Defense Media Network

Fast Response Cutters Require a New Mindset

The Sentinel class is a solid ride.

Kelly previously served at San Juan, Puerto Rico, and recalls an incident where the FRC proved its worth. The cruise ship Caribbean Fantasy, coming from Santo Domingo to San Juan with 511 passengers aboard, caught fire close to shore, where the Coast Guard had vessels and aircraft that could assist.

“We used one of our new FRCs, CGC Joseph Tezanos, to be the on-scene coordinator for that entire effort, for all the interagency coordination, and it was challenging with English and Spanish [speakers], but they did a fantastic job with that,” Kelly said. “So, it’s a highly capable communications platform, and … it demonstrated that this 154-foot patrol cutter was able to manage all those different things.”

small boat launch

The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter John McCormick (WPC 1121) launches their small boat from the stern boat ramp in preparation for mooring in Astoria, Oregon, March 11, 2017. The new Fast Response Cutter has increased capabilities compared to the smaller 110-foot patrol boats it is replacing, including safer small boat launch and recover via the stern ramp. The John McCormick is the first FRC on the West Coast. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Lt. Brian Dykens

According to Lt. Cmdr. Matt Kroll, the assistant project officer for FRC introduction in District 11, “All four of our FRCs are going to be stationed in San Pedro. They’ve got a brand-new building down there to support the FRCs, with the maintenance facility and all of [the] parts they’ll need. These ships are so advanced compared to the patrol boats of the past that it’s requiring a completely new look at how they schedule maintenance. Instead of conducting longer maintenance availabilities, they’re now doing more frequent but shorter maintenance periods.”

At the outset, rather than spreading the initial FRCs around to different ports, the Coast Guard has basically stood up one location at a time, giving the homeport the resources, maintenance, and support they need for the ships and crews. San Pedro, like the other FRC ports, has a cadre of specialists who can perform the required maintenance on the ships.

The 110s have a top speed of 30 knots, while the FRCs are advertised at 28.5 knots. However, some observers say the new cutters are faster, since many of the older boats can’t perform as they used to. Plus, the FRCs are much more fuel efficient.

Whereas much of the maintenance performed on the 87s and 110s was conducted by diesel engine machinery technicians, the new FRCs feature a more high-tech propulsion system that is maintained by electronics technicians. And underway, the engineer is not down in the engine room monitoring gauges; that watch is now performed on the bridge in front of a computer display.

“They had to rethink maintenance completely, just because these ships are so high tech,” said Kroll.

Fast Response Cutter 2

The Coast Guard Robert Ward (WPC 1130) arrives to Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oct. 31, 2018 in San Pedro, California. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class DaVonte’ Marrow

Like the national security cutters, FRCs have the L3 Technologies Integrated Communications System, featuring the L3 MarCom/KITE (Keyswitch Integrated Terminal Equipment) system that brings all the communications circuits – from UHF and VHF and various bands and frequencies – together at one location, allowing the FRCs to better interoperate with the rest of the fleet and other partner agencies, as was illustrated in the cruise ship fire off San Juan.

District 11 had one Island-class patrol boat, CGC Edisto, which was recently decommissioned. The 110s have a top speed of 30 knots, while the FRCs are advertised at 28.5 knots. However, some observers say the new cutters are faster, since many of the older boats can’t perform as they used to. Plus, the FRCs are much more fuel efficient. Nevertheless, it will be a while before most of the 110s are replaced.

While the national security cutters are named for Coast Guard legends, FRCs are named for more contemporary enlisted heroes. “We’re starting to reach back into a more recent history for the namesakes,” said Lt. Cmdr. Stephen Brickey, the Coast Guard’s Pacific Area public affairs officer. “The FRCs help us to remember the stories of each one of these heroes. And so, if you’re looking at 60 different cutters, that’s 60 people that, for the most part, would have just remained relatively unknown. We’re able to use the commissionings and the story of the cutter to tie into their legacy and how it moves us forward into the future.”

Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, who commands the Pacific Area, said the FRC requires a new mindset, because it is in many ways more similar to the much larger 210-foot and 270-foot medium-endurance cutters than it is to patrol boats. That new mindset is looking at how the Coast Guard can deploy the FRC, and how far it can reach to effectively carry out their multiple missions, and most important, how advanced technologies and capabilities can extend the capabilities of the maritime guardians, as challenges continue to change and expand.

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