Whether interdicting illicit drugs in the Caribbean, helping vessels in distress, or monitoring the increasingly busy U.S. Arctic waters, it is clear that the Coast Guard’s responsibilities will only be growing into the future. As Congress continues to look at the proposed fiscal year (FY) 2015 federal budget, it should support the Coast Guard fleet.
Three programs in particular will modernize the fleet for decades to come: the National Security Cutter (NSC), Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), and the Fast Response Cutter (FRC).
The Coast Guard requested funding for the eighth and final NSC. The final two NSCs had been in question for the past few years as the Coast Guard had failed to request advanced funding for these cutters, but Congress added funding back in to maintain the fleet’s progress. The completion of NSC 8 will aid in the Coast Guard continuing to deliver on its duties across all U.S. waters and around the world.
The OPC program—which is still in the research, development, and advanced procurement stage—requested $20 million in FY 2015. This is less than what was originally planned for FY 2015. While the current funding level signals that the Coast Guard is not giving up on the OPC, it also means that there may be a delay in the OPC entering the Coast Guard fleet, which will inhibit the Coast Guard from replacing outgoing legacy cutters on schedule.
The FRC is the most obviously underfunded program in this year’s request. The FRC’s intended fleet size is 58 cutters, and if only two are to be procured each year, it will be extremely difficult to reach that number on schedule. Also, requesting six FRCs at a time—as the Coast Guard had planned to do—allows for the optimum per-unit cost, while the requested rate of two FRCs per year could lose savings wrought through economies of scale.
The Coast Guard’s polar icebreaker fleet is critically lacking. The Coast Guard has a requirement of three medium and three heavy polar icebreakers. Currently the Coast Guard has only two icebreakers: the Healy—which is primarily a research vessel—and the Polar Star, which is over 40 years old and is expected to sail for only seven to 10 more years. It is expected to cost nearly a billion dollars to procure the next icebreaker, yet in the FY 2015 budget the Coast Guard only requested $16 million.
Members of Congress and the Coast Guard have discussed leasing foreign icebreakers in the future to alleviate the immense costs this one vessel would impose on the service’s acquisition budget. They should resume this discussion and seriously pursue foreign vessels that are cost-effective and fill a requirement gap more rapidly.
America’s reliance on the seas for economic prosperity will only continue. Congress should uphold its responsibility to provide for the common defense by ensuring that the Coast Guard continues to protect America’s maritime interests.
Richard Moxley is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please click here.