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Ingalls protesting Coast Guard cutter contract

Feb. 26, 2014 - 02:51PM   |  
A bevy of shipyards have been vying for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) award, one of the biggest new surface ship construction efforts envisioned this decade.
A bevy of shipyards have been vying for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) award, one of the biggest new surface ship construction efforts envisioned this decade. (Christopher P. Cavas)
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WASHINGTON — Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) is protesting the Coast Guard’s Feb. 11 award of design contracts for the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) program, reportedly citing questions about the grading criteria.

“Ingalls Shipbuilding recently received a debriefing of the offshore patrol cutter evaluation, and we have decided to protest the Coast Guard’s decision,” said Beci Brenton, a company spokeswoman here. “Ingalls Shipbuilding offered the Coast Guard a strong, fully compliant proposal to provide a very capable, cost-effective offshore patrol cutter design, and [we] believe our protest has merit.”

The Coast Guard awarded contracts to three firms — General Dynamics (GD) Bath Iron Works, Bollinger Shipyards and Eastern Shipbuilding — to produce preliminary and contract designs for the OPC, a program that envisions up to 25 ships worth approximately $10.5 billion. Each of the Feb. 11 awards was for about $22 million.

A bevy of shipyards have been vying for the OPC award, one of the biggest new U.S. government surface ship construction efforts envisioned this decade.

Eliminated in this latest round were proposals from Huntington Ingalls and VT Halter Marine. Last year, the Coast Guard passed on designs from Fincantieri Marinette Marine, GD’s National Steel and Shipbuilding Co. and Vigor Shipyards.

Ingalls had been thought a strong contender for the OPC. The company is building larger National Security Cutters (NSC) for the Coast Guard, with three completed, another in the water and a fifth to be launched later this year. A total of eight NSCs are expected to be built.

The new cutters were originally part of the Deepwater program, a sprawling effort spread over two decades to upgrade and replace most of the Coast Guard’s ships, aircraft and systems. The program, originally ministered by Northrop Grumman — previous owner of HII — and Lockheed Martin, was broken up after Congress demanded more oversight from the service, and the Coast Guard now directly manages its acquisition programs.

The NSC was the largest element of the Deepwater program and the largest cutter and most sophisticated ship ever built for the Coast Guard. Ingalls, long a builder of ships for the Navy, and the Coast Guard suffered through a series of issues over the NSC, in many cases due to a failure of each side to communicate with and understand the other.

Those issues have been resolved, however, and overall the NSC program seems to be proceeding satisfactorily. The Coast Guard routinely praises the new ships, which began to enter service in 2008.

Of the three yards which received OPC contracts on Feb. 11, only Bollinger has any real recent experience in dealing with the Coast Guard. The Louisiana-based shipbuilder has extensive experience building smaller cutters and is producing Fleet Response Cutters, the smallest of the three Deepwater cutter programs.

Bath Iron Works, in Bath, Maine, builds destroyers for the Navy but has not built new ships for the Coast Guard since the 1930s. Eastern, in Panama City, Fla., is a well-known builder of offshore support vessels and other smaller commercial products but has little experience with government contracting.

HII’s protest was filed with the Government Accountability Office on Feb. 25. Based on the standard 100-day period for the GAO to review the protest and issue a ruling, a decision is expected in early June.

Until then, under government rules work under the contract awards is suspended.

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