Allen, who previously commanded the CGC Baranof, an Island-class vessel that’s forward deployed in the Persian Gulf, likened the increase in capability to getting an upgrade on your cell phone.
“It’s kind of like going from having an older-style flip phone to a smartphone,” he said. “You have all these cool new functions you didn’t have, so you didn’t miss them, but now that you have them you realize how useful they are and wonder how you ever did the job without them.”
Eggert said that this is one of the biggest reasons operating an FRC is all around more efficient than the 110s.
“It provides so much more information to us in real time as far as where other Coast Guard assets are and what else is going on in the area, and allows us to communicate really quickly without going over a radio, which is really helpful, for example, with law enforcement cases,” he said.
Both Allen and Eggert said that the improvements in the capability of the fast response cutter smallboat over that of the 110 is like getting into the big leagues of Coast Guard operations.
“It’s just so much more capable,” Eggert said. “It can operate independently, over the horizon and because it’s a larger platform, it can carry more crew and personnel, which makes many missions easier to execute.”
Launching the boat, Eggert said, is easily done with the cutterboat’s “safe and efficient” stern ramp, allowing operations to continue while the ship is still under way, and it’s proven to be safe even in seas up to 8 feet. Launching from a 110-foot Island-class patrol cutter requires the boat to be held aloft and craned into the water, with most of the crew involved.
A key improvement is the FRC’s ability to use “noncompliant use of force” to stop a vessel at sea.
“Operationally this is the greatest improvement I see,” Allen said. “What that does is give us an organic noncompliant use of force capability where 110s aren’t able to do that because their cutterboat is just not considered stable or seaworthy enough for that level of operations.”
For example, he said, if an FRC is chasing a “go-fast” drug- smuggling boat, noncompliant use of force allows the ship to compel the smuggler to stop, from firing warning shots to eventually shooting and disabling the engines.
Larger cutters have had this capability for years, he said, but at this level of operations, it’s a new capability.
“When a 110 finds a go-fast, they can chase it with the cutter, but there’s not much else it can do,” Allen said.
Allen and Eggert feel that tactically, the fact that the cutter’s boat can operate well out of sight of the cutter gives them tactical advantages the 110 can’t match.
“For example, if you’re spying on a drug-smuggling logistics support vessel that is loitering and waiting for go-fast boats, you can have the cutter outside of radar detection range, but then move in the cutterboat 30 miles to loiter and wait and monitor them,” Allen said.
Quality of life aboard the fast response cutter is also markedly better. Because the ship is 44 feet longer, the living accommodations, as a result, are much improved.
“You really can’t overstate how important that is, because every evolution we do is an all-hands evolution because we just don’t have the depth in our crew as larger cutters have,” Allen said.
“So getting the crew the rest they need between evolutions is a big deal.”
The smaller 110 patrol boats, Allen said, do not ride well in rough seas because of their size, but also somewhat because of their hull design, too.
So the fast response cutter, at nearly 50 percent longer and displacing nearly twice the weight of the 110s, provides a much better ride for the crew.
“Second, the fin stabilizer system is more effective on the FRC than the 110,” Allen said. “The 110 kind of snaps you back and forth in the seas and can be kind of jarring, whereas the FRC is much smoother.”
Allen said that for the quality of life of his enlisted crew, the berthing configuration on the FRC is a major improvement.
On the 110-foot patrol boats, there are two enlisted berthing areas, one all the way forward and another nearly all the way aft.
“Way up forward is probably the worst possible place for a sleeping area,” Allen said, “because you feel everything. The up and down and getting slammed in heavy seas makes sleeping sometimes impossible.”
That’s why on the 110s, he said, when the ship is pitching, usually those in the forward berthing sleep on the mess decks, the eating area, in the middle of the ship.
“You can imagine what that’s like,” Allen said. “Everyone trying to sleep on four mess deck cushions.”
The aft berthing on the 110s is normally an eight-crewmember berthing, but the forward-deployed 110s house 12 because of plussed-up crew sizes on those cutters. Those 12 all share one head – bathroom in naval parlance – and must navigate through the engine room to get there.
“Imagine waking up in the middle of the night to do a boarding and everyone is trying to get their stuff together; it’s just chaos,” he said.
“On the other hand, the design of the FRC put all the berthing in the middle of the ship, where the movement of the ship is less,” Allen said.
There are more berthing areas, with no more than four people in each, along with several heads and showers, too, he said, making life “just more comfortable and you don’t have to wait your turn as there’s enough heads for everybody.”
But the arrangement will also make it easier for the Sentinel class of ships to have mixed-gender crews, Allen said, because if there are two to four females aboard, they can have their own berthing and head, which is not possible right now on nearly all the 110-foot patrol boats.