Recapitalizing and building capacity: The National Security Cutters

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Update: Paragraph six corrected to reflect that Adm. Papp rode in a “short range prosecutor” boat instead of a “long range interceptor.” National Security Cutters can deploy either boat from the stern launch.

Posted by Cmdr. Glynn Smith on behalf of Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp.

This post is provided to highlight an important topic, recapitalizing and building capacity, from Adm. Bob Papp’s State of the Coast Guard Address and newly released Commandant’s Direction. This post focuses specifically on Adm. Papp’s thoughts behind the National Security Cutters and his recent experiences from riding aboard USCGC Waesche (WMSL 751) off San Francisco on Feb. 2, 2011.

Adm. Bob Papp observes operations from the bridge of Coast Guard Cutter Waesche. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Adm. Bob Papp observes operations from the bridge of Coast Guard Cutter Waesche. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

Earlier this month, I headed west to visit with Shipmates in the Bay Area. I also had the opportunity to get underway on our newest National Security Cutter Waesche.

Adm. Papp arrives aboard Coast Guard Cutter Waesche. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Adm. Papp arrives aboard Coast Guard Cutter Waesche. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

I arrived aboard Waesche by helicopter. Its superior air operations capability was immediately evident. The flight deck is the largest of any cutter – and it’s capable of landing any of our helicopters. Sitting above the flight deck with a commanding view from within a glass enclosed booth is the helicopter control officer. Once aboard, my first stop was to the HCO shack to observe flight deck operations from this unique vantage point. The HCO is in communication with all stations on the ship—including the landing safety officer–and also has the ability to activate flight deck fire suppression systems. While we were using a landing safety officer and tie-down teams, the ship is capable of air operations using only the HCO.

I then made my way to the operations spaces. They’re impressive. An array of sensors, operated by highly trained Coast Guardsmen, can track multiple targets, regardless of visibility. The systems are compatible with both our DHS and DoD partners, and are the same, or similar to many of those being used aboard some of our most advanced Navy combatants. This is precisely the type of advanced capability we have long-sought to perform our challenging maritime missions.

Adm. Papp takes the wheel of Waesche's short range prosecutor boat. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.
Adm. Papp takes the wheel of Waesche’s short range prosecutor boat. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Kelley.

I then embarked on Waesche’s stern-launched short range prosecutor boat. The stern doors opened, the boat was released, and as it slid down the ramp the jet drive kicked into action. The jet drive’s handling is distinctive. It’s gets up to maximum speed almost instantly. It handles confidently and I found it easy to maneuver in what was a fairly calm sea state. The stern launch allows the cutter to quickly launch and recover the boat, providing an added measure of capability and safety.

I was also impressed with the ship’s habitability and ergonomics. Berthing areas are spacious, with no more than six persons to a room. Each berthing area is directly connected to toilet, shower and sink facilities, and is equipped with computers. Bottom line, the crew is comfortable – and a comfortable crew will translate into increased mission success.

Indeed, during a recent 90-day patrol by USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750), all of these features came into play. Bertholf’s crew intercepted 12,400 kilos of cocaine valued at nearly $400 million. This successful mission highlighted the perfect unison in which the ship, sensors and crew operated. Most importantly, it stopped drugs from reaching our shores and streets.

Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf and Waesche steaming together off the coast of southern California. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.
Coast Guard Cutters Bertholf and Waesche steaming together off the coast of southern California. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Jetta H. Disco.

I am often asked why the NSCs are so important. The answer is simple. We must have ships with significant time, distance and endurance capabilities to meet America’s security and disaster response requirements. We are the maritime arm of the Department of Homeland Security. We need to have the tools to provide the American people what it has come to expect from the Coast Guard. The NSC provides us with just that – a versatile and adaptable platform that fully supports our military, maritime and multi-mission capabilities.

The NSC can patrol the treacherous Bering Sea to protect our fisheries resources and fishermen, operate far out in the Pacific to interdict illicit drug traffickers, and conduct high-seas search and rescue.

Our 378-foot Hamilton-class high endurance cutters have capably performed these missions for over 40-years. But, they’re no longer state of the art – and they’re showing their age. Keeping these old ships running is expensive. It also takes its toll on our hard-working crews. While our Shipmates continue to lean hard in to keep the 378’s running through this transition, we’ll continue to do the same to ensure the NSCs roll off the line.

Bertholf and Waesche are in commission, the Stratton is 75% complete, and we have just signed the contract for the 4th NSC, Hamilton, and the President’s 2012 budget request contains funding for the 5th. We are replacing twelve 378’s with 8 NSCs – so it’s vital we get all 8. Our Nation needs them, our Shipmates deserve them, and our Service requires them to remain, true to our motto, Always Ready.

Semper Paratus,

Adm. Bob Papp
Commandant
13th Gold Ancient Mariner

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