Magazine article National Defense

Coast Guard Acquisitions Called 'Unaffordable'

Magazine article National Defense

Coast Guard Acquisitions Called 'Unaffordable'

Article excerpt

* The Coast Guard has laid out an ambitious modernization and recapitalization plan for its future fleet of cutters and aircraft, but experts and government watchdogs have thrown cold water on it.

In a recent report, the Government Accountability Office said the chronically underfunded sea service's overall acquisition portfolio is unaffordable, particularly as it prepares to pay billions of dollars for the offshore patrol cutter--a vessel that is meant to replace aging 270-foot and 210-foot medium-endurance cutters.

"The OPC will absorb about two-thirds of the Coast Guard's acquisition funding between 2018 and 2032 while it is being built. As a result, remaining Coast Guard acquisition programs will have to compete for a small percentage of funding during this time," said Michele Mackin, director of acquisition and sourcing management at the GAO.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the Coast Guard, has continually stressed that the procurement of the OPC--which is estimated to cost $12.1 billion--is his biggest priority. However, the program has suffered some setbacks.

"The Coast Guard currently plans to begin construction on the lead ship in fiscal year 2018--one year later than planned in its most recent program baseline--and deliver this ship in 2022," Mackin said in May in her prepared remarks to the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's subcommittee on Coast Guard and maritime transportation. "The Coast Guard attributes the schedule delay to procurement delays, including a bid protest."

Last year, the service awarded three firm fixed-price contracts for the preliminary and contract design of the vessel to Bollinger Shipyards Lockport LLC, Eastern Shipbuilding Group Inc. and General Dynamics-Bath Iron Works. The Coast Guard will select a single vendor by the end of fiscal year 2016, officials have said.

Congress must help the Coast Guard meet its goal of 25 ships, James Offutt, president of the Navy League of the United States, testified.

"The highest acquisition, construction and improvement priority for the Coast Guard is to lay the groundwork for the construction of the offshore patrol cutter, which will replace cutters built in the '60s and '80s," he said. "The importance of the OPC cannot be overstated. It will function as a service operational workhorse to carry out the Coast Guard's primary missions over the next 40 years."

He called on Congress to fund the construction of two OPCs annually.

Getting the offshore patrol cutter funded and procured is a matter of national security, said Brian Slattery, a defense and security studies policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

"There are a number of national security missions that the United States Coast Guard undertakes every day, particularly things like drug interdiction and other illicit activities that could be occurring in or near U.S. territorial waters," he said.

The Coast Guard is already suffering from a lack of presence and a fleet size that is not as high as it should be, he said. "If we're not replacing the medium-endurance cutters that are on their last legs that the offshore patrol cutter is supposed to replace, then that will only worsen."

The GAO found that the Coast Guard has often faced a disconnect between how much funding it estimates it will need for future acquisitions and how much it traditionally requests and receives, Mackin said.

The office noted that senior leaders of the Coast Guard have repeatedly said the service needs $2 billion per year for its acquisitions to meet its requirements, but has requested and received less than $1.5 billion over the last five years.

For fiscal year 2016, the service requested a little more than $1 billion, its latest five-year capital investment plan (CIP) showed. Through fiscal year 2020, the request never exceeds $1.29 billion. …

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