Marking another key step toward recapitalizing its aging fleet, the Coast Guard late Tuesday afternoon awarded preliminary design contracts to three companies, Bollinger Shipyards, Eastern Shipbuilding Group, and General Dynamics [GD], worth a combined $65 million for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC).

The awards to Bollinger and Eastern were nearly $22 million each and GD’s Bath Iron Works shipbuilding unit received $21.4 million for the 18-month preliminary and contract design (P&CD) phase, which is the first of a two phase design process aimed at keeping OPC costs down.

Artist rendering of Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter. Rendering by Coast Guard.
Artist rendering of Coast Guard Offshore Patrol Cutter. Rendering by Coast Guard.

“Affordability will be the central consideration as this acquisition moves closer to production,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp said in a statement.

The service’s program of record calls for 25 OPCs to replace a mix of medium-endurance cutters that currently have an average age of 46 years and are costing it millions of dollars annually to maintain.

At the end of the P&CD phase, one of the key deliverables will be a proposal by each company to include “fixed-price-incentive, firm-target-type contract proposals” for producing the first nine OPCs, a Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily on Wednesday. This ensures that these vessels are priced in a competitive environment before a down select to a single builder, he said.

Current plans call for the Coast Guard in FY ’16 to select one of the three competitors for a detailed design and construction contract, which will be phase two.

Other deliverables for each of the contractors at the end of the P&CD phase include providing verification that their respective designs are technically feasible, producible and capable of meeting the OPC mission requirements, the spokesman said. The contractors also need to initialize the integration of C4ISR government furnished equipment, government furnished information, and contractor furnished equipment.

During the P&CD phase the contractors will also be maturing their designs and providing greater detail on the systems, subsystems, and C4ISR integration. They must also demonstrate that the design can be transitioned to the detail design phase, the spokesman said.

The OPC is the last of the Coast Guard’s major surface fleet asset programs. The service has already received three of its planned purchase of eight 418-foot National Security Cutters (NSC) that will replace legacy high-endurance cutters, which like the medium-endurance vessels are aging and costly to maintain. Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] is the prime contractor for the NSC.

The shorter-range cutters, called the Fast Response Cutter (FRC), are being built by Louisiana-based Bollinger, which has delivered eight of the 154-foot craft. Bollinger is under contract for 24 FRCs and will likely get a contract for six more before the Coast Guard reopens the program for competition to build out to 56 boats, which is the program of record. Bollinger also made the 110-foot Island class patrol boats being replaced by the FRC.

For the OPC, Bollinger’s design is based on an existing parent craft built by Dutch shipbuilder Damen, a company spokesman said. Bollinger’s team includes the ship design and engineering firm Gibbs & Cox, Damen, and L-3 Communications [LLL] for communications. The FRC is also based on a parent craft design by Damen.

Eastern, which is based in Florida, has not served as a shipbuilder for either the Navy or Coast Guard previously. The company makes fishing vessels, supply boats, towboats, repair boats, fireboats and ferries, dredges and research vessels. The company did not return phone calls seeking comment on its design and partners.

GD’s Bath Iron Works builds the Navy’s DDG-51 and DDG-1000 destroyers. Bath Iron Works did not return calls for comment about its design and partners.

Compared with the 210-foot and 270-foot medium-endurance cutters it will replace, the OPC will feature greater range and endurance, more powerful weapons, a larger flight deck, and improved C4ISR. The vessel will also accommodate aircraft and small boat operations in all weather.

“These contract awards today are an important milestone in sustaining the offshore capability needed to protect the nation’s maritime borders,” Papp said in a statement.