Offshore Patrol Cutter Update

There seems to be some movement on the Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement and once again the requirements seem to have softened and become less specific. There are two recent news releases here and here. You can also access these and older news releases through the OPC website.

To review the basics, the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) are a projected class of 25 ships intended to replace all 29 MECs (Medium Endurance Cutters) currently in service including:
 13 Famous Class, 270-foot (82.3 m), which entered service 1983-1990
; 16 Reliance Class, 210-foot (64 m), (including two already sold under military assistance) which entered service 1964-1969; Acushnet (1944); and Alex Haley (1968)

The issues I have with the program currently are as follows:

First, we are replacing 31 ships with only 25. Possible, perhaps, in ideal circumstances, but Murphy has not retired. There will be teething problems with the first few and these ships, like all the ships before them, will have their problems.  This may be mitigated somewhat by the additional capabilities of the Webber class, in that they can, to some extent, take up the slack.

Second, the first ship is not expected until 2019. By that time the oldest of the 210s will have been in service for 55 years, the Acushnet for 75.  If one ship is delivered in 2019 and three ships a year after that, the last one will not be delivered until 2027 when the newest existing WMEC will have been in service for 37 years. For a nation that designed, contracted, and built over 100 aircraft carriers in less than four years, this is pretty sad, but it seems reforms intended to make procurement efficient have made efficient procurement impossible. Even so, I think we need to do better.

Now to the ships themselves. The following is quoted from Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Project CG-9322 | CAPT Brad Fabling | FEB2010 “Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)
Brief to ASNE”:

“Notional High-level Mission Requirements:

“Aviation –operate with CG/USN H-60, CG H-65 and UAVs

“Small Boats –Utilized multiple small boats for rescue and law enforcement operations

“Towing –up to equivalent tonnage

“Rescue –bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water
–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own.

“Sea Keeping –Full operationally through SS5 (i.e. Aviation and Small Boat)
–Limited operations through SS7 and survive through SS8

“Maneuverability –at slower speeds and in smaller ports

“Endurance – 8500 NM/9500 NM at 14KTS sustained
– 14 days between refueling & FAS capable

“Speed –25 KTS/22 KTS

“AFHP / Service Life for 30 years –capable of 185 days (230 days surge)/40 years to fatigue

“Accommodations –104/90 racks & support mix gender crews w/6 persons/space or less

“Combat System –limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready
**Classed to ABS NVR”

“In terms of engineering robustness, the needs of the modern USCG Cutter can be
considered similar to a small navy combatant, but for different reasons:

““Plus” aspects –increased range, seakeeping for Boat and Aviation operations, fatigue life (40 year), crewing number

“Minus” aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, &
Radiation (CBR) environment”

I find very little to argue with here but there are some things that are left unsaid and considerable room for additional specificity.

In the Aviation requirement, when it says “operate with” Navy H-60s, I presume that means land and hanger them, but does it also mean that there will be magazine space for their weapons and storage for sonobuoys and other equipment? I think there should be.

The boat handling requirement is not specific. I would think at least two RHIBs including at least one long range interceptor using a stern ramp like that on the NSC.

The towing requirement is modest, but probably realistic in view of what we really do and the competing requirements for space on the stern.

I don’t really know what the Rescue requirement, “bring multiple individuals aboard directly from the water–bring individuals aboard that are injured or unable to move on their own” means in terms of the ship characteristics. Does this mean there will have to be an opening in the hull at the waterline with a platform like the NSC or are we just talking about “J” davits and tethered rescue swimmers?

The “Sea Keeping” and “Endurance” requirements seem about right.

Presumably the “Maneuverability” requirement just means there will some form of thrusters, we hopefully will be more specific here as to the ability to turn the ship against the wind or move the ship sideways.

If the speed requirement is “25 KTS/22 KTS,” then the requirement is 22 knots and that is probably what we will get. This is little better than what we have now and is inadequate to keep up with or catch many modern merchant ships and it is not quite fast enough to keep up with Navy amphibious ships. At the minimum we need 24 knots sustained.

The planned accommodations are certainly more reasonable than those provided for the Littoral Combat ship. Realistically we can probably run the ship with fewer people, but being able to accommodate more is a good hedge against future requirements.

When the  “Brief to ASNE”  says “’Minus’ aspect –no need for shock, air defense, operations in Chemical, Biological, & Radiation (CBR) environment” I presume they mean that there will be no pressurized, filtered NBC citadel as in the NSC not that there will be no Circle William fittings. (This is a change from previous descriptions of the OPC which included this capability.) Lets also hope that darkening ship will be a routine activity, with the proper fittings and door trips, that doesn’t require the ad hoc approach used on 210s.

I’m not sure what they mean by “limited air defense, full surface combat, & anti-terrorism ready.” I would think that this would imply at least a medium caliber gun and its associated firecontrol system. If it does not include a Close In Weapons System (CIWS) then it should at least include space and weight reservation for a future installation. To cover the rear of the ship and provide unit security and better situational awareness a couple of Mk 38 Mod 2 25 mm mounts like those on the Webber Class cutters, sited to cover as nearly 360 degrees as possible, would also be a useful addition, but they are not a replacement for the medium caliber gun.

There should be significant weight moment margins built into the design for future growth. The margins provided for the NSC were obviously not adequate. They have already been used up. We should anticipate that over the life of the ships they will acquire additional missions and associated equipment. It would be short sighted to think otherwise.

There is no mention of provision for use of mission modules (basically specially configured 8x8x20 cargo containers). This is an approach that is rapidly gaining acceptance and is incorporated in the LCS and Offshore Patrol Vessels being built by Spain and the Netherlands. Hopefully this will be included in the final specifications.  If not, it would at least be a strong selling point for contenders for the contract.

Unless we are awarding a multiyear contract for the full 25 ships, which I doubt would be possible, in order to avoid being tied to a sole source ship yard, all engineering drawings and the license to use them should be included as deliverables in the first contract, along with any modifications in future contracts.

Related posts:

Canadian Icebreaker/Offshore Patrol Vessel Procurement

Arctic Patrol Vessel

WMEC 270 to OPC

Guns for the Offshore Patrol Cutters

“Design” an Offshore Patrol Cutter Today

20 thoughts on “Offshore Patrol Cutter Update

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  2. Now are they going to go with existing technology and current off the shelf, readily available technology that is being used right now by our NATO Allies.

    If I were the USCG, I would be looking at the European navies and the Baltic navies for OPC designs. I would be looking at Sigma class corvette,Holland class offshore patrol vessels,Valour class frigate,Milgem class corvette and the Braunschweig class corvette. I would even look at the LCS 1 or 2 and Even look at getting CIWS or Goalkeeper system.

    • I don’t know the demands the USCG has for it’s vessels, but the Dutch navy has the Holland class and not the Sigma class, because the latter doesn’t meet their (military) specs. They are commercial spec vessels with radar and missiles.

      And the demand from the Dutch navy to have a ship fully operational through SS5 for both helicopters and RHIBs (the same as the OPC), made the ship wider, but shorter than a M-class (Karel Doorman class) frigate (the Holland class looks ‘fat’ and the M-class ‘slender’). This does make the ship slower, because it has more surface area that has to push through the water.

      • The Holland is unique in a couple of respects. It has an extremely sophisticated sensor suite in it’s integrated mast that would seem right at home on a guided missile destroyer, and it is the first Dutch ship designed since WWII that includes armor.

        It was a bit of a surprise that the Dutch decided to prematurely retire some of their frigates and then went with the Holland instead of the Sigma, but I understand that there was a desire to support the shipbuilding industry and to provide a customer for the integrated mast.

        The armor is intended to protect critical areas of the ship against light weapons at short range as might be expected in a boarding situation.

      • Yes, I know. Not using the Sigma’s is because it doesn’t meet the specs. The Holland’s are built by the same shipyard and the mast could also have been put on the Sigma’s.

        But what I’d like to point out is that it is HUGE and this has a direct link to being able to operate in SS5, so I’m interested what the USCG will propose to handle SS5 (and be able to operate helicopters and small boats) and if the resulting vessel will be much larger than people now think it will be. The Holland-class is 3,75ot (107.9 x 16.2 x 3.2 meters) and in size they are more like the HEC’s than MEC’s.

        And the Holland class room for containers, but these are just ‘ordinary’ containers and not mission modules such as Denmark’s StanFlex system.

        I have written some of these things over at ID:

      • GvG, It will be interesting to see what comes out of these specs. The illustration of the OPC on the acquisition directorate web site,, was, at one time, accompanied by a description of the ship which was very similar in size to the Holland Class. If I remember correctly it was 354 ft (107 meters) in length and about 3500 tons which would give it a greater displacement than the 378s. Certainly if we stick to prequirements previously described it is likely to be larger than the ships they replace.

        Technology may help us a bit, in that the helicopter haul down and traversing system and the stern ramp for the small boat, combined with the boat, the new long range interceptor, may help meet the requirement for operation in heavy weather.

        Acquisition Directorate is professing a determination to stick to the requirements (what ever they may be, final requirements have not been published as far as I can determine).

        In the May 2010 edition of the Acquisition Directorate Newsletter, available for down load here:, MCPO Brett F. Ayer, Command Master Chief, Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate, answers a question about buying off the shelf and talks about the determination to stick to the requirements in his regular Q&A column, “ASK THE MASTER CHIEF.”

        “Q. I have been hearing rumors that our new OPC (Offshore Patrol Cutter) will be designed from scratch and not based on an existing design. Why don’t we just buy off the shelf and save money and time?

        “A. No need to listen to rumors. We have posted our general OPC acquisition
        strategy on our website:

        “The rumor is only partially correct, although nothing has been finalized yet. I
        also need to add that the term “from scratch” is a bit of a misnomer. We do not
        have a requirement for anything we buy to be built from scratch. We are very
        happy when we can buy off the shelf as long as it does the job.

        “It all comes down to requirements. The current requirements for the OPC are
        based on the mission we expect the OPC to perform. These requirements are
        put together by the program sponsor (the Office of Cutter Forces) using the best
        data available and with consultation from the Acquisition Directorate (CG-9), the
        Technical Authorities (CG-1, CG-4, CG-6 and CG-8) and other key stakeholders
        in the Coast Guard.

        “If there were an off-the-shelf vessel available that met all the key requirements, you can bet we would be looking at it. But, just as most people wouldn’t buy a new suit that doesn’t fit just because it’s available off the shelf, we shouldn’t buy an off-the-shelf vessel that doesn’t meet the requirements we need to perform our missions.

        Keep in mind we are not talking about little things. We are talking about major capabilities such as endurance, sea keeping, and speed. The little things we can give and take on, but being able to reach your patrol area in a reasonable period of time, launch and recover your helicopter in the expected sea conditions, and have enough fuel to get home safely are not things we’re inclined to compromise on.

        “Our proposed acquisition strategy does not prevent anyone who has an existing design from competing for the contract, but at the same time, it ensures that we won’t be tied down to an off-the-shelf product that doesn’t quite fit our needs. We also would not exclude anyone who wants to start with an existing design and modify it to meet our requirements.”

  3. As I understand it, there is no requirement for a parent craft, as there was with the Fast Response Cutter. I believe there is a legal requirement for the ships to be built in the US, but virtually all the US ship yards are owned by or have business relationships with European builders that give them access to some of the foreign designs. The LCSs are just too expensive and have problems of their own. I also like the Sigma, Valour, and Milgem.

    • Chuck,
      I’ll bet ya someone at CGHQ is probably gona be looking at buying the designs, blueprints and the patent rights for either the Sigma, Valour, and Milgem ships and have them built in the US.

      Also What about the Holland class offshore patrol vessel. Wouldn’t the US Coast Guard consider an armed version of the Holland class offshore patrol vessel. What about putting a requirement where the new OPC has to have the sustained speed to keep up with at least at a minimum with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready group or the Expeditionary Strike Group.

      I do like the Holland class offshore patrol vessels and the Valour class frigate. The Valour class frigate is basically a very small frigate based on the MEKO A class design. So, do you think the The Valour class frigate is a viable contender for the Coast Guard.

  4. Nicky,

    Here is one I think you will like, the Formidable Class frigates, built for Singapore, based on the French La Fayette Class:

    Still I doubt will will get anything that large, since it is essentially the same size as a 378. The Holland and the Valour are even larger.

    Of those mentioned only the Sigma ( and Milgem ( appear to be in the right size range.

    There is also the new new Corvette the Israelis are planning to get from the Germans, a stretched, approximately 2,200-ton version of the MEKO A-100 built by ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS)

    Still we may get something original. These are relatively simple ships. It’s not rocket science.

    • What about a corvette that can keep up at least with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready group or the Expeditionary Strike Group. We would need something that if we ever deploy a OPC with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready group or the Expeditionary Strike Group.

      I do like the Sigma class Corvette, but the one concern, no aviation facilities available on the Sigma class Corvette. Even the Milgem class Covette is ok, but I’m concerned about endurance and speed. Now I think the German Navy’s Braunschweig class corvette is a contender because I feel it dose have the speed to keep up with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready group or the Expeditionary Strike Group. It has the aviation facilitates

      I do like the Formidable Class frigates from the Royal Singapore Navy and the Valour class frigate from the South African Navy. Both have the speed and have fully automated features. Both have room for expansion and growth. Which is something the Coast Guard could consider because they will be operating them for at least 40 years.

      We do have to consider that the OPC will operated much like the 210’s and 270’s. We would need to consider going with the latest and greatest. At least be ahead of the technological curve as well. We also have to consider ocean going capabilities as well.

      If I was considering which Ships the US Coast Guard Should seriously consider looking at. Here’s my list
      1.Holland class offshore patrol vessel
      2.Sigma class Corvette
      3.Valour class frigate
      4. Formidable class frigate
      5. Braunschweig class corvette

      • All the Sigma variants have a flight deck and a hanger is “optional” probably meaning it would look very much like what we have on the 270s. Probably only the larger, 105 meter, 2200 ton, version of the design would meet our needs and even then we would need to increase the range.

      • The Kedah class is a member of the same family as the proposed Israeli Corvette.

        Braunschweig class corvettes have not been satisfactory in service, nor do they meet our aviation requirements. Their aviation facilities are for UAVs only, they can’t take helicopters. Also with their low freeboard, they probably would not meet our seakeeping requirements. Apparently they have also had some problems with their gearing. The German Navy is planning a larger class of corvette which may end up being closely related to the Israeli ship.

        Again, I don’t think the Holland, Formidable, or Valour are in the running because of their size, being as large or larger than the Hamilton class. Although I would have loved to see us get 25 Formidables, they wold be a great asset for the country, just don’t think it is going to happen.

      • Chuck,
        I think the Coast Guard should have gone with the Variation of the Formidable, or Valour to replace their 378’s. I like their use of stealth technology, room for expansion, speed to keep up with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready group or the Expeditionary Strike Group. They even have room to grow with the ever expanding technology.

        For the OPC, I would push the US Coast Guard into looking at the MEKO A-100 Corvette designs and the MEKO-A 200 designs. My main concern is speed and having the ability to keep up with the Navy’s Amphibious Ready group or the Expeditionary Strike Group if we ever have to deploy with them. Their is a variation of the MEKO-A100 design that the Republic of China Navy is getting and it’s the Kuang Hua V corvette and it’s worth looking into. Even the polish navy is building a version of the MEKO A-100 called the Gawron Class Corvette.

        Heck, I wouldn’t mind if the US Coast Guard started looking at getting some of the Visby Class Corvette. I do like a ship with Stealth, speed and the room for technological expansion.

  5. Interestingly, all the vessels you cite have speed capabilities near 30 knots from a CODAG propulsion system. The CG certainly needs a lot more than 22kts for it OPC. Just as has been well-pointed-0ut that there needs to be growth room in tonnage and spaces for future systems, it must be kept in mind that these ships will be in use for 40 to 60 years, and in that timeframe, ship speeds are likely to increase as well. Think a “slow” OPC of 22kts will already have trouble catching a merchantman? Wait 25 years. They won’t take over the merchant fleets by storm, but I bet there will be faster merchantmen in wider-spread use by then. (We already have “just-in-time” inventory control. The only way to make that faster/more efficient is to reduce shipping time from the manufacturer, who is, inevitably, overseas…) 22kts will not keep up with any warship built in the last 20 years… Yes, patrol work doesn’t require speed 98% of the time, but that’s what makes the CODAG system so good. Run diesels that 98% and have the gas turbine for when the speed is needed. One question in my mind is how gun-shy the CG is about CODAG systems, since they didn’t work out so well in the first 210s? Hopefully, it’s recognized that the systems have advanced greatly since then.

    I’m just guessing, but the requirement for a sea-level rescue ability harkens back to Muriel boat lift type operations. When the 210s were trying to scoop people out of dug-out canoes, skiffs, and lashed-together rafts using cargo nets, it didn’t work too well… Creating a “rescue deck” like a giant version of the welldeck on each side of the 47’MLB would work, as would a cargo-door in the side at the waterline, as on the NSC. But for sure, there needs to be a capability to get people out of the water without launching small boats or climbing down cargo nets. Not only would this be good for large-scale ops, but it could be useful under the right conditions for small-scale rescues.

    I also think it is a mistake to buy too few of these. Perhaps there will be a multi-crewing system like the NSCs? (tongue-in-cheek, I hope…)

    It’s an equally large mistake to fail to take advantage of the possibility of working together with the Canadian CG in designing an Arctic Patrol Vessel which can actually handle and even be optimized for operations in that region. It would save money and create a better design to partner with the Canadians for that platform.

    You can bet the Mk110 will be the primary weapon system, but I agree that should be supplemented with a Mk38, preferably positioning both weapons so they cover 360-degrees, rather than putting them both on the bow, but that may be a challenge with a stern boat ramp, H-60-capable flight deck, and relatively short Length.

    • Bill Smith said,”One question in my mind is how gun-shy the CG is about CODAG systems, since they didn’t work out so well in the first 210s? Hopefully, it’s recognized that the systems have advanced greatly since then.”

      I don’t think the Coast Guard has a problem with using gas turbines. They were used on the 378s, the Polar Class ice breakers, and the National Security Cutter.

      But diesel powerplants have gotten better too. The CODAD configuration with four diesels on two shafts, can be very versatile. If the two diesels on each shaft are the same family but different numbers of cylinders, with one half or two thirds the size of the other, you have possible a wide array of very fuel efficient engine combination, 1 small engine, 1 large engine, two small engines, two large engines, or all four engines for max speed.

      Another way to go would be diesel electric. With say, two main propulsion generators and four generators with lots of excess capacity, the ship could cruise at low speed on the ship’s service generators without running the main prop generators. For more speed you only need one main prop generator to drive both electric motors. For the last four knots or so, you cut in the second main prop generator. It also has the potential advantage that it can power the coming generation of weapons and sensors that consume a lot of electrical power.

      • Great points Chuck! Diesels are certainly more fuel efficient than gas turbines also.

  6. The two news releases I sited in the intro are still available, but they are no longer accessible through the OPC or Acquisitions Directorate website. A little strange, but maybe they changed their mind. At the very least, any change indicates, it is getting some attention which is reassuring.

  7. Just so it doesn’t disappear completely, I’m copying the most detailed release below.

    “U. S. Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) Project Updated Industry Engagement Plan
    July, 7, 2010

    “• 2nd One-on-One Meetings w/ Potential Primes

    “– Meeting focus will be on current status of the acquisition with selected discussion topics sent to potential primes several weeks in advance. Planned for ~ August 2010

    “• Industry Day & Draft Specification Review

    “– Day 1 will be on a general overview of acquisition for anyone interested. Subsequent days will consist of industry review of the draft specification by potential primes and their major equipment vendors ~ November 2010

    “• Draft RFP Release

    “– Release draft RFP via website for industry review 30 days before Pre-solicitation conference; industry encouraged to provide written comments on draft documentation. Tentatively planned for ~ January – March 2011 timeframe

    “• Pre-Solicitation Conference

    “– Conduct pre-solicitation conference; industry asked to provide any final comments. Tentatively planned for ~ February – March 2011

    “Updates on the OPC acquisition, including future planned market research/industry engagement, will be posted to our website at:

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