The U.S. Coast Guard’s 1,300-ton, 210-foot Reliance-class and 1,800-ton, 270-foot Famous-class medium-endurance cutters have been the workhorses of the fleet, with some more than 50 years old, but need to be retired. Even with targeted investments to keep them operationally relevant and available for service, they are still technologically obsolescent and too expensive to maintain.
The new platform to replace them will be the offshore patrol cutter, or OPC, being built at Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) in Panama City, Florida.
The Coast Guard exercised its contract option to build the lead ship, CGC Argus (WMSM 915) – the MSM stands for maritime security cutter-medium – in September 2018. Construction has now begun and Argus is scheduled to be delivered in 2021. At the same time, the service exercised its contract option to acquire long lead-time materials for the second OPC. “The actions enable the production phase of the program, which is the largest in Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security history to date, to proceed,” said Brian Olexy, spokesperson for the Coast Guard’s Acquisition Directorate.
There are 25 OPCs planned to replace the smaller and less capable but slightly more numerous WMEC 210s and WMEC 270s.
Olexy said the total value of the options exercised is $317.5 million. In addition to covering production of the lead OPC, this contract action also covers the initial order of components and materials necessary to support the future construction of the second OPC by acquiring propeller and steering components, marine diesel engines, the ship’s integrated control system, switchboards, and generators.
According to ESG’s president Joey D’Isernia, Eastern has a vendor network from 29 states supporting the OPC program.
Just as the work was beginning, Panama City was hit by Hurricane Michael, which caused damage to the community and surrounding areas and affected the shipyard and its workforce. No steel had been cut, so there was no damage to the lead ship.
There are 25 OPCs planned to replace the smaller and less capable but slightly more numerous WMEC 210s and WMEC 270s. (There are 14 210s still active, with two decommissioned, and 13 of the 270s, along with a single ship of the Alex Haley class, which was formerly a 286-foot Navy salvage ship.)