The Mil & Aero Blog
Friday, December 21, 2007
  Could the Navy and Coast Guard use the same ship? Who knew?
Posted by John Keller

I can't help myself; I just love it when sanity rears its ugly head. Such was the case yesterday when a key member of Congress finally ... FINALLY, recommended the obvious -- that the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard think about combining at least parts of two remarkably similar surface warship programs.

The key congressman is U.S. Rep. Gene Taylor, D-Miss., who is proposing a merger of the Navy's Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and the Coast Guard's National Security Cutter. Taylor's recommendation was reported on, and you can read the story here.

I've often wondered, and used to ask a lot of questions, why the Navy and Coast Guard were pursuing two very expensive but eerily similar major surface ship programs. The answers I generally received amounted to something like 'don't worry your pretty little head about this; the Navy and Coast Guard have such vastly different missions that no one conceivable ship design could ever come close to meeting their diverse requirements. Besides, the Navy is part of the Defense Department and Coast Guard is part of Homeland Security. Simply asking why shows how little you understand the issues.'

Hey, I'm willing -- eager, in fact -- to leave weighty problems like warship design to the experts. My pondering had to be not just naive, but silly. I admitted such and moved forward.

Still, it kept nagging at me ever since I started learning about the Littoral Combat Ship and the National Security Cutter, also known as the Maritime Security Cutter. In my ill-informed, non-nautical thinking, it seemed to me that the National Security Cutter was a super-cutter -- not quite a frigate, but something close.

On the other hand, the Littoral Combat Ship, it seemed, was trying to be something like a baby frigate -- something smaller, and optimized for operations close-in to shore, rather than for blue-water operations escorting carrier battle groups and the like.

Super-cutter, baby frigate. It always sounded like the same thing to me, but approached from opposite directions. Maybe it could save a lot of money at least to use the same hull, I thought.

But no matter. I stopped worrying my pretty little head about this a long time ago. It's satisfying, however, to see that members of Congress have started wrangling with it, for a change.

This has been an ongoing discussion in recent US military history and most of it has to do with competition between the various branches of military. The Marines, Navy and Air Force often have very similar aircraft, but each wants their own version because, well, they are different branches. The Coast Guard and Navy do have very different missions, even though they often do similar things.
Yes, it makes a whole lot of sense to make one version and learn to use it in different ways, but you aren't considering male ego.
You are also not considering the fact that the industry making the stuff can make have more contracts, which looks better for the bottom line.
It's not just the military either. Boeing and Airbus make different planes for different countries.
Think of the last time you may have bought a car. You wanted a certain type of car with a certain type of propulsion, wheels, paint, interior, etc. Even though your lifestyle is similar to many other people, all of whom are driving different cars.
It really doesn't make sense to do it that way, it's just the way it is.
I believe there are some opportunities to do this, much like the country is doing with fighters. However, there are substantial differences needed for design for a short range vessel and long range vessel.

I would think that Coast Guard vessels need to be faster (at the cost of fuel efficiency) and require less storage for supplies since they are, in fact, coastal vessels.

Navy ships must have the storage for long deployment as well as the fuel efficiency.

I don't disagree with you, but I'm not sure that a ship builder and designer that specializes in one will be able to handle both. The issues may be more on the supply side than the demand side.
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