Written by Capt. James Knight, commanding officer, Project Resident Office Gulf Coast
Tradition holds that a ship takes on some of the traits of her namesake and sponsor. The third National Security Cutter is named after Capt. Dorothy Stratton, the director of the SPARs, the Coast Guard Women’s Reserve during World War II. Last summer, the cutter was christened by her sponsor, first lady Michelle Obama. Both of these women can be described as strong, confident and perseverant, and NSC Stratton certainly reinforced this tradition with an exceptional performance during her recent intensive and successful builder’s trials and acceptance trials in the Gulf of Mexico.
The three-day builder’s trials earlier this summer allowed the shipbuilder, Huntington Ingalls Industries, to operate the ship for the very first time and identify items requiring additional work prior to presenting the ship to us for acceptance trials. Even though Stratton had a shorter construction period than the first and second NSCs, Bertholf and Waesche, respectively, the shipyard put in a remarkable effort during the month leading up to builder’s trials to complete the ship’s systems and spaces. Working alongside the Coast Guard’s Project Resident Office Gulf Coast, their effort turned what appeared to be a daunting three-week task into the strongest builder’s trials performance the NSC program has ever experienced. In fact, Stratton performed so well that the shipyard turned over operation of the machinery plant to members of the Stratton crew for the final day of trials, giving them valuable plant experience.
Because of the strong performance during builder’s trials, there was opportunity for additional grooming and testing of the ship’s propulsion software. Stratton is now capable of stopping in half the time and distance than was achieved on the first and second NSCs at a similar point in the construction process. There is also improvement in the acceleration from stop to full steam ahead. Bertholf and Waesche should be seeing the benefit of this effort in the near future as we continue to tweak and improve their performance with lessons learned from Stratton.
Builder’s trials generally reveal work that still needs to be completed and items that need to be corrected before acceptance trials get underway. The shipyard and the PRO each identified needed improvements, and the five weeks between builder’s trials and acceptance trials required another strong push to complete work on the ship. This was the shortest turnaround time between trials yet for the NSC program, and the long hours and work invested was evident in Stratton’s acceptance trials performance.
Acceptance trials began last week after Huntington Ingalls presented us the ship as a finished product, allowing us to spend several days evaluating her systems in port and at sea to ensure they meet all contractual requirements. It was an extensive process. To ensure the assessment was conducted by an independent third party, we called in the U.S. Navy Board of Inspection and Survey, taking advantage of their vast inspection experience on new and in-service ships. Stratton impressed them as well as the members of the cutter’s prospective crew who were aboard.
During acceptance trials, items requiring additional work were noted on trial cards. The number of cards written at acceptance trials was far less for Stratton than for the first and second NSCs, a validation of stable technical requirements, effective project management, capable oversight by the PRO and improved performance by the shipbuilder. We starred just two of those cards, identifying work that must be accomplished prior to our taking delivery of the cutter early next month. As a point of comparison, Bertholf had seven starred cards and Waesche had three.
Stratton was operated by shipyard personnel under the observation of a commercial master, commercial engineer and the PRO. To assist in evaluating the ship, we were augmented by personnel from throughout the Coast Guard, including a trial observation team made up of members from the operational and support communities to provide a separate assessment of the ship and its operational capabilities.
The capabilities of NSCs and their crews allow them to immediately shift priorities among homeland security missions as needed to meet counter terrorism, border security, disaster and homeland defense threats. The endurance of the NSCs enables the Coast Guard to extend its missions throughout our maritime domain, including the border areas. Stratton will be able to carry out more complex missions over greater distances.
Stratton’s performance during her sea trials leaves no doubt that we will be delivering an exceptional ship to an even better crew. True to her namesake, NSC Stratton is proving that anything can be done, and with her delivery, the Coast Guard is moving one step closer to obtaining the cutter fleet we need to carry out vital missions for our Nation and remain always ready.