The Coast Guard last Friday afternoon released a solicitation for industry studies for follow-on production of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) with awards expected in early March.

A notional schedule accompanying the Request for Proposals (RFP) shows the Coast Guard hopes to award a contract for the detailed design and construction (DD&C) of the follow-on OPC in late January 2022, roughly six months earlier than the notional schedule published last October when the service announced it would terminate its current contract for new medium-endurance cutters with Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) and potentially reopen the program to a new shipbuilder. The new OPC contract will begin with hull five, with construction beginning in fiscal year 2023 and delivery in FY ’26.

In deciding to end the current contract with ESG, the Coast Guard also granted the company relief on cost and schedule targets for the first four OPCs. The Florida-based shipbuilder sought contract relief after a severe hurricane in October 2018 pounded its facilities, a setback to both ESG and the Coast Guard.

Construction of the first OPC is underway and ESG has received long-lead time materials for the second ship. Delivery of the first 360-foot ship by ESG is expected in FY ’22 and the fourth ship in FY ’25, the notional schedule says.

Originally, plans called for ESG to transition to building two OPCs a year beginning with the fourth and fifth hulls. Now, according to the notional schedule published on Jan. 10, construction of two ships a year will begin in fiscal year 2026 with hulls eight and nine.

The Coast Guard eventually plans to buy 25 OPCs, all based on the same hull form. The program is currently expected to cost around $10 billion but impacts from the restructured program haven’t been factored in yet.

Bids for the study contracts are due by Jan. 31. A draft RFP for the DD&C contract is expected to be issued in late July, followed by the final RFP in October, according to the notional schedule.

In December, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said he is encouraged by industry interest in the new OPC competition. The Coast Guard in September 2016 selected ESG for the original OPC design. The company beat offers from Bollinger Shipyards, General Dynamics [GD], Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], and ST Engineering’s VT Halter Marine.