TCS Daily

Coast Guard Readies For 'Deepwater' Transformation

By Duane D. Freese - March 23, 2001 12:00 AM

The Coast Guard needs a dramatic transformation in its equipment and operations if it is to meet national needs and maintain crewmembers' safety, Coast Guard Commandant James Loy told an audience at Andrews Air Force Base Thursday.

"For nearly three years now, we have focused special attention on readiness, particularly the urgent need to bring enough people into the Coast Guard to perform our missions," Loy noted in his annual State of the Service address.

But while improving in that area, cutting the shortage of petty officers in half, and also upgrading coastal assets of some 1,400 smaller vessels, these steps amount only to "incremental progress," Loy said. "And incremental progress will not be sufficient to bring about the transformation we need."

That transformation, Loy made clear, depends upon implementation of the service's proposed Integrated Deepwater System (IDS). That program over 20 years would replace all of the service's aging ocean-going vessels, its faltering helicopter fleet and a decrepit communication system that is twice as old as any other in any federal agency.

Those old systems are hindering the service from accomplishing its multiple missions, Loy pointed out, including not only its core air and rescue operation, but also drug interdiction, deterring illegal immigration, safety training, protection of national fishing grounds, oil-spill cleanups, maintenance of open navigation and support for the other armed forces.

"The percent of time that our ... cutters are free from equipment problems that eliminate or degrade the ability to perform one or more missions has decreased from 55 percent to 40 percent" since 1995, Loy said.

Worse, the declining readiness of ships and other equipment is endangering the Coast Guard crewmembers, he said. He cited a plane crash that recently took the lives of two auxiliary members during a training mission and the dumping of nine boarding crewmembers into 36-degree waters in the Bering Sea when an aft davit for raising and lowering boats broke on the 58-year-old cutter Storis.

"Had the commanding officer not sped the recovery by deviating from normal man overboard procedures, it is possible that we would have lost several members of the boarding team," Loy noted. Meanwhile, the incident allowed a fishing boat poaching in American waters to get away, he added.

"Coast Guard lives placed at risk; boardings not conducted and laws not enforced, missed patrol days for repairs; ... unexpected repair bills," these are "all the ingredients of a cycle of degraded readiness," Loy warned.

Loy believes that Congress and the Bush administration will allow the service to start addressing these problems, beginning with the awarding next year of the Deepwater contract to one of three consortiums now competing in the design phase.

The innovative approach calls on the groups - including one led by Lockheed Martin, another headed by Boeing Corp., and a third by Science Applications International Corp - to match equipment to the functions that the Coast Guard provides, rather than a one to one replacement of existing vessels and aircraft.

Loy also responded to concerns raised by some in Congress that the $10 billion was too rigid in its selection of a single contractor and so innovative it might face escalating costs down the road. "We are working hard to ensure that all the stakeholders in the project clearly understand ... that our strategy (is) to procure the ships and other components in this system at the lowest life-cycle cost, that enormous flexibility exists in the post-award environment, and that we fully answer questions about either the affordability of the project or our ability to execute our acquisition strategy," he said.

But "let no one misunderstand," he said. "IDS is the right project for the right reasons at the right time."

TCS Daily Archives