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.





CCGS Louis S. St-Laurent alongside USCGC Healy

Baird Maritime reports Quebec shipbuilder Chantier Davie Canada has been awarded a contract to complete a service life extension program on Canada’s largest, most powerful, and oldest icebreaker, CCGS Louis S St-Laurent.

This ship entered service in 1969, about six and a half years earlier than Polar Star. Reportedly the modifications will be conducted in three phases in 2022,2024, and 2027.

The Canadian Coast Guard rates the ship a heavy icebreaker, but by current USCG standards, she is a medium icebreaker. Her size, power (27,000 HP), diesel electric propulsion, and large lab spaces, make her more similar to Healy than to the Polar Star.

The ship has already been extensively modified. In a major refit 1987-1992 the hull was lengthened about 24 feet. A new bow was fitted and her original steam turbines were replaced with diesels. A bubbler system was added and a new hangar forward of the flight deck replaced the previous below deck hangar and elevator system.

The ship has a crew of only 46 but accommodations for 216.

In 2008, a program was initiated to replace the St-Laurent with a 2017 expected in service date for the new icebreaker. After a series of delays and false starts new Polar Icebreakers are not now expected until 2030 (at least).

I wonder if perhaps the Canadian Coast Guard will attempt to keep the St-Laurent in service until their second polar icebreaker is completed, much as the USCG intends to keep Polar Star in service until the second Polar Security Cutter is delivered.

Polar Security Cutter Command and Control

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.

I just received my February/March issue of “The Bulletin,” the Coast Guard Academy Alumni Association magazine. It has a good article on the Polar Security Cutter, “The Future is Upon Us,” pages 48-54, by LCdr David Radin, class of 2009.

Unfortunately there are a lot of readers who might be interested in this that don’t have access to the magazine.

Most of it was information I had seen elsewhere, but there was a short paragraph headed “Modern C2” that had some information that was new to me, so I am reproducing it below.

“To meet the modern mission demands, PSC  will be equipped with a highly capable Command and Control (C2) suite for full fleet integration. Additionally, PSC will feature the capability for oceanographic operations, a unique capability for the Coast Guard. This capability far exceeds POLAR STAR’s and comes in the form of a robust sonar suite, over 2000 square feet of reconfigurable science space and room for up to nine 20-foot portable scientific vans, an impressive load-out for science focused missions. This capability is critical for the United States to assert  and enforce legal authority over the increasingly accessible northern edge of the exclusive economic zone.”

These are very large ships with relatively small crews (accommodations for 136 permanent crew and up to 50 additional persons). It looks like we are building in flexibility for the future. That should prove a wise decision.

“Commandant Names Future Polar Security Cutter ‘Polar Sentinel’ ” –Seapower

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 on-line edition of the Navy League’s magazine “Seapower” provides another report on the Commandant’s State of the Coast Guard speech.

This post has emphasis on the shipbuilding program.

Looks like the Coast Guard is becoming frustrated with the delays in the Polar Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter programs. I have to wonder how this will affect the award of the second phase of the OPC program.

“Schultz: U.S. Coast Guard in ‘Prolific’ Shipbuilding Period” –USNI

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

The US Naval Institute reports on the Commandant’s remarks at the Surface Navy Association Symposium.

There did not seem to be any surprises. The Commandant’s messaging has been very consistent. He did spend some time discussing the Coast Guard growing role in international affairs.

“Well, I think we really play a key role in shaping the diction of global maritime security, global maritime safety, and I suspect navies around the world are recognizing that the language and purpose of coast guards are well supported to their interests and their sovereign interests. And that’s why we’re adapting our operations abroad,” Schultz said.

There was discussion about the recapitalization of the fleet, which the Commandant called the Coast Guard’s “largest shipbuilding period since World War II.” The cost of the contracts has been unprecedented and the 34 year time span from acceptance of the “Program of Record” in 2004 until its projected completion in 2038 must be some kind of record. The FRC program has certainly been a success, but aside from them, we have only delivered the nine National Security Cutters in the almost fourteen years since Bertholf was commissioned. This does not look that intense compared to the nine-year period from 1964 to 1972 when the Coast Guard commissioned 28 major ships–12 WHEC378s and 16 WMEC210s–along with 35 WPBs.

By the time we expect to get the last OPC, the first NSC will be 30 years old. We need to change our mind set and that of Congress. If we are to maintain a fleet of 72 major ships, i.e. 36 Offshore Patrol Vessels, six icebreakers, and 30 seagoing and coastal buoy tenders, and I don’t think that is really enough, and we are to replace them in a timely fashion, building two ships a year needs to be the norm, not the exception.

We are not building at a high tempo; if anything, we are building too slow.


USCGC CLARENCE SUTPHIN (WPC 1147) is the sixth and final Webber class FRC planned for assignment to PATFORSWA, Manama, Bahrain.

Below is a news release from Bollinger Shipyards, 

LOCKPORT, La., — January 6, 2021 – Bollinger Shipyards LLC (“Bollinger”) has delivered the USCGC CLARENCE SUTPHIN to the U.S. Coast Guard in Key West, Florida. This is the 170th vessel Bollinger has delivered to the U.S. Coast Guard over a 35-year period and the 47th Fast Response Cutter (“FRC”) delivered under the current program.

The USCGC CLARENCE SUTPHIN is the final of six FRCs to be home-ported in Manama, Bahrain, which will replace the aging 110’ Island Class Patrol Boats, built by Bollinger Shipyards 30 years ago, supporting the Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), the U.S. Coast Guard’s largest overseas presence outside the United States.

“Ensuring that the brave men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard have the most state-of-the-art, advanced vessels as they work to build and maintain the necessary regional alliances to ensure maritime security in the region is a top priority,” said Bollinger President & C.E.O. Ben Bordelon. “Bollinger is proud to continue enhancing and supporting the U.S. Coast Guard’s operational presence in the Middle East and ensuring it remains the preferred partner around the world.”

Earlier this year at the commissioning ceremony of the USCGC CHARLES MOULTHROPE, U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Karl Schultz lauded the “enhanced seakeeping” capabilities of the PATFORSWA-bound FRCs, saying “these ships are truly going to be game changing in their new theater of operations” and “offer increased opportunities for integrated joint operations with our Navy and Marine Corps colleagues” as the Coast Guard seeks to be part of the whole-of-government solution set in the region.

PATFORSWA is composed of six cutters, shoreside support personnel, and the Maritime Engagement Team. The unit’s mission is to train, organize, equip, support and deploy combat-ready Coast Guard Forces in support of U.S. Central Command and national security objectives. PATFORSWA works with Naval Forces Central Command in furthering their goals to conduct persistent maritime operations to forward U.S. interests, deter and counter disruptive countries, defeat violent extremism and strengthen partner nations’ maritime capabilities in order to promote a secure maritime environment.

Each FRC is named for an enlisted Coast Guard hero who distinguished themselves in the line of duty. Clarence Sutphin, Boatswain Mate First Class, USCG, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for his courageous actions during the invasion of Saipan Island in 1944. His citation reads: “For heroic achievement in action against enemy Japanese forces during the invasion of Saipan, Marianas Islands, on June 15 and 16, 1944.  Swimming with a line through heavy surf to a tank lighter stranded on a reef, SUTPHIN remained aboard under mortar and artillery fire until the boat was salvaged.  Returning to the beach, he aided in salvaging another tank lighter under enemy fire and, when a mortar shell struck a group of eight Marines, promptly treated the wounded and moved them to a first aid station.  His courage and grave concern for the safety of others reflects the highest credit upon SUTPHIN and the United States Naval Service.”

About the Fast Response Cutter Platform

The FRC is an operational “game changer,” according to senior Coast Guard officials. FRCs are consistently being deployed in support of the full range of missions within the United States Coast Guard and other branches of our armed services.  This is due to its exceptional performance, expanded operational reach and capabilities, and ability to transform and adapt to the mission. FRCs have conducted operations as far as the Marshall Islands—a 4,400 nautical mile trip from their homeport. Measuring in at 154-feet, FRCs have a flank speed of 28 knots, state of the art C4ISR suite (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance), and stern launch and recovery ramp for a 26-foot, over-the-horizon interceptor cutter boat.

About Bollinger Shipyards LLC

Bollinger Shipyards LLC (www.bollingershipyards.com) has a 75-year legacy as a leading designer and builder of high performance military patrol boats and salvage vessels, research vessels, ocean-going double hull barges, offshore oil field support vessels, tugboats, rigs, lift boats, inland waterways push boats, barges, and other steel and aluminum products from its new construction shipyards as part of the U. S. maritime defense industrial base. Bollinger has 11 shipyards, all strategically located throughout Louisiana with direct access to the Gulf of Mexico, Mississippi River and the Intracoastal Waterway. Bollinger is the largest vessel repair company in the Gulf of Mexico region.

“Naval shipyard Tandanor to build new icebreaker for Argentina” –Navy Recognition

Artist rendering of the future icebreaker for Argentinian Navy (Picture source: Argentinian MoD)

Navy Recognition reports, state owned “Tandanor Naval Shipyard will proceed to the construction of a polar ship for the Argentinian Navy.”

“The new polar ship will have a length of 131,5 m, a beam of 23,6 m, and could reach a top speed of 16 knots.”

That is 431’4″ long and 77’5″ of beam.

Argentina is moving to strengthen their claim on territory in Antarctica.

In 2015 they completed repairs on their only icebreaker which had suffered a serious fire in 2007.

In 2019 Argentina contracted for four Offshore Patrol Vessels, three of which were to be ice-strengthened. Two of the ice-strengthened OPVs have already been delivered and the third should be delivered this year.

Argentina’s claim on Antarctica overlaps those of the UK and Chile.


Contract Option for Second Polar Security Exercised

DOD reports a contract option for design and construction of the Second Polar Security Cutter has been exercised. Notably this is a Navy contract. Completion expected Sept. 2026.

VT Halter Marine Inc., Pascagoula, Mississippi, is awarded a $552,654,757 fixed-price incentive modification to previously awarded contract N00024-16-C-2210 to exercise an option for the detail design and construction of the second Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter. Work will be performed in Pascagoula, Mississippi (61%); Metairie, Louisiana (12%); New Orleans, Louisiana (12%); San Diego, California (4%); Mossville, Illinois (4%); Mobile, Alabama (2%); Boca Raton, Florida (2%); and other locations (3%), and is expected to be completed by September 2026. Fiscal 2021 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of 485,129,919 (80%); fiscal 2020 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of $100,000,000 (17%); and fiscal 2019 procurement, construction, and improvement (Coast Guard) funds in the amount of $20,000,000 (3%) will be obligated at time of award and will not expire at the end of the current fiscal year. The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C., is the contracting activity.

Thanks to Paul for bringing this to my attention.

“First Images Of New Inlay Class Warship For Myanmar Navy” –Covert Shores

Myanmar UMS Inlay (54), 12 March 2018, Indian Navy Photo

Covert Shores reports sighting of a second Inlay class, a locally built offshore patrol vessel. This prompted a look at this class and the Myanmar Navy, which turns out to be surprisingly strong, with an apparently capable domestic shipbuilding capability.

Myanmar seems to have been in the news a lot lately, and it has not been “good news.” Like many other nations in Asia, particularly SE Asia, they have been building Offshore Patrol Vessels. Reportedly the Myanmar Coast Guard was established only months ago, in Oct. 2021, but it appears these OPVs will serve with their Navy. Myanmar Coast Guard floating units appear to be limited to four very old patrol boats.

Reportedly these Inlay class Offshore Patrol Vessels displace 1500 tons, but I suspect that is not their full load displacement. They are similar in size to the 1.800 ton 270 foot WMECs, slightly shorter, 265’9′ (81 meters vs 82.3) and a bit broader of beam (41′ vs 38’/12.5 vs 11.6 meters). Speed is essentially the same at 20 knots. The bridge does seem surprisingly large.

Reportedly the Myanmar vessels can hangar a Eurocopter AS365 Dauphin, that is essential the same as an H-65. Also, reportedly there is a launch ramp for a RIB in the stern. There might be a boat davit on the starboard side, but I have not seen a good photo of the starboard side. There is a large opening on the starboard side superstructure aft, that mirrors the one visible on the port side.

Apparently, the weapon forward of the bridge is a Soviet era twin 57mm. The weapon might be ancient, but it is probably still very effective at short ranges.

The Myanmar Navy is more impressive than I would have expected, and many of their ships are built locally. As noted in the headline post, they just got their second submarine, one Russian built via India and now one from China. They have a 12,400 ton S. Korean built LPD. They are building their fourth domestically built frigate, to add to two overage Chinese built frigates. They have three domestically built 1,100 ton corvettes. They have twenty vessels similar in size to the Webber class but much more heavily armed, including five armed with Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, and two slightly larger, 500 ton Fast Attack Craft also armed with ASCMs. These are in addition to six older Chinese built Houxin class missile boats.

All total, they appear to have 21 surface combatants armed with Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles, primarily the Chinese made C-802, which is roughly equivalent to the US made Harpoon.

Myanmar has also begun to build 600 ton, 63 meter, high speed “sub chasers” to replace eight, now overage, Chinese built Hainan class. The new ships are equipped with the same twin 57mm mount that also equips the new OPVs.


Old Fleet vs New Fleet, by the Ton, Revisited

USCGC Gallatin WHEC -721 (378), USCGC Rockaway WHEC-377 (311), and USCGC Spencer WHEC-36 (327) moored at Governor’s Island, New York

Back in 2012, I did a little comparison between the Cutter Acquisition Program of Record and the Fleet it would nominally replace. Full replacement is still many years away (about 2038), but we do know a lot more now, than we did at that time, so here is an update.

The Benchmark Fleet: The fleet of 2000/2001 looked like this (displacement in tons full load, comparing only the larger patrol vessels):

Class       Displacement x Number = Total Displacement
378s          3050 tons      x      12    =     36,600 tons
270s          1780 tons      x      13     =    23,140 tons
210s          1050 tons       x      16    =    16,800 tons
Alex Haley 2929 tons     x         1     =      2,929 tons
Storis         1916 tons     x         1     =      1,916 tons
Acushnet   1746 tons     x         1     =      1,746 tons
110s            155 tons     x        49     =      7,595 tons

Total                                     93 vessels, 90,726 tons

(Three 180 foot WLBs of about 1,000 tons each, that had been converted to WMECs were also decommissioned about this time.)

The Fleet Today: Threre are perhaps as many as 27 Island class WPBs still in commission. At least 22 of the original 49 are no longer in USCG service. There are probably considerably fewer than 27 active USCG Island class. I would guess about 19 remain.

Looking only at the Webber class and larger cutters:

Class       Displacement x Number = Total Displacement
NSC          4500 tons       x        8      =  36,000 tons
270s          1780 tons       x      13      =  23,140 tons
210s          1050 tons       x      14      =  14,700 tons
Alex Haley 2929 tons       x       1       =    2,929 tons
FRC             353 tons       x      45      =  15,885 tons

Total                                     81 vessels, 92,654 tons

To this we might add however many 110s are still available, reportedly 15 vessels totaling 2,325 tons, so 96 vessels, 94,979 tons.

We are down to 36 large patrol cutters (=>1,000 tons full load), the same number expected to make up the future fleet, but they are individually less capable, and fewer than the 40 plus the Coast Guard has historically generally employed since WWII.

Looking back at my old Janes Fighting Ships and Combat Fleets of the World, the number of large patrol cutters were: 44 (82/83), 48 (86/87), 48 (90/91), 44 (2000/01), 39 (2013).

Fortunately, the Webber class have proven capable of performing some missions that previously would have been performed by larger cutters.

The Future Fleet (2038): 

Class       Displacement x Number = Total Displacement

NSC        4500 tons      x    11       =       49,500 tons
OPC        4500 tons      x    25       =     112,500 tons
FRC           353 tons      x   64       =       22,592 tons

Total                                  100 vessels, 184,592 tons


We will end up with more ships if the current plan is completed. In 2012 I expected the total displacement of the replacement fleet would exceed the displacement of the benchmark fleet by 34.44%, instead it is up an additional 65,618 tons, more than doubling displacement of the fleet in 2000. Only 15,618 tons of the increase was due to the three additional NSCs and six additional FRCs. Most of the increase was due to the surprisingly high displacement of the OPCs.

The large cutters (NSCs and OPCs) will be much more capable than those they replace, particularly compared to the 210s. They will handle rough weather better. Crews will be more comfortable and better rested, which can translate into better performance. In most respects, not only the NSCs, but also the OPCs, are more capable than the 378s.

The larger, more capable cutters will require larger, more expensive support facilities, more dock space, deeper berths, and larger dry docks for maintenance.

We have seen a tendency to base groups of the same class ships together. We will see fewer instances of ports with only one cutter homeported there. Fewer ports will be home to large cutters.

The fleet will still be much smaller than the last Fleet Mix analysis indicated it needed to be, to meet all the Coast Guard’s statutory obligations. Those obligations still seem to be growing.

36 ships, no matter how capable, are still only 36 ships. I still see a need for Cutter X, a simple but seaworthy ship of 1,500 to 2,500 tons that can be procured in quantity.