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Bolster the Navy’s Patrol Forces

Lieutenant Commander Matthew E. Dryden, U.S. Navy

Refitting the Cyclone -class might buy the Navy some time but ultimately the Cyclones inevitably are wearing and need to be replaced.

Successfully Fielded Solutions

Replacements for the Cyclones exist. The Navy should field a mix of expeditionary fast transports (EPFs)—formerly known as joint high-speed vessels—and Coast Guard Sentinel- class fast response cutters (FRCs). Adopting either the EPF or FRC would increase capability substantially, but a combination of both would better contribute to the surface force vision of distributed lethality . Both ship classes have been in service for more than five years and have worked out many of the problems any new class encounters.

A High-Speed Solution

Converting the U.S. Naval Ship-designated EPFs (operated by Military Sealift Command) to USS-designated guided-missile patrol corvettes (PCGs) would increase mission capacity and capability. Defensive and offensive capabilities would need to be addressed by armoring and “up-gunning” the aluminum ships, but the baseline design offers many benefits. The EPF currently includes:    

·       42 staterooms for crew

·       104 bunks for passengers (up to 312 passengers, with “hot bunking”)

·       20,000 square foot reconfigurable mission bay

·       Level I / class 2 flight deck

·       Boat launch-and-recovery system capable of launching boats up to 40 feet long

·       Telescoping boom crane capable of lifting 12 to 18 metric tons.  

The EPF, originally born to test the feasibility of the littoral combat ship (LCS) concept, makes a logical small surface combatant focused on littoral operations more limited in scope than an LCS. PCGs would sit at the lower end of warfighting, in a capacity that would cover the phase-zero roles that PCs and mine countermeasure (MCM) ships fill now. PCG would lack the ability to fulfill the LCS’s surface, aviation, and antisubmarine missions, but would be a marked improvement over current PCs and MCMs. Supplementary defense design should focus on limited armor plating to protect key substructures, using lessons learned from the Cyclone -class bridge and combat information center protection program. Carefully rationed coverage will limit additional topside weight while protecting crew and mission survivability.

The existing design has sufficient open-architecture computer infrastructure, internal and external communications, and navigation, aviation, and armament systems to make it possible in the future to add mission modules and adaptive force packages to cover an even broader range of mission sets than current PCs—even support for command and control integration with task force staffs .

The PCG design is sufficiently large that it could accommodate any of several combinations of the weapon systems shown below.

Surface Gunnery

Offensive Missile Systems

Mk 38 Mod 2 / 3

.50 cal

Joint Strike Missile

RGM-64K Harpoon

CIWS Block 1B

M240B

Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile

Tomahawk Block IV

Aviation Detachment

Anti-Air Systems

MQ-1C Scan Eagle

MQ-8 Fire Scout

CIWS Block 1B

RAM Block 2

PUMA

RQ-21 Blackjack

SeaRAM

SLQ-32

 

The PCG-class EPF also could embark expeditionary mine countermeasure teams and perform intelligence and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions. The existing EPF has sufficient space and capability that a PCG could serve as an afloat forward-staging base, and with proper weapons—such as the close-in weapons system or the SeaRAM—could provide point air defense coverage.      

An Off-the-Shelf Option

The Coast Guard’s Sentinel­ -class cutter design would fill a role similar to that of the existing PCs, an off-the-shelf full replacement that could work alone or in a small surface action group with the EFP-based PCG. Bollinger Shipyards LLC, which built the ­ Cyclone­ -class, is scheduled to build a planned 58 Sentinel s for the Coast Guard. The thoughtfully laid-out fast response cutter has all the capacity of today’s PCs with better infrastructure for appropriately sized, mixed-gender crews and greater weapon capacity. Choosing a Coast Guard design would improve Navy/Coast Guard interoperability. The Navy might choose to modify the design to include four engines or weapon systems the Coast Guard does not typically employ, but the existing design also could enter the Navy more-or-less as is.

New Warfighting Capacity

Revitalized patrol forces can offer simple solutions for less-complex missions that do not require large surface combatants. EPF conversion would cost only the amount necessary to armor and up-gun existing EPFs to make them PCGs. An FRC costs roughly $65 million , compared to $1.75 billion for an Arleigh Burke -class destroyer. These additional assets could be acquired and deployed rapidly, without the need for a lengthy design and contracting process. U.S. Forces Central Command and U.S. Forces Southern Command immediately would see an increase in efficiency and capacity over the tried-and-true PC workhorse. And the Navy as a whole could expand patrol force presence outside of current areas of responsibility, bringing them to U.S. Forces Pacific Command and U.S. Forces European Command, and beyond.


Lieutenant Commander Dryden commanded the USS Whirlwind (PC-11), Cyclone -class warship, from 2015 to 2017.

 

 
 

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