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Home > Ask the Master Chief > March 2013

Master ChiefQ:  Why does it take so long to build new ships these days?

A: This question seems to come up over and over again, and frankly, it’s quite understandable why people keep asking. The answer is: it doesn’t. I know it seems like it does, but for the most part, it’s not taking significantly longer today than it did 20 years ago.

One reason it feels like it takes so long is that we live in an age of instant access to information that was just not available 20 or 30 years ago. We also do a significantly better job now of pushing out information on projects as early as possible. Twenty years ago, most people did not hear about a project for a new cutter until several years into the process. The first time most people in the Coast Guard heard about something new was when they read a story about it in Coast Guard Magazine (Commandant’s Bulletin for us old folk). By the time those articles were written, we were five, six or more years into the project. Today we are bringing everybody into the loop on virtually Day One of a project, if not before.

The first 270-foot Medium Endurance Cutter, for example, was commissioned in 1983―U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bear. The keel for Bear was laid in 1979, and I believe, the project received funding in 1973. Keep in mind that before we receive funding, we have to know what to ask for. So in reality, the Coast Guard was working on the 270s several years before 1973. That’s more than 10 years from the start of the project to the first operational cutter.

Fast forward to the National Security Cutter (NSC). Our first cutter was commissioned in 2008 (launched in 2006), and the initial contract was awarded in 1998. Again, as with the 270 project, work started several years earlier. Today, we have three commissioned NSCs with two more under construction or contract and plans to place the sixth cutter under contract this year. As you can see, there is not a significant difference in the program timelines.

One more thing to remember is that the vessels we are building today are technical wonders compared to anything we have built in the past. They are larger, more sophisticated, and have capabilities that cutter crews from 20 years ago could not have imagined. Everyone involved in the acquisition of these new vessels is dedicated to getting them into operation as quickly as possible, but we need to get it right. That does take time.

To submit a question, please e-mail Master Chief Petty Officer Brett F. Ayer directly at

Last Modified 1/12/2016