Once again, the Congressional Research Service’s Ronald O’Rourke has revised his “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” with the new edition issued April 15. This has got to be a hot topic because previous revisions were issued March 22, January 27, and December 14, 2015. That is four revisions in four months, on average every six weeks, but the latest is only 24 days after the previous edition. I have begun to sense, we may have turned a corner. The tone of the reports has changed over these four months, from, how long will it take us to reach the “Program of Record” (POR), to consideration of, if we should perhaps go beyond the POR.
The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following:
“whether to fund the acquisition of a 10th NSC in FY2017;
“whether to fund the acquisition of four FRCs in FY2017, as requested, or some other number, such as six, which was the number projected for FY2017 under the Coast Guard’s FY2016 budget submission;
“whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring FRCs;
“whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
“planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCS, and FRCs;
“the cost, design, and acquisition strategy for the OPC;
“initial testing of the NSC; and
“rotational crewing of the NSC.”
The latest revision includes three substantial Appendices:
- Appendix A. Planned NSC, OPC, and FRC Procurement Quantities (pp 17-22)
- Appendix B. Funding Levels in AC&I Account (pp 23-26)
- Appendix C. Additional Information on Status and Execution of NSC, OPC, and FRC Programs from March 2016 GAO Report (pp 27-34)
Appendix C is entirely new and appears to have been the reason for the revision.
Appendix A (p. 17-22) is a fairly detailed discussion of the results of the Fleet Mix Study and asks why we so seldom hear that the program of record is not enough to assure the Coast Guard to successfully accomplish its assigned missions.
The Fleet Mix Study was made public in 2012 long after its completion in 2009. It is due for a reexamination and the Commandant has said another will be done. When that happens, we seriously need to look at more than just more of the same assets. We need to look at additional technology, equipment, and weapons that might allow us to accomplish these missions without a major increase in personnel.
Looking at “Table A-3. Force Mixes and Mission Performance Gaps” (document page 18) I would note that if we get to Fleet Mix Analysis Phase 1 (FMA-1, an increase over the POR including 9 Bertholf class NSCs, 32 OPCs and 63 Webber Class FRCs, for a total of 104 vessels), we will have addressed all the “Very High Risk Gaps” found in the Fleet Mix Study that included SAR capability, “Defense Readiness Capacity,” and “Counter Drug capacity.” What will remain are “High” or lower risks in Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) and Living Marine Resources (LMR), and a low to very low risk to the Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations (AMIO) mission. This total of more than 40 NSCs and OPCs certainly should not be out of the question, after all the Coast Guard has included over 40 ships larger than a thousand tons for the last several decades.
Still, I would note that, no matter how many ships we have, the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) mission will always be at risk, unless weapons are available to quickly and reliably stop terrorists’ exploitation of a larger merchant vessel to make an attack. Guns alone are simply not up to the task. I have identified two weapons that might address this threat, (1) equipping our WPCs and possibly WPBs with light weight torpedoes that target a ships propellers or (2) equipping our larger ships with the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) which might allow our larger cutter to effectively support our smaller cutters and respond to an attack, even if the large cutter 200 miles from the targeted port. Either would also make our ships much more capable of making a meaningful contribution to Defense Readiness.