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Fast Response Cutters Require a New Mindset

The Sentinel class is a solid ride.

The Sentinel-class fast response cutter (FRC) is the Coast Guard’s new multi-mission platform designed to replace the 110-foot Island-class patrol boats (WPB) built between 1985 and 1992. The FRC has greater range, stability, and habitability to enable crews to better conduct the missions of drug and migrant interdiction; ports, waterways and coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense.

According to Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate spokesman Brian Olexy, the Coast Guard is acquiring 58 FRCs, which are being built by Bollinger Shipyards at Lockport, Louisiana, a company with years of experience building ships for the Coast Guard. Of those, 50 have been funded and ordered, including two for Patrol Forces Southwest Asia in Bahrain. As of Oct. 25, 2018, 30 have been delivered.

Kelly said the FRCs ride well. “When they’re moving, it’s very smooth. It feels completely different from the 110. It’s a solid ride.”

The new patrol cutters have advanced command, control, communications, and computers (C4) capabilities; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, providing each crew significant operational advantages over previous ship classes; and carry the over-the-horizon cutterboat to reach vessels of interest.

Twenty-nine FRCs are in service, with the first, CGC Bernard C. Webber, delivered in 2012. District 7, headquartered in Miami, received the initial 18 FRCs, based on the priorities of interdiction in the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico: The first six boats were assigned to Miami, followed by six to Key West, then six to San Juan. The next two were delivered to Pascagoula, Mississippi, in District 8, in New Orleans. District 17, in Alaska, has two FRCs now homeported in Ketchikan, but that number will eventually reach six, and provide a 19 percent increase in operational capacity. There are two in Honolulu, Hawaii, and two in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina. The newest, Forrest Rednour (WPC 1129), was commissioned Nov. 8, and is the first of four FRCs to be homeported at San Pedro, California, at the port of Los Angeles/Long Beach.

Joseph Tezanos

The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Tezanos conducts sea trials off the coast of Key West, Florida on July 19, 2016. The Joseph Tezanos commissioned in August 2016. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Eric D. Woodall

The FRCs are based upon the Stan 4708 patrol vessel design from Dutch shipbuilder Damen, and will also carry out some of the duties of the 87-foot Island-class patrol boats. “We’re very happy to be getting the four,” said Cmdr. Heather Kelly, deputy enforcement chief for District 11, which covers California, Nevada, and Arizona. “I’m focusing on a law enforcement side, such as illegal smuggling operations and fisheries enforcement, but the Coast Guard is also focused on port safety and security, as well as search and rescue. So, the FRC will be much more capable to respond in [District] 11’s area of responsibility. We have weather conditions that challenge our 87s [coastal patrol boats] in heavy sea states. Especially up north toward San Francisco and Humboldt Bay – the sea states just get nasty in the winter time. Some of the fisheries season openings correspond with that bad weather, and we have to be able to respond.”

“They’re able to operate out offshore for longer,” Kelly said. “The FRCs can stay out at least five days, comfortably. They can go for longer [periods of time] if they know and plan for it, but they also have a refuel-at-sea capability if we need to do that.”

Kelly said the FRCs ride well. “When they’re moving, it’s very smooth. It feels completely different from the 110. It’s a solid ride.”

They have better habitability, so the crew is more comfortable. They carry more fresh water and have bigger fuel tanks, which are big factors in endurance. “They’re able to operate out offshore for longer,” Kelly said. “The FRCs can stay out at least five days, comfortably. They can go for longer [periods of time] if they know and plan for it, but they also have a refuel-at-sea capability if we need to do that.”

The FRC packs a bigger punch, with .50-caliber machine guns and a remotely operated 25 mm chain gun.

Stern launch

The Coast Guard Cutter Raymond Evans launches its small boat July 25, 2014 from its stern launch. The Raymond Evans was the fourth fast response cutter to be commissioned in Key West. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Jon-Paul Rios

A major difference between the smaller patrol boats and the FRC is the stern launch capability for boats, which allows the crew to get a boat into the water much faster and more safely. While a 110 would have to slow and position itself in regard to the winds and swells to launch its boat, the FRC can get that boat out of the stern quicker, and that is important when conducting a high-speed pursuit.

“The stern launch is a big deal. It’s definitely made a huge difference,” said Kelly. “It’s much safer in heavier seas. And it’s made a big difference in launch and recovery time – especially for law enforcement operations. A 110 would have to make sure they maneuvered to have optimal conditions to put their boat in the water. But in the time that it takes a 110 to have those perfect conditions, and slew that boat over the side, a fast response cutter’s boat would already be chasing after somebody. And because they’re so fast and so capable, they can wait to launch their boat until the last minute, because they’re able to keep up with the smuggler.”

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...