Magazine article National Defense

Coast Guard Submits Revised Wish List, Fears Funding Cuts

Magazine article National Defense

Coast Guard Submits Revised Wish List, Fears Funding Cuts

Article excerpt

THE COAST GUARD HAS SENT TO CONGRESS A REVISED requirements document for new equipment that seeks to take into account the U.S. government's heightened need for intelligence and information.

The amended wish list, dispatched to Capitol Hill in March, also includes an accelerated ship-construction schedule and an increase in the size of the fixed-wing cargo aircraft fleet. "The original performance specifications for the Deepwater contract did not include the Coast Guard's role as the lead agency for maritime homeland security," said a service spokesman.

Lawmakers, however, charged that the Coast Guard failed to explain what specific technologies and networking systems it will need to generate the detailed level of intelligence that military commanders and law enforcement agencies want. House appropriators, particularly, accused Coast Guard officials of producing a vague requirements document that lacks explicit itemizations of future equipment buys.

The $24 billion program, known as Integrated Deepwater Systems, was launched in 1996, but got off to a slow start and regained momentum only after the 9/11 attacks. It is expected to deliver the first new ship in 2007. The Coast Guard also has begun overhauling its helicopter fleet with modern engines and other enhancements.

For years, officials have spoken about Deepwater with a sense of urgency. "Of all the world's coast guards, only two countries have fleets that are older than the U.S.--Mexico and the Philippines," noted Vice Adm. Terry M. Cross, vice commandant of the Coast Guard.

Deepwater is envisioned as a mix of aircraft, cutters and unmanned aerial vehicles that are linked in a command-and-control and communications network.

The administration's Deepwater budget request for fiscal year 2006 is $966 million, but that number could be slashed by as much as $466 million if Coast Guard critics on Capitol Hill prevail in budget deliberations now under way.

Deepwater is the Coast Guard's largest-ever acquisition. Just four years ago, the annual funding proposed for Deepwater was $300 million. The Coast Guard's entire budget proposed for 2006 is more than $8 billion, about 62 percent larger than it was before 9/11.

Of the $966 million sought for Deepwater this year, the largest single item, at $368 million, is the National Security Cutter.

Coast Guard sources indicated that if the cuts stand as recommended by the House Appropriations homeland security subcommittee earlier this month, the impact on Deepwater would be substantial, and likely lead to delays in the delivery of the National Security Cutter and offshore patrol cutters.

"To say the Coast Guard is disappointed in the subcommittee's cut of the president's funding request for Deepwater would be a gross understatement," Adm. Thomas H. Collins, commandant of the Coast Guard, said in a statement. "Fortunately, we recognize that this subcommittee action is only a first step in the fiscal year 2006 appropriations process."

One official speaking on condition of anonymity said Coast Guard leaders are confident that appropriators will restore some level of funding in House-Senate conference negotiations in early summer. "There are a number of innings still to be played," he told National Defense. He also acknowledged that lawmakers' complaints about the vagueness in the amended Deepwater proposal are "legitimate" and deal a serious blow to the Bush administration's efforts to build up the nation's maritime defense.

The revised Deepwater requirements document submitted to Congress in March, like the original program, emphasizes the value of a command-and-control network that connects the Coast Guard with federal agencies and merchant ships. The networking capability of Deepwater, still largely undefined, is regarded as a make-or-break technology that the Coast Guard must have if it plans to take a lead role in U. …

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