Video Above: Northrop Grumman& Eastern Shipbuilding Group Build New Coast Guard OffShore Patrol Cutter
By Kris Osborn - Warrior Maven
(Washington.D.C.) They intercept dangerous shipments of illegal drugs, support the U.S. Navy securing international waterways, thwart terrorism, crime and piracy on the high seas near U.S. shores and, perhaps most of all, they regularly rescue people on the brink of death. The U.S. Coast Guard, and at times under-recognized sphere or portion of the U.S. services increasingly in demand, as threats to the homeland continue to mount due to the growing global reach of major power rivals.
Within the Coast Guard mission scope is a balanced, yet crucial need to patrol both littoral and deep water areas as part of an integrated operational approach, a task assigned to the services’ medium endurance cutters. However, the current fleet of 29 legacy medium endurance cutters (33 not too many years ago) have been in service for decades and are reaching obsolescence and are badly in need of replacement.
There is where the Coast Guard’s emerging Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) enters the equation, a new ship envisioned as a more capable, better networked, larger and far more advanced, high- tech medium endurance cutter than has ever existed.
A U.S. Coast Guard report on the ship had stated that the OPC will provide a capability bridge between the national security cutter which patrols the open ocean in the most demanding maritime environments, to the smaller and the fast response cutters, which serve closer to shore.
Artist’s rendition of the Offshore Patrol Cutter, images courtesy of Eastern Shipbuilding Group.
The Coast Guard selected Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc. (ESG) to build the ship, by choosing them to continue into phase 2 of the OPC development, which includes detail design and construction. While smaller than some of the largest shipbuilders, ESG is known for building highly complex ships of very high quality, on time and on budget, and has helped design the practical design and technological configuration of the ship. The first cutter in the class of the new fleet, Argus, is slated to set sail at some point in 2022. ADM Robert Papp (RET) is currently President of the DC offices of ESG.
“ESG came through with a great price for the government with a ship almost matching the operational capabilities of their largest assets, but offering a significant cost reduction in both construction and over the life of the vessel. One of the things I focused on was I did not want to reduce future capabilities of any acquisitions program, while knowing we had to get the Coast Guard fantastic ships at affordable prices,” Papp said.
At 360 feet, the ESG OPC is much larger than the 210-foot and 270-foot medium endurance cutters they are replacing and also engineered with an entirely new sphere of command and control systems, sensor technologies and networking applications. This new dimension of technology is of great significance to Coast Guard planners, who anticipate that new levels of networked, yet disaggregated operations will increasingly be necessary. Northrop Grumman and ESG drew from state of the market technologies to build this ship.
“When you build a Navy ship, you have to focus on power and speed. The Navy has oilers that can refuel ships, whereas most Coast Guard ops are independent of the fleet. You don’t have a supply ship so you must have room on board for fuel, food and supplies, and you need to conserve that fuel,” Papp said.
This need to optimize the scope of available resources and propulsion efficiency is part of why the new ESG ship is built with an auxiliary hybrid electric-diesel propulsion systems to increase efficiency and loitering capability, a first in the CG fleet.
“If you are doing surveillance, you can use the ship service generators and electrical power to cruise at a reasonable speed to preserve your fuel,” Papp said.
This technical effort to engineer new dimensions of ship technology is comprised of an ESG collaboration with Northrop Grumman to provide the C4ISR systems to integrate with and optimize ESG’s OPC vision and design for the ship.
Working in close coordination with ESG to ensure that the ship’s technical infrastructure aligned with ESG’s structural vision for the ship, design specs and technical requirements, Northrop Grumman is building the Integrated Bridge System, an integrated set of technologies connecting the helm and control centers to the ship’s propulsion, steering and navigation. As part of its contribution, Northrop Grumman also provides the ship’s Computing Network System, Machinery Control System and Propulsion Control System along with the monitors and controls for the ship’s propulsion power plant. Interestingly, Northrop Grumman has leveraged some of the commonality with cutting edge technology it has built into other Navy and Coast Guard ships to optimize technical performance and ensure sustained upgradeability.
The advanced networking and C4ISR is of critical importance to the Coast Guard’s OPC vision, in part because the service is looking to acquire 25 new ships to replace an existing fleet of now less than 30 medium-endurance Hamilton cutters.
Coast Guard Off Shore Patrol Cutter - Courtesy of Eastern Shipbuilding Group
“This is the largest acquisition in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard. We are responsible for the majority of the C4ISR capabilities on the OPC; including the command and control system, communications, navigation through the integrated bridge system, the shipboard computer network system, navigation and combat system data distribution system, surface search radars, primary and secondary gyrocompasses, as well as other navigational sensors. Our key objectives have been to deliver affordable solutions and keep the program on track,” Michael Corrigan, Site Director of the Northrop Grumman facility in Charlottesville Virginia, where the equipment is built and tested, told Warrior.
Papp explained that the engineering vision for the ship has, since its inception, relied upon this tactical and technical approach emphasizing networking and C4ISR to, among other things, expand the surveillance reach for medium endurance cutters. Having spent years serving on and commanding now decades-old medium endurance cutters, Papp added that their surveillance capabilities were often limited to a surface ship radar “something inside of about 20 miles.”
“Now, because of C4ISR and the ability to share satellite data and aircraft data, we can make our ships smarter. Instead of just searching, you can direct ships exactly where they need to look,” Papp added.
Kris Osborn is the new Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics& Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.