“Coast Guard Ship Modernization Under Full Steam” –National Defense

National Defense has a good post on the status and future of the Coast Guard’s vessel recapitalization programs, reporting remarks by the Commandant and the Assistant Commandant for Acquisitions at the Surface Navy Association. Status of the NSC and FRC programs were as might be expected, but there was some news on the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), Polar Security Cutter (PSC), Arctic Security Cutter (ASC), and Waterways Commerce Cutter (WCC) programs.

Rear Adm. Mike J. Johnston, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition

Offshore Patrol Cutter:

Rear Adm. Johnston noted that the Eastern built OPCs are back on schedule.

“Hull No. 1 of the planned 25-ship fleet is under construction and on track to be delivered to the Coast Guard in 2022. It will take about 20 years to build out the fleet.”

That 20 year figure is just way to long. The program was about 20 years late getting started, and now the rate of construction has been further reduced by the need to recompete the contract.

From the Congressional Research Service:

“Responses to the RFP are due by May 28, 2021. The Coast Guard plans to award the Stage 2 contract in the second quarter of FY2022….

“Notional Construction Schedule and Resulting Ages of Ships Being Replaced
“The posting for the RFP for the Stage 2 industry studies included an attached notional timeline for building the 25 OPCs. Under the timeline, OPCs 1 through 7 (i.e., OPCs 1-4, to be built by ESG, plus OPCs 5-7, which are the first three OPCs to be built by the winner of the Stage 2 competition) are to be built at a rate of one per year, with OPC-1 completing construction in FY2022 and OPC-7 completing construction in FY2028. The remaining 18 OPCs (i.e., OPCs 8 through 25) are to be built at a rate of two per year, with OPC-8 completing construction in FY2029 and OPC-25 completing construction in FY2038.

“Using these dates—which are generally 10 months to about two years later than they would have been under the Coast Guard’s previous (i.e., pre-October 11, 2019) timeline for the OPC program34—the Coast Guard’s 14 Reliance-class 210-foot medium-endurance cutters would be replaced when they would be (if still in service) about 54 to 67 years old, and the  Coast Guard’s 13 Famous-class 270-foot medium-endurance cutters would be replaced when they would be (if
still in service) about 42 to 52 years old.”

We should be replacing 270s now and the 210s should have been passed to other coast guards or navies through the Foreign Military Sales Program beginning a couple of decades ago. Once the design is proven, we need to increase the production rate to more than the planned maximum of two ships a year. That might mean awarding contracts to two yards rather than just one.


USCG Polar Security Cutter [Image: Halter Marine / Technology Associates, Inc.]

The Commandant put a floor on the requirement.

“Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said at the same conference that the service needs “a minimum” of six.”

There was also discussion of the future Arctic Security Cutter.

“Meanwhile, the Coast Guard is in the pre-acquisition stage of developing a new ship it is calling the Arctic Security Cutter, which will also be designed to operate in cold climates and serve as a medium-sized icebreaker, Johnston said.

Previously the target had been three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers, but that view seems to be changing.

“Schultz said he would like to have six icebreakers and three of the smaller Arctic Security Cutters for a total of nine ships.”

Note the Commandant called the Polar Security Cutters icebreakers, but not the Arctic Security Cutters. Seems what they will be is still being formulated, and they will not be simply medium icebreakers. I expect what we will see, is something conceptually akin to the Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (AOPS), with space for containerized mission modules, vehicles (including unmanned surface and sub-surface), and extra accommodations, but more powerful, better armed (more like and OPC), and hopefully faster than 17 knots.

Waterways Commerce Cutters: 

Shown above are Coast Guard indicative designs of a river buoy tender, inland construction tender and inland buoy tender.

It looks like the final number of WCCs is firming up. There are currently 35 such tenders, 18 River {Tenders (WLR), 13 Construction Tenders (WLIC), and 4 Inland Buoy Tenders (WLI) in nine classes with an average age of 56 years.

“A request for proposals to replace the 35 legacy tenders should be out in March, Johnston said. The service is looking at three monohull variants.

“The Coast Guard plans to acquire 16 river buoy tenders, 11 inland construction tenders and three inland buoy tenders.”

Changing Manpower: 

Masked members of the cutter James crew and Commandant Adm. Karl L. Schultz (front, center), along with interagency partners, stand among interdicted narcotics at Port Everglades, Florida, on June 9. U.S. COAST GUARD / Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray

The most numerous classes, OPCs and particularly the FRCs, will require more crewmen than the WMECs and WPBs they replace and the total number of cutters will be up.

The multi-mission Fast Response Cutters are just “one tool,” Schultz said. “They complement our 11 National Security Cutters as well as our forthcoming 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters. Add to that [up to] three new Polar Security Cutters, and you have a fleet of 103 highly capable U.S. Coast Guard cutters,” he said.

That will add 2,000 more sea-going billets for the service’s personnel needs, he noted.

Plus perhaps three more PSCs and three ASCs, this should increase the percentage of cuttermen in the service.



7 thoughts on ““Coast Guard Ship Modernization Under Full Steam” –National Defense

  1. See, this is what I’m always talking about; anytime you ready an explanation about the Coast Guard’s core duties, search and rescue is always buried in other legislative duties. The Hertage Class Cutter “… will perform various USCG missions which include but are not limited to PWCS (ports, waterways, and coastal security), defense operations, maritime law enforcement (drug/migrant interdiction and other law enforcement), search and rescue, marine safety, and environment protection.”

  2. We need cutter x to speed things along. An OPC version of Braunschweig / Sa’ar 6. People really want Sa’ar 6 for a navy corvette, but I could see that hull doing more good here. Right speed, right aviation. Swap the missiles for boats.

  3. USCGC Mellon 28JUN1975-02FEB1976
    Coast Guard Meritorious Unit Commendation
    with O device.

    We had B U S Y 7 months of SAR.

    • No public discussion of an 87 foot replacement from the CG, but some of them are being decommissioned. The new large motor lifeboat might be a replacement in some places, but so far the intention seems to be to just replace the four 52 foot MLBs.

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