When I first learned that the Navy had a 30 year shipbuilding plan, I thought it was silly, too many unknowns, too many variables. But I have changed my mind. The Coast Guard has made a serious tactical error in not paralleling the Navy planning process and creating a similar annual 30 year plan.
In the federal government budget process, the default allocation is that an agency will get the same proportion of the budget they got last year, in fact the same amount they got last year adjusted for inflation. The Coast Guard has not even been getting that. Increasing that proportion is always difficult.
When you concentrate on only one project at a time (it has been the National Security Cutter, now it is becoming the Offshore Patrol Cutter or OPC) without recognizing all the work that will be required in out years, it is too easy for Congress and the Administration to figure they can stretch out the project at hand without realizing it results in a growing backlog. Current Coast Guard public planning budget documents generally look only five years ahead, but most procurements take at least ten years to realize. The Navy considers ten years “near term” planning. The OPC project, as currently planned, will require funding at least through FY2030 and almost certainly some follow-up beyond that.
But FY2030 is not an end point. Keeping in mind that typically we need to start planning for replacement ten years before it is actually needed, the Coast Guard will not only need Polar Icebreakers, it will also need to begin several more replacement projects:
- New small harbor tug/icebreakers (WYTL), the oldest of the eleven existing ships is already 54 years old.
- New Inland Aids to Navigation vessels (WLI, WLIC, WLR), about 40 of them entered service prior to 1970.
- New Icebreaking Seagoing Tugs (WTGB), The oldest of the nine Katmai class are 36 years old already.
- New WPBs. The oldest of the 73 Marine Protector Class will be 25 years old in 2023.
- New Sea Going Buoy Tenders, the oldest of the 16 Juniper class will be 30 years old in 2026.
- New Coastal Buoy Tenders, the oldest of the 14 Keeper class will be 30 years old in 2027.
- Even funding for designing the replacements for the Bertolf class which began entering service in 2008 should be included in a 30 year plan. Probably funding for the replacing the older units as well.
We need a plan to replace them all. We need to look at least 30 years into the future which would now mean FY2046. It would be the best argument for a realistic Coast Guard shipbuilding budget.
This is the Navy’s latest 30 year plan in tabular format.