Preparing to write this, I reread some older material from the Acquisition Directorate and was surprised to find that my long held assumption that the Coast Guard would be building OPCs at a rate of three a year (since that was the rate we had built the 210s they are replacing) is not the case. The plan as expressed in the CG9 Newsletter for Oct/Nov 09 by Captain Brian Perkins was to build only two ships a year.
Plus, the same newsletter notes, the OPC program is linked to the NSC program in that it will not be started until after the last NSC is contracted.
As we have discussed the progress on the National Security Cutter Program has been slow. In the nine years since the ships were ordered, only two ships have been delivered and a third is building. Instead of seeing one new ship a year as might have been expected, there was an almost two year gap between the Bertholf and the Waesche, another almost two year gap between the Waesche and the Stratton, and it looks like an almost three year gap between Stratton and the forth NSC, Hamilton. Assuming that Hamilton is awarded this year (FY 2011) and one a year after that, the eighth and last NSC won’t be awarded until FY 2015 and we probably won’t see it in service until 2019. The first OPC(s) will not be funded until FY2016. The last 210 replacement will be funded in 2023 with deliver not likely until at least 2026 at which time the last 210 will be 57 years old. When the last 270 is replaced, in 2031 it will be 41 years old.
This is a plan for disaster. That our fleet is already in trouble was demonstrated by the difficulties we encountered during the Haiti earthquake relief. How are these same ships going to perform in 10, 15, or 20 years.
There has got to be a better way.
First it surely isn’t necessary to take four years to make a decision on the OPC design. Its been discussed and mulled over for years. Might it not be possible to truncate the NSC program at six ships, fund the first OPCs in FY2014 and build them at the rate of three or four a year? And rather than multicrew the NSCs, increase the OPC program by six to provide one for one replacements for the 378s for a total of 6 NSCs and 31 OPCs. That still leaves us four ships short of where we are now, but a lot closer than the eight ships short currently planned.
Because the OPCs are considerably smaller than the NSC and made in greater quantity, they are potentially much cheaper while providing nearly all the capability of an NSC or 378. We are typically spending around $600M per NSC. I’ve heard that the Acquisitions Directorate expects to keep the costs for the OPC around $200M/ship. The ship I think they should build would be a bit more, because it would have added value for national defense, but building three or even four instead of one NSC is not a huge increase in the total Coast Guard budget and will save money in the long run.
The OPCs will have a smaller crew than the NSCs and a much smaller crew than the 378s. The crew may even be smaller than that on the 270s. They are also likely to be much cheaper to maintain than the legacy ships. The sooner we get them in the fleet, the more we will save in manning and maintenance.
If we truncate the NSC program at 6 and begin the OPC program in FY 2014, funding three ships a year, we will have the 33 new ships currently planned by 2025, six years ahead of the current plan, and the entire program, including four additional ships, will be finished by early 2027.
If instead, in 2014 we began funding four ships a year, we would have our 33 new ships finished early in 2024, seven years ahead of the current plan and the the entire program would be completed in early 2025. Still a long way away, but better than the current plan. If we did that, the last 210 to be replace will only be 51 years old.