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OPC delay could create ‘operational gap' for USCG

The US Coast Guard is trying to extend the service lives of its Medium Endurance Cutters. (US Coast Guard)

The additional delivery delays for the US Coast Guard (USCG) Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) could disrupt some USCG operations – even with the USCG attempts to lengthen the service lives of its ageing Medium Endurance Cutters (MECs) – according to the US Government Accountability Office (GAO).

As noted in its report, Coast Guard Acquisitions Offshore Patrol Cutter Program Needs to Mature Technology and Design, released on 20 June the initial OPCs will be delivered later because of several construction issues.

The GAO said in the report, “The Coast Guard faces an operational gap as a result of delays in the OPC delivery schedule. Given the delays in the OPC programme, the Coast Guard projects to have a reduction in asset availability – or a reduction in the number of cutters available for operations – starting in 2024 and through 2039, which is the current projected date for when OPC 25 will be ready for operations.”

Part of the problem in maintaining a sufficient patrol force is the state of the USCG MECs. All of the 270 ft (82.3 m) MECs have exceeded their original 30 year service life, the GAO noted in the report. “MECs were considered in poor condition with medium risk to mission capabilities.”

Six 270 ft MECs are now undergoing service life extension programmes (SLEPs), which are intended to add up to 10 years of service life for each of the ships, “which will help mitigate the gap before OPCs are delivered”, the GAO reported. The USCG initiated MEC SLEPs in 2018.

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