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.
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.
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.
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.