillance systems would feed the Deepwater Intelligence Collection/Information Sharing/MDA. The cutter's small arms mounts will be remote operated and fully integrated with the cutter's radar and infrared sensors such that the cutter and high-value assets under its protection can be protected from a USS COLE-like incident.
On 12 May 2004 an agreement was announced between Northrop Grumman Corporation's Ship Systems sector and Kockums AB and its parent company, Howaldtswerke Deutsche Werft AG (HDW). The pact was an expanded version of an earlier agreement and allows for the continued sharing of composite shipbuilding technologies. The modified contract and an accompanying technology license agreement extends the partnership to include cooperative work in the design and construction of a composite lead ship technology demonstrator of the Deepwater program's fast response cutter (FRC). Upon approval by the U.S. Coast Guard, this ship was to be the first in a series of 150-foot fast patrol vessels that will eventually replace the service's aging fleet of Island class boats. The original cooperative agreement, signed in October 2002, covered the design, development, construction and sale of Visby-class ships and/or derivative technology to the US government and sales to friendly international governments through the Foreign Military Sales program.
The Deepwater system integrator, Integrated Coast Guard Systems, decided to use composite materials for the FRC's hull because, according to contractor analyses, use of such materials instead of steel generally offers several advantages, including lower maintenance and life cycle costs, a longer service life, and reduced weight. An example of successful use of composite material hulls include U.S. Navy Minesweepers. Other potential advantages, according to the Office of Naval Research, include corrosion prevention and decreased damage from impacts. The FRC design called for the use of two types of composite materials: (1) a solid laminate form to be used for the hull and (2) a "sandwich" form which is to be used on decks and bulkheads. 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. Composite materials are not commonly used for vessels with comparable naval operations and have not been used on any prior Coast Guard vessels.
Almost immediately concerns were raised about the lack of existing hulls of this size with all composite hulls. Analysis indicated serious and dramatic deviations from any parametric references to similar hull forms. In addition to the pure naval architecture issues, there were sustainment and maintenance concerns for a composite hull. With the unique hull material fabrication techniques, and the absence of any large or small shipyard, with the exception of the Gulf coast, to do eventual hull repairs in areas where the FRC would normally operate, major maintenance or repair costs needed to be incorporated in the overall evaluation and eventually mitigated.
Under the original 2002 Deepwater Implementation Plan, all 49 of the Coast Guard's 110-foot patrol boats were to be converted into 123-foot patrol boats, with increased capabilities, as a bridging strategy until a replacement vessel, the 140-foot Fast Response Cutter (FRC), came on line beginning in 2018. The initial conversions of the 110-foot patrol boats proved unsuccessful, though, prompting the Coast Guard to revise this part of the Deepwater program. The 2005 Revised Deepwater Implementation Plan reflected the fact that the Coast Guard canceled further patrol boat conversions and accelerated design and delivery of the FRC, with the first FRC scheduled to come on line in 2007 - 11 years earlier than originally planned.
Coast Guard engineering officials raised concerns about the viability of the FRC design beginning in January 2005. At that time the Coast Guard Engineering Logistics Center (ELC) provided significant comments to ICGS's initial Concept Design Report, outlining concerns about the hull form, potential speed, and propulsion plant studies, among others. Disadvantages of using composite versus steel materials include the fact that it is far less stiff than a steel hull, thereby making it more likely to bend under weight. The level of confidence in performance and service experience was less than that of steel. In May 2005 Coast Guard ELC published a white paper formally outlining design concerns, such as the design process, estimated weight increases, hull form and propulsion According to Deepwater Program officials, they acknowledged ELC's concerns and determined further testing was necessary to validate them.
In May 2005 the U.S. Coast Guard's 140-foot fast-response cutter reached a systems requirements milestone resulting in the ship being one step closer to construction commencement. The systems requirements review, held at Northrop Grumman Ship Systems sector's shipyard in New Orleans, included demonstrations on the fast-response cutter's hull, mechanical and electrical design, the Command, Control, Communications and Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR) suite and logistics support. ICGS also presented information on the ship's preliminary operational plans as an asset in the Integrated Deepwater System. As a result of the systems requirements review process, the Fast-Response Cutter program moved into the preliminary design phase, with the customer review scheduled for August 2005.
In September 2005 the Coast Guard Deepwater Program Office and ICGS held a Preliminary Design Review (PDR) and ICGS was authorized to award a contract for detailed design The PDR was considered by Coast Guard Deepwater Program Office to be "successful" because ICGS met contractual requirements After the PDR, on October 6, 2005 Coast Guard Deepwater Program Office sent a letter to ICGS highlighting design concerns such as the hull design and inconsistent total ownership cost data, to be addressed prior to Critical Design Review.
In January 2006, due to preliminary model test observations, ICGS identified cavitation (which can lead to engine inefficiencies and potential structural damage) as a concern with the FRC's hull form and presented an issue paper and briefing to Coast Guard officials The Coast Guard authorized additional testing to explore potential cavitation problems.
An Independent Design Review by third-party consultants preliminarily 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. On February 14, 2006 John J. McMullen & Associates provided a briefing on preliminary IDR results. The IDR noted that, among other things, the FRC preliminary design was unlike those typically found for patrol boats. For example, at 330 tons, FRC was 52% heavier than a standard patrol boat of similar length; thereby driving hull proportions, required power, structural design, fuel load and costs. The IDR preliminary results validated concerns raised in ELC's May 2005 white paper, as well as the initial concerns raised in early 2005.
On 28 February 2006 the Deepwater Program temporarily suspended design work on the FRC-A due to technical risk. Risks include excessive weight, excessive horse power, and the likelihood of additional problems.
Because of the Coast Guard's urgent need for patrol boats, the Coast Guard then began work on a "dual path" approach that included an interim strategy to acquire a B-class vessel until technical risks with the A-class design can be mitigated.
On March 15, 2007 the Coast Guard terminated the FRC-B acquisition effort with ICGS and reassigned the program to the Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate. The Coast Guard believed that by issuing the request for proposals (RFP) itself, it could better ensure full and open competition while controlling costs and acquiring the patrol boats in the shortest amount of time. The Coast Guard acknowledged that it had relied too heavily on contractors to do the work of the government and that government and industry had failed to control costs. The Coast Guard took over the systems integrator role from Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS) and established a program baseline which included schedule and performance parameters.
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