Contract Award for the Fourth Offshore Patrol Cutter

Photo: Rendering of the future USCGC RUSH (WMSM 918) provided by Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. Click on the photo for a better view. 

Below is a press release from Eastern Shipbuilding Group. To review the situation, the Coast Guard is expected to make a decision in the near future regarding the award of the next batch of Offshore Patrol Cutters. Eastern is one of the competitors.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

         April 26, 2022

Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. Announces Construction of the U.S. Coast Guard’s Fourth Offshore Patrol Cutter

PANAMA CITY, FL – Today, Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG) announced the U.S. Coast Guard has awarded a contract to begin construction of the fourth Heritage Class offshore patrol cutter (OPC), the future USCGC RUSH (WMSM 918).

The OPC will form the backbone of the service’s future fleet around the globe. ESG has worked hard to earn this opportunity and is honored to be chosen to perform this important work for the United States. ESG, in collaboration with its partners, produced the winning design of the OPC and was awarded detail design and construction of the first hulls in 2016. The new OPC designs reflect cutting-edge technology and will replace the service’s 270-foot and 210-foot medium endurance cutters, which are becoming increasingly expensive to maintain and operate.

“This follow-on award signifies the OPC team and our partners continue to provide quality craftsmanship and unparalleled service. We have a focused vision to support the OPC Program with shipbuilding excellence and provide the country with a long-term industrial capability that can produce exceptional vessels that support national security interests,” said Joey D’Isernia, President of Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc.

As prime contractor, ESG has successfully achieved program goals and mitigated the impacts of COVID-19 and current supply chain challenges. It expects to christen the first vessel this year, is nearly halfway through completion of the second vessel, and will host the keel authentication of the third OPC in a few weeks. The pace of production accelerates with each vessel that comes online.

“We utilized state of the market technology, design, and construction methodologies to offer a more capable vessel than legacy assets currently in service. The innovations built into the OPCs were designed for sustainability and endurance and come from the ingenuity of the best engineers and manufacturers in the world. We thank the hundreds of partners and employees in the thirty-four states supporting us in this effort,” continued D’Isernia.

Construction is taking place at ESG’s Nelson Street Shipyard in Panama City, Florida, a facility that is optimized for multi-hull construction of the Offshore Patrol Cutter and dedicated to supporting the U.S. Coast Guard.

ESG survived the third largest U.S. hurricane in 2018 and has fully rebuilt its operational facilities. The company made many infrastructure investments from $50 million in state appropriations and economic development grants that benefit the OPC project with enhanced manufacturing capabilities and efficiencies that reduce cost and schedule risk. These infrastructure investments include an aluminum fabrication facility specifically designed to support full construction of the OPC aluminum superstructure in a covered and controlled environment. ESG has also completed launch way upgrades, upland bulkhead upgrades, construction platen expansions, and waterway deepening projects to further enhance ESG’s capability to launch and deliver two OPC sized vessels per year.

At its Allanton Shipyard, ESG has constructed a state-of-the-art C5ISR Production Facility to conduct testing and integration of navigation, communication, and command and control, equipment, and simulators on premises prior to final installation on the vessel.

“Coast Guard to host groundbreaking ceremony at Base Boston for Fast Response Cutter pier construction” –News Release

Below is a First District news release. This is good news for those hoping to see some new cutters in New England. We have known for a while that Webber class FRCs were going to Boston, but the surprise I see here is, “…$35 million recapitalization of current Coast Guard facilities at Base Boston and acquisition of six new Fast Response Cutters (emphasis applied–Chuck) at a cost of $380 million.”

This follows the pattern we have seen lately of these vessels being clustered, rather than being widely distributed in ones and two.

Base Boston (photo above) must certainly have much to recommend it, but as a high-cost area, it seems likely it will host no large patrol cutters in the future. It was once homeport to several High Endurance Cutters. Until recently, it hosted three WMEC270s, Escanaba, Seneca, and Spencer. All three have since moved to Portsmouth, VA. We already know the Coast Guard plans to base OPCs #5 and #6 in nearby Newport R.I. at the former US Navy base, where there had been no large cutters.

Wikipedia has a good list of Webber class WPCs and their homeports. It does not reflect the addition of two more ship to the program of record, FRCs #65 and #66, in the FY2022 budget, but it does list 64 named vessels and homeports for 50 cutters including two expected to be homeported in Boston, USCGC William Chadwick (WPC-1150) and USCGC Warren Deyampert (WPC-1151), expected to arrive in the second half of 2022. Homeports are not yet identified for 16 ships. Four of those are presumably going to Boston so where are the remaining 12 going? One is each is expected to go to Seward and Sitka. Two will go to Kodiak. That leaves eight. Some may be added to already identified homeports. One of the 50 identified includes the first ship going to St. Petersburg, FL. St. Pete will likely get at least two more. Assuming that is the case that leaves six. We also know that two will go to Astoria, Oregon. That leaves four. The recent addition of two was probably with the intention of stationing them in America Samoa. Two there would only leave two which might go to previously identified homeports, so we may not see any additional homeports added.

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 1st District Northeast

Media Advisory: Coast Guard to host groundbreaking ceremony at Base Boston for Fast Response Cutter pier construction

Editors’ Note: Media interested in attending are requested to RSVP at 617-717-9609 by 4 p.m., April 13, and should arrive no later than 9:45 a.m., Thursday.

FRC

BOSTON —The Coast Guard is scheduled to hold a media event for the Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter Homeport Groundbreaking Ceremony at Base Boston, Thursday.

WHO: Rear Adm. Thomas Allan, commander, Coast Guard First District, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, Congressman Stephen Lynch, and Mayor of Boston, Michelle Wu.

WHAT: Coast Guard Fast Response Cutter Homeport Groundbreaking Ceremony

WHEN: Thursday, April 14, 2022, at 10 a.m.

WHERE: Coast Guard Base Boston, 427 Commercial Street, Boston, MA 02109

This ceremony marks the starts of a large Coast Guard investment in the Northeast with a $35 million recapitalization of current Coast Guard facilities at Base Boston and acquisition of six new Fast Response Cutters at a cost of $380 million. The FRCs are the Coast Guard’s newest cutter class replacing the Legacy Island Class Patrol Boats and will operate throughout the Coast Guard’s First District from New York, to the Canadian border. 

These cutters are designed for missions including:

  • search and rescue
  • fisheries law enforcement
  • drug and migrant interdiction
  • port, waterways, and coastal security
  • national defense

In addition, the Coast Guard will increase personnel presence in the area with 222 new Coast Guard members to crew and maintain the cutters. These new crews are expected to have an annual economic impact of $45 million on the local economy. 

Mark Retiring Cruiser MK41 VLS and 5″/62 Mk45 Mod4s for Possible Future Installation on Cutters

151014-N-GR120-152
INDIAN OCEAN (Oct. 14, 2015) The guided-missile cruiser USS Normandy (CG 60) prepares to come along side for a fueling-at-sea with the aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71). Theodore Roosevelt is operating in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations as part of a worldwide deployment en route to their new home port in San Diego to complete a three-carrier homeport shift. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Anna Van Nuys/Released)

If we ever have another major conventional naval war, as appears increasingly likely, the Navy is going to need a lot more ships, including a lot more missile shooters. Defense News reports the Navy is considering how to add additional capability. The Navy is even considering putting missiles on cargo ships. As Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA, Cdr. USN, ret.) pointed out, a number of cruisers equipped with MK41 VLS are being retired. The 22 remaining cruisers each have 122 Mk41 vertical launch cells as well as two 5″/62 Mk45 Mod4 guns.

Five of the cruisers have been approved for decommissioning in the 2022 budget. It is likely the remaining 17 will follow in the next few years.

I suggest that some of these VLS sets be stored and earmarked as mobilization assets for possible future installation on the National Security Cutters (NSC) should the need arise. Studies have shown that the NSCs could accept up to 16 Mk41 VLS. These VLS might be recycled to the new Constellation (FFG-62) class too, but since the planned 20 ships will only use 640 VLS, it would only require seven cruisers to donate enough VLS to arm both 20 FFG and 11 National Security Cutters.

It should not be too difficult to integrate the Mk41 VLS on the National Security Cutters since their combat systems use Aegis software.

Potential Mk41 VLS weapons load outs for tactical and strike length launchers.

In addition, it might be wise to earmark the cruisers 5″/62 Mk45/Mod4 guns for possible upgrades for both National Security and Offshore Patrol Cutters as well.

The Navy’s entire Naval Gun Fire Support (NGFS) capability is about 114 Mk45 5″ guns on 22 cruisers with two guns each and about 70 DDGs with only one gun. By the time the cruisers are gone, we may have perhaps 80 DDGs. That means the loss of about 30% of the current capability. Equipping the 36 NSCs and OPCs with 5″/62 Mod4 guns from the retiring cruisers could entirely replace the lost capability and importantly provide it in ships that are not likely to be deployed out of position to provide NGFS because they are needed elsewhere to provide AAW protection.

To ensure we can make these changes quickly when needed, it might be prudent to equip at least one ship of each class as a prototype for future upgrades. Upgrading one ship of each class would probably cost less than one FFG and would provide a template for future upgrades if necessary. The OPC prototype might attempt something like I described here.

Since this is preparation for war, the prototypes and storage of the weapons could come from the Navy’s budget.

 

USCGC Harriet Lane Headed for Service Life Extension Program

USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC-903), March 17, 2009. US Coast Guard photo.

Below is an Atlantic Area news release. It is about a relatively routine patrol by USCGC Harriet Lane, but there is a bit of news here.

“The crew shifted gears upon return to homeport and met the next challenge of readying Harriet Lane for an important maintenance upgrade cycle…Following this patrol, the vessel will undergo a nine-month planned maintenance and upgrade period at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore.”

It is not apparent from the text of the news release, but apparently the cutter arrived in Curtis Bay to be SLEP on March 28. Got that from a photo caption. Sorry no idea when she returned to Portsmouth after the patrol or when she departed for the Yard.

—-Wish these news releases included departure and arrival dates—

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Harriet Lane arrives at the Coast Guard Yard for a service life extension in Baltimore, March 28, 2022. The cutter will remain in Baltimore without the crew for approximately nine months during the overhaul project.

It appears Harriet Lane will be the first of six WMEC-270s to undergo the Service Life Extension Program (SLEP) that will keep ships of the class in service until the Offshore Patrol Cutter construction program is expected to be completed in 2038.

“WMEC SLEP includes electrical system upgrades, remanufactured main diesel engines, structural renewal for stern tube and piping, and installation of a new gun weapon system supplied by the U.S. Navy. “

There are still some unanswered questions as to what will be included in the “upgrade.” We know they will loose the 76mm Mk75 gun, replaced by a 25mm Mk38, and presumably the M92 “mini-combat” firecontrol system that also provides the ships an airsearch capability that can be used for helicopter control. Will there be a replacement multi-mode radar? Will they get only one or perhaps two Mk38 guns? Will the ships retain their electronic warfare equipment that can be use in law-enforcement operations? Will they get an Unmanned Air System? Will there be changes to the aviation support equipment to better handle the larger MH-60, as it becomes the shipboard helo of choice? Maybe CG-9 will give us an update in the not too distant future.

Harriet Lane is one of the oldest 270s, commissioned in 1984. (The newest was commissioned in 1991.) She was one of four built by Tacoma Boatbuilding, before the program was switched to Robert Derecktor Shipyard, where the last nine were built. Will all four of the Tacoma Boat built cutters go through the program?

As I noted earlier, assuming the Mk38 gun will be on the bow, it probably should be mounted on a raised platform, with a breakwater, to better protect it from water coming over the bow. It would also allow the weapon to engage targets at closer range.

News Release

USCGC Harriet Lane returns home following 50-day patrol

USCGC Harriet Lane returns home following 50-day patrolUSCGC Harriet Lane returns home following 50-day patrol

USCGC Harriet Lane returns home following 50-day patrolUSCGC Harriet Lane returns home following 50-day patrolUSCGC Harriet Lane returns home following 50-day patrol

Editors’ Note: To view more or download high-resolution imagery, click on the photos above.

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — The crew of USCGC Harriet Lane (WMEC 903) returned to homeport in Portsmouth on Monday, following a 50-day patrol in the North Atlantic Ocean.

While on patrol, the Harriet Lane crew navigated over 6,559 miles along the southeastern coast of the United States, extending as far south as the northern coast of Cuba and east to The Bahamas, performing migrant interdiction and search and rescue operations in support of the U.S. Coast Guard Seventh District.

The Harriet Lane patrolled the Florida Straits to aid with a recent surge in unsafe and illegal migration by sea. The crew interdicted six unseaworthy vessels carrying approximately 467 individuals of Cuban or Haitian origin and cared for more than 520 migrants aboard the cutter during a four-week time span while awaiting logistics for repatriation.

The crew also assisted in two search and rescue cases after receiving notification of an individual stranded on Anguilla Cay, Bahamas and another case where several people were stranded in the water near Cuban territorial waters.

“I remain in awe of this steadfast crew. They answered the call on multiple occasions during our patrol, ensuring safety of life at sea while preventing illegal entry into the United States,” said Cmdr. Ben Goff, commanding officer of the Harriet Lane. “This mission can take an emotional toll, but our team stuck together and persevered through every challenge and adversity presented. The crew shifted gears upon return to homeport and met the next challenge of readying Harriet Lane for an important maintenance upgrade cycle with aplomb. We are forever grateful for the outstanding support we receive across the Coast Guard and from our loved ones at home. I’m looking forward to getting our crew well-earned downtime with friends and family.”

Following this patrol, the vessel will undergo a nine-month planned maintenance and upgrade period at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore.

The Harriet Lane is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter responsible for a variety of missions, including search and rescue, drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, other law enforcement and marine environmental protection.

The U.S. Coast Guard national security and medium endurance vessels homeported on the East Coast operate under the ultimate authority of the U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area commander located in Portsmouth, Virginia, overseeing all Coast Guard operations east of the Rocky Mountains to the Arabian Gulf.

“BEWARE BUYER’S REMORSE: WHY THE COAST GUARD NEEDS TO STEER CLEAR OF THE LCS” –CIMSEC

USS Freedom (LCS-1), decommissioned 29 Sept. 2021.

CIMSEC has a post, written by a serving USCG engineer, about why the Coast Guard should not take on the Navy’s unwanted Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). For this discussion, it may be important that you see the author’s qualifications.

“Lieutenant Joey O’Connell has served aboard two Coast Guard cutters as an engineer. He is currently a Medium Endurance Cutter (MEC) port engineer, planning and overseeing depot-level maintenance on the aging MEC fleet. He holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy and two masters degrees—one in naval architecture and the other in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “

It appears the author makes a convincing case, but I would add additional caveats.

The maximum range of the Freedom class, on their installed diesels, is about one third that of the Offshore Patrol Cutter and about half that of the over 50+ year old 210 foot Reliance class WMECs. That is totally unacceptable for typical Coast Guard operations.

The semiplaning hull required to allow the Freedom class to make its exceptionally high speed does not handle rough seas well. The resulting fatigue will limit the performance of the crew, and ship’s motion can preclude helicopter and boat operations in demanding environments. Earlier evaluation found that the OPC could conduct boat and helicopter operations in conditions when the LCS could not.

While the Freedom class have spacious aviation facilities, I have seen very little about their boat handling facilities and these are a cutter’s main armament for law enforcement. They might require extensive rework. Video from USS Fort Worth (LCS-3) below:

Why It Would Make Sense to Award Two OPC Contracts.

Artists rendering from Eastern Shipbuilding Group

The Navy League’s online magazine “Seapower” reports,

 Bollinger Shipyards submitted on March 18 its final proposal to the United States Coast Guard to build Stage 2 of the Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutter program. If chosen, Bollinger would construct and deliver a total of 11 vessels to the U.S. Coast Guard over the next decade, helping to sustain the Bollinger workforce through 2031.

It is obviously a Bollinger press release, talking about how much good it would do for the local economy, but it does occur to me…

If we have two truly competitive bids, this could be an opportunity to have two shipyards building Offshore Patrol Cutters.

The program is already too long delayed. The phase II contract proposals are likely to be very competitive. In March 2020, contracts for industry studies were awarded to nine different yards.

  • Austal USA of Mobile, AL
  • General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works (GD/BIW) of Bath, ME
  • Bollinger Shipyards Lockport of Lockport, LA
  • Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) of Panama City, FL
  • Fincantieri Marinette Marine (F/MM) of Marinette, WS
  • General Dynamics/National Steel and Shipbuilding Company (GD/NASSCO) of San Diego, CA
  • Huntington Ingalls Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding (HII/Ingalls) of Pascagoula, MS
  • Philly Shipyard of Philadelphia, PA
  • VT Halter Marine Inc. of Pascagoula, MS

I know at least three yards, Eastern, Huntington Ingalls and Bollinger, and probably more, are submitting proposals for building first a single OPCs with options to build ten more. With Eastern already building the first four, this gives the Coast Guard the opportunity to contract for the remaining 21 ships based on the bids that will be received this year.

We could have the entire program completed by 2032 instead of 2038 and avoid the complication of a probably much less competitive phase III competition to build the last ten ships. Six years earlier completion would also probably allow us to avoid the expense of the life extension program planned for six of the WMEC 270s.

It would cost more in those years but this project really should have been funded ten to twenty years ago. It would be a big plus up for the PC&I budget but only a few percent increase compared to the Coast Guard’s total budget, small compared to the DHS budget and microscopic to the entire federal budget. It would align with the national objective of growing our naval shipbuilding capabilities, and further stimulate the economy. It might not be too hard to get Congressional support.

It would also provide a hedge against a natural disaster further delaying construction.

 

 

 

“State of the Coast Guard 2022” (Updated)

Vice Adm. Karl L. Schultz, commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area, speaks at the Coast Guard Cutter Benjamin Dailey commissioning ceremony in Pascagoula, Miss. Coast Guard Photo

ADM K.L Schultz delivered his “State of the Coast Guard 2022” at Air Station Clearwater, today, 24 February 2022.

You can read the prepared speech here.

There is an awful lot in the 13 pages. Much of it deals with how the Coast Guard hopes to provide a better life for its members and their families. I will not attempt to summarize. I will mention a couple of revelations that I think may be new.

Three FRCs will be homeported in Tampa Bay with Sector Saint Petersburg. This will bring the final number of FRCs in the 7th District up to at least 23. We repeatedly see these little ships doing fisheries and drug and migrant interdiction missions in the waters off Florida, the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean that would have previously been performed by WMECs. This frees the larger cutters to perform missions in more demanding environments.

We have seen a growing tendency to group long range assets. Apparently, this will continue.

We’re developing geographic centers of gravity, creating more Coast Guard hubs like Portsmouth and Alameda… These new or improved operating hubs will be in  Charleston, Seattle, Pensacola, Los Angeles, and Newport, Rhode Island… These operating hubs will allow us to better support our operational assets, and to further support the geographic stability of our workforce.

To some extent these centers of gravity exploit infrastructure built by the Navy but now considered excess. This applies to at least Charleston, Pensacola, and Newport.

These “centers of gravity” suggests expansion or creation of additional Support Centers. It may also suggest where Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) will be homeported. We already know at least two OPCs each are going to San Pedro (Los Angeles), Kodiak, and Newport. Alameda already has four National Security Cutters (NSC) and Charleston will have five when all are completed. Seattle will most certainly be the homeport for three Polar Security Cutters. This suggest that at least Portsmouth, Pensacola, Los Angeles, and Newport will host large numbers of OPCs, perhaps as many as six. If that were to be the case, it would mean 14 large patrol cutters in Pacific Area (6 NSCs and 8 OPCs) and 22 in Atlantic Area (5 NSCs and 17 OPCs).

That would be close to the historic split of resources, but recent developments, including the success of the FRCs and IUU concerns in the Pacific, suggest we may have more large ships in the Pacific, perhaps a third OPC in Kodiak and up to three in Seattle or more likely Honolulu. That would make the split 18 in PAC Area and 18 in LANT Area.

(Updated: Corrected number of NSCs in each area.)

“USCG Provides Information on OPCs’ Speed and Machine Gun Armament” by Peter Ong

Comments on an earlier post here, “Updated: “U.S. Coast Guard Provides Information On The Offshore Patrol Cutter” –Naval News” prompted friend and journalist Peter Ong, author of the referenced Naval News story, to enquire further. Results below: 


The comments posted on Chuck Hill’s CG Blog in response to my story published 13 January 2022 on Naval News about the U.S. Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) had a running discussion as to the maximum speed of the OPCs and how many .50 caliber M2HB heavy machine gun mounts the OPCs will be outfitted with.

Some commentators believe that the OPCs can sail faster than 22.5 knots, which according to specifications is the sustained speed of the OPCs.  Furthermore, the number of .50 caliber (12.7mm) M2HB mounts is relatively unknown with some believing that the mounts will be a mixture of remote weapons stations and handheld crew-served pedestal mounts.  (The OPCs are armed with a Mark 110 57mm turret cannon at the bow and a Mark 38 MOD 3 with 7.62mm coaxial chaingun over the hangar).

I inquired to the U.S. Coast Guard’s Public Affairs Department seeking more information on the maximum OPC’s speed and the quantity of small caliber weapon mounts.  Brian Olexy, Communications Manager with the U.S. Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate, replied via email at the end of January 2022.

Question: Some believe that the OPC’s maximum sprint speed, or emergency Flank Speed, is more than 22.5 knots as rated by the specifications.  Can the USCG settle this dispute and provide the maximum “all engines at 100% or more” speed that the OPCs can safely sail at?

Brian: “The contract requires the [Offshore Patrol] cutter to be capable of maintaining a sustained speed through the water of 22 knots in full load condition at delivery.  Sustained speed is not “flank speed,” but rather the speed that the cutter can maintain in trial conditions. While the cutter design is required to meet the capability requirement of 22 knot sustained speed, the Coast Guard expects to obtain greater clarity on the actual speed range of the vessel during pre-acceptance sea trials.”

Question: How many 7.62mm M240 or 12.7mm M2HB mounts will the OPCs have in total?

Brian: “Final armament of the cutter will not be determined until the Coast Guard takes delivery, but the cutter has been designed with six different small caliber weapon mounts.”

Thanks to Peter for the follow-up.

Updated: “U.S. Coast Guard Provides Information On The Offshore Patrol Cutter” –Naval News

OPC “Placemat,” Notice planned delivery has slipped considerably from 2021 to 2023. 

Naval News and writer Peter Ong bring us an update on the status of the Offshore Patrol Cutter Program.

I did not see any particular surprises, but there may be a hint of how the 30mm Mk38 Mod4 is viewed in this question and answer.

Naval News: Will the Mark 38 MOD2 be changed out now that the US Navy is planning for Mark 38 MOD4s with 30mm?

Brian Olexy: The OPC program includes each cutter receiving one MK 38 MOD 3 with 7.62 mm co-axial gun. There is no plan at this time to change to a MK 38 MOD 4d for UAS operations. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

My immediate reaction was–what did the gun have to do with UAS operations? There was nothing about UAS in the question. Then I recognized a possible connection. The 30mm has a demonstrated counter-UAS capability using air burst ammunition that the 25mm does not have. The response may reflect the author’s comments that were not recounted in the post, or it may be that the Coast Guard has recognized the use of the 30mm as a counter UAS weapon.


UPDATE: I was contacted by the author and informed that an error had occurred in the publication of his story and that the correct quotation included no reference to UAS. It should have read.

7. Will the Mark 38 MOD2 be changed out now that the US Navy is planning for Mark 38 MOD4s with 30mm?

A. The OPC program includes each cutter receiving one MK 38 MOD 3 with 7.62 mm co-axial gun. There is no plan at this time to change to a MK 38 MOD 4. 

“Delivery Of The U.S. Coast Guard’s New Heavy Icebreaker Has Been Delayed Yet Again” –The Drive

Photo of a model of Halter Marine’s Polar Security Cutter seen at Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Exhibition have surfaced. Photo credit Chris Cavas.

The Drive/The Warzone reports that the delivery of the first Polar Security Cutter (PSC) has been pushed back to 2025. As recently as October, delivery was expected in 2024. This raises questions about why this is happening, and will Polar Star be able to continue to meet at least our minimum icebreaker requirements? In fact, the plan was to retain Polar Star until the second PSC was completed.

The article points to the decision to use the proposed Polarstern II as a basis for the design, when that ship was in fact never completed and the maturity of its design remains unclear.

More to the point, for whatever reason, the Coast Guard once more, waited too long to start a complex replacement program, and as a result, has risked creation of a capability gap.

The OPC program, poster child for this tendency, was repeatedly delayed. From the CRS report on cutter procurement,

“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 program—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 know, from recent experience, that our ships may be able to continue functioning effectively, if perhaps not economically or reliably, when over 40 years old, but to base plans on an assumption that replacement can be delayed until they well passed 40 years old is irresponsible–and we are still doing it, by not advocating acceleration of the OPC build rate.

To Lee and Walter who pestered me about this after I initially failed to recognize the significance of the post, Thanks.