Photo: USCGC Steadfast, one of the newer 210 class, now about 48 years old. We don’t expect her replacement for at least another ten years.
The US Naval Institute has published the Congressional Research Services latest version of Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, by their Naval Affairs Specialist, the ever prolific Ronald O’Rourke.
It is not quite up to date, because it does not reflect funding for a ninth National Security Cutter, but otherwise it nicely defines the issues the program has been faced with, most notably inadequate funding.
It also raises the question, should multi-year or block buy funding, with its potential for substantial savings, be pursued? We really should be doing this for the Webber class, which is a proven, mature design, approved for full rate production. In fact, we should have been doing this for a couple of years now.
The thing I found most disturbing was that the first Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) will not be funded until FY2018, although it looks like the detail design will be funded in FY2017. I am beginning to wonder if we will see the first OPC before 2022.
The FY2016 budget was a pleasant surprise with the addition of funds to build a ninth National Security Cutter. If this near $2B funding level is seen as a new norm (as I would hope) there will be room in the FY2017 budget for another major acquisition. It might be a tenth NSC. That would not be an altogether bad thing, but it would be outside the needs identified in the Fleet Mix Study. Unless another major project is injected into the FY2017 budget, we will loose the momentum for a larger AC&I budget.
If the FY2017 NSC, OPC, and FRC funding is as indicated in the document (see pdf page 14, marked at page 10), most of the shipbuilding funds will go for what looks like five or six more Webber class. There are smaller amounts for the OPC and NSC programs for a total of only $557M. There may, however, be the opportunity to fund a big part of the new polar icebreaker, as the Commandant has suggested, if the AC&I budget remains at least equal to the FY2016 level.