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Report to Congress U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Procurement

The following is the Oct. 26, 2018 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress.

The Coast Guard’s acquisition program of record (POR) 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 FY2019 budget requests a total of $705 million in acquisition funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $682 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2018 has funded 11 NSCs, including two (the 10th and 11th) in FY2018. Six NSCs are now in service, and the seventh, eighth, and ninth are scheduled for delivery in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $65 million in acquisition funding for the NSC program; this request does not include additional funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, 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 program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $391 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard announced that it was awarding a contract with options for building up to nine ships in the class to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $400 million in acquisition funding for the OPC program for the construction of the second OPC (which is scheduled for delivery in 2022) and procurement of long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third OPC (which is scheduled for delivery in 2023).

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 $58 million per boat. A total of 50 have been funded through FY2018. The 28th was commissioned into service on July 25, 2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $240 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of four more FRCs.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following:

  • whether to fully or partially fund the acquisition of a 12th NSC in FY2019;
  • whether to fund the acquisition of four FRCs in FY2019, as requested, or some other number, such as six, which is the maximum number that has been acquired in some prior fiscal years;
  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
  • the procurement rate for the OPC program;
  • the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs;
  • planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs; and
  • initial testing of the NSC.

Congress’s decisions on these programs could substantially affect Coast Guard capabilities and ts, and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base.

  • Curtis Conway

    The US Coast Guard is one of the United States greatest outreach organizations as an agent of good will. Congress should fund the twelfth NSC, get the Polar Security Cutter Program on record and fully fund it, and set the stage for a larger OPC inventory. Some of the Operational Budget and some shipbuilding funds can move to US Coast Guard shipbuilding programs, and the Coast Guard can grow several thousand more to handle a greater ‘Presence’ (Show-the-Flag) mission set, as they work more closely with the COCOM and regional powers with which we have Bilateral Agreements for anti-drug & human trafficking, anti-piracy cooperation, and fisheries management operations. We should capitalize upon that, and grow that force as the US Navy fleets grows more slowly and methodically into the solid force it must be. This approach to ‘Presence’ will buy us time, meet the need, and provide an additional avenue to communicate Americas intentions around the globe.

    • PolicyWonk

      If there is a production line that delivers real value to the taxpayers, the HII NSC production line makes far more sense than either the LockMart or Austal LCS lines. The USCG got it right with the Legend class, which has proven itself durable and seaworthy.
      The NSC delivers a lot of value for the money, while being ideal for conducting the “show the flag” and “presence” missions you describe.

      I’d prefer to see the USCG’s budget doubled, given the breadth and depth of the missions they have had in the past. After 9/11, however, that mission set has increased while the budget for all intensive purposes has not. And you are correct, in that the Polar Security Cutter program should be funded in entirety, as quickly as possible, in addition (perhaps) to having some percentage of new NSC’s sea-frames ice-hardened.

      • Torres

        The NSC is a turd and HII is just another defence contractor that does the bare minimum, they are not special out deserve any more credit for that problem riddled platform than annoy other shipyard would have gotten.

        • Kypros

          Why is it a turd?

      • Torres

        Obvious HII shill.