An omnibus spending bill to fund the federal government for fiscal year 2022 would add $130 million for two Coast Guard fast response cutters (FRCs), continuing the program beyond its planned buy of 64 vessels that are the mainstay of the service’s multi-mission operations in the littorals.
If the appropriations bill is agreed to by Congress and signed by the president, it will mark the second time Congress has added to the program of record for the Coast Guard’s current major surface vessel recapitalization program, the first being the high-endurance national security cutter (NSC).
The Coast Guard’s original plan called for eight NSCs but Congress added funds for three more ships. Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] builds the NSCs in Mississippi.
The FRCs are built by Bollinger Shipyards in Louisiana. The company has delivered 47 of the 64 154-foot vessels that have been ordered.
Last week, the House passed a two-year authorization bill for the Coast Guard that calls for six more FRCs and one more NSC. The omnibus bill doesn’t include funding for a 12th NSC.
Rep. Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon (R-Puerto Rico), a non-voting member of the House, advocated for the additional FRCs during the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee’s markup last week of the Coast Guard bill.
Gonzalez-Colon highlighted the range of threats the U.S. faces in the Caribbean, including being a drug transit zone used by transnational criminal organizations and the scene of sea voyages by illegal migrants.
The FRCs allow for longer operations at sea in adverse conditions and are “force multipliers” in drug and migrant interdiction activities, search and rescue and disaster response, she said.
The proposed spending bill also provides the requested $597 million for fourth medium-endurance offshore patrol cutter (OPC) and long-lead time and materials for the fifth ship. Eastern Shipbuilding Group is building the first four OPCs and the Coast Guard is hosting a competition to award construction of the next 11 ships this year.
The service plans to acquire 25 OPCs. The award for ships five through 16 is expected this spring.
The bill also includes $80 million for the polar security cutter (PSC) program, $90 million less than requested due to a year delay in the new heavy icebreaker. The funding includes $30 million in long-lead time materials for the third PSC.
Halter Marine is under contract for the first two PSCs and is currently scheduled to begin construction of the Polar Sentinel, the first ship, in June. The Coast Guard currently plans to buy three PSCs.