The House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on Monday released a two-year authorization bill for the Coast Guard that seeks one more national security cutter (NSC) for the service that hasn’t been requested and also wants the service to develop a strategy for using unmanned systems across its mission portfolio.
The committee two years ago also authorized a 12th NSC for the Coast Guard, which doesn’t appear interested in acquiring an additional high-endurance cutter and is more focused on its top two acquisition priorities, the medium-endurance offshore patrol cutter and the polar security cutter heavy icebreaker programs.
The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022 would provide $300 million in fiscal year 2022 and again in FY ’23 to fund the additional NSC. The Coast Guard’s budget request for FY ’22 doesn’t include the 12th NSC and House appropriators and Senate Democratic appropriators in their respective bills to fund the Department of Homeland Security in FY ’22 don’t include funding for another ship.
Congress has approved funding for 11 NSCs, which are built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII], three more than the Coast Guard’s original program of record. The ships are replacing 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters, which have all been decommissioned.
The bipartisan authorization bill also recommends providing $210 million in FY ’22 and the same amount in FY ’23 for a total of six additional fast response cutters (FRCs), which the service isn’t requesting. Funding for 64 FRCs, which are in the Coast Guard’s plan, has already been appropriated. The small cutters, which typically operate closer to shore for three to five days at a time, are built by Bollinger Shipyards.
The authorizers also propose $350 million in FY ‘22 for a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes that is at least as capable as the service’s Mackinaw, a 240-foot ship launched in 2006. The Coast Guard hasn’t requested these funds.
The bill also calls for a Coast Guard strategy on implementing unmanned systems across its mission space. The strategy would be due within 180 days of the bill being signed into law.
The committee in late 2020 sent a letter to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz to be more aggressive in planning for and using unmanned systems to improve maritime domain awareness. The Coast Guard already outfits its NSCs with unmanned aircraft systems and has evaluated small unmanned surface vessels (USVs) but hasn’t outlined any plans to acquire USVs.
The strategy should include estimates for the timeline, costs, staff resources and technology, the bill says.
The bill also directs the Coast Guard to conduct a pilot project using commercially available autonomous control and computer vision technology on an existing service small boat to demonstrate the technology in search and rescue, surveillance and interdiction missions. The Coast Guard previously has outfitted one of its small boats with autonomous technology for maritime domain awareness of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
The pilot effort would be aimed at collecting data for future requirements.