The Coast Guard this spring will award a contract for the second phase of its offshore patrol cutter (OPC) program that will cover the purchase of 11 medium endurance cutters, Adm. Karl Schultz, the service’s commandant, said on Wednesday.

The planned timing of the award is in line with the solicitation issued in February 2020 for Stage 2 of the OPC program, which will follow the first phase, the production of the initial four OPCs by Eastern Shipbuilding Group.

The Stage 2 contract will be the “largest acquisition contract in the history of the Coast Guard,” Schultz said at the annual Surface Navy Association National Symposium, which is being held in-person and virtually in Northern Virginia.

The Coast Guard ultimately plans to acquire 25 OPCs, which will form the backbone of its surface fleet. The OPCs will replace 27 legacy medium endurance cutters that are aging and frequently in port for maintenance, causing the service to lose 500 operational days annually.

“That’s tough,” he said. “These are days that could be down range interdicting drugs, working off the African continent in partnership with AFRICOM and other like-minded navies there, so, we’ve got to bite into that. It’s to the point when those ships are so old, I’m not sure you can buy your way out pure monetarily. We just need those new ships.”

The OPCs, like the high-endurance national security cutters, will operated globally, Schultz said.

Eastern Shipbuilding is about 60 percent through construction of the first OPC, the 360-foot Argus, which is scheduled to be delivered in fiscal year 2022. Construction of the second and third ships is also underway. Funding for construction of the fourth ship and long-lead time materials for the fifth vessel is tied up in the fiscal year 2022 budget, which is still awaiting agreement in Congress.

The federal government is currently operating under a continuing resolution until Feb. 18, which means agencies and programs are being funded at FY ’21 levels. Even if the resolution is extended well beyond that, a Coast Guard spokesman told Defense Daily after our deadline that the service doesn’t anticipate any issues related to the Stage 2 award because the OPC program isn’t considered a new start.

ESG won the OPC contract in September 2016 and was expected to build up to 11 ships before the program would be recompeted. However, a hurricane in 2018 damaged the company’s Florida shipyard, forcing it to seek contract relief. The relief was granted but resulted in the decision to recompete the program beginning with the fifth vessel.

ESG is competing for the Stage 2 award.

Schultz also touched on the Coast Guard’s new heavy polar icebreaker program, the Polar Security Cutter (PSC). The program is a year behind schedule, largely due to impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, with delivery of the first ship by VT Halter Marine expected in May 2025.

Schultz said he remains “guardedly optimistic” about the schedule, noting there isn’t a chance for delivery of the PSC to be accelerated. At one time, under the original schedule, the Coast Guard held faint hope that the delivery could progress into late 2023.