The lead ship of the U.S. Coast Guard’s highly anticipated Heritage-class offshore patrol cutter (OPC), the USCGC Argus, was successfully launched at Eastern Shipbuilding’s Nelson Shipyard in Panama City, Florida on Friday. This marks a significant milestone in the Coast Guard’s mission to enhance its fleet and capabilities.
Named after the historic Revenue Cutter Argus, which served the newly formed United States of America for an impressive 13 years starting in 1791, USCGC Argus pays homage to the service’s rich heritage. It is one of the ten original cutters assigned to the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service, a predecessor to the Coast Guard, and holds the record for the longest time in service among the group.
The construction of the offshore patrol cutters has been a massive undertaking, involving over 800 craft employees at Eastern Shipbuilding Group and the support of more than 200 businesses from more than a dozen states.
The 25-ship OPCs program represents the Coast Guard’s highest investment priority, a crucial step in modernizing and strengthening their capabilities for the future. Serving as a critical capability bridge between the national security cutter and the fast response cutter, the OPCs will replace the service’s aging 270-foot and 210-foot medium endurance cutters, which have become increasingly costly to maintain and operate.
Friday’s launch and christening ceremony was held at Eastern’s Nelson St. Shipyard in front of more than 3000 dignitaries and guests. Admiral Linda Fagan, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, delivered the keynote address.
Ship Sponsor, Captain (Ret.) Beverly Kelley, had the honor of Christening the vessel. Kelley was the first woman to command a U.S. military vessel as the Commanding Officer of the 95-foot patrol boat, USCGC Cape Newagen and was the first woman to command both a medium endurance cutter and a high endurance cutter in USCGC Northland and USCGC Boutwell, respectively.
Eastern Shipbuilding Group was initially awarded the contract to design and construct up to nine Offshore Patrol Cutters in 2016, marking the largest-ever vessel procurement contract in Coast Guard history. However, significant damage to Eastern Shipbuilding’s facilities caused by Hurricane Michael’s landfall in Panama City in 2018 caused not only the delay of the first OPC , but the contract was actually modified to four vessels as the program was divided into two stages.
Last year, Austal USA was awarded the contract for the design and construction of the first OPC in stage 2 of the program. This stage includes options for up to 10 additional vessels, potentially increasing the contract value to $3.3 billion.
Commissioning of the USCGC Argus is now planned for 2024, nearly three years behind schedule.
“We are proud to christen this first of class national security asset in front of her crew today,” said Joey D’Isernia, CEO of Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Inc. “With each milestone we reach, our employees are constructing the most advanced and capable ship the U.S. Coast Guard has ever seen.”
“We have overcome unprecedented challenges to arrive at this pivotal moment to witness this spectacular vessel enter the water for the very first time. People are only just beginning to see what this vessel is truly capable of and like the steel forged on her, we will not compromise,” D’Isernia added.
The program is also over budget. Coast Guard had originally planned to invest over $12 billion in the acquisition of a fleet of 25 OPCs. However, according to a recent U.S. Government Accountability report, the acquisition cost estimate for the OPC increased from $12.5 billion to $17.6 billion due to various factors, including contract restructuring due disruptions caused by Hurricane Michael and increased infrastructure costs, among other factors.
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