Fast cutter added to Coast Guard fleet



That long, beautiful, white ship with the red sash painted on its bow pulling into Key West Harbor last week is the nation’s newest Fast Response Cutter.

The 154-foot Kathleen Moore is designed to run 28 mph at flank speed — or as they say in the automotive world, full out. According to the maritime dictionary, flank speed is reserved for situations in which a ship finds itself in imminent danger, such as coming under attack by aircraft.

Bollinger Shipyards, Inc., of Lockport, La., which built the Moore and eight other new fast response cruisers, boasts that the ship comes with state of the art command, control, communications and computer technology and can operate in extremely heavy weather; the Coast Guard calls the ship, which comes with a remote-control deck gun, a “game changer.”

The Department of Homeland Security, the Coast Guard’s parent, just hopes the design and production problems that plagued the ships are behind them. The design problems are nothing serious — not like the breaking hulls that plagued its predecessors — but they could hamper the ship’s mission in some cases, critics said.

The Homeland Security Department Inspector General in 2012 scolded the Coast Guard for giving Bollinger the go-ahead to build the line of ships before the vessel’s systems and basic design had been properly tested.

“The Coast Guard has executed an aggressive, schedule-driven strategy that allowed construction of the Fast Response Cutters to start before operational, design and technical risks were resolved,” the IG stated in its 2012 report.

The manufacturer’s destination chart for the ships shows that the Kathleen Moore — one of nine already delivered around the nation — faces more tests after arriving in Key West last week.

The design had two problems before the first ship was built, according to the IG report.

The small boat stern-launch system, which the Coast Guard has deemed essential for FRC operations, may have problems. The system, which lets crew launch high-performance small boats off the back quickly, is vital to its mission of boarding other boats, patrolling canals and performing rescue or law-enforcement operations in shallow shorelines and harbors. According to the report, the stern launch and recovery system had limited clearance, “which may increase the difficulty of recovering the small boat in certain operating conditions.”

The second problem is more elemental: The $88.2 million ship might not be capable of carrying all its gear, including some equipment necessary on missions, such as damage control equipment, onboard repair parts, life preservers “required for its safe operation and maintenance.” The Coast Guard told the IG that stowage issues would be fixed once the interior was configured and the service could practice loading the ship with equipment.

Fixing the problems would cost the Coast Guard more money, the IG predicted.

In response, the Coast Guard changed its procedures and did more tests on the ship’s design and operability before the rest of the FRCs were built, the service said in its response to the IG report.

The result: Six of the cutters under construction needed modification, which increased the total cost of the acquisition by $6.9 million and caused schedule delays of at least 270 days for each cutter.

Worries about the delays, cost overruns, and testing issues in the FRC program continued to pop up last month on Capitol Hill. A report prepared by Ronald O’Rourke, specialist in Naval Affairs at the Congressional Research Service repeats worries stated in the 2012 IG report.

In his report, written a month before the Moore arrived in Key West, O’Rourke called the new cutters a potential Congressional oversight issue.

“The Coast Guard may have to accept Fast Response Cutters that do not fully meet its mission requirements. This may hinder the Coast Guard’s ability to fill the critical shortages in its patrol boat fleet,” his report stated, mirroring the 2012 report.

Coast Guard Station Key West crew and engineers will iron out what needs to be ironed out in their new ship, and the Kathleen Moore is expected to perform her duties just fine in her new operating arena, Coast Guard officials said.


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