‘‘This is absolutely critical to enabling complete control of sea lines of communication,’’ Crabbs said.
The NSC is light years ahead of the Hamilton-class high endurance cutters it is gradually replacing, Crabbs said. That fact became very clear to him not only during the Bertholf’s RIMPAC participation, doing primarily national security defense missions, but especially operating as a stand-alone asset above the Arctic Circle, conducting all the major Coast Guard statutory missions.
“The national security cutter’s strong seakeeping ability and extreme endurance are exceptionally well suited for the vast and environmentally challenging Alaskan/Arctic operations space,” he said. “With 1,000 more tons, 40 more feet in length, and 10 more feet of breadth, the NSC is far superior to our high endurance cutters in challenging sea states.”
Specifically, Crabbs said that the added length, breadth, and weight means it can’t be pushed around as much as its predecessors, and he said that means being able to safely maintain station, as well as launch and recover cutterboats and aircraft on missions in conditions the Hamilton class never could.
That ride has a further benefit inside the ship, as it makes living conditions much better for the crew. Because the ship rides better, they’re able to get needed rest and maintain their efficiency even with rough seas outside.
But until this year – until the Bertholf ventured to the Arctic region – much of that capability was unknown, as the NSC had yet to spend significant time operating in rough and extremely cold seas that the cutter encountered in the Alaskan waters near and above the Arctic Circle.
That changed, however, as this most significant test of the Legend class of ships to date was their 144-day patrol that began on June 20 and ended with a Veterans Day homecoming on Nov. 11. It gave the ship its most significant workout since it was commissioned on Aug. 4, 2008.
This ship’s deployment into the mid-Pacific and eventually the Arctic region resulted in a number of firsts for the national security cutter.
After getting under way from Alameda, the crew spent the first day at sea conducting flight deck qualifications for Air National Guard special operations HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters.
That evolution was a good kick off for what was to come, as the Bertholf then joined a six-nation, 12-ship, multinational task group and began transit to Hawaii for the biennial 2012 RIMPAC – the largest international maritime exercise in the world.
But even during the transit, not a moment was wasted, Crabbs said, as all the ships en route worked to hone their ability to operate together and flex divisional tactics, even conducting live-fire exercises along the way.
Upon arrival at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the Bertholf joined the 22-nation, 42-ship, and six-submarine RIMPAC force. Designated as commander of the Maritime Interdiction Task Unit, the ship led an international force that included a Russian destroyer, oiler, and auxiliary vessel, and a U.S. Navy cruiser and frigate.
Throughout the exercise, Crabbs said, the NSC’s robust command and control capabilities enabled the task group to keep ahead of the heavy pace, which included maneuvers, communications, and shooting.
While leading the task group, the Bertholf managed to notch a couple more firsts for the NSC.