The Coast Guard is reviewing requirements to outfit its eventual fleet of new medium-endurance cutters with secure capabilities for collecting, processing and disseminating intelligence, a senior service official said on Tuesday.
The cost to install a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) is about $25 million per Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), Vice Adm. Daniel Abel, deputy commandant for Operations, told a House panel in response to a question from Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on the Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard plans to acquire 25 OPCs, which would put the upfront equipment costs for SCIFs at $625 million. Maloney suggested the overall cost to outfit each OPC with a SCIF pales against the “$8 to $10 trillion” the U.S. will be spending on defense during the years the Coast Guard will be acquiring its new medium endurance cutters.
Abel told Defense Daily after the hearing that in addition to the initial equipment costs that come with each SCIF, there are the related training, personnel and technical “refresh” costs that the Coast Guard will have to bear. He didn’t hazard an estimate for the related life-cycle costs associated with installing the intelligence capabilities on the OPCs.
A Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily there isn’t a “firm deadline for the OPC Intelligence Equipment Analysis of Alternatives” and that the service “continues to analyze a mix of optimal intelligence capabilities across the fleet.”
Abel also said the SCIF is a capability the Coast Guard wants on the OPC.
Currently, the Coast Guard is conducting an analysis of alternatives for what is the “capability that is best suited for” the OPC, Abel told Maloney.
“There’s different ways we can do it, but we’re working with the Navy particularly they’re right now designing what the SCIF will be like for FFG(X),” he said, referring to a multi-mission guided-missile frigate that is in the design stage.
The OPCs have a threshold requirement for a SCIF that includes space, weight and power, Abel said, adding that when the Coast Guard sorts out its requirements, it will “then install the gear that we determine is best for the space.”
Abel told Maloney that the Coast Guard’s “white hulls can get places” the Navy’s “gray hulls can’t and we can collect on things” that are suspect.
The OPCs will make up the lion’s share, 70 percent, of the Coast Guard’s future offshore presence.
The first OPC is under construction by Eastern Shipbuilding Group and is scheduled to be delivered during fiscal year 2022. The Coast Guard is recompeting the program beginning with the fifth hull.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz told the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security Tuesday afternoon in a budget hearing that the keel laying for the first OPC is scheduled for April. After the hearing, he told reporters that 11 of 17 sections of the Argus, the name of the first OPC, are under construction.
Schultz said he remains encouraged about industry interest in the recompetition for the OPC, noting that there could be “many different outcomes” in the program going forward. He said Eastern Shipbuilding “could be wildly successful” or they “could have challenges. We could go to a second builder. We could have two builders. I think this could go many different ways.”
In January the Coast Guard issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for industry studies for OPC designs under the recompetition. Awards for those studies are expected this month, Shultz said, with an RFP next year for a potential second builder.