Coast Guard cutter design moves ahead after protests are denied

Design work on a new mid-sized cutter is underway in the wake of unsuccessful protests filed over $65.8 million in contract awards for the U.S. Coast Guard’s biggest acquisition ever.

Three shipyards are proceeding with design concepts in competition for a final $10.5 billion contract to construct 25 offshore patrol cutters (OPCs) to replace an older working fleet that includes some ships a half-century old.

Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, La., Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, Fla., and Bath Iron Works of Maine started work on the program after a July 1 go-ahead from the Coast Guard.

Two Pascagoula, Miss., shipyards, Huntington Ingalls Industries and VT Halter Marine, filed protests with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) after failing to win design contracts in February. That paused the project, but on June 2 the federal watchdog agency denied both challenges.

Bath Iron Works spokesman Matt Wickenheiser said his Atlantic Coast yard has started design work under the federal contract. “We are handling the work in-house and hiring designers and engineers, which was part of our growth strategy anyway,” he said.

The Bath company, a General Dynamics subsidiary, has been busy building U.S. Navy vessels. “We built Coast Guard ships back in the 1930s, and in the mid-1980s to 1990s we were refurbishing their high-endurance cutters,” Wickenheiser said.

Bollinger Shipyards declined to comment on the OPC contract. Executives at Eastern, with two yards in Panama City, did not return calls on the status of their first federal government contract.

At the end of 18 months all three yards will be evaluated for the final contract to build the first nine cutters in the planned 25-ship class. Each won an initial $21.9 million design contract to compete for the main construction contract to be awarded in 2016.

Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter disputed numerous points in the Coast Guard’s selection process, according to the 21-page report on the protests, but the GAO ruled the marginal past performance ratings that winnowed them from the competitive awards were reasonable.

Ingalls argued that it and rival Bath Iron Works were rated unequally regarding the impacts of Hurricane Katrina on past performance. Ingalls spokeswoman Beci Brenton, acknowledging some initial issues with Navy warships, said, “We have vigorously applied lessons learned, markedly improving quality and efficiency with each successive ship, resulting in very successful trials and, we believe, a very satisfied customer.”
VT Halter declined to comment on the protest outcome.

The new OPCs will replace the 210-foot and 270-foot medium endurance cutters that conduct security operations, search-and-rescue missions and interdiction of drug smugglers and illegal migrants.

The redesigned OPC will be more capable of carrying out Coast Guard missions, according to Eric Nagel, spokesman for the service’s Acquisition Directorate. “Affordability is one of the biggest drivers, so we’ve done a lot of work looking at the state of the market,” he said. “We’re not looking at a state-of-the-art ship, but a ship that the Coast Guard needs to do the job.”

By Professional Mariner Staff