During Haiti relief operations this past January, 10 of the 12 assigned Coast Guard cutters, or 83 percent, suffered significant mechanical problems that impeded their ability to respond to the catastrophic aftermath of the earthquake. Three had to suspend relief activities and leave the area to perform extensive repairs, including drydocking one ship.
The Coast Guard’s response to the earthquake in Haiti earlier this year illustrates the challenges the service faces with the declining condition of its fleet. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp spoke about the Coast Guard’s efforts to replace its aging surface assets at the Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus Breakfast at the U.S. Capitol today.
“My number one budget priority is recapitalization of our agile and versatile fleet,” said Papp.
The United States is a maritime nation and is dependent on the sea and our internal waters for commerce, sustenance and recreation. Our nation requires a robust Coast Guard fleet to protect the Nation’s more than 300 ports, 50,000 miles of navigable waterways and 95,000 miles of coastline.
The increasing number of major cutter system failures and declining reliability are a significant concern for the Coast Guard and Department of Homeland Security. Our cutter forces are a critical component to preserving the maritime safety and security of the United States.
Our cutters conduct rescues, enforce laws and promote security. They also work closely with other government departments and agencies to protect our nation. And when disaster strikes, like it did in Haiti, our cutters are able to redeploy by sea and help when other responders are still days away.
“The age of our ships is the primary factor leading to the increase in unexpected equipment failures,” said Papp, adding, “The average age of our high endurance cutters is over 41 years, compared to 14 years for a U.S. Navy ship.”
The Coast Guard’s current ship acquisition projects include:
• National Security Cutter (NSC) – The NSC will be the new flagship of our surface fleet, replacing our long-serving 378-foot High Endurance Cutters. Two of eight planned NSCs have been commissioned (Bertholf and Waesche) and are on the seas executing Coast Guard missions. The third, Stratton, was recently christened and is scheduled for delivery next year. The Coast Guard is currently negotiating contracts for cutters four and five.
• Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) –The Coast Guard is continuing its market research and pre-acquisition activities for the eventual successor to our 210-foot and 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutters, and is engaging with multiple U.S. shipyards as part of its research efforts. A request for initial design proposals is notionally scheduled for release in early 2011, and current plans call for a total of 25 OPCs.
• Fast Response Cutter (FRC) –Four of these new, advanced patrol boats are now under construction at Bollinger Shipyards in Lockport, La. The lead cutter, Bernard C. Webber, is on schedule for delivery in the spring of 2011, with deliveries of the next three cutters not far behind. Earlier this month, a contract option for four more FRCs was awarded to Bollinger, bringing the total number of cutters under contract to eight. The first 12 cutters (of 58 planned) will be homeported in Miami and Key West, serving critical law enforcement and migrant interdiction missions in areas such as the Florida Straits and the Caribbean.
“Without these new ships, we cannot continue to be Semper Paratus – Always Ready,” said Papp.