The Coast Guard’s current inland tender fleet consists of 35 tenders that support the service’s aids to navigation (ATON) mission in federal inland waterways. They play a vital role in directing the traffic of the nation’s Marine Transportation System (MTS) and supporting the U.S. economy by enabling the efficient flow of goods nationwide. The fleet is responsible for maintaining more than 28,200 marine aids throughout 12,000 miles of inland waterways, which move 630 million tons of cargo annually.
The inland tenders also perform missions such as search and rescue; ports, waterways and coastal security; marine safety; and marine environmental protection. Acting as a federal first responder on the inland waterways enables them to quickly and effectively respond to emergencies such as environmental incidents and severe weather events.
Why this program?
Inland ports and waterways are critical components of the nation’s MTS, which accounts for more than $5.4 trillion in U.S. economic activity each year. The inland tender fleet possesses the unique capability to establish and maintain inland ATON to support the safe and efficient flow of economic activity along U.S. rivers, lakes, intracoastal waterways and harbors. However, the current inland tenders have been in operation for an average of more than 55 years, so the Coast Guard is examining options to ensure continuity of its inland maritime mission capability and address obsolescence concerns.
How does the Coast Guard perform the inland ATON mission?
The current inland tender fleet can be divided into three main tender types, each of which performs specific parts of the ATON mission:
|River Buoy Tending Operations
||WLR (18 total)
|WLRs service short-range ATON on the Western Rivers. They set, relocate, and recover buoys to mark the navigable channel in the rivers as the water level changes. They also establish and maintain fixed aids, lights and daybeacons within their area of responsibility.
|Inland Construction Operations
||WLIC (13 total)
|WLICs construct, repair and maintain fixed ATON within inland waterways. The WLIC is the only Coast Guard platform with the capability to drive and remove piles, erect towers, and effect major structural repairs.
|Inland Buoy Tending Operations
||WLI (4 total)
|WLIs service short-range ATON along the coastal and inland waterways. These vessels maintain buoys beyond the capabilities of the nearest aids to navigation team and are located in areas either too shallow or otherwise too restricted for larger platforms to reach. There is one located at each location in North Carolina, Michigan, Oregon and Alaska.
How is the Coast Guard working to sustain and update its inland ATON capability?
The graphics above demonstrate Coast Guard indicative designs of a river buoy tender, inland construction tender, and inland buoy tender.
The Coast Guard established the Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) program to replace the capability provided by the inland tender fleet. The program partnered with the Naval Sea Systems Command to conduct an independent alternatives analysis to evaluate materiel and non-materiel solutions to meet mission needs within cost and schedule constraints. Additionally, the WCC program released seven requests for information to conduct market research and conducted engineering trade studies and design analysis, including development of indicative designs.
The program has determined three WCC variants will best meet mission needs based on the analysis. All three variants will be monohull ships, meaning self-propelled cutters instead of tug and barge configurations. The river buoy tender and inland construction tender variants will be acquired on one contract; these variants are expected to be identical except for hull length, working deck layouts, and deck equipment, including the crane. The program released the draft specification for these variants October 2019.
The inland buoy tender will be procured separately from the other two variants. The program released inland buoy tender top-level requirements November 2019 and is examining whether commercial vessels will meet these requirements.
The WCC program is working under an accelerated program schedule to reach initial operational capability by 2025. Initial operational capability is achieved following post-delivery availability, test and evaluation, and certification that the first hull of each WCC variant satisfies all key performance parameters, or the threshold requirements without which the ATON mission cannot be performed. Full operational capability, which will be achieved when the capability has been fully fielded, is planned for 2030, although this date may change based on quantity needed and production rate.