Coast Guard in Dispute With Defense Contractors Amid Equipment Crisis

Coast Guard in Dispute With Defense Contractors Amid Equipment Crisis

WASHINGTON - Eight leaky patrol boats are at the heart of a bitter dispute between the Coast Guard and its former partners in the defense industry as the nation's smallest military service struggles to update an antiquated fleet on a tight budget.

In April, Adm. Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant, announced at a press briefing that the service would decommission the eight patrol boats, worth around $100 million combined, just months after the first emerged from extensive work at a Northrop Grumman shipyard that included lengthening the hull by 13 feet. The lead vessel's hull buckled on its maiden voyage, betraying serious flaws in Northrop Grumman's hull work. The boat's propeller shaft was also found to be misaligned. Allen said the government would consider suing Northrop Grumman and its partner, Lockheed Martin, for an undisclosed sum.

The boats were the first of several major initiatives to emerge from the 25-year, $24-billion "Deepwater" scheme. Deepwater was supposed to replace all of the Coast Guard's approximately 30 large ships while also replacing or upgrading all of its hundreds of boats, airplanes and helicopters, all under a relatively low cost ceiling. Many Coast Guard vessels were built in the 1960s and cannot safely serve much longer.

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