Updated: “Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement” –CRS, 31 March, 2021

The Congressional Research Service has again updated their report on Coast Guard cutter procurement. (The link will always take you to the most recent edition of the report.) I have reproduced the summary in full below. I have applied emphasis by “bolding” some parts, but first some comments. 

As you will see below, the Congress is still keeping the option of NSC#12 open, and, in fact, they are asking the Coast Guard if there isn’t justification for it. 

“The Committee is disappointed that the Coast Guard has not officially conveyed to the Committee a determination on whether a twelfth NSC is required…” (Explanatory Statement, p. 25) “The Coast Guard is encouraged to officially convey a determination to the Committees as to whether a 12th vessel is needed.” (Conference, p. 25)

With the expansion of the Coast Guard’s support for distant missions, and the delays in the delivery of the OPCs, looks like we could make a good case for NSC#12.

Congress has asked for a reevaluation of our needs, 

SEC. 9422 (re. Elijah E. Cummings Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2020, p. 26). Report on fast response cutters, offshore patrol cutters, and national security cutters.
(a) In general.—Not later than 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act, the Commandant shall submit to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation of the Senate and the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure of the House of Representatives a report on the combination of Fast Response Cutters, Offshore Patrol Cutters, and National Security Cutters necessary to carry out Coast Guard missions. 
(b) Elements.—The report required by subsection (a) shall include—
(1) an updated cost estimate for each type of cutter described in such subsection; and (2) a cost estimate for a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility outfitted to manage data in a manner equivalent to the National Security Cutter Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities.

So far I have heard nothing to indicate the Coast Guard has complied with this request, which was enacted into law 92 days ago. This report and the determination of the requirement for NSC#12 may be tied up in DHS.

I assume the “…cost estimate for a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility outfitted to manage data in a manner equivalent to the National Security Cutter Sensitive Compartmented Information Facilities” refers to adding this capability to the Offshore Patrol Cutter. 


Summary

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR), which dates to 2004, 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 FY2021 budget requested a total of $597 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs; Congress provided a total of $837 million for FY2021, with the additional $240 million being for the FRC program.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are replacing the Coast Guard’s 12 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 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2021 has fully funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. In FY2020, Congress provided $100.5 million for procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th NSC, so as to preserve the option of procuring a 12th NSC while the Coast Guard evaluates its future needs. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested $31 million in procurement funding for activities within the NSC program; this request did not include further funding for a 12th NSC. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget also proposed a rescission of $70 million of the $100.5 million that Congress provided for a 12th NSC, with the intent of reprogramming that funding to the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program; Congress did not approve this request. Nine NSCs have entered service; the ninth was commissioned into service on March 19, 2021.

OPCs are to be 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 and PSC programs as the service’s highest acquisition priorities. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $411 million per ship. The first OPC was funded in FY2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested $546 million in procurement funding for
the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth, and other program costs. On October 11, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), of which the Coast Guard is a part, announced that DHS had granted extraordinary contractual relief to Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) of Panama City, FL, the builder of the first four OPCs, under P.L. 85-804 as amended (50 U.S.C. 1431-1435), a law that authorizes certain federal agencies to provide certain types of extraordinary relief to contractors who are encountering difficulties in the performance of federal contracts or subcontracts relating to national defense. The Coast Guard is holding a full and open competition for a new contract to build OPCs 5 through 15. On January 29, 2021, the Coast
Guard released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for this Stage 2 contract, as it is called. 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. 

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 $65 million per boat. A total of 64 have been funded through FY2021, including four in FY2021. Six of the 64 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the 58-ship POR quantity for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Forty of the 64 have been commissioned into service, and three others have been accepted by the Coast Guard and are awaiting commissioning. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2021 budget requested $20 million in procurement funding for the FRC program; this request did not include funding for any additional FRCs.

The 41st fast response cutter (FRC), Charles Moulthrope, was delivered to the Coast Guard in Key West, Florida, Oct. 22, 2020. It is the first of six planned FRCs to be stationed in Manama, Bahrain. (U.S. Coast Guard photo)

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