September 10, 2018 – In late August, Coast Guard Cutters Oliver Berry and Joseph Gerczak, stood at the ready to respond to the impacts of Hurricane Lane in Hawaii. Although the ships have both been stationed in Honolulu for less than a year – they are the first two FRCs to be based there – their presence proved fruitful. The crews maintained a law enforcement presence and worked proactively with the state of Hawaii and maritime industry to assess – with the help of the FRCs’ cutter boats – when ports like Hilo, Hawaii, were safe to reopen.
The fleet – with 28 total cutters currently in service – remains at the ready for emergency response. The 154-foot FRCs can push out farther than their predecessors, the 110-foot Island-class patrol boat. Additionally, the FRCs have almost twice the displacement which leads to greater stability – an effective contribution to mission success in times of inclement weather.
In the 2017 aftermath of hurricanes Irma and Maria, in addition to the missions previously mentioned, FRCs also delivered food, water, medicine, electrical supplies and emergency response personnel. The cutters marked hazards to navigation, completed search and rescue cases, and investigated derelict vessels in the Florida Keys. They also assisted with vessel security and escort, like when Coast Guard Cutter Isaac Mayo provided escort for the Military Sealift Command Hospital ship USNS Comfort, into the port of San Juan, Puerto Rico.
With an eye to the future, the Coast Guard FRC program achieved a noteworthy month in August.
The service exercised a contract option on Aug. 9 worth just over $294.4 million with Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, Louisiana, for production of six more Sentinel-class FRCs and eight shipsets of rudders as spares. Keeping spares on hand enables greater mission readiness by minimizing operational downtime in the event that some systems need repair or replacement.
This option brings the total number of FRCs under contract with Bollinger to 50 and the total value of the contract to nearly $929 million. The contract has a potential value of $1.42 billion if options to procure all 58 cutters are exercised.
On Aug. 21, the service accepted delivery of the 30th fast response cutter, Robert Ward, in Key West, Florida, bringing the total number of FRCs accepted to 30. The 29th FRC to enter service, Forrest Rednour, will be commissioned in November in San Pedro, California.
FRCs have a maximum speed of over 28 knots, a range of 2,500 nautical miles and an endurance of five days. The ships are designed for multiple missions, including drug and migrant interdiction; ports, waterways and coastal security; fishery patrols; search and rescue; and national defense. They feature advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment; over-the-horizon cutter boat deployment to reach vessels of interest; and improved habitability and seakeeping.
Future FRC homeports include Galveston, Texas and Santa Rita, Guam.