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Fast Response Cutters

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“You just have a lot more flexibility to have mixed-gender crews of almost any ratio, and that will open up a lot of enlisted billets on the FRCs that didn’t exist before on the 110s,” he said.

Eggert said the greater comfort for the crew adds up to better patrols.

“It’s really a lot of small things, but when added together, it makes the crew’s quality of life so much better,” he said. “We made [a] four-week patrol and these improvements made it so much easier on the crew, where in the past, that can be [a] long deployment on a patrol boat.”



The fact that the FRC can maintain 28 knots is great for closing distances getting to the scene of the rescue, but the beauty of the engineering system, Eggert said, is really how well the ship performs at slow speeds.

Unlike the 110s, the FRCs have reduction gear that allows them to work very efficiently at very slow speeds. The Island-class cutters, Eggert said, must “clutch” their reduction gear in and out to operate any slower than 10 knots.

“That ability to operate safely at slower speeds with much more control makes a big difference,” Eggert said. “It’s become part of our normal operating procedure for launching and recovering our cutterboat and it really helps when we’re towing another vessel.”

And operating regularly at slow speeds on patrol increases the fast response cutter’s endurance – the ability to stay on station.

“Operationally, at low speeds, the engines are very economical,” he said. “So when we’re doing our patrols, you can really stretch the fuel consumption – which has really been a pleasant surprise.”

For Allen, the engine rooms don’t require a constant presence of a crewmember, so the ship’s engineer on watch now works from the pilothouse, using a remote monitoring system that displays everything about the engineering plant.

It also, Allen said, allows for more remote operation of engineering gear that wasn’t possible on a 110-foot patrol boat.

“The engineer of the watch still makes rounds through the engine room,” he said. “But if you want to start a fire pump or parallel the generators, for example, you can do that from the watch station in the pilothouse.”

But, Allen said having the engineer physically on the bridge gives him a lot more situational awareness of what’s going on operationally and gives the deck watch officer more awareness of what’s happening with the engineering plant because they’re both right there.

“It connects the two sides of the house better than before, because on the 110, they might talk a bit before they go on watch, but they really don’t interact that much,” Allen said.



The fast response cutters and the 110-footers are armed with the same types of deck weapons, .50-caliber machine guns and a single 25 mm deck gun forward on the main deck.

Richard Etheridge .50-caliber machine gun

A crewmember of the Coast Guard’s second fast response cutter, Richard Etheridge, fires a .50-caliber machine gun July 17, 2012, during the cutter’s first live fire exercise. Richard Etheridge is homeported in Miami alongside the first FRC, the CGC Bernard C. Webber. USCG photo by Lt. James Ellsworth

But the FRC has two additional .50-caliber weapons, giving the ship dual machine guns forward and aft.

But the biggest improvement in the weapons department is in the operation of the 25 mm deck gun, which no longer must be operated from the deck as a crew-served weapon.

“The [main armament of the] ‘110’ is a Mark 28 Mod 1 and you have to have someone actually at the gun on the forecastle who is exposed to everything out there from the weather to the operational situation,” Allen said.

On the FRC, the gun is remotely operated from the bridge and is gyro stabilized and integrated into the ship’s electronics.

“It’s much more accurate for something that’s mounted on the bow of a patrol boat,” he said. “We threw a barrel in the water when we were testing it and we were drilling holes in that barrel from about 500 yards, no problems – whereas with the 110, you’d be lucky to hit it at all, even if you had a pretty talented gunner.”


What’s Next for the Fast Response Cutters?

As Allen’s boat and crew enter their initial operations at sea, Eggert and his crew are about to navigate the next big hurdle on the FRC’s road to a full-fledged Coast Guard capability.

“What’s ahead of us is the transition from warranty to sustainment,” Eggert said. “This means the Coast Guard will now be responsible for maintaining and supporting the ship logistically, where up until now, the vessel has been under warranty. We’ve relied on the builder and acquisition folks for support, and that responsibility will soon shift to the Coast Guard.”

A major step forward for that capability was the completion of an FRC support building at the Miami Operating Base that will provide office and storage space for the cutters. A duplicate facility is being built in Key West and another is planned and budgeted for in San Juan.

“It’s a real unknown for us to take the unit through that transition,” he said. “The product line and local support folks have anticipated the challenge and I think they’re well suited to handle it.”

This article first appeared in the Coast Guard Outlook 2013 Edition.

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