Articles

This is how the Coast Guard is getting stronger for coastal defense

The Coast Guard has been very busy recapitalizing its fleet. Many of its vessels, like the Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters and Reliance-class medium endurance cutters are quite old.


The Coast Guard has built six Bertholf-class cutters out of a planned class of nine to replace the 12 Hamilton-class ships. How nine vessels can be in 12 places at once is a mystery, but that's a discussion for another time.

For their next step, the Coast Guard has been building what have been called the Sentinel-class cutters to replace 49 Island-class cutters built from 1985-1992.

USCGC Matagorda (WPB 1303), one of eight Island-class cutters that were lengthened and modernized. She is now in mothballs. (USCG photo)

The Island-class cutters started out at 110 feet long, and were armed with a Mk 38 Bushmaster chain gun like the one used on the M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle, as well as a pair of M2 .50-caliber machine guns ("Ma Deuce"). They have a top speed of nearly 30 knots and a range of 3,300 miles. The Coast Guard had 49 of them, but an effort to lengthen and modernize them went bad, and eight vessels had to be mothballed.

The new cutters are 154 feet long. While the main gun is the same Mk 38 Bushmaster, a Sentinel-class cutter boasts four M2 heavy machine guns as a secondary battery – twice as many as an Island-class cutter. The cutter is slightly slower (28 knots) and has shorter range (2,900 miles), and can launch a Short-Range Prosecutor, essentially a rigid-hull inflatable boat.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jon-Paul Rios.

The Coast Guard plans to build 58 of the Sentinel-class cutters, replacing the Island-class cutters. According to a report by Military.com, the 24th Sentinel-class cutter, USCGC Oliver Barry (WPC 1124), will be commissioned this coming October in Honolulu, Hawaii.

The Coast Guard though, is planning to retire the Island-class cutter USCGC Kiska (WPB 1336), which is based at Hilo, without replacing it at the largest city on the easternmost of the Hawaiian Islands.

The Coast Guard is also planning to purchase the first nine of a planned 25-ship "Offshore Patrol Cutter" class. These vessels will replace not only the 14 ancient Reliance-class medium endurance cutters, but the 13 Bear-class medium endurance cutters as well.

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