“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –Congressional Research Service


Mr. O’Rourke has been busy (as usual). Also on 26 Oct. 2018, the Congressional Research Service also Issued an updated version of his study of Coast Guard Cutter procurement programs, specifically for National Security Cutters (NSC), Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), and Fast Response Cutters (FRC). Again I have reproduced the summary here. I do think it is strange that we are still talking about initial testing of the NSCs more than ten years after the first of these was commissioned (see page 14).

The Coast Guard’s acquisition program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests a total of $705 million in acquisition funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $682 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2018 has funded 11 NSCs, including two (the 10th and 11th) in FY2018. Six NSCs are now in service, and the seventh, eighth, and ninth are scheduled for delivery in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $65 million in acquisition funding for the NSC program; this request does not include additional funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $391 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard announced that it was awarding a contract with options for building up to nine ships in the class to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $400 million in acquisition funding for the OPC program for the construction of the second OPC (which is scheduled for delivery in 2022) and procurement of long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third OPC (which is scheduled for delivery in 2023).

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 50 have been funded through FY2018. The 28th was commissioned into service on July 25, 2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $240 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of four more FRCs.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  • whether to fully or partially fund the acquisition of a 12th NSC in FY2019;
  • whether to fund the acquisition of four FRCs in FY2019, as requested, or some other number, such as six, which is the maximum number that has been acquired in some prior fiscal years;
  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
  • the procurement rate for the OPC program;
  • the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs;
  • planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs; and
  • initial testing of the NSC.

Congress’s decisions on these programs could substantially affect Coast Guard capabilities and funding requirements, and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base. .

3 thoughts on ““Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –Congressional Research Service

  1. ‘During operations, the NSC has experienced performance issues that were not identified during initial testing, and the Coast Guard has planned design changes to some of the cutters’ equipment…. However, the Coast Guard has not yet found the causes for problems affecting the NSC’s propulsion systems’.

    This will need to be successfully resolved to the satisfaction of the USN if HII wants to get past the conceptual design contract and submit for the upcoming RFP for the FFG(X).

  2. One of the things I do not see mentioned anymore is the CG’s 8-NSC plan involved multi-crewing to allow the vessels a higher op-tempo without stressing the crews. I know there was a lot of discussion about that in the past, revolving around how it was not as effecient as first planned. I have not read anything lately about how this has shaken out and effected operational at-sea time for the NSCs, and how that may factor in to an increase in need for more NSCs?

    I also note crewing costs are not added into the budget questions about procurement. With the optimal fleet mix of 150+ cutters, there is going to be a ~60% increase in personnel to man those cutters. Over a 50-year life, that is going to be a far bigger cost than the vessels, and failure to sell that idea will risk laying-up or disposing of relatively new and expensive assets. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for acquiring what is needed to get waaaaaay past a 61% capability, but DHS and Congress need to recognize the personnel costs too.

    The nation cannot keep asking the CG to do more with less and expect outcomes to meet expectations. The CG interdicts a tremendous amount of drugs, but the sea border is so porous, many, many times that still gets through, as just one example…

    • The Crew Rotation Concept was finally officially dropped in one of the budgets. The idea is dead now.

      Every year the budget lists changes in operating expenses. as old assets are retired and new ones come on line.

      The NSCs have smaller crews than the 378s but the FRCs have larger crews than the 110s and there are going to be more of them. We might get away with the same size crew as the 270s on the Offshore Patrol Cutters, but their crews are definitely going to be larger than those of the 210s. Current plans for 25 OPCs are fewer than the number of WMECs replaced, but it will still result in a net increase in personnel.

      I don’t think we will be seeing us approach the “optimum fleet mix of 150+ cutters,” but I do think we may see some more modest increases from the “Program of Record.”

      The Program of Record (PoR) was 8 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 58 FRCs. We have already NSCs go from 8 to 11. The six PATFORSWA WPB replacements were not included in the POR and we are seeing additional FRCs to replace them. That means at least 64 FRCs. The OPC program is scheduled on drag on for many years with no more than two built per year, but I am hoping to see it accelerated and extended beyond 25 ships.

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