National Defense reports on the Commandant’s comments during the Surface Navy Association’s annual symposium.
The pitch is that the Coast Guard is playing catch-up and needs an infusion of money (“$900 million to $1 billion dollars”) to deal with the current demands, and continued growth of 3 to 5% per year for the next five years. Really, I think he is saying the budget needs a new higher base which would then be built upon, so the $900M to $1B addition would not be a one time thing.
There are some particular statements that caught my attention.
The U.S. Coast Guard will soon have 103 cutters of various types in its inventory, but is looking to add more to boost its capacity and capabilities. It is also pursuing upgrades to its information technology systems and other assets, as well as looking to bring on more personnel.
That 103 figure refers only to recent and ongoing construction projects. We already have many more cutters than that. It appears to refer to 3 PSCs,11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 FRCs, but he is saying we need more than that.
What are these additional ships?
- Arctic Security Cutters (ASC): Certainly it includes the three Arctic Security Cutter medium icebreakers. These were among the recommendations of the High Latitude Study. There seems to be general agreement about the need for at least a total of six icebreakers. There have been suggestions that one or more of these might be replaced by additional polar security cutters, but that suggestion has been mentioned but has not been strongly seconded by the Commandant. These may be intended for the Atlantic side.
- Fast Response Cutters (FRC): It probably means more Webber class FRCs as well. There is already talk of homeporting some in Palau (probably two or three) and of replicating the PATFORSWA type organization (six ships) in support of PACOM. These raise the possibility of up to eight additional FRCs.
- Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC): For the OPCs, I think it is more a matter of needing them sooner than currently planned. They are well behind in their delivery schedule. Moving to four ships a year, from two different yards, would dovetail nicely with the perceived need to maintain and build up US shipbuilding capacity. Even going to four per year would mean it will be many years before the Coast Guard could ask for the budget to build more than the 25 ship Program of Record.
- Cutter X: Certainly no indication yet that the Coast Guard is considering an additional type of patrol cutter, but something of 1,500 to 2,500 tons, between the size of the OPC and the FRC would offer a way to procure a larger number of cutters with greater range, endurance, and seakeeping than the FRCs at perhaps half the cost of a similar number of OPCs. Building annually two in addition to one or two OPCs could speed the recapitalization process.
- Polar Security Cutters (PSC): The quotation below suggest the Coast Guard may ultimately seek seek six PSCs as well as three ASCs.
“If resources were less constrained, the Coast Guard would like to have a fleet of nine icebreakers including potentially six polar security cutters and three Arctic security cutters, he noted.”
Sounds like we might continue building Polar Security Cutters beyond the three currently planned, but nuclear powered icebreakers are out.
“We have moved off the nuclear-powered” icebreaker, Schultz said. “The ability to operate that in the Coast Guard — that just doesn’t exist, and nor could we build out to that with all the demands on our plate.”
I think one challenge across the board is that if there is not a new design for the shipbuilder, the shipbuilder will keep getting contracts for the ship whether that was what was needed. Someone needs to create a new opportunity and hope Bollinger can legitimately win.