The Congressional Shipbuilding Caucus, Co-Chaired by Representatives Gene Taylor (D-MS) and Rob Wittman (R-VA), hosted a meeting with the Commandant of the Coast Guard, Adm. Robert J. Papp, to discuss the Coast Guard’s ship force structure needs, its missions, future threats, and the U.S. shipbuilding industry. Members of the Caucus in attendance were Rep. Joe Courtney (D-CT), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ), and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA).
Admiral Papp conveyed the difficulty the Coast Guard has in keeping its major programs funded sufficiently. The Admiral discussed specific programs such as the National Security Cutter (NSC), the Fast Response Cutter (FRC), and the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). The Admiral acknowledged that the fleet has grown far too old, citing the High Endurance Cutter (HEC), which has an average age of 41 years despite a life expectancy of 20 years. He called the Offshore Patrol Cutter his “pet project”, and that he intends to make sure this class of cutters is well on its way in production during his tenure as Commandant. While fewer OPCs will be built than the class they will replace, he assured the audience that they will be much more capable. He emphasized that the Coast Guard needs to keep working to increase its acquisition budget.
The Admiral explained that the Coast Guard’s acquisition budget includes all of its cutters as well as aircraft. Additionally, the NSC consumes half the entire acquisition budget of $1.4b, making it extremely difficult to include all the items the Coast Guard needs to meet its various missions. Moreover, the Office of Management and Budget mandates that the Coast Guard buy each vessel in whole in one fiscal year. One option Adm. Papp proposed was to work for more flexibility in its acquisitions by spreading funding for vessels over multi years as is the Navy’s practice. He added that Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano has opened discussion with OMB regarding this approach.
Underscoring the fiscal constraints on the Coast Guard is its polar icebreaker fleet, which the Admiral stated is a program that clearly needs attention. Although the USCGC Healy is operating in the Arctic, there is currently no heavy duty icebreaker capability available to the Coast Guard, and the Admiral added that the Antarctic region cannot be overlooked. There is currently no projection for new icebreakers in the budget, and while Congress added $57m to overhaul the Polar Star, a decision has to be made regarding the future of this fleet.
The American Shipbuilding Association is the national trade association of the shipbuilding industry. ASA members include the nation’s six largest shipyards and more than 100 companies engaged in the manufacture and service of ship systems and components.