USCG Cutters: The Backbone of the Fleet

USCG Cutters: The Backbone of the Fleet

My knowledge and appreciation of the United States Coast Guard (USCG) have grown exponentially over the past decade or so. I have written several articles about the Coast Guard, and each one has increased my understanding and my admiration for the incredibly complex and wide-ranging responsibilities they undertake on a daily basis. This article will focus on the USCG Cutter fleet.

We will look at four Cutters classes in the current USCG fleet here. Each has its own unique capabilities and major responsibilities. They share some of the same responsibilities but in differing environments. Those responsibilities include: maritime enforcement, drug and migrant interdiction, search and rescue, homeland security and defense, marine environment protection, fisheries regulation, ice-breaking operations, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.

The term “Cutter” originates in the Coast Guard’s beginnings in 1790. It is a term that was used by the British for a small, decked ship with one mast and bowsprit that was used to enforce maritime law and to collect customs and excise taxes. The newly independent United States of America established its own maritime and customs and excise fleet in 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service, a branch of the Treasury Department at that time. It functioned as a customs and excise collection force and was also engaged in anti-smuggling and early search-and-rescue duties.

Today’s USCG is a much more complex service with a multi-faceted mission that encompasses many more responsibilities. USCG Cutters can operate independently or as part of large task force groups. They can serve as mobile command and control platforms for surge operations such as hurricane response, mass migration incidents, and other large-scale events.

The first cutter is the National Security Cutter (NSC) class. These are the largest and most technologically advanced cutters in the USCG fleet. They can operate in the more demanding maritime environments and have enhanced intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, command and control, communications, and self-defense capabilities. They have crews of up to 148 personnel. They carry a helicopter and two small boats. They are becoming increasingly integrated into large task groups, working alongside U.S. and allied navies, most commonly these days in the Pacific region. The USCG plans to acquire 11 of these NSCs. There are currently three of them in service with nine still under construction.

The next is the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). It has been the one that the Coast Guard has put the highest amount of investment into at this time. It is a bridge between the NSC class and the Fast Response Cutter (FRC) class of cutters. These cutters are 360 ft in length and have a maximum speed of 25.5 knots. They have a range capability of up to 10,200 nautical miles and can stay at sea for up to 60 days. They have a crew of 126 personnel. The USCG plans to purchase a total of 25 of these OPCs. The first of these was recently delivered.

The third cutter is the Fast Response Cutter (FRC). It has a length of 154 ft. and is designed to serve as a close-to-shore patrol boat. As its name implies, it is built to be fast and agile. These lean and mean cutters carry crews of up to 24 personnel. They also carry a small boat for various missions and have a stabilized remote-control weapon system as part of their package. The Coast Guard plans to acquire 64 FRCs. They already have 54 of these boats in service, with ten still under construction.

The final class of cutter for our purposes here is called the Medium Endurance Cutter (MEC). It is the oldest class of cutters in the fleet. It is aging and, because of this, it is increasingly more costly to maintain and operate. It will eventually be replaced by the OPC class cutters. There are 28 of these MECs in operation with four variations of the design. MECs are 210 to 280 ft. in length. They can stay at sea for up to 45 days and, like many of the other classes, have a varied mission, including: law enforcement, drug and immigrant interdiction, search and rescue, fisheries enforcement, and homeland security.

As you can see, the USCGCs are varied in size and are all multi-dimensional in their missions. The USCG’s responsibilities are far wider than those they had in their beginnings back in the earliest years of the United States. Today, the United States Coast Guard has the most diverse set of responsibilities in our Armed Services. They are important in maintaining maritime laws off our shores and in inland lakes and rivers. They protect our economic interests in managing the fisheries around our country and protecting and regulating the emerging commerce and energy exploration in our arctic regions. These cutters can serve as mobile command and control platforms in conjunction with large task groups and for disaster response environments.

The United States Coast Guard has a proud history, and it is building on that history with all of its new innovations and missions as part of the Armed Forces of the United States of America. The men and women who serve in the United States Coast Guard play a major role in the national security and in the commercial well-being of this country. They are the best at what they do because they are Semper Paratus, Always Ready!

Dan Doyle

Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.

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