Cutter Delay is Latest Evidence of Systemic Problems with Coast Guard Ships

Cutter Delay is Latest Evidence of Systemic Problems with Coast Guard Ships

The formal acceptance of the new U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter Bertholf, slated for last week, was supposed to be good news for the nation's troubled fifth military service. Instead, the 5,000-ton ship -- the largest and potentially most powerful vessel in Coast Guard history -- has become another chapter in the mounting scandal surrounding the service's $25-billion Deepwater modernization program. Deepwater, launched in 2002, aims to build new ships and airplanes and connect them all with a secure, electronic command-and-control network using common components.

In recent years, the 50,000-strong Coast Guard has been buffeted by a rapidly aging fleet of boats and ships, steadily expanding responsibilities -- both at home conducting law enforcement and safety patrols, and overseas as a junior partner of the U.S. Navy in anti-piracy patrols -- and a string of problems related to Lockheed Martin's and Northrop Grumman's work on Deepwater.

The first major Deepwater items, a group of eight updated 123-foot patrol boats worth $100 million combined, were prematurely retired last year after their hulls buckled. During the furor over the hull problems, several industry and Coast Guard whistleblowers came forward alleging that Deepwater's "system of systems" plan was fundamentally flawed, with bad design processes, poor oversight and a leaky command and control network that would allow snoopers to overhear secret military communications. In response, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad Allen promised to hire more acquisitions experts to oversee the program. With the 123s laid up, the Coast Guard was looking forward to the Bertholf commissioning as proof that Deepwater was back on track.

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