Since seeing indications the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program may be in jeopardy (here and here), I’ve been thinking about how the program might be “sold.” There are a number of approaches that might be considered.
It Is a Money Saver
Get it started as an alternative to the NSC. As discussed in an earlier post (Rethinking the New Cutter Programs), we can get more new cutters on line more quickly if we truncated the NSC program at six and started the OPC program two years earlier. This could also be sold as a money saving step, in that we can probably get two OPCs for little more than the price of one NSC. There is very little the NSC can do that the OPC can’t. (If we include the features suggested below, the OPC will be able to do things the NSC cannot-further justifying the change.) This gets us “over-the-hump” of starting the program. Having built the first ships of the class it will be much harder to kill the project and much easier to revive it, if interrupted. The winning shipyard and their legislative representatives will work to keep the project going. It will also mean the MECs and one HEC will be retiring at least a year earlier–the 210s will only be 54 to 56 years old.
Make the Consequences of Not Building Them Clear
Publish the decommissioning schedule. This should make the news in all the Congressional districts that will loose assets.
What is the performance difference. Publish an addendum to the latest “United States Coast Guard Fiscal Year 20XX Performance Report” showing the decrease in performance if there had been no MECs.
Publish a plan to scale back or delete missions if the the MECs are not replaced.
Pork with a Purpose:
An infrastructure (shipyard) program. It might be more expensive, but Congress can decide they want to spread the work around. They have been doing this, almost since the day the republic was formed. It would certainly be reasonable to say they wanted the construction contracted to more than one yard, perhaps even one West Coast, one East Coast, one Gulf Coast or some other split. As a stimulus program that also delivers a tangible good, building four a year, two each on the West and East Coasts would not be unreasonable. That this spreads the support base for the program wouldn’t hurt either. It might even promote some competition in the long term.
Mobilize our Allies
Mobilize the shipyards that hope to win contracts. They have political clout.
Get the fishing industry on our side. Some times they don’t like us, but we keep the foreign competitors out, and when there is a medical emergency or their boat starts sinking they’re mighty happy we are around.
Mobile the Navy League. Despite the name, this organization is a great ally of the Coast Guard as well, but I’ve yet to see us make the case for the OPC in the pages of their magazine.
Get the Navy to endorse the program. Not sure they will want to, but there are lots of reasons they should (Offshore Patrol Cutters, Why the Navy Should Support the Program), particularly if the design chosen has the potential to be a useful “low-end” warship. These are exactly the types of ships needed for partnership station, and they are the kind of ships many of our allies should include in their Navies and Coast Guards through Foreign Military Sales.
Strengthen the National Defense Angle
Bring back the ASW mission. Adding a passive towed array to the ship could help in our law enforcement mission, improving the chances of detecting and tracking semi-submersibles, but the additional military capability could also make the ship easier to justify. Beyond the support for a passive sonar usable for law enforcement, the only additions needed for a credible ASW capability would be having magazine and other storage space for torpedoes, sono-buoys, etc. to support Navy MH-60R helicopters that would prosecute contacts. There is more than enough reason for rejuvenating American ASW assets. As illogical as a US/Chinese confrontation would appear, they have been acting increasingly bellicose. The Chinese Navy already has more submarines than the Germans had at the beginning of WWII, the largest submarine force in the Pacific, while we and our allies have far fewer escort ships than any time in at least the last 70 years. There seems to be a particular need for escort ships for the underway replenishment ships, normally unarmed and unescorted, as they move from the ports where they load their supplies, to the areas where they deliver them to forward deployed task forces. OPCs could perform that mission.
Use the LCS Module Concept. This is ideal for the Coast Guard because it makes the ships adaptable for war time roles without requiring the Coast Guard to maintain either the equipment or the people. It also potentially gives the ships greater flexibility to perform peacetime roles. This requires very little more than some open space, foundations, and bringing up connections for utilities.
The Back Story
As an alternative to the LCS. Not that we can take this as an official line, but if the LCS program continues to draw criticism, particularly if the OPCs are designed to accept mission modules, it is something friends of the Coast Guard can suggest. It has been suggested in the past:
On 5 July 2009, Retired U.S. Navy Adm. James Lyons, former Commander in Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, senior U.S. military representative to the United Nations, and Deputy Chief of Naval Operations, suggested the LCS “program should return to its original target of $220 million per ship and combine with the U.S. Coast Guard to build a dual-purpose ship with a credible integral combat system that can meet limited warfare requirements. This very different ship should be built in large numbers as part of the coming Ocean Patrol Cutter Program…Such a change would achieve huge savings for both the Navy and the Coast Guard tied to large production numbers. The funding saved from canceling the LCS could be used to procure the most capable high-end combatant ship with margins enough to allow future modernization.” –This could ally us with those in the Navy who would like to divert Navy money from the LCS program to other purposes.
Coming Soon-How We Got In this Mess
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One way to get the Coast Guard to save their OPC from the Budget ax. Follow the same political playbook that the NRA and the AARP has done. Use the same tricks that the NRA and AARP has done to get what they want. At the same time the US Coast Guard should look at starting their own lobbying PAC to help Lobby for the US Coast Guard.
Of course I hope it does not require some major loss of life to make this program come to light. But this program is of national importance. We need to work to make the case of why it matters, and also work with whatever allies we have and through HLS to get the good stuff. This program cannot fail or we will fail the public.