The Offshore Patrol Cutter: Honoring the Past, Securing the Future

Written by Brian Olexy, Office of Strategic Planning and Communication, Acquisition Directorate

“A few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.”- Alexander Hamilton

Hamilton’s recommendation from The Federalist Papers is famous for its connection to the founding of the Revenue Cutter Service, one of the predecessor services to the U.S. Coast Guard. It also describes one of the most important keys to our service’s success: presence. The Coast Guard needs a physical presence on our shores, in the skies and at sea to successfully maintain maritime security and governance. This is especially true when that presence relies on systems and platforms that are approaching or have already exceeded their design service lives and are becoming more difficult to maintain.

The offshore patrol cutter (OPC) acquisition – the Coast Guard’s highest investment priority – will provide the Coast Guard with a renewed level of presence and effectiveness in the offshore environment. With capabilities specifically tailored to complement the national security cutter’s long range and sophisticated command, control, and sensor systems and the fast response cutter’s nearer-to-shore operational profile, the OPC’s addition to the Coast Guard’s recapitalized fleet provides the nation with a highly capable and interoperable major cutter fleet ready to respond to the challenges present throughout the Western Hemisphere.

The OPC would be virtually unrecognizable to a Revenue Cutter Service-era sailor: the ship features a helicopter flight deck and hangar, with space for unmanned aircraft systems; a trio of over-the-horizon cutter boats; and surface search radar. However, the vital missions it will perform would still be familiar to shipmates of all eras. The OPC and its range of capabilities will play a key role in the fight against transnational criminal elements that attempt to smuggle contraband or illegally harvest natural resources in U.S. waters. As maritime commerce and tourism continues to expand, the OPC will be on scene to foster safe passage and respond to those in need.

Our shipmates from the past would also recognize many of the ship names that the OPC will carry into the 21st century. Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, unveiled the first 11 OPC names on Coast Guard Day, August 4.

The Coast Guard plans to acquire 25 OPCs. Construction of the lead OPC, Argus, will begin in 2018, with delivery scheduled for 2021. The long lead time materials contract, which purchases steel, propulsion and other major components needed for production, is planned for award this fall. Beginning in 2021, the OPC production schedule will shift from one to two cutters per year.

Shipbuilding tools and technology may differ radically from what was available at the dawning of our nation, but Alexander Hamilton would very likely see the OPC as the type of “useful sentinel of our laws” he envisioned.

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