A bill agreed to by House and Senate negotiators to provide appropriations to the federal government for the rest of FY ’17 includes long-lead materials for the 10th Coast Guard National Security Cutter, two more than the original program of record and halfway toward an influential senator’s goal of funding 12 of the high-endurance vessels.

The Omnibus spending package includes $95 million for the latest NSC, which is built by Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] in its Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard.

NSC James (WMSL 754) sailing during sea trials. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries
NSC James (WMSL 754) sailing during sea trials. Photo: Huntington Ingalls Industries

The Coast Guard’s original plan was for eight 418-foot NSC’s to replace 12 aging 378-foot Hamilton-class high endurance cutters. The NSCs are equipped with a better suite of C4ISR capabilities, which is supposed to allow each ship to provide effective operations over a wider area than the vessels they are replacing.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has led the effort to add more NSCs to the Coast Guard’s budget. House appropriators in their original markups of the FY ’16 and FY ’17 Homeland Security bills, didn’t provide funding for the new ships, which weren’t requested by the Coast Guard.

Cochran, when he ran for re-election more than two years ago, said he would push to replace all 12 retiring Hamilton-class cutters with 12 NSCs.

The Coast Guard was originally wary of buying additional NSCs because it doesn’t want to jeopardize its top acquisition priority, the medium-endurance Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). But Coast Guard leaders have been saying publicly that with threats growing and a lack of assets to interdict the number of drug trafficking vessels in the transit zones, the additional NSCs will help.

The Omnibus bill includes a total of $255.4 million for the NSC program.

The bill also includes $75 million for the OPC, $25 million less than requested. The funds will allow for detail design work on the cutter. The OPC is being designed and constructed by Eastern Shipbuilding.

The budget also includes $325 million for six Fast Response Cutters. The FRCs are built by Bollinger Shipyards.

Overall, the spending bill provides nearly $1.4 billion for Coast Guard acquisition, $233 million more than requested. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft recently said that his service needs an annual baseline acquisition budget of $2 billion to meet its needs.