House of Representatives approves $500 million for offshore patrol cutter program

PANAMA CITY, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - The House of Representatives approved $500 million to pay for the offshore patrol cutters program.

If the project gets approval from the U.S. Senate and President Trump, the Coast Guard will likely allow Eastern Shipbuilding Group to build the first vessel and start replacing the existing fleet.

In the meantime, employees are working on the detailed design of the vessel.

Eastern Shipbuilding President Joey D'Isernia said they're excited about reaching this critical part of the funding process, and the economic benefits will span beyond what most people realize.

"If the Coast Guard exercises all 25 of these vessels, which we expect them to, this project could last for 20 years," D'Isernia explained. "That's 20 years of job opportunities for people. Job opportunities mean lower unemployment, which ultimately means higher rate of home ownership, higher tax base for the area, improvements to infrastructure, extra resources for things like our fire department and police department. The list goes on and on so it's a huge deal for the area."

Congressman Neal Dunn said he strongly supports the funding.

“The Offshore Patrol Cutter program is crucial to our national security and fully funding the production of these ships will ensure that our military men and women have the tools they need to keep us safe," Dunn said in a statement. "Eastern Shipbuilding has proven to be one of the most productive and cost-effective shipyards in the country and they are dedicated to providing our Coast Guard with top of the line ships. Coast Guard leaders have made it clear that the Offshore Patrol Cutter program is one of their top priorities in fleet recapitalization. The new fleet of Offshore Patrol Cutters will feature increased range and endurance, more powerful weapons, a larger flight deck, and an improved communications and electronics suite – improvements that the Coast Guard needs to accomplish its mission.”

"It's extremely important for the Coast Guard because the existing fleet, the medium endurance cutters are old; they're at the end of their service life, so the Coast Guard needs these new assets in order to fulfill their mission and to keep our borders safe," D'Isernia pointed out.

The project is separated in phases.

"The plan for up to 25 [cutters], but these are let-in options so late next summer, we'll get the award for the next summer," D'Isernia said. "Then the subsequent year, we would get the award for the second year. That goes on and on."