The Coast Guard may not have a lot of hulls, but what they have, they make very good use of. In fact, they were able to keep old ships in service for a long time, and they even bring in some unique systems. Here’s some of the cool stuff they’ve used over the years.
1. Casco-class high-endurance cutters
After World War II, the Navy had a lot of leftover vessels. The Coast Guard took in 18 Barnegat-class small seaplane tenders and used them as high-endurance cutters for over two decades.
While many were scrapped or sunk, the USCGC Unimak (WHEC 379), stayed in active service until 1988. One ship, the former USCGC Absecon (WHEC 374) may have remained through the 1990s after being captured by North Vietnam.
The Barnegats had a five-inch gun, two twin 40mm mounts, two twin 20mm mounts, and were even fitted with 324mm torpedo tubes.
The 1987-1988 version of Combat Fleets of the World noted that the North Vietnamese had fitted launchers for the SS-N-2 Styx anti-ship missile on the former Absecon.
2. HU-16 Albatross
Helicopters took a while to develop. Before that, the best search-and-rescue assets were flying boats and amphibian aircraft.
The Grumman HU-16 was one asset that handled this mission after World War II. The Air Force put it to use during the Korean War, and it also saw action in the Vietnam War.
In Coast Guard service, the survivors of a 91-plane purchase of HU-16s stuck around until 1983 – and civilian versions still operate today.
It’s not surprising the plane lasted so long. According to specifications at GlobalSecurity.org, the Albatross had a range of over 1600 miles and a top speed of 240 miles per hour. Let’s see a helicopter do that!
3. HH-52 Seaguard
This amphibious helicopter was the epitome of the specialized aircraft the Coast Guard bought when it could.
Imagine being able to land on the water to retrieve a survivor, but not needing to make a long takeoff run.
According to a Coast Guard fact sheet on this helo, the capability was necessary because there was no rescue swimmer program at the time. That omission was rectified in the 1980s, and in 1989, the last HH-52 was retired. By that time the fleet of 99 helos had saved over 15,000 lives.
4. Boeing PB-1G Flying Fortress
After World War II, the Army Air Force had a lot of planes lying around – many of which had been built too late for them to see action.
The legendary bomber served as a search-and-rescue asset for 14 years, using a lifeboat slung underneath for that mission. The Coast Guard’s fact sheet notes that another legendary plane, the C-130, eventually replaced the Flying Fortress in their service.
5. MH-68A Stingray
The Coast Guard once had a specialized unit, HITRON 10 (Helicopter Interdiction Squadron 10), that specialized in stopping the flow of drugs into the U.S. To do that, the service got a special helicopter, the MH-68A Stingray — a version of the Agusta A109.
With a forward-looking infrared system, an M240 machine gun, a M82A1 Barrett sniper rifle, and other high-tech avionics, this helo was a lethal hunter. According to Helis.com, the eight-plane force was retired in 2008, and the Coast Guard modified 10 MH-65s to the MH-65C standard to replace them.
6. Sea Bird-class Surface Effect Ships
This three-ship class was fast (25-knot cruising speed), and they were perfectly suited for the drug interdiction mission in the Caribbean.
The lead ship, USCGC Sea Hawk (WSES 2), and her two sisters, USCGC Shearwater (WSES 3) and USCGC Petrel (WSES 4) were commissioned in the 1980s and cost $5 million each. While they primarily focused on drug interdiction, they proved very capable assets in search-and-rescue missions as well.
They all left service in 1994.
But in an era where drug smugglers have “go fast” boats, they might be useful now.