USCGC Mellon in 1990, with the Harpoon Missile Launch System visible in front of the bridge.
WASHINGTON, DC - The Coast Guard's latest bid for relevance was hit with a serious blow today, as it was revealed that the landmark program to upgrade Hamilton-class High Endurance Cutters with Harpoon anti-ship missiles accidentally supplied harpoon launchers suitable only for whaling.
The program was launched in secret last year as problems with the Navy's new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Freedom-class vessels multiplied. It was intended to offer a ready-made, viable option for littoral operations, as well as "wipe the goddam Navy's eye," according to one senior Coast Guard officer.
Now, unfortunately, it is the Coast Guard's eye that has been wiped. Program managers learned today that the $15,000 per ship upgrades actually installed a harpoon launcher sold by the Kobayashi Whale-Spearing, Pointy-Tipped, Pneumatically-Launched Object Corporation of Tokyo.
USCGC Mellon (WHEC-717) had a Harpoon Missile System installed in 1989. It became the first, and to date only, Coast Guard Cutter to fire a Harpoon, in January 1990 successfully hitting a moored hulk in the demonstration. With the difficulties the new LCS vessels have endured, Coast Guard leadership saw an opportunity to expand its role at home and abroad.
"Those LCS ships are a goddamn nightmare," said one HEC skipper. "Nobody at General Dynamics seems to be aware that aluminum alloys melt at 900 degrees, and the warheads on antiship missiles burn a whole lot hotter than that. Plus, when the ship sprints, the fucking guns couldn't hit Diego Garcia at 500 yards."
"We spend all year in shallow water, and before the 'Global War on Terror'" — the skipper nearly spits the phrase out in disgust, while making air quotes with his fingers — "the Coast Guard used to annually fire more rounds in anger than all the other services combined. Drug boats had machine guns on them, man. And the fucking subs! They had subs!"
Sources close to the Commandant suggest that the problem "isn't as bad as it could have been" because "only five of the nine" vessels in commission were upgraded before the error was caught.
"Frankly, we had been mulling renewing the Harpoon program for a long time, and then one of our analysts found a just unbelievable price," said the source. "Unfortunately, it turned out just to be too good to be true. I guess next time, we'll have to do a better job specifying things in the RFP."
According to the officer, the Coast Guard will spend $850,000 to scrap each system, "a great price, considering that a complete survey will have to be done for each Cutter before and after."
It will take approximately two years, with each vessel laid up in dry dock for five months, assuming the Coast Guard gets a supplemental appropriation. For now, Coast Guardsmen will continue to endure cries of "Thar she blows!" whenever they approach Navy vessels, fishing boats, cruise ships, and pretty much everything else afloat.
"At least it makes sense now," says Senior Chief Petty Officer Oliver Grant. "Before we knew what was wrong with the upgrade, we'd all just kind of wonder why boaters and even smugglers would yell that at us."
One Master Chief Petty Officer is sorry to see the new rigs go. "I developed this awesome safety brief," said MCPO Phil Ulma. "It was like 350 slides of Powerpoint gold. Using it, we cut our rate of fat-sailor-spearings by more than two-thirds in just under 90 days. There was no manual, so I just wrote one. Semper Paratus, baby. Semper. Paratus."
In an unrelated development, the Coast Guard is now seeking bidders for a contract to convert Cutter engines from diesel fuel to clean, renewable whale oil.