Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Coast Guard Prepares to Plunge into Deepwater

Magazine article National Defense

U.S. Coast Guard Prepares to Plunge into Deepwater

Article excerpt

The U.S. Coast Guard is laying plans to get off the mark quickly with its Integrated Deepwater System Program, an ambitious, long-term effort to modernize the service's decades-old fleets of ocean-going ships, helicopters and aircraft.

The Coast Guard was poised in June to award the first in a series of five-year contracts worth as much as $15 billion over the next 20 to 30 years.

The contract calls for the winner, during that period of time, to replace or rebuild the service's forces that operate as far as 50 miles or more offshore, patrolling for terrorists, drug traffickers, illegal immigrants, commercial fishing violations or mariners in distress. Included are approximately 90 cutters and patrol boats, 70 fixed-wing aircraft, 130 helicopters, their communications equipment, sensors and logistical infrastructure.

The service planned to begin immediately, retiring obsolete platforms, renovating others and building entirely new generations of ships and aircraft, officials said. "At the heart and soul of the Deepwater program is change," Rear Adm. Patrick M. Stillman, the Coast Guard's program executive officer, told a recent NDIA-sponsored conference in Baltimore. "This is not old wine in new bottles."

Although the Coast Guard in early June had not announced the winner of the competition, the clear frontrunner was Integrated Coast Guard Systems. ICGS is a joint venture including Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics & Surveillance Systems-Surface Systems, of Moorestown, N.J.; Northrop Grumman Ship Systems Ingalls Operation, of Pascagoula, Miss., and approximately 100 other U.S. and international corporations.

In March, two other teams--led by the Boeing Company, of Chicago, and the Science Applications International Corporation, of San Diego, were notified that they were out of the running, and ICGS was asked to provide additional details of its proposals.

At press time, the ICGS team was proceeding cautiously. "It looks good, but we're nor taking anything for granted," said Jay Dragone, vice president of Coast Guard and international programs at Lockheed Martin.

Speaking before award of the contract, Dragone was reluctant to be specific about the team's plans. He did say, however, that if ICGS does win, "we're going to come out of the starting blocks very aggressively."

The Coast Guard has $320 million still available for Deepwater projects in fiscal year 2002, which ends on September 30, Dragone noted. After that, the contract calls for expenditures up to $500 million per year for five years. If the Coast Guard is satisfied by the contractor's performance, the agreement is renewable every five years.

The key to the project is modernizing the service's fleet of cutters, Dragone indicated. All Coast Guard vessels greater than 65 feet in length are called cutters. They range in size from 65-foot small harbor tugs to 399-foot polar-class icebreakers.

Relatively small, fast and lightly armed, compared to Navy ships, Coast Guard cutters have been used to enforce U.S. maritime law ever since the service's founding in 1790. Often considered the nation's fifth military service, the Coast Guard is now part of the U.S. Transportation Department. It frequently cooperates with the Navy to help protect U.S. ships and personnel in foreign waters, such as the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea.

In recent decades, however, the service's fleets of ships and aircraft have aged, the service's commandant, Adm. James M. Loy told a recent Senate budget hearing. The average cutter is 28 years old. Three of them were commissioned during World War II.

Many of the cutters are technologically obsolete, he said. For example, the USCG Acushnet, which was commissioned in 1944, still uses an engine-order telegraph for the bridge crew to signal the engine-room crew to change speeds.

Chasing Drug Smugglers

Slow-moving by modern standards, the cutters can't outrun the so-called "go-fast" speedboats used by drug smugglers in the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Oceans, Loy said. …

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