A worldwide search is nearing an end for an existing patrol-craft design that can be adapted as quickly as possible to bring new 140-foot cutters into service for the U.S. Coast Guard.
The need became acute this winter after the Coast Guard wrote off $100 million in renovations to eight of its aging 110-footers. Attempts to lengthen their lives by refitting them and stretching them to 123 feet resulted in structural failures.
Work on a completely new class of 140-foot, fast-response cutters (FRCs), part of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater modernization program, has been delayed by design problems.
A Coast Guard appeal for existing designs drew international interest from 19 manufacturers with 27 different proposals. After modifying its specifications, the service asked shipyards in early December for a craft between 120 and 160 feet long with a top speed of up to 40 knots and an operational capability of five to seven days from home port.
European shipbuilders have experience in this area and several Scandinavian navies have modern patrol boats of approximately this size. Any design chosen would be built at a U.S. yard.
Hull designs in steel, aluminum or composite materials (fiber-reinforced laminates) will all be considered in an attempt to get a dozen boats into service in a hurry. According to a Government Accountability Office report, it was a plan to use composite materials that led to the suspension of design work on the FRCs in February, when a review found that the planned craft “would be far heavier and less efficient than a typical patrol boat of similar length.”
Mary Elder, a Deepwater spokeswoman, said the search for replacement patrol boats was in full swing before the decision to pull the 123-footers from service was announced. “We don’t think we can make that time frame any tighter than we have it,” she said. Elder said the Navy was also looking for solutions to the Coast Guard’s need for patrol boats.