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

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

The Congressional Research Service updated its “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” on 24 April, 2019. 

You can read it here. I have quoted the summary below.

The Coast Guard’s 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 FY2020 budget requests a total of $657 million in procurement 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 $670 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 FY2019 has funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. Six NSCs are now in service. The seventh was delivered to the Coast Guard in September 2018. The eighth through 11th are under construction. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $60 million in procurement funding for the NSC program; this request does not include 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 $421 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard awarded a contract with options for building up to nine OPCs to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The second OPC and long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third were funded in FY2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $457 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth and fifth, and other program costs.

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 56 have been funded through FY2019, including six in FY2019. Four of the 56 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four OPCs, a total of 52 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2019. The 31st FRC was commissioned into service on March 22, 2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $140 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of two more FRCs for domestic operations.

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

  • whether to provide funding in FY2020 for the procurement of a 12th NSC; 
  • whether to fund the procurement in FY2020 of two FRCs, as requested by the Coast Guard, or some higher number, such as four or six; 
  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs; 
  • the annual 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; and 
  • the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.

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

  1. Appendix A was quite interesting. And, the absence of any mention of the 87-footers.
    I couldn’t help but consider that their Fleet Mix Analysis and Objective Fleet Mix might suggest an intent to replace the MPC boats with cutter class vessels.
    That 2009 analysis for 66 additional cutters filling performance gaps [(Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS); Counter Drug; & Alien Migrant interdiction Operations (AMIO)] pretty much encompasses the purview of the MPC boats.
    Your previous discussions on the FRCs seeming to be operated more like MECs in certain areas also lent to my consideration of this possibility. The extra NSCs and OPCs would relieve the FRCs of those MEC like taskings. And along with the additional procurement of FRCs allowing their assumption of the MPC taskings. In a way it also fits with the 91 NSCs, OPCs and FRCs of significantly greater capability replacing the 90 HECs, MECs and ‘110’ WPBs on something of a one-for-one basis. the addition of 66 cutters (or 58 from the 2011 Refined Objective Force Mix) would be a massive increase of capability over the MPC WPBs

    Of course, I could also be over thinking it.

    • My problem with this is that the Fleet Mix Study was done a long time ago. We really need to do these every few years. The FRCs are being used differently than anticipated. There are more demands from Combatant Commanders for the Coast Guard to do capacity building.

      • Completely agree. The fact that their 2009 analysis said the current procurement plan left them at only 60% of required capability it’s damn surprising that a full rview and analysis hasn’t been conducted in 10 years.
        If anything, it probably would have been wise to conduct a new analysis after the OPC final design had been selected. And, you have to think there was some kind of Fleet Mix Analysis done before the decisions were made to procure additional NSCs beyond the program of record 8 vessels and the FMA recommendation of 9. I mean other than being the simple whim of Congress (which still should of had reasoning that should probably be part of this report)
        Not that the additional NSCs are a bad thing.

      • @FDD, I think it is probably fair to say that building NSCs beyond #9 only made sense because we were not ready to build OPCs. We were way behind the power curve in not having the OPC design ready much earlier, but I put that on Congress. We were also slow in completing the NSCs, and because construction funding was not consistent, they cost more than they should have.

    • I think chart A-1 in Appendix A really speaks to the willingness of Congress to over-fund/over-procure too. USCG’s visibility, particularly in humanitarian operations, really helps with Congressional support. I agree some of the additional spending on extra NSCs is also typical, “hey, fund this in my district, and I’ll vote to fund ‘that’ in yours,” shenanigans, but the service can certainly use them.

      I predict with the size and capability of the OPC, they are going to be used a lot like WHECs, as well. They are virtually identical in size to the Secretary-class, after all, and no one would argue those were not very capable ships…

      The two things which interest me are:

      1) The lack of 200-foot vessels (WLBs will be the only ones, so no white-hulled), when the service has found them so useful for decades (270, 255, 210, etc). It appears the FRCs can do a lot of what a 210 could, but it feels to me like the OPCs are far more than a 270 or 255, and the FRCs cannot do as much as those larger 200-ft cutters, and

      2) There seems to be a “Patrol Boat gap” building. The FRCs are so much larger than the 110s (or even the aborted 130s), it seems unlikely a single (size) class of WPB (presumably to replace the 87s) would be ideal to fill all the missions. Perhaps I’m wrong. Could, say, a 90’ WPB do the mission, or would it be better to have two classes, one about 85’ (optimized for speed and handling, especially in shallower water with a few days’ endurance) and a second about 100-105’ (optimized for deeper water and longer patrols, more like the 110s)? Either way, with the different uses the FRC is getting (and some 110s have done for awhile), it seems to make sense the total number of any new WPB(s) should be substantially higher than the number of 87s being replaced.

      • The problems with using Webber class as MECs are that they have relatively short endurance and no aviation facilities.

        That 200-300 foot cutter would have been the “Cutter X” I advocated in lieu of some FRCs and some OPCs. They would have been not much more expensive to run than the FRCs but would have had greater endurance, seakeeping, and aviation facilities. Not likely to happen now.

        Because I think we still have an important mission unaddressed my thoughts on the WPB replacement are different: https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2019/04/01/the-87-foot-wpb-replacement-response-boat-large-interceptor/

        and here. https://chuckhillscgblog.net/?s=wpb+replacement&submit=Search

        Increasing capability of the smaller response boats seems to be backfilling the need for patrol boats smaller than the 87 footers. Still a motor surf boat larger than the 47 footers and faster than the 52 footers (say 25 knots) might help in this area.

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