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Ask the Master Chief

Home > Ask the Master Chief > June 2013

Q:  My understanding is that it is going to take years until we start commissioning the new Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC). Why don’t we just piggyback on the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program and buy them for the Coast Guard? Why reinvent the wheel?

A: I have written about OPC requirements before (October 2012 and March 2013), but this is actually a good question that is worth spending more time on. The simple answer is that it’s for the same reason that people don’t buy a turbo-charged two-door sports car when they really need a V-6 minivan. If you spend most of your time hauling kids to soccer practice op taking the family on a road trip to Florida, a minivan is the more practical choice. Can you put five kids and a dog in a two-door sports car? More importantly, can you afford to keep gas in the tank or pay to maintain it?

The missions of the Navy’s LCS and our OPC are just not the same and that makes the requirements for the vessels very different. I’m not saying there is no crossover between the two, of course there is, just like the car example above, but they are more different than they are alike.

Our mission, operational requirements, and budget are much more “minivan like” than the LCS. Our needs focus on range, stability, and economy of operation. The LCS focused on speed, agility and modularity. The LCS (both versions) has the ability to operate at speeds in excess of 40 knots, but the price for that speed is higher fuel consumption, a shorter operational range, and a requirement to operate with refueling or other support vessels. In order to achieve those speeds, the LCS employs a multi-stage water jet propulsion system that includes both high speed diesel engines and gas turbine engines. This propulsion system, while ideal for the LCS, is almost the exact opposite of what the Coast Guard needs for its mission.

What we need for our OPC is a propulsion system that is reliable, economical, and easy to maintain. We need a hull design that is stable enough to conduct our missions in the types of adverse conditions we typically see, in the areas in which we operate (such as the North Pacific in winter), and we need the unsupported range to transit to those operational areas, conduct the mission, and return.

In short, the OPC will provide the specific capabilities to meet the Coast Guard’s current and future needs, and our acquisition process will oversee the development, construction, and delivery of a cutter that represents the best value to the Service and the Nation.

October 2012 link: (http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg9/newsroom/masterchief/mc1012.asp)
March 2013 link: (http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg9/newsroom/masterchief/mc0313.asp)

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