Adm. Karl Schultz, the Coast Guard Commandant, said on Wednesday the service will announce a production award for the first Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) this week and is working its way to develop new Waterway Commerce Cutters.
The Coast Guard is planning to procure 25 360-foot OPCs to replace the 27 legacy medium endurance cutters. The OPCs will feature shipboard-launched unmanned aircraft systems, an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter, and will be over-the-horizon vessels.
In August, Schultz said the OPC production contract would be awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding, with the company expected to start cutting steel for the ships in late September or early October. In September 2017 the company won a $41.7 million contract for the long-lead mnaterials of the first ship (Defense Daily, Aug. 1).
The Coast Guard expects the first OPC to be on the water in 2021.
Speaking to the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Schultz added the new awards incoming this week will also cover long-lead materials for the second vessel.
The commandant also reiterated that he feels positive about the process for the new icebreaker program, dubbed the Polar Security Cutters (PSCs).
“I believe we are in a good place," he said. "The technical inputs have come in here in August. We’re looking at those cost inputs - will come in November. This is an ongoing dialogue because it’s a void there for decades when we haven’t built this kind of ship. We need to continually enhance our knowledge.”
Schultz said the service welcomes interest from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after its recent report pegged the lifecycle costs of three heavy polar icebreakers at $9.8 billion and said the program includes several risks.
The September report includes acquisition, operations and maintenance of the icebreakers over a 30-year service life. The icebreraker program is being managed by an integrated Coast Guard-Navy team and the GAO said the Navy expects the first PSC detail design and construction contract to be awarded in the third quarter of FY 2019, with work to start in June 2019 (Defense Daily, Sept. 4).
The Coast Guard only has one heavy and one medium polar icebreakers, but has a requirement for three of each. The currenty heavy icebreaker, the Polar Star, is near the end of its expected service life through 2020-2023. The Coast Guard is planning to extend the ship’s life through 2025-2026 when the second new heavy icebreaker is expected to be delivered, the GAO report said.
Schultz acknowledged a 2023 timeframe for the new heavy icebreaker is aggressive but pointed out that his predecessor, Adm. Paul Zukunft, said the service is behind in icebreakers.
The commandant also updated the subcommittee on the status of developing new vessels to replace the particularly old inland waterways and western river tenders, called the Waterway Commerce Cutters. He said the service is working to recapitzlize its fleet of 35 “hodgepodge of small river tenders” with boats that have an average age of over 50 years and at least one that is 72 years old.
The FY 2018 omnibus appropriations bill funded the recapitalization work with $25 million and the FY ’19 appropriations bill added a further $1.1 million.
Schultz said this funding “signals loud and clear to me that the Congress ss interested in this vessel” and “we recognize the desire to do this expediently.”
The commandant also noted the Coast Guard is talking to the Army Corps of Engineers and other users about what technologies would be useful in this kind of cutter and also issued two Requests for Information (RFIs) in 2018 to draw on expertise and lessons learned for this kind of vessel.
Schultz was reluctant to name a specific number but agrees the new Waterway Commerce Cutters ought to cost around the $25 million range per vessel. “I think w’ve got to be reasonable in our requirements” to build a ship purposefully built for use on inland waterways, he said.