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. These tenders play a vital role in directing the traffic of the nation’s Marine Transportation System and support the U.S. economy by facilitating 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, through which 630 million tons of cargo move annually.
The inland tenders can also perform missions such as search and rescue; ports, waterways and coastal security; marine safety; and marine environmental protection, enabling them to quickly and effectively respond to emergencies such as environmental incidents and severe weather events.
Why this program?
The Marine Transportation System (MTS) accounts for more than $5.4 trillion annually in U.S. economic activity, and inland ports and waterways are critical MTS components. 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. The fleet is approaching obsolescence: its maintenance costs are rising, and the vast majority of the inland tenders do not support mixed-gender berthing. To address these concerns, the Coast Guard is taking steps to ensure continuity of its inland maritime mission capability.
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
|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 areas of responsibility.
|Inland Construction Operations
|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
|WLIs service short-range ATON along the coastal and inland waterways. These vessels maintain buoys that are beyond the capabilities of the nearest aids to navigation team and that are located in areas either too shallow or otherwise too restricted for larger tenders to reach. One WLI each is located in North Carolina, Michigan, Oregon and Alaska.
How is the Coast Guard working to sustain and update its inland ATON capability?
Shown above are 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 nine requests for information to conduct market research and has conducted engineering trade studies and design analysis, including development of indicative designs.
Based on this analysis, the program has determined that three WCC variants will best meet mission needs. 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 common except for hull length, working deck layouts, and deck equipment, including the crane. The program released the request for proposal (RFP) for these variants in April 2021 and anticipates awarding a contract in early 2022.
The inland buoy tender will be procured separately from the other two variants. The WCC Program has partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Marine Design Center to develop a government-led design for the inland buoy (WLI) tender variant starting in June 2021. The WLI will be contractor-built.
The Coast Guard plans to acquire 16 river buoy tenders, 11 inland construction tenders and three inland buoy tenders. The new tenders will have greater endurance, speed and deck load capacity than their predecessors. The ships will also feature improved habitability and will accommodate mixed-gender crews.
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 Coast Guard capital investment planning.