October 1, 2014 – The U.S. Coast Guard Western Hemisphere Strategy is built around three priorities, combating networks, securing borders and safeguarding commerce. To meet these priorities, the strategy emphasizes the critical importance of offshore vessel and aircraft presence to support effective governance and sovereignty, as well as other concepts to ensure long-term success. That long-term vision relies heavily upon the ongoing acquisition of national security cutters and fast response cutters and future acquisition of offshore patrol cutters by the service but also requires us to lean heavily on an aging medium endurance cutter fleet made up of 210-foot and 270-foot cutters, some of which have been operational for as many as 45 years.
Recently, the Coast Guard entered a new phase in its long-term strategy to sustain these cutters with the completion of the Mission Effectiveness Project and commencement of the In-Service Vessel Sustainment project. MEP’s modernization work began in 2005 as a bridging strategy to keep the service’s medium endurance cutters safe and operationally effective until they can be replaced with newer vessels, such as the fast response cutter and proposed offshore patrol cutter. ISVS is an outgrowth of the success of MEP and will enhance other vessels, many nearing or beyond their designated service lives, by renewing the hull, mechanical, electrical and electronic systems most susceptible to failure.
“It doesn’t solve our need for more assets,” said Rear Adm. Bruce Baffer, assistant commandant for acquisition. “But it helps us maintain maximum capabilities with the assets that we have.”
Through the replacement of obsolete and increasingly insupportable systems through MEP, the Coast Guard plans to operate its 210-foot and 270-foot cutter fleets for a decade or more. The service’s fleet of 110-foot patrol boats previously received similar system refreshments at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore, Maryland.
“Collectively, the work included replacement of more than a hundred acres of steel hull plating, tens of thousands of feet of piping and structural steel, enough wiring to stretch from here to Pennsylvania, replacement of hundreds of pieces of auxiliary equipment, electronics systems and other critical upgrades designed to improve reliability,” said Capt. George Lesher, commanding officer of the Coast Guard Yard
Lesher likened replacement of the machinery plant control and monitoring system on the 270-foot cutters with “going from late-1970s Atari technology to current-day technology.”
MEP has had a measurable impact on operation of the medium endurance cutter fleet, according to an analysis by Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, U.S. Department of Transportation. The percent of time free of major casualty reports for the 270s has increased 91 percent since MEP. The increase for the 210s is 77 percent. In addition to cutters being available on a more regular basis, MEP has caused a reduction in maintenance costs on the vessels that have gone through the program. The increased level of readiness came at the modest investment of $6 million to $13 million per hull, depending on type of cutter.
“These are quite impressive accomplishments considering the tremendous technical risk inherent in performing extensive renovations on ships that range from 20 to 45 years old,” Lesher said.