SNA: The Coast Guard’s cry for help

The commandant of the Coast Guard worries about realizing his plans for new large cutters.

“I really need some help here,” Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp told the Surface Navy Association on Thursday.

Papp beseeched the naval officers, industry representatives and members in the audience to help him “educate” Congress and the Obama administration about the importance of just fulfilling the Coast Guard’s existing programs for large new cutters. The existing fleet faces “mass obsolescence,” he said, and the ubiquitous coming budget crunch would hit the lifesaving service especially hard.

The overall goal is to finish the Coast Guard’s planned class of eight national security cutters and then build 25 new, smaller Offshore Patrol Cutters, which will take the place of the fleet’s 210- and 270-foot medium-endurance cutters. Papp said the Coast Guard wants to issue a request for information about the OPC in the third or fourth quarter of this year and make its first contract award in fiscal 2016.

That’s if he can keep the current strategy in place.

“A lot of people make a lot of noise about how we ought to terminate NSC and get about building OPCs now,” he said. The service’s onetime sales pitch that it could build two OPCs for the cost of one NSC “has come back to haunt us,” he said.

But it’s critical that the Coast Guard stick to its current plan for eight NSCs and 25 OPCs, because its existing fleet of 40 year-old ships is falling to pieces and the importance of their missions – including patrols in the Arctic and the Eastern Pacific – is only growing.

Its previous dreams of getting even more ships – 15 NSCs and 30 to 35 OPCs – are dead, Papp said. “We’re not gonna get there.”

And yet he still described a struggle inside the government to lock in the eight-and-25 plan. “There are people who don’t like the answers every time they come back,” he said.

Papp said there’s a precedent for the U.S. adding new Coast Guard cutters in times of budget constriction – the government began the six-ship Treasury-class cutters during the Great Depression, he said, because officials then recognized the long-term need for the Coast Guard’s mission. Those ships served until the 1980s.

Likewise, Papp said he hopes the Navy, SNA and anyone else will help get the word out about his perspective that today’s large cutter program is really about the future.

“I’m looking out ahead, and saying ‘What is the cutter we’re going to need for the next 40 years?’” he said. “Well, we’ve gotta get these eight for now.”