Austal USA has been awarded a contract with a potential value of US$3.3 billion (A$4.35 billion) for the detail design and construction of up to 11 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) for the United States Coast Guard (USCG).
The first vessel has been contracted by the US Coast Guard, with options for a further 10 vessels. Construction is expected to commence in 2023.
Austal USA takes over the Offshore Patrol Cutter program from Eastern Shipbuilding Group, which is building the program’s first four ships.
Construction of the 110-metre OPCs will take place at Austal USA’s new US$100 million steel shipbuilding facility in Mobile, Alabama.
Austal Limited Chief Executive Officer Paddy Gregg said the new contract was the third steel shipbuilding program awarded to Austal USA and acknowledged the expanded capability of the shipyard.
“The United States Coast Guard’s new Offshore Patrol Cutters are an outstanding opportunity for Austal USA to further demonstrate the shipyard’s new steel shipbuilding capability; based on years of proven construction experience through the delivery of the LCS and EPF programs for the United States Navy,” Gregg said.
“The Offshore Patrol Cutters are a critical capability in the United States’ homeland security and the Coast Guard’s most important acquisition program, and the Austal USA team is very excited and proud to be delivering this major shipbuilding program for the USA.”
The Coast Guard’s 110 metre steel OPCs provide a capability bridge between the service’s National Security Cutters, that operate in the open ocean, and the smaller, Fast Response Cutters that operate closer to shore. The new OPCs are expected to be capable of conducting a variety of missions including law enforcement, drug and migrant interdiction, and search and rescue operations.
With a reported range of 10,200 nautical miles at 14 knots and a 60-day endurance period, each OPC is expected to be capable of deploying independently, or as part of task groups, and serving as a mobile command and control platform for surge operations such as hurricane response, mass migration incidents and other emergency events. The Cutters will also support Arctic objectives by helping regulate and protect emerging commerce and energy exploration in Alaska.
According to Defense News, The US Coast Guard originally selected Eastern Shipbuilding Group to build the OPC program in 2016, set to include as many as 25 ships. However, after the damage to Eastern’s Panama City yard by Hurricane Michael in 2018, the Coast Guard decided in 2019 it would recompete the program.
The award of the OPC adds to Austal USA's existing myriad of shipbuilding programs for the US Navy and US Coast Guard; with construction continuing on the aluminum Independence-variant Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (T-EPF) programs and the steel hulled Navajo-class Towing, Salvage and Rescue (T-ATS) ships and Auxiliary Floating Drydock Medium under contract for the US Navy.