Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla., reports that the keel laying ceremony for the U.S. Coast Guard’s, first of class, 360'x54' offshore patrol cutter (OPC) Argus (WMSM-915), was held on April 28, 2020 at Eastern’s Nelson Street facility. The ceremony was performed and recorded without audience to comply with CDC guidelines to combat the spread of COVID-19.

The OPC is designed to conduct multiple missions in support of the nation’s maritime security and border protection. It will provide a capability bridge between the national security cutter, which patrols the open ocean in the most demanding maritime environments, and the fast response cutter, which serves closer to shore.

The OPC design includes the capability of carrying an MH-60R or MH-65 helicopter and three operational Over The-Horizon small boats. The vessel is also equipped with a highly sophisticated combat system and C4ISR suite that will enhance capabilities to execute the service’s missions.

On Sept. 15, 2016, the U.S. Coast Guard exercised the option for detail design on Eastern Shipbuilding Group’s OPC contract. Eastern Shipbuilding Group will construct the Offshore Patrol Cutters to replace the Medium Endurance Cutters currently in service. The contract includes the production of up to four vessels.

The keel laying represents the ceremonial start of a ship’s life by commemorating the assembly of the initial modular construction units. Historically, to attest that the keel was properly laid and of excellent quality, the shipbuilder would carve their initials into the keel. This practice is commemorated by welding the ship’s sponsor’s initials into the keel authentication plate.

Firepower will include a BAE Mk 110 57mm gun and gunfire control system, BAE Mk 98 model 2 25mm gun, two M2 Browning .50 caliber machine guns mounted on remote operated small arms mounts, and four crew served M2 Browning .50 caliber machine guns. The cutters will also be equipped with a highly sophisticated combat system and C4ISR suite that will enhance capabilities to execute the service’s missions.

Main propulsion will come from twin Fairbanks Morse-MAN 16V28/33D STC diesel engines, producing 9,760 hp at 1,000 rpm each, connected to Rolls-Royce 5-bladed controllable pitch props, giving the OPC a running speed of 22 knots. The cutters will have a 60-day endurance and a range of 9,500 nautical miles at 14 knots.

The ship’s sponsor is Capt. Beverly Kelley, USCG (Ret.). Capt. Kelley was the first woman to command a U.S. military vessel as the commanding officer of the 95' patrol boat, Cape Newagen in 1979. Throughout her distinguished career, she became the first woman to command both a medium endurance cutter and a high endurance cutter in Northland and USCGC Boutwell respectively.

Eastern’s President Joey D’Isernia said the following in a prepared statement: “Eastern Shipbuilding Group is humbled and proud to have been chosen to build this next generation ship for the world’s best Coast Guard, and we think today represents a milestone that all those involved in the program can be proud of.

“The steel joined here today is unlike any you or I have seen before. This steel has been ravaged by 162 mph winds, generated by the 3rd most powerful hurricane to make landfall in this country’s history. This steel has borne witness to a Pandemic that has caused fear and shaken our core.

“But through all this, it remains sturdy, it remains resilient, and today it will join with other steel to become stronger, more defined, and more resolute. Today is representative of how we build, and of unwavering resolve in the face of adversity for a Coast Guard and a nation that deserves nothing less.”

Joey D’Isernia was accompanied on the podium by Capt. Andrew Meverden, representing the USCG, and Bradley Remick, the expert welder charged with welding the sponsor’s initials onto the ceremonial keel authentication plate.