These vessels can be used for a variety of tasks, including: environmental protection, search and rescue, fisheries protection, PWCS (Ports, waterways, and coastal security), counter-terrorism activities, law enforcement, drug and migrant interdiction, defense operations, and other military/naval operations, including assigned naval warfare tasks with the US Navy.
The Legend-class cutters are the second longest of all U.S. Coast Guard cutters, behind the research icebreaker Healy, and will replace the twelve Hamilton-class cutters in service. These cutters are envisioned by the Coast Guard as being able to undertake the entire range of the high endurance cutter roles with additional upgrades to make it more of an asset to the Department of Defense during declared national emergency contingencies. To facilitate intercept missions, the Legend class can carry and launch both the Short Range Prosecutor and the Long Range Interceptor rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs). The cutters are configured to be able to survive in Low Threat Environments, factors of which include an enemy having a poorly equipped military, some coastal patrol craft, and few to none anti-ship cruise missiles. Operations in this environment can also be general defense operations including theater security, port protection, ship escort, anti-piracy, and maritime interception operations. The cutters can also survive in Medium Threat Environments, which can include a fairly well equipped military of ships and aircraft with weapons and radar coverage well offshore, higher numbers of anti-ship cruise missiles and a possible submarine threat. Operations in this threat environment could include defense operations, naval surface fire support, and the evacuation of non-combatants. The cutters are not expected to survive in a high threat environment with their current configuration.
The cutter has a rear-launching ramp, capable of launching and retrieving the two aft stored rigid-hulled inflatable boats while underway. The NSC is built to about 90% military standards. The NSC is constructed with a steel hull and steel superstructure with steel bulkheads. Ballistic protection is provided for the main gun, and the cutters crew-served weapons can have steel ballistic shields attached for protection. The NSC is equipped with a state of the art damage control system that contributes to the ships survivability. The NSC is designed to US Navy Damage Stability Criteria and to Level 1 Survivability standards. Most of the NSC design is compatible with ABS Naval Vessel Rules. The NSC has degaussing capability. The cutters have a reduced Radar cross-section (RCS) which gives the cutters a higher degree of stealth over the past cutters. The NSC uses a modified version of the same stealthy mast design as the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.
Legend-class cutters have increased data link bandwidth. The Hensoldt (formerly EADS North America) TRS-3D radar system provides three-dimensional air and surface search functions and is used in the LCS program as well as the German Korvette 130 program. The cutters are also equipped with the AN/SLQ-32(V)2 Electronic Warfare (EW) system used in the DDG-51. The Legend class is equipped with the same 220 rpm Bofors 57 mm gun as mounted on the USN's Littoral combat ships. Guided 57 mm ammunition is being developed for the Mk 110 for the Navy and Coast Guard, including for use on the National Security cutters. The Missile Defense duties are handled by the MK 53 NULKA decoy systems, the MK 36 SRBOC countermeasure systems also used on the FFG-7 and CG-47 programs and the Phalanx CIWS. The combination of the Mk 110 and the Phalanx give the cutter's Anti-Surface capability, limited Air-Defense capability and the capability to provide naval gunfire support. The cutters have space, weight, and power reserved for additional weapons and systems which includes mine warfare systems, non-line of sight missiles, and can have a SeaRAM replace the 20mm Phalanx CIWS. The NSC is capable of carrying a sonar that is reported as having mine and underwater swimmer location ability. The NSC has a NBC detection and defense system to repel chemical, biological, or radiological attacks and has wash-down systems. The cutters weapons, command and control suite can be upgraded and is hardened to survive potential attacks and process increased data flow.
The first NSC, USCGC Bertholf, entered sea trials in February 2008. She has been in service since August 2008, and is homeported at Coast Guard Island, Alameda, California. A second NSC, Waesche, is also homeported in Alameda in 2010. Construction of Stratton - which now carries a crew of 123 - began in 2008 at Huntington Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. The vessel was christened by first lady Michelle Obama on July 23, 2010, and released to the custody of the Coast Guard on September 2, 2011. She is now in service in Alameda. Construction on the fourth NSC, Hamilton, began in 2011. The Fleet Mix Analysis (FMA) Phase 1 study in December 2009 called for nine NSCs, but there are eight ships in the Program of Record and only seven hulls have been funded as of the FY2013-17 capital investment plan. The NSC's proved their capability to perform naval operations during the 2012 RIMPAC exercises, where the USCGC Bertholf detected and tracked missile threats and also provided naval gunfire support for troops ashore during the training exercise, demonstrating the capability of moving with other naval forces and being able to perform other defense operations.