Military


WPC-179 Cyclone Patrol Coastal Craft

The 179-foot Cyclone Class Patrol Coastal Craft conduct Homeland Security, Search and Rescue and Law Enforcement operations in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico. The Cyclone class patrol boats will fill a gap in Coast Guard resources at a time when the service's inventory of 110-foot patrol boats continue a historic, high operational tempo.

The vessels were originally built as 170-foot patrol boats and were later fitted with a stern ramp modification that extended their length to 179 feet. The vessels have a beam of 25 feet, and a draft of 8 feet. They carry a crew of approximately 27, two officers, and 25 enlisted personnel. They are powered by four Paxman-Valenta diesel engines with a combined horsepower of 14,000. They can travel at a speed in excess of 35 knots, and carry a variety of weaponry.

Severe deterioration of the 110 fleet, coupled with increased post-9/11 operational hours, the delays in delivery of operational 123-foot cutters, and the continued deployment of 110-foot cutters to the Persian Gulf, created a gap in patrol boat availability. The Coast Guard recognizes that stopping the conversion program requires aggressive implementation of an immediate and sustained strategy to fill badly needed patrol boat mission hours and mitigate the impact on operations. The transfer of five 179-foot patrol craft from the Navy to the Coast Guard immediately lessened short falls in patrol boat hours. The Coast Guard also tested a multi-crewing concept for the two 179-foot patrol craft stationed in Pascagoula, Miss., with the goal of obtaining more mission hours per hull.

The Navy and Coast Guard signed an agreement in August 2004 that allowed five ships to be under the operational command of the Coast Guard beginning in October 2004. Two of five ships will return to the Navy in 2008; the remainder will return in 2011. Beginning in 2009, the ships will undergo a sustainment program to update the ships communication, engineering and support systems.

A Coast Guard crew took command of a Navy Cyclone-class patrol ship 05 March 2000 at the Naval Amphibious Base in Little Creek, Va., proceeded to paint a Coast Guard stripe on the hull and renamed it Coast Guard Cutter Thunderbolt. The PC-12 Thunderbolt officially became the Coast Guard Cutter Thunderbolt March 5 and remained in a dual-commission status until it was returned to the Navy 17 July 2000. USS Thunderbolt's crew was assigned to Special Boat Squadron 2 at Little Creek while Thunderbolt was temporarily commissioned as a Coast Guard cutter. The Coast Guard crew relieved the USS Thunderbolt's crew to test the capabilities of the 170-foot patrol ship for four months and conduct Coast Guard missions. For the last several years the Coast Guard had believed these vessels may fill the gap between the 110-foot cutters and the 210-foot cutters. Currently, there is no Coast Guard cutter that combines the speed and maneuverability of a 110 and the improved communications capability and endurance of a 210.

Coast Guard Pacific Area and the U.S. Pacific Fleet jointly announced 05 November 2001 the assignment of two Cyclone-Class Navy Patrol Coastal (PC) ships in support of the nation's homeland security along the U.S. West Coast as a part of OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE. Under OPERATION NOBLE EAGLE, the PCs will be used for United States coastal patrol and maritime homeland security operations under the tactical control of the Coast Guard Pacific Area command. Operational control of the ships, normally assigned to United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) through Commander, Naval Special Warfare Command (CNSWC), was shifted to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. Three other PCs have been assigned to the U.S. Atlantic Fleet for maritime homeland security operations.

As the lead agency for maritime homeland security, the Coast Guard is responsible for protecting more than 360 ports and 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline. Together with the U.S. Navy and federal, state and local law enforcement, the Coast Guard has been conducting its largest port security operation since World War II. The PCs will continue to be manned and operated by Navy crews, but a small team of specially trained Coast Guard law enforcement officers will deploy aboard each of the ships on maritime homeland security patrol to conduct law enforcement boardings of vessels at sea, prior to the vessel's entry into a U.S. port. The PCs will also be used to provide anti-terrorism/force protection for Naval ships and escort commercial ships in and out of U.S. ports. Having a Coast Guard boarding team aboard a Navy ship is similar to arrangements dating back to the 1980s in joint Navy-Coast Guard counter-narcotics operations. Coast Guard law enforcement detachments deployed aboard U.S. Navy ships worldwide in support of port security and maritime interdiction operations in the Arabian Gulf and Southwest Asia.

These Navy vessels, slated for decommissioning in 2002, instead are going to remain active and have been loaned to the Coast Guard to patrol US shores. The Navy had planned to get rid of the nine of its 13 Cyclone-class Patrol Coastal ships after they were returned in 2002 to the administrative control of Naval Surface Force, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, or SURFLANT, from Special Operations Command. But after Sept. 11, there appeared to be a need for these ships in providing homeland defense. The Navy opted to keep the ships rather than decommission them this year and offered them to the Coast Guard for homeland security. The Navy eventually will decommission the nine vessels. Their primary mission is coastal patrol and interdiction surveillance. They also provide full mission support for Navy SEALs and other special operations forces. No decisions had been made when to decommission the nine vessels, which carry roughly 36 personnel. The loan to the Coast Guard let the ships participate in Operation Noble Eagle, the nation's ongoing endeavor to protect U.S. borders.



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