High standards on the high seas
The NSC was designed for executing long-range missions. The ship’s automated weapons systems are capable of stopping rogue vessels. A large flight deck and hangar space can house helicopters and unmanned aircraft. State-of-the-art command, communication, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance equipment is onboard. The ships are also equipped with detection and defense capabilities against chemical, biological or radiological attack.
Deep inside every NSC are two big reasons the vessel is ready for anything—MTU Series 1163 twin engines, each delivering 7,400 kW @1,350 rpm. The 20-cylinder engines are at the heart of a sophisticated propulsion system, which includes a gas turbine, Rolls-Royce controllable pitch propeller system, 3-component gear system and completely automated propulsion control system.
When the propulsion system is running at full power, NSCs can reach speeds of 28 knots. While quick response is critical for Coast Guard missions, so is endurance. Typical patrol cycles are between 60 to 90 days, covering a range of up to 12,000 nautical miles. All that hard work takes a toll on a marine vessel. And nobody has higher standards for performance than the United States Coast Guard. After every patrol, the NSC undergoes 30 days of regular maintenance, which includes inspecting every inch of the engines, changing oil and filters and replacing worn cylinder heads, injectors and other parts. It takes an elite team to keep the vessel’s engines in top condition at all times. This is the job of MTU’s Large Engine Service (LES) group.
The Coast Guard’s unseen guiding force
Located near the Coast Guard base in Alameda, California, the West Coast LES Group is on call to support the Coast Guard 24/7. The team of eight includes trained Series 1163 technicians and automation technicians. Over $1.5 million of local parts inventory is readily available in a spacious warehouse. Most engine service is performed in the port at Alameda, where three NSCs are stationed—the Waesche, Stratton and Bertholf. But when an LES technician is needed elsewhere, whether it’s Alaska or Argentina, they can be there the next day, with toolbox in hand.
The Coast Guard motto is Semper Paratus, which means “always ready.” The West Coast LES Group shares the same philosophy. The Coast Guard has high expectations for service, parts and support. Whenever the call for assistance is needed, the Large Engine Service Group has the expertise, resources and readiness to get the job done. Recently, the team’s capabilities were put to the ultimate test, with their biggest job to date.
All hands on deck
In 2016, the West Coast LES Group was on a record pace for mid-life engine overhauls. The team planned two engine overhauls for the NSC Stratton in September. The process would take two months, to be completed by Christmas Eve. This would make a total of six mid-life engine overhauls in 2016—the most in the company’s history. In January, the team was scheduled to perform an overhaul for the NSC Waesche, for completion in mid-March.
The scope of work changed dramatically with one phone call from the Coast Guard to James Young, NSC Service Manager at the LES Group. “Coast Guard operations change on a day-to-day basis. And we’re used to that. They called us to push up the completion date on the Waesche to mid- January. To make that happen, the schedules would overlap. We’d have to work on both vessels at the same time for four weeks,” said Young. “It went from one big job to another big job, over the holiday season. It was a tight schedule and a huge resource challenge. But they needed us to get it done. Those two cutters had to get back on patrol.”
A Series 1163 mid-life overhaul is no small task. During the process, the massive engine stays in the vessel and a wide range of components are overhauled and/or replaced including cylinder heads and liners, pistons, piston rings, connecting rods, injectors, turbochargers, air system, coolant and thermostats. Every part is brought to the shop for personal inspection. Then, it’s cleaned, processed, painted and protected and sent back to the ship for installation. Each job requires approximately $400,000 in parts alone, per engine. Series 1163 engines are nearly ten feet tall and many components are so heavy they require a crane to lift—just one cylinder head weighs 220 pounds.
The list of challenges did not end there. The Series 1163s on Coast Guard NSCs are known for their power, performance and mechanical sophistication. “That means a lot of moving parts,” said Willy Tirado, Sr. Manager, LES Group. “Working on a classic engine like the Series 1163 isn’t easy. It’s just as big as an MTU 8000 engine, but its mechanical components are significantly more nuanced. It takes a lot of training and expertise to know your way around its web of fuel lines, hydraulics, O-rings, nuts and bolts,” said Tirado.
Going above and beyond
Nevertheless, the LES Group had a job to do— and deadlines to meet. The team worked 10-hour days, six days per week. Simply coordinating the schedules of the vessels, dock, parts, service technicians, suppliers and subcontractors was a tremendous undertaking. It required just-in-time delivery of components and subcontractors in order to minimize cost.
“This was the largest scope of work that has ever been accomplished by the LES Group. Parts, tooling, labor, resources, revenue, trucks, shipping, costs, you name it. It was the biggest in every aspect. And it was a team effort the whole way, involving MTU staff from California to Michigan to Germany,” said Young. “It’s never easy, we know that. But this is what we’re here for—to support the Coast Guard. We come up with a plan and we attack. We get it done right. In Alameda, we’ve always been a tight, cohesive team of people that like to win. We continually step up to meet their operational demands every time. That’s why MTU is the Coast Guard’s number one choice.”
The overhauls on the NSC Stratton were completed on Christmas Eve. Three days later, the vessel and more than 100 Coast Guard members departed San Francisco Harbor and headed south to San Diego. Three LES technicians traveled onboard for sea trials. “When you’re on a sea trial for the Coast Guard, failure is not an option. Their crew is the best of the best. And the trust they have in us is inspiring. When they want to go to full speed, everybody looks at you, including the captain of the boat. He waits for your head nod, saying it’s good to go. At that point, I think we’re in the big leagues now,” said Young.
The engines performed perfectly during the sea trial. On New Year’s Eve, the LES technicians left the ship in San Diego. But there was no time to celebrate. Two days later, they were back in Alameda, working around the clock on the NSC Waesche. After another two weeks of hard work, the Waesche overhaul project was finished just in time as well—a mere 12 hours before the vessel was deployed. The Coast Guard was exceptionally pleased with the end result—giving MTU top marks across the board.
For the Coast Guard, keeping our waters safe is all part of a day’s work. And on any given day, anything can happen. The brave men and women of the Waesche and Stratton have made many notable accomplishments, including saving 22 crewmembers of an Alaskan fishing vessel in the Bering Sea, stopping an illegal shark finning operation in the South Pacific, and seizing more than 12,000 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $181 million from a submarine off the coast of El Salvador.
These missions remind everybody at MTU’s West Coast LES Group about the importance of their role and what’s truly at stake. “Not everybody gets to work on a propulsion package like this in the bottom of these ships. We’re blessed to have that opportunity. Doing the work at this scale, helping the Coast Guard defend our borders, it makes everybody feel good. We see what they’re working for, and we’re here to keep things going,” said Young.