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.
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.