With the push for a 350-ship Navy as a centerpiece of Donald Trump's presidential campaign, many wonder how the U.S. can expand its surface fleet quickly and without breaking the bank.
The Coast Guard may have an answer — or at least a starting point for the answer — with its Bertholf Class National Security Cutters. A Dec. 30, 2016, release from Huntington Ingalls noted that a ninth cutter of what was originally planned as an eight-ship class had been ordered.
U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf
However, at the SeaAirSpace 2017 Expo, Huntington Ingalls displayed a model of the FF4923, also known as the Patrol Frigate. Using the same basic hull and propulsion plant as the Bertholf-class cutters, the FF4923 adds a lot more teeth to the design.
According to the "16th Edition of Combat Fleets of the World," a Bertholf Class cutter carries a Mk 110 57mm main gun, a single Phalanx Close-In Weapons System, and some .50-caliber machine guns. Not bad for a patrol ship — and roughly comparable to the armament suite on a littoral combat ship.
A closer look at the biggest visible difference (aside from the paint job) of the FF4923 as opposed to the Bertholf-class national security cutter: The 76mm gun and 16-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch System. (Photo by Huntington Ingalls)
The FF4923, though, offers a 76mm gun, a 16-cell Mk 41 Vertical Launch System, two triple Mk 32 torpedo tubes, a launcher for the RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile, two Mk 141 quad mounts for the RGM-84 Harpoon anti-ship missile, and a half-dozen machine guns. In this ship, the Mk 41 VLS would only use RIM-66 SM-2 missiles, RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles, and RUM-139 Vertical-Launch ASROCs.
The Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided-missile frigate USS Reuben James (FFG 57) at Pearl Harbor. The FF4923 patrol frigate displayed at SeaAirSpace 2017 could be a true replacement for these vessels. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Mark Logico)
This is not the only offering that Huntington Ingalls has made. According to an April 2012 report from DefenseMediaNetwork.com, in the past, HII offered the FF4921, which used a Mk 56 Vertical-Launch System for the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile that is best known for its use on Canada's Halifax-class frigates, and the PF4501, a minimal-change version of the Bertholf.
Even if the United States Navy doesn't order some of these Bertholfs with teeth, export orders could find American workers very busy – even after the larger-than-planned Bertholf Class order for the Coast Guard is fulfilled.