Photo: Eastern’s proposed Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) concept. One of three shipyards contending for the contract
“An internal audit says that the Coast Guard is making progress in reducing acquisition risks of more than two dozen offshore patrol cutters, but it’s still too early to tell whether the service has fully implemented two risk mitigation recommendations that were previously made by the inspector general.
“One recommendation directs the Coast Guard to make sure it’s achieved a level of “design maturity” in its engineering plans, meaning that the designs are fully developed prior to construction.
“The other instructs the service to ensure that “low-rate initial production” – that is producing enough quantities of cutters to test, evaluate and approve before full production – are supported by an operational assessment. This assessment evaluates proposed cutter designs against operational requirements and identifies risks.
The Commandant has said they have looked so closely at the designs that they questioned the number of water fountains (scuttlebutts for the sailors). That sounds like design maturity, but then the purpose was to save money, not to ensure operational competence. I would hope we have done that as well. We are certainly taking long enough to make sure the designs are mature.
I would take issue with the statement, “Under a two-phase strategy, the service plans to acquire 25 OPCs to replace an equal number of medium endurance cutters.” These 25 ships are intended to replace 32 WMECs, four of which have already been decommissioned, 13 270s, 16 210s, the Alex Haley, Acushnet, and Storis. In 2000 we had 44 large cruising cutters; if the program of record is fully implemented we will have only 33. The misguided “Crew Rotation Concept” which, even if it works, will not give us the same number of ship days away from home port as 44 ships, even if we have to pay for 44 crews, is biting us. (Note, it appears to me this statement was made by FierceHomelandSecurity rather than as part of the IG report.)
The DHS IG report referred to, regarding the OPCs, is this document, “Verification Review of U. S. Coast Guard’s Acquisition of the Sentinel Class Fast Response Cutter (OIG-12-68),” that can be accessed through the FierceHomelandSecurity post.
The alarming aspect of this, is the insistence on “low rate production” until the design is tested. It seems we have been planning low rate production all along, with only one ship per year to be funded for the first three years, and no more than two per year after that, meaning with production of 25 ships, we will not see the last ship delivered until 2035. That sounds pretty low rate to me.
If we fund as expected (one per year for three years, then two per year), there will be a shift to funding two ships per year before the first ship has completed testing. Is two ships per year a high rate which the IG might oppose? Is there any possibility that after testing we might be able to build OPCs at a rate higher than two per year (as we really should)?
I have still heard no suggestion that the Coast Guard will take advantage of the multi-year/block buy procurement that Congress has authorized for the OPC, nor have they requested authority for Multi-Year procurement of the Webber class WPCs which certainly qualify as a mature and tested program.
There was a time when the Coast Guard took delivery of 28 ships in nine years. It really looks like the we are going to need similar surge in the future to prevent a collapse of our capabilities.