JUST IN: Coast Guard Launching First Offshore Patrol Cutter

By Allyson Park

Eastern Shipbuilding image

The U.S. Coast Guard will launch the first of its Offshore Patrol Cutters next week, Commandant of the Coast Guard Adm. Linda Fagan said.

The USCGC Argus is the first of a planned 25 Heritage-class cutters under a $12 billion program to replace the service’s aging medium endurance cutters, which have exceeded their service lives.

Argus, which is [Offshore Patrol Cutter] 1, will be launched next week,” Fagan said at a panel hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies Oct. 17. “The design of the ship is incredible. We’re really looking forward to seeing what those ships can do.”

The upcoming launch of Argus marks an important milestone in the Coast Guard’s OPC program, one that has faced numerous delays and challenges in the past few years, Fagan said. OPCs 2, 3 and 4, christened USCGC Chase, Ingham and Rush respectively, are in “various stages of construction,” she added.

The OPC was designed to provide a “capability bridge between the National Security Cutter, which patrols the open ocean in the most demanding maritime environments, and the Fast Response Cutter, which serves closer to shore,” according to a Coast Guard information sheet.

The Coast Guard dubbed the OPC program as its “highest investment priority,” stating that it is the most effective way to “fill the service’s need for long-term offshore capability to maintain current and future mission effectiveness.”

The Coast Guard awarded detail design for the Offshore Patrol Cutter to Eastern Shipbuilding Group in September 2016, with construction beginning in fiscal year 2018, according to Eastern Shipbuilding. However, the first four OPCs were delayed 18 months due to production and manufacturing problems and Hurricane Michael’s impact on the Eastern’s shipyards.

The Government Accountability Office, in a June report titled “Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Needs to Mature Technology and Design,” raised concerns that the program was taking on excessive risk. The report stated the program “started construction on the lead ship with an unstable design,” and the Coast Guard “continues its approach of progressing through the technology development, design, and construction phases concurrently, which increases risk and is contrary to leading practices.”

In Aug. 2023, the Coast Guard estimated that Argus would be delivered in September 2024, thus delivery of Argus “next week,” is hopeful news, Fagan noted.

“But it has been a long, long journey with a lot of effort in getting us to where we’re going to be next week, and I’m excited about that,” Fagan said.

The Coast Guard originally issued a contract to Eastern Shipbuilding to construct the first nine OPCs, but after Hurricane Michael, the Department of Homeland Security rebid ships five through 25.

The Coast Guard awarded a second-stage contract to Austal USA last year for up to 11 ships. Eastern Shipbuilding filed and later withdrew a bid protest with GAO.

Phase two detail design and production will help “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 Coast Guard stated.

Argus' christening and launch ceremony will be held Oct. 27 at Eastern's Nelson Shipyard in Panama City, Florida, a press release from the shipbuilder said.

Topics: Acquisition