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Ask the Master Chief

Home > Ask the Master Chief > October 2012

Master ChiefQ:I don’t understand why the new Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) needs to be so big? Or, I don’t understand why the new OPC doesn’t go faster? Or, I don’t understand why the OPC doesn’t …?

A: I get asked these questions so often that sometimes my head spins. What they are really asking is, “How does the Coast Guard define requirements?” The answer is pretty easy. We have a simple mathematical formula: needs, divided by wants, multiplied by the square root of reality (okay, I made that up). In the real world developing requirements is not so easy.

The Acquisition Directorate does not actually define requirements. The Assistant Commandant for Capability (CG-7) identifies the Service need for a capability (e.g. a new Offshore Patrol Cutter) and defines the requirements. Once the requirements are approved, the Acquisition Directorate proceeds to acquire the defined capability for the Coast Guard.

What we do is work with the CG-7 Sponsor who developed the original operational need for a new capability, other stakeholders within government and industry as part of an integrated team that takes “needs” and “wants” and balances them against our ability to acquire an asset that is both affordable and supportable throughout its lifecycle.

Attending a requirements meeting is a lot like watching a light beer commercial (great taste, less filling, great taste …). Each operational mission has different needs and wants. The MSAM defines needs and wants as threshold and objective requirements. Threshold requirements represent the minimum acceptable level of performance while objective requirements define optimum performance. The trick is to come up with a balanced set of requirements that meets each of the mission needs without interfering with the needs of the other missions, while at the same time working within a budget that provides the best value for the American people. If we can do all that and still include a few “wants”, well, that’s even better.

In the case of the OPC, which is a multi-mission cutter, even defining “needs” is much more complicated than you might think. Requirements like length, speed and range are competing interests. In ship design, if you increase speed without increasing length, you will generally reduce range. If you increase length, you can increase speed and range, but to do so you may increase lifecycle cost and reduce homeporting options. If you can’t homeport a vessel where you need to, then speed and range don’t mean much. Even if you can homeport them where you want, if you can’t afford to operate and support the vessel, you can’t do the mission.

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

Last Modified 1/12/2016