Famous Cutter Class
270-Foot Medium Endurance Cutter (WMEC)
There are 13 Famous-class cutters currently in commission; the first one, Bear (WMEC 901), entered service in 1983. During a typical 50 day patrol, they are capable of performing a variety of the Coast Guard's missions. Famous-class cutters are primarily assigned law enforcement, defense operations, and search-and-rescue missions. Their law enforcement missions have included drug and illegal immigrant operations and fisheries enforcement activities. These ships are the most modern and advanced medium endurance cutters, with a modern weapons and sensor suite. They are equipped with a sophisticated command, display, and control (COMDAC) computerized ship-control system which provides for maximum operational effectiveness with reduced crews. The crew consists of 14 officers and 86 enlisted persons.
In meeting their national defense tasking, these cutters are outfitted with modern surface search radar and electronic surveillance systems. The installed Mark75/76 mm fully automatic gun system can fire at a rate of 80 rounds per minute. The gun system is controlled by the MK 92 fire control system capable of tracking and engaging both surface and high speed air targets. In addition, for anti-ship missile defense, the cutters carry the MK36 chaff launching system, and the SLQ-32 for hostile emission detection. They are also equipped with two 50 caliber machine guns, and an arsenal of small arms. These unique capabilities make them an ideal platform for low intensity conflicts, coastal surveillance missions and port security roles.
The Shipboard Command Control (SCCS) system is a computer driven system that uses radar, LORAN, GPS, and worldwide charting. The SCCS system interfaces all of cutter's sensors into one unit for quick access and reliability. Software designed specifically for SCCS allows the unit to perform National Defense, Maritime Law Enforcement, Search and Rescue, Alien Interdiction. SCCS makes the 270' Medium Endurance Cutters one of the Coast Guard's most sophisticated and capable law enforcement platforms. To help with SCCS the system uses dual surface radars, an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) transponder and interrogator, Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN), AN/SLQ-32 Electronic Surveillance Receiver, and infrared & low light camera with video recording equipment.
The heart of the combat and control systems is COMDAC (Command, Display, And Control), a modern computerized system developed specifically for the Coast Guard to collect and correlate data from the cutter's radars, closed circuit televisions, electronic surveillance, navigation and communications systems. COMDAC enables the cutters to process extensive tactical information with reduced shipboard manpower.
For communications, the cutters have satellite, MF, HF, VHF voice and data communications. Surface to surface communications, and surface to air voice and data links.
To aid in the Coast Guard's peacetime law enforcement and search and rescue missions, they are able to land, launch, and service the HH-65A Dolphin helicopter, and in the time of war, they can also carry the Navy's LAMPS I or LAMPS III helicopter. An HH-65 "Dolphin" helicopter and a five-person AVDET (Aviation Detachment) crew usually deploy for search and rescue (SAR) and law enforcement (LE) missions. This cutter-aircraft team greatly extends the capabilities of both units, making an effective floating air station. The flight deck is fitted with a hangar that is extended to protect the helo from inclement weather when underway. The cutter's active stabilization system extends the operating parameters of the cutter aircraft team by providing a stable platform for flight evolutions during rough sea conditions. The fins rotate while the ship is underway to reduce uncomfortable rolls in heavy seas. This counteraction makes the ship more stable which is vital for safe helicopter operations and improved seakeeping. This allows the cutters to serve the vital role of search and rescue in almost any storm or location. The cutters have two small boats onboard that are used for Marine Law Enforcement Boardings, and high sea SAR. The two boats are the 26-foot Motor Surf Boat, and the 19-foot Rigid Hull inflatable Boat.
The engineering plant is comprised of two 3,650 horsepower V-18 ALCO diesel engines driving two shafts with twin 9-foot diameter controllable pitch propellers. The torque developed by each engine is transmitted via reduction gear through the main propulsion shafting to power each propeller. The cutters also have two 475 KW ship's service generators, a separate 500 KW emergency generator, and a full range of pollution control systems.
The Mess Deck is where the crew eats. While underway this is a central point for crew's morale activities, and of course movie nights. The five enlisted berthing areas onboard range from nine person to twenty-one person occupancy. Each berthing area also contains it's own lounge or a lounge in close proximity. There are 6 CPO Staterooms onboard, and each stateroom contains 2 racks and desk and locker space for their occupants. Chiefs enjoy their own mess, which also serves as a lounge. There are nine officer staterooms onboard BEAR. Junior officers share two-person staterooms, while the Commanding Officer, Executive Office, Operations Officer, and Engineer Officer have their own staterooms. The junior officer staterooms contain two racks, desk and locker space. The wardroom serves as the officers dining and lounge area. As with many other compartments, the wardroom also serves as a meeting center, and a battle dressing station in emergencies.
The Coast Guard established the Ship Structure and Machinery Evaluation Board [SSMEB] as a way of assessing the condition of ships and determining if their service life can be extended. The assessments are supposed to be conducted on one or more ships of each type 10 years after the commissioning of the lead ship and at each 5-year interval thereafter. An SSMEB consists of a review of the repair history of a class of cutters, an assessment of the future supportability of the main propulsion, auxiliary, and prime mission equipment on that class of cutter, and a thorough physical examination of the hull, engines, and auxiliary equipment. An SSMEB's determination that a ship's service life can be extended by a certain period (e.g., 5 additional years) should not be taken to mean that the ship will necessarily reach the end of its useful life when the 5-year period has ended. A subsequent SSMEB will determine if the useful life can be extended further.
In 1994, an SSMEB showed the evaluated 270-foot cutter to be in excellent condition and a potential for extending the cutter's service life through the replacement of equipment or modifications to be done during maintenance periods. A recommended mid-life maintenance, similar to that done on the 210-foot cutters, would add an additional 15 years to the service life of the vessels-well beyond the service dates shown in the DMAR. In light of information needs for the Deepwater Project, the Coast Guard initiated assessments on one 270-foot cutter which was completed in fiscal year 1999.
The Coast Guard plans to spend over $12 billion over a period of 20 years to acquire a fleet of 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), its highest investment priority and largest acquisition program. The OPCs will replace the aging fleet of Medium Endurance Cutters (MEC). The Coast Guard divided the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program into two stages and revised its cost and schedule goals following widespread disruptions from Hurricane Michael in October 2018.
To address the potential operational capability gap resulting from the risk of the MECs failing before they are replaced by the OPCs, the Coast Guard started a $1.86 billion acquisition program to extend the service life of six of the 270-foot MECs. The Coast Guard built flexibility into this MEC SLEP that allows it to include up to all 13 of the 270-foot MECs, as necessary, such as in response to the MECs failing faster than anticipated or if the OPC deliveries are further delayed. The Coast Guard decided not to extend the service life of the 210-foot MECs, which are slated to be replaced first by the OPCs. The MECs continue to face significant risks of failure due to age and obsolescence.
The SLEP is intended to add up to 10 years of service life for each of the six MECs undergoing service life extensions, which will help mitigate the gap before OPCs are delivered. As of August 2020, most of the MECs have exceeded their original 30-year service life, with the oldest 270-foot MEC commissioned in 1983. When the Coast Guard established the need for the OPC program in 2008, it noted that extending the service life of the entire MEC fleet was no longer economical and imposed increased risks to the ships’ safety. Ten years later, DHS and the Coast Guard determined that due to the degraded reliability and obsolescence of the MECs and additional time needed for the OPCs to begin operational service, there was a need to establish the MEC SLEP program, which entered the Analyze/Select phase in April 2018.
To address the uncertainty of the OPC delivery schedule, the Coast Guard built flexibility into the SLEP contracts to extend the service life for up to all 13 of the 270-foot MECs, if necessary. According to Coast Guard officials, they will not need to make a decision to expand the MEC SLEP beyond six MECs until 2024, which would allow the program enough time to procure long-lead time materials. According to the Coast Guard, each additional MEC added to the SLEP program would cost approximately $35 million per cutter in acquisition costs.
The first 270-foot MEC is scheduled to undergo the SLEP starting in 2023 and will be available to the fleet again in 2024, while the service life extension of the sixth 270-MEC is scheduled to start in 2027 and be completed in 2028. Based on this plan, all 19 of the MECs that will be replaced by OPCs but not undergo a service life extension may still be in service from 1 to 10 years past their projected service lives and operate at reduced availability. Further, the six 270-foot MECs selected to undergo the service life extensions will not be replaced by the OPCs until 1 to 3 years past their extended service lives.
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