Three months after Hurricane Michael swept across its facilities, Eastern Shipbuilding Group, Panama City, Fla., said this week that it has begun cutting steel for the future Coast Guard cutter Argus, the first in what will become the mid-range class of the 21st century fleet.

ESG officials said the fabrication started Jan. 7, with keel laying to be completed later this year. The company has also completed placing all its long lead time materials orders for the second offshore patrol cutter Chase.

The Coast Guard gave the go-ahead to start building the Argus just days before Hurricane Michael hit the Florida Panhandle. Delivery is scheduled for 2021.

“Today represents a monumental day and reflects the dedication of our workforce - the ability to overcome and perform even under the most strenuous circumstances and impacts of Hurricane Michael,” Eastern president Joey D’Isernia said in a prepared statement.

“ESG families have been dramatically impacted by the storm, and we continue to recover and help rebuild our shipyard and community,” said D’Isernia. “I cannot overstate enough how appreciative we are of all of our subcontractors and vendors contributions to our families during the recovery as well as the support we have received from our community partners.”

The 360’x54’x17’offshore patrol cutter is one more step in the Coast Guard’s original Deepwater recapitalization project launched in the early 2000s. It fills the Coast Guard’s capabilities between its 418’x54’x22.5’national security cutters, designed to patrol in the open ocean, and the 154’x26.6’x9.5’ fast response cutters that serve closer to U.S. shores. Like the national security cutter, the offshore patrol class is capable of carrying an MH-60R or MH-65R helicopter and three over the horizon small boats to conduct interdictions at sea.

The cutter will be armed with a BAE Mk 110 57mm gun and gunfire control system, a BAE Mk 98 model 2 25mm gun, two M2 Browning .50 caliber machine guns mounted on remote operated small arms mounts, along with four crew served .50 calibers. The crew will have a highly sophisticated combat system and C4ISR suite that will enhance capabilities to execute their missions.

Main propulsion will be two Fairbanks Morse-MAN 16V28/33D STC diesel engines, producing 9,760 hp at 1,000 rpm each through Rolls-Royce 5-bladed controllable pitch props. This will give the cutter a 22-knot running speed. The vessel is designed for up to 60 days’ endurance at sea and a range of 9,500 nautical miles cruising at 14 knots.

The new class will replace the Coast Guard’s long-serving medium-endurance cutters, with plans now to acquire up to 25 in the new class. ESG has a contract to build up to nine vessels with an option for two additional cutters.

Contributing Editor Kirk Moore was a reporter for the Asbury Park Press for over 30 years before joining WorkBoat in 2015. He wrote several award-winning stories on marine, environmental, coastal and military issues that helped drive federal and state government policy changes. He has also been an editor for WorkBoat’s sister publication, National Fisherman, for over 25 years. Moore was awarded the Online News Association 2011 Knight Award for Public Service for the “Barnegat Bay Under Stress,” 2010 series that led to the New Jersey state government’s restoration plan. He lives in West Creek, N.J.