By the end of 2011, the first of the Coast Guard’s long-awaited Fast Response Cutters will operate out of Miami, Fla., giving the service its largest increases in patrol boat capability, ever.
Designed to replace the aging 110-foot Island-class patrol boats, these new cutters mark a huge leap in technology both in how they’re built and in their capabilities.
But now, with the lead cutter nearly complete, the service is focusing on getting the first crew trained and ready for the cutter’s delivery, which is slated for the third quarter of fiscal year 2011.
“We are busy standing up the unit, getting the admin and doctrine side of things under way such as unit instructions and procedures. At any given time most of the crew is away at schools or factory training,” said Lt. Cmdr. Herb Eggert, prospective commanding officer of the lead ship, now named the CGC Bernard C. Webber.
All 58 of the Sentinel-class cutters will be named after enlisted heroes. The first cutter carries the name of Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Bernard C. Webber, who led a famous rescue of the freighter Pendleton crew in 1952. The Pendleton had split in half during a storm, and Webber and three crewmembers rescued 32 sailors. Webber, who retired as a chief warrant officer, died in 2009.
The Webber was laid down in November 2009 and a keel laying ceremony was held on April 9, 2010. As of Aug. 20, 2010, the cutter was 67 percent complete. The second ship, CGC Richard Etheridge, is 37 percent along in its construction, while the third is about to be laid down. The class is being built at the Bollinger Shipyard in Lockport, La.
“You can see it, walk on it and touch it – it actually looks like a ship now,” Eggert said. “A year ago, they’d just started construction and it was mostly a concept on paper – I’m really excited in what this new asset will bring to the Coast Guard once we’re operational next year – until then, there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Sentinel-class boats will be longer and heavier than their Island-class predecessors. They’ll have an overall length of 153 feet and will displace 353 metric tons – 43 feet longer and more than double the 162-metric-ton displacement of the Island class.
But even with that extra weight, the Sentinels will retain the shallow-water capability of their predecessor, with a draft of just 9 feet, 6 inches – only 2 feet, 3 inches deeper than the 110’s – essential in Coast Guard operations closer to shore.
The Sentinel class is based on an existing design, the Damen Stan Patrol 4708, designed and built by Damen Shipbuilding in the Netherlands. The basic steel hull and aluminum superstructure design has already been proven in performing missions similar to those the Sentinel class will perform. Once you get past the shell, the boat is all U.S. Coast Guard
The Sentinel class can operate regularly in sea state 4 – meaning up to 8-foot seas – and still perform operations in sea state 6, where swells can reach 20 feet.
The boat is designed to achieve a top speed of 28 knots and has the ability to operate safely at lower speeds all the way down to 0 knots. That’s because each of the boat’s twin 20-cylinder diesel engines will drive shafts with fixed-pitch propellers through a reduction gear that incorporates a trolling gear, allowing them to move steadily at slower speeds.
The largest weapon on board will be the 25 mm deck gun. But unlike the manpower-intensive crew-served version on the 110s, Sentinels will have an updated version with an extensive targeting system and the ability to be loaded and fired from the pilot house – making firing more accurate in less than optimal seas.
But with all its brawn, its also got brains, and lots of them. Eggert said the Sentinel’s greatest strength will be its extensive command and control suite, offering secure voice and internet communications never seen before on Coast Guard boats this size.
“In terms of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance [C4ISR] capability, we will be will fully interoperable with our legacy assets and will be forwardly interoperable with the new assets as they get delivered,” said Ian Grunther, deputy project manager for the Sentinel class at Coast Guard Headquarters in Washington, D.C. “What we’re excited about is the benefit this suite also extends us in interoperability with [the] Department of Defense and other federal governmental agencies as well as state and local fire, rescue, and police services.”
When operating, in essence, the boat becomes an intelligence node. It will send and receive data from the Coast Guard’s Common Operational Picture capable of secure transmission of up to a SECRET level of classification.
Next to improved command and control capabilities, Eggert said the biggest improvement the Sentinel class has over its predecessors is the cutter boat, which will be launched and recovered from a ramp built into the cutter’s stern. Built in Rhode Island, it is scheduled for trials during the winter as part of the cutter’s builder sea trials. “I think the over-the-horizon capability is going to be a game changer for us on the water and increase our effectiveness,” Eggert said.
The 7.9-meter smallboat offers significant capability. “It really extends the range of the ship for search and rescue and law enforcement, and will be a great tool to stop non-compliant vessels,” he said. “Previously, all cutter boats on patrol boats relied on line-of-sight communications, but not anymore.”
It gets that new capability from a state-of-the-art communications suite that will allow the cutter to communicate with the smallboat’s crew. Safety and effectiveness of the boat’s crew are increased with the fitting of shock mounted seats as well allowing it to travel at high speeds for extended periods of time without wearing out its crew.
The crew of the Sentinel class will total 23: three officers, two chief petty officers, and 18 other enlisted. This includes a damage control man – an enlisted rating that didn’t serve on the Island-class cutters, and an ensign billet.
“This will be a great opportunity for new ensigns right out of the academy, [officer candidate school] or a direct commission,” Grunther said. “That hasn’t always been possible in cutters this size.”
Now it’s up to Eggert and the crew to not only learn how to operate their individual gear, but to bring it all together as a fully functional ship and crew. What they do will also set the stage for five more Miami crews coming in the future.
Homeports for the first 12 boats will be split evenly between Miami and Key West, with six boats operating from each. Eggert’s crew is already spinning up to take over the Webber from the shipyard by the end of FY 2011.
But lack of space on the Miami waterfront has Eggert basing first out of the Coast Guard Air Station Miami, in Opa Locka, Fla., – about 30 miles north of their eventual base of operations – while training up for the delivery of their boats.
“We’ve established a pre-commissioning detachment here, and each of the first six crews will assemble here until their ships are delivered,” Eggert said. “They’ll be ordered in here and will come and go from this base as they receive their training – a lot of what we are doing should smooth the transition for follow on crews and save them time and effort – it’s part of our responsibility as the first crew.”
“There’s about nine weeks of factory training set up where they go to different locations,” Grunther said. “That’s followed by eight weeks of onboard familiarization training at the Bollinger shipyard starting early in 2011. They’ll [Bollinger] take the crew and give them operator training for lighting off and securing the main engines as well as teach them casualty control procedures as well as routine maintenance.”
Eggert said this is where the benefits of the factory training will be realized. “They initially teach us about the individual systems onboard and how they work,” he said. “But during the familiarization training, the real focus isn’t about each system alone, but how they interact with each other.”
Once Bollinger completes the cutter, Webber will be delivered by a yard crew to Miami, where Eggert’s crew will take over for a shakedown followed by a post delivery availability period. Eggert said. “Once the ship is delivered to the Coast Guard, we’ll get the crew ready to conduct operations and then we’ll perform an extensive operational test and evaluation of the ship to learn its full capabilities.”
“We’re on schedule, on time and on budget for delivery in the third quarter of FY 2011,” Grunther said.
This article first appeared in Coast Guard Outlook: 2011 Edition.