A new, 154-foot Coast Guard "fast response cutter" scheduled to be commissioned in Honolulu in October represents the first in a series of new cutters anticipated in coming years as District 14 revitalizes a fleet that's between 25 and 50 years old.
The Coast Guard accepted the cutter Oliver Berry, the 24th fast-response cutter built by Bollinger Shipyards, in a ceremony June 27 in Key West, Fla.
It will be the first such cutter to be stationed in the 14th Coast Guard District, which covers Hawaii, Guam, American Samoa, some Pacific island nations and parts of Asia.
Six of the new, $65 million cutters, with a crew of 24, are replacing four aging Island-class 110-foot patrol boats in Hawaii and Guam that are between 25 and 28 years old.
"Ultimately, the full recapitalization will mean increased capability, more ships and the ability to be in more places at once," said Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir, a District 14 spokeswoman.
Honolulu also is getting replacements for the Coast Guard's dwindling fleet of 378-foot Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters that were first commissioned in 1967. Only four of the original 12 ships remain in service to the United States, including the Sherman in Honolulu, commissioned in 1968. The Sherman falls under the Coast Guard's Pacific Area command out of Alameda, Calif.
Another older high-endurance cutter in Honolulu, the Morgenthau, commissioned in 1969, was recently turned over to Vietnam.
Two new 418-foot national security cutters of the nine being built by the Coast Guard will be stationed in Honolulu. The Kimball is expected to arrive in 2018, and the Midgett in 2019.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft in his state of the Coast Guard address in March said it had been a "phenomenal year" for the nation's fifth armed service.
"This administration and Congress, they get it, as we recapitalize our legacy fleet across three cutter classes with ships that have proven to be a quantum leap over their predecessors," Zukunft said, adding they are "true game changers."
The Coast Guard is moving to complete construction of 58 fast-response cutters and acquire the first nine of 25 offshore patrol cutters and the ninth national security cutter, Zukunft said.
The new, $695 million national security cutters are the "centerpiece" of the Coast Guard fleet, "capable of executing the most challenging operations, including supporting maritime homeland security and defense missions," the sea service said.
Compared with the older cutters, the new design "provides better sea-keeping and higher sustained transit speeds, greater endurance and range, and the ability to launch and recover small boats from astern, as well as aviation support facilities and a flight deck for helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles," the Coast Guard said on its website.
The larger cutter is armed with an Mk 160 gun fire-control system, an Mk 110 57 mm naval gun system, a Phalanx 20 mm close-in weapon system and heavy machine guns, and can embark two MH-65D helicopters on 60- to 90-day patrols.
"National security cutters provide the Coast Guard the ability to operate more effectively and efficiently in the extreme conditions found in the Pacific," and that versatility allows them to project U.S. sovereignty out to greater distances, Capt. Robert Hendrickson, chief of response operations for District 14, said in an email.
No new offshore patrol cutters are currently slated for District 14, Muir said.
The second fast-response cutter for Honolulu is the Joseph Gerczak, expected to arrive in spring, with the third, the William Hart, anticipated in the fall of 2020. The Coast Guard said three fast-response cutters also will replace two older 110-foot Island-class patrol boats on Guam starting in 2020.
The new cutters have "longer legs," meaning they can operate farther offshore to project Coast Guard presence in locations that the current fleet of patrol boats cannot generally reach, Hendrickson said. The ships are armed with a 25 mm machine gun and four .50-caliber machine guns.
As part of the Hawaii replacement plan, the older patrol boat Kiska will be removed from Hilo, where the port can't accommodate the bigger fast-response cutter with a deeper draft, Muir said.
But fast-response cutters can operate offshore of Hilo, "and they can send in small boats but they can't be moored there, and that's why they'll call Honolulu home," she said.
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