OPCs of Mobile Bay

We’ve covered the USCG’s new Offshore Patrol Cutter program at length.

OPC Characteristics:
•Length: 360 feet
•Beam: 54 feet
•Draft: 17 feet
•Sustained Speed: 22 Plus knots
•Range: 8500 Plus nautical miles
•Endurance: 60 Days

The main armament is a Mk 110 57mm gun forward with a MK 38 Mod 3 25mm gun over the stern HH60-sized hangar, and four M2 .50 cal mounts. 

I say replace the Mk38 with a C-RAM, shoehorn a towed sonar, ASW tubes, an 8-pack Mk41 VLS crammed with Sea Sparrows, and eight NSSMs aboard and call it a day. The Mexicans do the same loadout with the new Reformador-class frigates on a hull the same size, so why not us? 

The first flight of 11 OPCs has been awarded to Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. (ESG) and they have four– class leader USCGC Argus (WMSM 915), followed by USCGC Chase (WMSM 916), USCGC Ingham (WMSM 917) and USCGC Rush (WMSM 918)— in various stages of completion already at their Nelson Street facility in Panama City.

Well, the Coast Guard, in an effort to get all 25+ of these hulls completed ASAP to replace both the elderly 1960s-era 210-foot Reliance and aging 1980s-era 270-foot Bear-class cutters, announced on Thursday that a second yard, Austal in Mobile, Alabama, would get to work on the second flight of 11 OPCs, a contract estimated at being worth $3 billion smackers (which is a deal these days for 11 American frigate-sized OPVs).

The announcement via USCG HQ, Washington:

WASHINGTON – The Coast Guard awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract to Austal USA of Mobile, Ala. to produce up to 11 offshore patrol cutters (OPCs). The initial award is valued at $208.26 million and supports detail design and long lead-time material for the fifth OPC, with options for production of up to 11 OPCs in total. The contract has a potential value of up to $3.33 billion if all options are exercised.

In 2019, the Coast Guard revised the OPC acquisition strategy to mitigate emergent cost and schedule risk by establishing a new, full and open competition for OPCs five and through 15, designated as Stage 2 of the overall program. Informed by industry feedback received through a robust engagement strategy, the Coast Guard released a request for proposal Jan. 29, 2021, for OPC Stage 2 detail design and production. The Coast Guard’s requirements for OPC Stage 2 detail design and production were developed to maintain commonality with earlier OPCs in critical areas such as the hull and propulsion systems, but provide flexibility to propose and implement new design elements that benefit lifecycle cost, production and operational efficiency and performance.

“The offshore patrol cutter is absolutely vital to Coast Guard mission excellence as we recapitalize our legacy medium endurance cutters, some of which are more than 50 years old,” said Adm. Linda Fagan, commandant of the Coast Guard. “The OPCs are the ships our crews need to protect our national security, maritime safety and economic prosperity. I look forward to the new cutters joining our fleet.”

The 25-ship OPC program of record complements the capabilities of the service’s national security cutters, fast response cutters and polar security cutters as an essential element of the Department of Homeland Security’s layered maritime security strategy. The OPC will meet the service’s long-term need for cutters capable of deploying independently or as part of task groups and is essential to stopping smugglers at sea, interdicting undocumented non-citizens, rescuing mariners, enforcing fisheries laws, responding to disasters and protecting ports.

Austal, of course, is the joint Australian-American operation that has built the controversial Independence-class of littoral combat ships and Spearhead-class expeditionary fast transport ships, all notably with composite hulls. The OPCs will be the company’s first steel-hulled warships.

That has caused some heartburn with Florida Congresscritters.

From U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla-2:

The Coast Guard made a mistake in its Offshore Patrol Cutter stage II decision. Eastern Shipbuilding is known for quality products and the Coast Guard knows this. I am very concerned the foreign company awarded the contract lacks experience in building steel vessels. This will ultimately cost taxpayers more money, and further delay these ships from entering service to protect our nation’s shores. My office will work to push the Coast Guard to reconsider this decision.

I will continue to fight for more economic opportunity for the people of Florida’s Second Congressional District.

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