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Offshore Patrol Cutter

OPC can’t join the fleet soon enough.

 

 

The U.S. Coast Guard is recapitalizing its fleet to replace the aging high and medium endurance cutters, some of which have exceeded five decades of service. The national security cutter (NSC) is the replacement for the high endurance cutters (WHECs), and the fast response cutter (FRC) will take the place of the 87- and 110-foot patrol boats.

The replacement for the 270- and 210-foot medium endurance cutters (WMECs) of the Famous and Reliance classes, respectively, will be the offshore patrol cutter (OPC).

“Similar to the Medium Endurance Cutter it replaces, the Offshore Patrol Cutter will provide the majority of the Coast Guard’s offshore surface capacity essential to stopping drug smugglers at sea in addition to interdicting undocumented migrants, rescuing mariners in distress, deploying alongside the Navy, enforcing U.S. fisheries laws, responding to disasters, and protecting our ports.”

The NSC and FRC programs are well underway, with ships in service as additional ones are being built. The OPC program has not yet begun construction; however, three companies have been selected to produce preliminary and contract designs for the OPC. Each of the contracts – awarded in February 2014 to Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, Louisiana; General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine; and Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc., of Panama City, Florida – are worth about $22 million. Twenty-five OPCs are planned (replacing the 29 WMECs), at an estimated cost of approximately $483 million per ship, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report.

Altogether, the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs have a combined estimated acquisition cost of about $21.1 billion, according to the CRS report.

Decisive-drydock

The Coast Guard Cutter Decisive sits inside a floating drydock at the Coast Guard Yard, Sector Baltimore, in 2008. USCG photo by PA2 Thomas Mackenzie

According to the Coast Guard, “Phase I entails a full and open competition for Preliminary and Contract Design (P&CD) awarded to a maximum of three offerors. … P&CD will culminate in a Contract Design Review (KDR). After KDR, the three contractors will submit proposals which will result in a down selection to one contractor to continue with Phase II.”

The Coast Guard’s two-phased design-build strategy for the OPC means that after evaluating the Phase I designs submitted by each of the P&CD phase contractors, the service will down select one of the three vendors to complete the detail design and initial construction of that design, with options to build up to nine OPCs.

Award of the Phase II contract is anticipated for the end of fiscal year 2016, with the first ship ordered in FY 2017 and operational by 2021.

According to the Coast Guard, the OPC will feature state-of-the-market technology. The combat system will be “government furnished equipment” (GFE), so that while it is known the ship will have the same Mk 110 57 mm gun as the NSC (and both variants of the U.S. Navy’s littoral combat ships (LCS), and the yet-to-be-determined GFE command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system, it’s not known what the ship will look like until the final design is selected.

As the bridge between the NSC and FRC, the Coast Guard has stated that the OPC is its highest investment priority.

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft, in his April 2015 written testimony before the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, stated:

We continue to replace High Endurance Cutters, with the more capable National Security Cutters. In 2016, we will continue construction of the final three NSCs. In the future, acquisition of an affordable and capable offshore patrol cutter will also be a critical piece of the Coast Guard’s ‘Western Hemisphere Strategy’ … The OPC will be the backbone of Coast Guard offshore presence and the manifestation of Coast Guard authorities. …

Similar to the Medium Endurance Cutter it replaces, the Offshore Patrol Cutter will provide the majority of the Coast Guard’s offshore surface capacity essential to stopping drug smugglers at sea in addition to interdicting undocumented migrants, rescuing mariners in distress, deploying alongside the Navy, enforcing U.S. fisheries laws, responding to disasters, and protecting our ports. They are an important component of enhancing security as outlined in the U.S. Strategy for Engagement in Central America.

As the Coast Guard completes acquisition of the NSC, the OPC will become Coast Guard’s No. 1 acquisition priority.

The “biggest challenge that we’re facing right now is that this will not be affordable,” Zukunft said at the 2015 Surface Navy Association Annual Symposium in Arlington, Virginia.

Medium Endurance Cutters

The much-anticipated arrival of the OPC couldn’t come soon enough as the WMECs they will replace are old and becoming more expensive to operate and maintain.

USCG fy 16 budget request

Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Paul Zukunft and Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard Steven Cantrell testify on the Coast Guard’s fiscal year 2016 budget request. The service’s FY 16 budget request falls $69 million short of fully funding the offshore patrol cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo

“Due to exceptional commitment and innovation, the Coast Guard has ships sailing today that are 60 years old – well beyond their service life,” Zukunft continued in his testimony. “The Medium Endurance Cutters that make up the backbone of the offshore fleet are reaching 50 years of age. Over the last two years, four of these cutters have experienced emergency drydocks, losing nearly 20 percent of their planned patrol days.”

The 210-foot Reliance-class cutters first joined the fleet in 1962. Originally 16 were built at Todd Shipyards in Houston, Texas; American Ship Building Company, Lorain, Ohio; Christy Corporation, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin; and the Coast Guard’s own shipyard at Curtis Bay, Maryland. Two of the Reliance class have been decommissioned and transferred to the Sri Lankan navy and Colombian coast guard, respectively. The 270-foot Famous-class cutters were built at Robert Derecktor Shipyard Inc., Middletown, Rhode Island, and Tacoma Boatbuilding Company, Tacoma, Washington, and commissioned between 1983 and 1991.

The Coast Guard says that the OPC “will feature increased range and endurance; more powerful weapons; larger flight decks; chem-bio and radiological environmental hazard detection and defense; and improved Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).” The OPC will have a flight deck to operate manned and unmanned aircraft, and the ability to conduct smallboat operations in all weather conditions.

The Famous-class cutters have a full load displacement of about 1,800 tons full load, and the Reliance-class cutters have a full load displacement of about 1,000 tons. There is also the one-of-a-kind former Navy salvage ship CGC Alex Haley (WMEC 39), which originally entered Navy service in 1971 and was transferred to the Coast Guard in 1999.

Zukunft recently visited the CGC Robert Yered, one of the newest fast response cutters. “Leaping forward nearly half a century from our oldest ships,” he said, “the Robert Yered’s modern, high-tech systems are fully interoperable with our partners in the interagency and international community as it executes missions across our littorals. This nimble fast response cutter is not, however, without its limitations. It cannot launch and recover aircraft – a necessary capability in the Coast Guard’s operational network of assets – and has limited range and endurance relative to our major cutters. The Coast Guard must have flight deck-capable ships with robust command and control capabilities exactly where we need them, from the farthest reaches of the transit zone off of Central America to our northernmost borders off of Alaska. The offshore patrol cutter is designed to fill this need.”

Combat systems

The Coast Guard says that the OPC “will feature increased range and endurance; more powerful weapons; larger flight decks; chem-bio and radiological environmental hazard detection and defense; and improved Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (C4ISR).” The OPC will have a flight deck to operate manned and unmanned aircraft, and the ability to conduct smallboat operations in all weather conditions.

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Capt. Edward H. Lundquist, U.S. Navy (Ret.) is a senior-level communications professional with more than...