Admiral Robert Papp, Commandant of the US Coast Guard testifies before the House Homeland Security Subcommittee on Maritime and Border Security hearing on the future of the Coast Guard's homeland security missions. (Rob Curtis/Staff / Gannett Government Media)
The Coast Guard’s outgoing commandant is optimistic that the service is on course to build all of the eight national security cutters encompassed in its long-term shipbuilding plan. He also urged Congress to back funding to replace the service’s aging fleet of medium endurance cutters.
“I'm fully aware of the fiscal constraints we face as a nation, but I must continue to support the development of the offshore patrol cutter,” Adm. Robert Papp said at a hearing of the House Homeland Security subcommittee on border and maritime security, held Feb. 4.
The Coast Guard intends to build 25 of the offshore cutters; after issuing a request for proposals in September, 2012, the service plans to choose three candidates by next month to design the ship, Papp said.
But the 2014 version of its five-year acquisition plan totals about $5.1 billion, down from $7.6 billion in 2013. At a separate hearing last June, Congressional Research Service analyst Ron O’Rourke called the drop one of the largest he had seen in years and warned it could force the Coast Guard to slow buying rates for both the offshore patrol cutter and the smaller fast response cutter.
On Tuesday, Papp acknowledged the expense, but said that the medium endurance cutters are now 46 years old on average and becoming increasingly expensive to maintain. Three have needed emergency dry-dock repairs this year, he said.
The outlook is brighter for the national security cutter program, which at one point appeared that it would end with six ships. But the 2014 acquisition plan reinstated funding for the seventh and eighth vessels. The seventh is now paid for, Papp said, adding that he hoped construction money for the eighth will be part of President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget request, scheduled for release early next month.
With a range of 12,000 nautical miles, the 418-foot long national security cutter is the largest of the Coast Guard’s next-generation ships. It has a two- to three-month patrol cycle.
After four years as commandant, Papp is set to retire at the end of May.