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RDML John Korn, Director of Acquisition Programs & Program Executive Officer (CG-93)
I just returned from Acceptance Trials onboard NSC #2 in Pascagoula, Mississippi and I'd like to share my observations of WAESCHE as well as the trials process. (Note, photos available here.)
First, my general observations: The National Security Cutter (NSC) is a sleeker, more nimble, capable, well-designed ship. The ride is outstanding - sometimes it was hard to feel any motion whatsoever. Unless one has clear visual cues, it is difficult to tell how fast the ship is going. From a vibration and noise perspective, 30 knots feels the same as 10 knots. The main propulsion plant is impressive and flexible, with five different modes using two diesels and a gas turbine engine. There are at least two modes that can be used for any given speed up to 26 knots.
I rode the Short Range Prosecutor during small boat testing. The stern launch and recovery system proved safe, quick and easy for each of six launch and recovery evolutions. The NSC has several other "firsts" including a rescue door and visual tracking capability for both the 57 mm gun and the Close-in Weapons System (CIWS).
The purpose of Acceptance Trials is to provide the opportunity for the shipbuilder to demonstrate the proper design and operations of all systems and demonstrate the ship's readiness for delivery. Acceptance is a major milestone in the long process of bringing a new ship to life. Acceptance trials is an intense, structured process comprising two days of in-port inspections followed by two days underway and concludes with a final day disassembling specific equipment for more detailed examinations.
To fully inspect all aspects of a ship the size and complexity of a National Security Cutter, WAESHE sailed with 288 persons including contractors, Coast Guard personnel and the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV). In order to fit that many people aboard a ship designed for a 108 member crew, temporary racks were installed in all available locations. Evolutions were conducted around the clock with folks grabbing a few hours of sleep whenever and wherever they could - underway camping if you like. In spite of the large number of people aboard, the ship's hotel services including water production and food service were able to keep up with the increased demand. Surprisingly, I never got the impression that the ship was crowded.
While the Coast Guard's Project Resident Office Gulf Coast conducted Builder's Trials in August, in order to provide a second set of eyes and provide an independent third party assessment of WAESCHE, CG-9 partnered with INSURV to conduct the final set of trials, as they did for BERTHOLF in May 2008. In addition to INSURV, a Trials Observation Team consisting of experienced Coast Guard officers representing all Coast Guard Technical Authorities (CG-1, CG-4, and CG-6) as well as Pacific Area Command, the Project Sponsor (CG-7) and the Prospective Commanding Officer were aboard to evaluate WAESCHE's readiness for acceptance.
Following initial dockside inspections, WAESCHE was cleared to sail and got underway on schedule at 0600 on day three. All shipboard evolutions were demonstrated including full power, high speed turns, crash stop, full speed astern, demonstration of the water washdown system, boat launch and recovery and C4ISR capabilities.
Overall, the trials were highly successful. The engineering plant performed flawlessly, turning in a top speed exceeding 29 knots. Likewise, the maneuverability of the NSC class was again demonstrated when the rudder was put hard over while at full speed. I don't recommend this particular maneuver to our Cutter Commanding Officers, but it is important to fully stress all systems prior to accepting the cutter from the shipbuilder.
In nearly all aspects, WAESCHE is far ahead of where BERTHOLF was at the same point in time. Paradoxically, the number of trial cards may not tell the story. This is due to a number of factors. First, since more systems were ready to be tested, the tests were done in greater detail. Instead of one trial card saying a given system was inoperable, there were several cards related to the finer details of system operation. Additionally, subject matter experts from the Coast Guard and the Navy are more knowledgeable and were able to test systems in more detail. Because we are able to test systems in greater detail, WAESCHE will be even further ahead at delivery.
The Navy's INSURV professional inspectors were visibly impressed with the ship in general and the propulsion and control system, the communications package, the size, capability and layout of the Operations Center, radar integration, and weapons systems in particular. The lead inspector also commented on the overall finish of the ship, stating that several compartments were what he considered "pristine", unprecedented in over 100 other inspections he conducted this year.
Following Acceptance trials, Captain Lance Bardo, prospective Commanding Officer said: "This ship is a quantum leap over the class of ship that it replaces. The handling characteristics, the sophistication of the engineering plant, the command and control suite performance, and the boat and aircraft launch and recovery systems are superb and will enable the next generation of cuttermen to do every sea going mission better. Over the last six weeks, the amount of work that Northrop Grumman has done to bring this ship to delivery-ready status has exceeded my expectations. We are ready and anxious to take delivery, put WAESCHE through her paces, and get her into the operational fleet."
"I couldnt be more pleased with the conduct and results of trials on WAESCHE," said Gulf Coast Project Resident Office Commanding Officer Captain Jim Knight. "Due to the maturity of the system design and the experience gained from BERTHOLF, we were able to complete a more robust testing program with excellent results. The beneficiaries of this process will be our most important customer which is the WAESCHE crew."
After an intense week, it's my pleasure to announce that WAESCHE performed with flying colors and is well on the way to acceptance and being placed In Commission Special in early November. It was particularly gratifying to actually ride aboard our newest cutter and see the tangible results of all the hard work, and applied learning invested in WAESCHE. Although the final INSURV report has not been released, preliminary indications are excellent and WAESCHE proudly flew two brooms from the yard arm en route Pascagoula.
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