“Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement” –CRS, Updated August 17, 2021

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

The Congressional Research Service has again updated their “Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement”. (This link will always take you to the most recent edition of the report.) My last post on this evolving document was in reference to an 8 June 2021 update. I have reproduced the one page summary in full below. But first,

Comments:

It appears this report is little changed from the previous edition. The significant change is a reflection of the actions of the House Appropriations Committee and this change is relatively small. The Administration’s FY2022 Procurement Funding Request was:

  • NSC (Bertholf Class) program   $78.0M
  • OPC (Argus Class) program    $597.0M
  • FRC (Webber Class) program   $20.0M
  • TOTAL                                      $695.0M

The House Appropriations Committee mark up increased the total to $716M adding $21M to the NSC program.

An explanation included in House Report 117-87 of July 15, 2021 states

“National Security Cutter (NSC).—The Committee provides $99,000,000, which is $21,000,000 above the request, for the NSC program. This funding will support Post Delivery Activities to missionize and operationalize NSCs 10 and 11. The shortfall for these activities is currently over $200,000,000. The $21,000,000 is funded in the bill as a rescission and re-appropriation of prior-year funds to extend their availability.” (Page 57)

So while construction of the eleven National Security Cutters have be funded, we can expect to see future funding requests totaling over $100M to make #10 and #11 fully operational.

The rescission referred to is from funds earmarked for long lead time items for a possible future NSC#12. This seems to put an end to any possibility of a NSC.

The House Appropriations Committee action leaves in place the Administration’s plan to fund OPC#4 and procure long lead time items for OPC#5, but adds no additional NSCs or FRCs.

Summary (Below is the one page summary contained in the report–Chuck)

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 FY2022 budget requests a total of $695.0 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs, including $597 million for the OPC 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 FY2022 budget requests $78.0million in procurement funding for activities within the NSC program; this request does not include further funding for a 12th NSC. The Coast
Guard’s proposed FY2022 budget also proposes rescinding $65.0 million of the $100.5 million in FY2020 funding for LLTM for a 12th NSC, “allowing the Coast Guard to focus investments on building, homeporting, and crewing Polar Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters.” The remaining $35.5 million appropriated in FY2020 for LLTM would be used to pay NSC program costs other than procuring LLTM for a 12th NSC. 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 FY2022 budget requests $597.0 million in procurement funding for the fourth OPC, LLTM for the fifth, 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 were 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-four of the 64 have been commissioned into service. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2022 budget requests $20.0 million in procurement funding for the FRC program; this request does not include funding for any additional FRCs.

8 thoughts on ““Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement” –CRS, Updated August 17, 2021

  1. Was there any specific reason(s) why CG leadership didn’t want a twelfth NSC? Seemed like Congress was willing to spend the money, but the Coast Guard didn’t want it…just wasn’t sure what the reason for the pushback was. Perhaps manning/supply concerns?

    • The answer to questions like this is that the answer didn’t really come from CG leadership. Our political masters make such decisions and CG leaders salute and relay it to Congress. For example, 270s are 270 feet long even tho CG wanted them larger. The decision came from DOT management.

      • This ” For example, 270s are 270 feet long even tho CG wanted them larger. The decision came from DOT management.” is an “urban legend.” I was there when it happened and the length was set by the CG engineering division chief. His preference was for 267 feet, but his engineers finally convinced him to extend another three feet. If you look at the previous WMECs–210s, 125s, 143s, 165s, 205s, 213s even this was a significant growth in length. We had decommissioned the last of the 255 foot WHECs in 1974. On the other hand 270s were a poor replacement for the 327s but they did have good aviation facilities and a hangar, which even the 378s did not.

    • It is a curiosity. The NSC is a proven platform doing good work.

      The line is hot and costs have fallen.

      The Coast Guard seemingly is going “all in” on the OPC but it might make sense to keep building NSCs until the OPC is in the water and has proven itself.

    • The Coast Guard would almost certainly be happy to have an NSC #12 but it would not be requested without the support of the Department and the Administration. There are reasons why there is no support for a #12.

      The usual rationale for #12 is that they are to replace the twelve 378 foot WHECs, but really the OPCs can do everything the 378s could do, except very rarely make 29 knots.

      Other than higher speed, the only capability the NSCs have the OPCs do not is maintaining a positive pressure, filtered gas tight envelop for protection in an NBC threat environment. DHS thought they needed that in the case of an nuclear, biological, or chemical attack. They probably could have use a Navy ship instead.

      The Fleet Mix study which is now very old, but is still referenced in the CRS report as the only comprehensive study of Coast Guard needs, found that the Program of Record fell far below meeting all the Coast Guard’s mission requirements. It found we needed many more OPCs as well as more FRCs, but it also found we needed at most nine NSCs.

      • Hello Chuck. As you mentioned, the Fleet Mix Study is dated.

        The strategic maritime environment has changed considerably since then. .

        This is reflected I believe in where and for what the CG is being tasked.

        At minimum, a new Fleet Mix Study should be conducted or the old one updated.

        The OPCs will probably be fine ships. They don’t quite exist yet though.

        A safe move would be to continue building the proven large platform until the OPC is in the water and there is more clarity as to it’s final costs, timeliness and quality.

      • Yes Congress has told the Coast Guard to do a new Fleet Mix Study. That does not mean it will happen. We (or the Department) seem to routinely ignore such direction.

        Seems we should have continued funding construction of NSCs at least until such time to start funding OPC, but we are well past that point now. We are funding the fourth OPC in FY2022. Maybe until such time as we were funding more than one OPC annually, that will not happen until probably FY2026.

  2. Pingback: “Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement” –CRS, Updated September 15, 2021″ –CRS | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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