The Senate Appropriations Committee says one more high-endurance cutter would be a big help to the Coast Guard in carrying out its missions on open ocean where it typically seizes tons of illegal drugs that are ultimately destined for the U.S.
However, while the committee in the past led the charge to increase the purchase of National Security Cutters (NSCs) from the original plan to buy eight of the vessels to the currently funded 11, it didn’t provide any funding for one more ship in its markup last week of the Department of Homeland Security’s fiscal year 2020 appropriations.
“The Committee recognizes the crucial role NSCs play in combatting the Coast Guard’s current and future operational capacity challenges in interdicting drugs, exercising U.S. sovereignty, maintaining maritime security, and conducting search-and-rescue operations on high seas and waters subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,” the appropriators say in the report accompanying their version of the FY ’19 DHS spending bill. “The Committee believes that an additional NSC would provide the Coast Guard with capabilities far beyond those envisioned when the Coast Guard established the program of record for this highly effective platform.”
Former Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who retired from the Senate in 2018 and died earlier this year, was responsible for expanding the NSC program when he chaired the appropriations committee. Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] builds the NSCs in Mississippi.
The Coast Guard last December awarded HII a $930 million contract for NSCs 10 and 11. So far, HII has delivered eight of the 418-foot ships.
House appropriators, this summer in their version of the DHS spending bill, also didn’t recommend funding a 12th NSC but pointed to the potential requirement for one more ship as the Coast Guard reassesses its fleet requirement. The committee provided $100.5 million for the NSC, $40.5 million more than requested, to purchase long-lead materials for a 12th ship if the Coast Guard determines it needs the additional vessel.
The Senate appropriators funded the $60 million request for the program, which provides acquisition sustainment activities.
The Coast Guard’s top acquisition priorities are its new medium-endurance cutter, the 360-foot Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), and the new heavy polar icebreaker, the Polar Security Cutter (PSC). House and Senate appropriators back the $457 million request for the OPC, which will fund construction of the third ship and long-lead acquisition for the fourth and fifth vessels. Eastern Shipbuilding Group is currently constructing the first a potential buy of 25 OPCs.
The construction contract for the first PSC was awarded to shipbuilder VT Halter Marine earlier this year. House appropriators provided $135 million for the program, $100 million more than requested, to allow the acquisition of advanced procurement items for the second ship. Senate appropriators funded the $35 million request, which sustains current acquisition activities.
VT Halter is part of Singapore’s ST Engineering.
The Coast Guard wants to buy at least three heavy PSCs and potentially three new medium polar icebreakers.