The OPCs Are Coming….slowly….maybe….we promise
The Coast Guard has some elderly assets. Its workhorses past in blue water are its medium endurance cutters. Basically what other countries would classify as an OPV or light frigate, they are medium sized warships, generally under 2000-tons, with a main gun in the 76mm-25mm range, some small gun mounts, and a helicopter deck/hanger. Slow ships with a long range, they spend upto 270 days per year per vessel offshore for months at a time. The Coast Guard has 13 270-foot Bear-class ships built 1979-1989, 14 210-foot Reliance class cutters built 1962–1968 and modernized in the 1990s, and the one-off 1971-era 283-foot former Navy Edenton-class salvage and rescue ship renamed Alex Haley that pulls Alaska patrol, for a total of 28 ships, ranging in age from 23-50 years of age.
The USCG has decided to move forward with the last phase of the Deepwater Program, the Offshore Patrol Cutter, to replace these mid-size legacy ships mentioned above. They have just this week asked for bids and are moving forward
Phase I will be for lead ship, eight to ten follow ships and ancillary services and supplies. According to the timeline the initial contract to the top three designs will be awarded sometime in FY13. Final contract will be awarded for the single selected design 1QFY16 and the keel laid 3QFY17. The first hull will hit the water 3QFY20 and upto 25 hulls built at a rate of about two a year. This puts the last of 25 OPCs into service sometime around 2032. At that point the youngest 270-foot Bear class medium endurance cutters will be approaching fifty years of age and the 210s, if any are left, will be closer to seventy.
Stranger things have happened.