OPC Draft Specs

Monday, June 20, was the deadline for industry comments on the draft specs for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). I wasn’t privy to the draft, but did have a limited opportunity to discuss them with someone who was, so I’ll offer my own, admittedly unsolicited, comments. Our last substantial discussion of the ships’ characteristics was here. The general description doesn’t seem to have changed much since the last presentation to industry–go here, and select “Industry Day Presentation” for a pdf of the slides.

Conceptual Rendering of the OPC

The selection criteria (section M of the RFP) was not included in the draft. Perhaps the Coast Guard thought it would be premature, or perhaps they were unable to reach a consensus before the draft specs were released, but this was unfortunate, in that the vendors were unable to comment on how the selection criteria will influence the design. Additionally, in the interim they will be unable to proceed in any meaningful way, in formulation of the design.

The draft specs do define a range of characteristics, a minimum threshold and a higher desired level, but without a selection criteria, it is impossible for the vendor to determine if meeting the higher criteria will help him get the contract. Is it a significant selling point or just nice to have? If value is not specified in some way, it may mean that the minimums are the only truly relevant specifications. The selection criteria drives everything and unless you can define your priorities, and how much it is worth to you, it is unlikely you will get what you really want. One way to do this might be to assign a monetary value to higher levels of performance, with perhaps a formula for identifying the value of intermediate levels of performance. How much is going from an 8,500 mile range to a 9,500 mile range worth? To go 25 knots instead of 22? If you can’t decide this before the request for proposal (RFP), it’s going to be very hard to explain why you want to give the contract to a higher bid with more capability when it’s time to make the award. Ambiguity can lead to protracted legal disputes.

Lifecycle costs were not addressed and should be. Perhaps this will be in the selection criteria. Most obviously and perhaps easiest to quantify would be the benefits of lower fuel consumption. To do that would presumably require a statement of expected time vs speed requirements. This might include a substantial period of loiter or slow cruise which may influence the design in ways the current spec does not.

There is at least one specification that seems to be opposed to minimizing fuel economy and lifecycle costs. There is a requirement that there has to be 2 engine rooms, each with 50% of the horsepower. This virtually guarantees that the ships will have two or more probably four engines all of equal horsepower. That likely precludes some of the more flexible and economical configurations such as CODAD arrangements with two large and two small diesels or hybrid plants with large diesels for high speed and motors driven by smaller diesel generators for cruise.

I can understand that this requirement was intended to ensure that the ship was not left immobile because of damage in the engine room and to make sure the vessel has “come home power,” but a 50/50 split is arbitrary and unnecessary. A performance based spec would allow more flexibility, ie, “Be able to transit at ‘X’ knots without the use of Main Engineroom machinery.” At least theoretically, a ship with electric propulsion and a generator aft could be blown in half and its stern section could continue to navigate.

There are several features which I believe should be included, that I don’t believe have been addressed in the spec.

To deal with semi-submersible and fully submersible drug smugglers, at least some of the ships need to be equipped with a towed array. All the ships should be designed for it and at least a few so equipped.

To provide flexibility for changing missions, the ships should have provision for using containerized mission modules. To allow the maximum interoperability with the Navy, the foundations and utilities supporting these modules should be compatible with those planned for the Littoral Combat Ship. The Coast Guard should be able to take on Navy LCS modules and Navy LCSs would in turn be able to take on Coast Guard modules, such as boarding team or airborne use of force helicopter support kits.

Wartime roles should be identified and space and weight reserved for wartime equipment identified. In addition to the towed array system, space for weapons and equipment to support an embarked MH-60R helicopter detachment seems a most likely requirement. During peacetime these spaces can serve other functions such as equipment rooms for boarding teams.

The ships need to be able to do typical underway alongside replenishment and refueling.

For peacetime operations as well as self-defense, these ships need at least a basic air-search radar capability. This might be included in the fire control system.

If Coast Guard naval engineers have already created a preliminary design that will meet our needs, and there is reason to believe they have, then they should offer it up and allow ship yards to bid either on it or a design of their own as one of the three preliminary designs to be selected and developed in the first phase of the selection process.

13 thoughts on “OPC Draft Specs

  1. Hello Chuck Hill,

    it is interesting how important it is to get the paperwork right.

    Full Electric Propulsion (I.F.E.P.) is very demanding in terms of weight,volume and upfront costs and consequently could look unattractive depending on how selection criteria are drawn up.
    But I.F.E.P. offers significant long term cost saving which,due to the exceptionally long service life of Coast Guard Cutters may be of far greater benefit to the coast guard than to any navy.
    But if upfront costs are prioritised over long term costs it may be ruled out.

    I hope the Coast Guard selection criteria takes an holistic view for Offshore Patrol Cutter requirement.


      • Hello Chuck Hill,

        I have heard a lot about B.A.M. in recent years but that is the first time I have read any details on it.
        In general it looks like a sensible design for a brig.
        I would prefer a larger hull with more range,endurance and speed for Royal Navy or United States Coast Guard service but I am sure she must meet whatever Spain’s requirements are.
        There didn’t seem to be any mention of the size of boats carried,large boats are one of the main things I look for in any kind of offshore patrol vessel (O.P.V.) or warship.
        There is also no sign of stern boat launching on either B.A.M. or the O.P.C.,has that fallen out of favour now?
        I was never keen on stern launching for warships as there are more important things competing for space at the stern but that is less of a problem on an O.P.V. than on anything which might need to tow a sonar.
        Are the Coast Guard getting back in to the sonar towing submarine hunting business with these narco-subs?


      • “Are the Coast Guard getting back in to the sonar towing submarine hunting business with these narco-subs?”

        No. The Coast Guard is having enough trouble recapitalizing its surface fleet, much less adding needed capability.

      • Nothing on this front yet. If we chose to do this, and we followed previous funding model, the Navy would pay for the equipment, but the CG would pay for the personnel including additional staff at the schools.

        On the other hand, an ASW capability would help to justify the larger ships the CG is hoping to buy. If narco-submarines render our ships ineffective, there will be no point in recapitalizing a large part of the fleet anyway because patrolling off Latin America will be pointless.

  2. Hello Chuck Hill,

    I think I read about those in one of your earlier posts,I often stop by to check out your blog.

    The name “Cutter Boat Over the Horizon” caught my eye.
    Just how far from the mother ship do those little 7 metre boats go?


      • That incident is “famous” only because the boat was fired on. Cutters on Bering Sea Patrol were sending their RHIB’s “over the horizon” in 1990.

      • Getting shot at helps make you famous.

        On Midgett, we sent an boat beyond visual in the dark and fog back in the ’80s to surprise a Korean F/V that fishing that had been spotted fishing illegally, but I think we managed to keep them on radar and we had a helo on scene at almost the same time the boat made contact. Resulted in a seizure.

        Not the same as sending them to confront a drug runner of course.

        Any one else with first hand experience with the new boats, stories are are welcome.

  3. Max allowed operation of the CB-OTH MKIII is 50NM from the parent cutter or land. The only thing that makes it “OTH” is the radar, GPS integrated NAV package, and secure HF comms. Generally 30NM is the comfort factor for most cutters.

    CB-LRI was supposed to allow operations out to 75NM because of SATCOM capability. That boat was sort of pointless and only good for transporting large boarding teams and other similar logistics (can carry 13 people inside an enclosed cabin with heat/AC). The MKI is a death trap and is limited by policy to 25kts so it doesn’t rise to plane where it becomes very unstable. There were alot of lessons learned with the boat about what it really should be able to do and what is role would be. I think the MKII should be a big improvement.

    I’m glad to see the stern launch go away for the major cutters. It makes sense with PB’s where it takes the whole crew to launch the boat. For the major cutters it is just easier to launch from the hip. The WMSL set up would have been better if it was just one boat aft with no gantry or boom. That configuration would have saved enough space to allow safe towing operations. The current set up leaves only five feet to either side. Also, the WMSL just shouldn’t have three boats. The third boat is a ghost capability with the size of crew. You’ll never have enough people qualified to launch three boats with boarding teams while doing LE/SAR/GQ operations where you need to man up for helo ops. I wish they would just pull that gantry off, raise the surrounding deck, and except a two-boat reality.

    I’m glad they put the requirement in for the aft crane to move stores and shore ties, its vital with the small crew. I remember folks ready to punch FSCS when he would announces that stores were showing up tomorrow and it would require all hands to bring it onboard. Also, there is nothing worse than coming home from patrol and hauling four shore ties across by hand because the base crane wont boom over the water.

    When COMOPTEP4 group came onboard they asked for the laundry list of big items that made no sense and it is good to see that nearly all of them are clearly spelled out as requirements for the OPC. The Coast Guard for once actually listened to the field operators and applied the lessons learned.

  4. Pingback: Offshore Patrol Cutter Update, June 2012 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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