With two 20-cylinder diesel engines, the cutter is quick and agile – capable of sustained high speeds in excess of 28 knots – allowing shorter transit times to arrive on scene. But ironically, what excites many Coast Guard cutter drivers is the other end of the spectrum, the ability to maneuver at a consistent 3 knots with control unheard of in the Island class through a specially designed reduction gear.
On the Island-class patrol boats, this capability required tricky seamanship, requiring clutching the shafts in and out of power. Operating slowly with the engines engaged will be safer, and give an increased ability to respond. This is not only critical in crowded harbor maneuvering, but also on the high seas while conducting towing operations. The slow shaft speeds can be augmented by the twin bow thrusters, as well, for even more maneuverability.
The largest weapon on board will be the 25 mm deck gun, the same size weapon as on the 110s, but unlike its older counterpart, it’s fully capable of being operated and fired from inside the pilot house – making firing more accurate in less-than-optimal seas and safer for the operator.
What has the Coast Guard’s leadership excited the most is the electronic suite, with an extensive command and control that gives secure voice and Internet communications on many levels, normally unheard of in a vessel this small.
“This is really an incredible leap forward for us and a real game-changer,” Papp said. “This ship has state-of-the-art electronics and sensors that maximize its effectiveness in performance of our many valued missions.”
That’s because the cutters are capable of becoming an intelligence node, something the 110s couldn’t do very well, and fully capable of seeing “the big picture” by being able to send and receive data from the Coast Guard’s common operational picture with secure transmission of up to a SECRET level of classification.
But for a ship that often operates alone on the high seas, Baumgartner said another game-changing capability is the specially designed cutter boat, which is launched and recovered from a ramp built into the cutter’s stern.
That stern “notch” allows the ship to safely recover the cutter boat’s crew with minimal people on deck. Today, many older Coast Guard cutters without this capability must coordinate several personnel and hoist the boat overhead, making for a potentially dangerous evolution.
“The cutter boat has its own radar and very capable communications that extends the reach of the cutter well over the horizon,” he said. “This is a critical capability for the counter-drug operations we have in this district as it gives the cutter boat the ability to easily reach back and ask for advice and keeps the commanding officer apprised of what’s happening on scene.”
Even better, it’s much kinder on the crew, too, he said, as it has shock-mounted seats allowing travel at high speeds for extended periods of time without wearing out its crew, making them much more effective once on scene.
As for the crew of the Webber, with their commissioning out of the way, they’ll be training for their first deployment that’s expected to happen sometime this summer.
“This is one more hurdle cleared as we progress towards a fully operational status,” Eggert said. “We will continue to work on our law enforcement capabilities and overall readiness to earn our Ready for Operations certification.”
See related story: USCG Sentinel-class Patrol Cutter Naming Honors Enlisted Heroes
This article was first published in Coast Guard Outlook: Summer 2012 Edition.