Coast Guard Takes the Right Steps
By JOHN A. PANNETON, National President
The managerial restructuring
under way at the Coast Guard
will result in a tougher, more exacting acquisitions process and a
Deepwater program that will deliver
high-quality ships and aircraft to the
fleet at a reasonable cost.
At the direction of Adm. Thad
Allen, Coast Guard commandant, the
service is unifying its acquisition
strategies and will rely more heavily on
internal experts and outside assessment teams to better manage its procurement programs. His goal: To ensure the service receives the best value
for the billions of dollars it is spending
on the Integrated Deepwater System.
Our nation has turned to Allen repeatedly for leadership in times of crisis, such as direction of the rescue
and humanitarian assistance operations in the wake of
Hurricane Katrina, and we are confident he will correct
the systemic faults that led to the 2005 fleet deployment of eight unworthy patrol boats.
The vessels are upgraded versions of 110-foot patrol
boats that had been in service for more than 20 years.
The Coast Guard already had sharply curtailed the program — from 49 boats to eight — due to the extremely poor condition of the vessels selected for renovation.
Soon after their delivery in 2005, those eight modernized boats experienced deck cracking, hull deformation and misalignment of the shafts.
In a public statement, Allen in November suspended
operations of the boats after an inspection by the Coast
Guard’s chief engineer revealed additional structural
problems, including buckling beneath the engines.
Clearly, errors were made. The boats should not have
been deployed. A chief purpose of the changes being
made by the Coast Guard is to instill the robust regime of
checks and balances necessary to ensure each element of
Deepwater is thoroughly vetted at every step in the procurement process. Coast Guard engineers now are a routine part of that process. Independent assessment teams
from the Pentagon and Department of Homeland Security
are being brought in to review procurement decisions.
Reassessments already are under way on two major
elements of the Deepwater program, the Eagle Eye
unmanned aerial vehicle and the Fast
Response Cutter B. The Coast Guard’s
new acquisitions chief, Rear Adm.
Gary T. Blore, is prepared to bring in
additional competitors for the service’s
Deepwater dollars, as necessary.
These steps are aggressive and prudent. Deepwater, comprising more
than 200 vessels, 250 aircraft and
accompanying intelligence and communications systems, is a $24-billion,
25-year effort to bring the service’s
fleet into the modern age. There are
39 national naval fleets in the world
and — to the embarrassment of our
nation — the U.S. Coast Guard’s is
the 37th oldest.
The fleet is old, tired and breaking down. Unplanned
maintenance is on an exponential upward curve in an
era when Coast Guard missions have increased and its
operational tempo is rising fast. At times, the service
has dispatched two or three boats or aircraft on a rescue
mission that should have required a single Coast Guard
unit to accomplish because the platforms broke down
en route to their objective. This sad situation is in large
part the result of decades of underfunding by the executive and legislative branches of our government.
The nation cannot expect the Coast Guard to continue to perform superbly — as after Katrina, for
example — with boats and aircraft that have reached
block obsolescence. Deepwater is an essential means
to improve the maritime security of our nation. The
Navy League will continue to take a leadership position in supporting the Coast Guard in its efforts to
acquire the resources requisite to its expanded role in
our national life.
I want to hear from you about the Navy League. Contact
me at email@example.com or by mail at 2300 Wilson
Blvd., Suite 200, Arlington, VA 22201-3308.