Adm. Stillman sets sights on Deepwater

A Coast Guard officer spies a suspicious vessel. The officer uses a handheld communication device to alert a commanding ship and a land-based command center. Instantly, vital information linking that vessel to an ongoing, classified counter-drug mission is transmitted back to the officer with instructions to board the vessel.

With additional information provided by a new high-tech national security cutter sailing miles away, the officer is now well-informed and prepared to seize a massive quantity of illegal drugs.

With the real-time data, the officer proceeds with the operation, and a secure Coast Guard network relays information on the mission's result, instantly updating databanks across the fleet.

Does this scenario sound like the Coast Guard you know? In terms of technology, maybe not.

But after listening to Rear Adm. Patrick Stillman describe his outlook for the Coast Guard's future, the correct answer is "not yet."

As the program executive officer for the Integrated Deepwater System, Stillman oversees the multibillion-dollar, 20-year effort to revamp the fleet's physical assets while bringing the Coast Guard's technological force into the 21st century.

His vision centers on a Coast Guard that owes its success not only to newer ships and planes but also to a fully integrated information technology network that increases the timeliness, effectiveness and efficiency of all operations.

Similar to the Defense Department's transformation and network-centric operations initiatives, Stillman said the service is working on a network-centric approach that is critical to the success of the Deepwater program. It demands the investment of so much time and money.

"It's the network that really is the force multiplier here," Stillman said. "That's it in a nutshell, and that's where the investment is truly being made."

IT will aid increased responsibility

Traditionally, the Coast Guard has filled many roles, including search-and-rescue missions, maritime safety, law enforcement and protection of natural resources. Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, however, the Coast Guard increasingly aids in homeland security.

This security role grew even larger in March 2003 when the Coast Guard was moved from the Transportation Department to the new Homeland Security Department as part of the biggest reorganization of government in half a century.

Since the terrorist attacks, "it has become increasingly evident that the Coast Guard is playing a critical role in port security," said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), chairwoman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, whose state has a long coastline and major ports that could be terrorist targets. "Therefore, making sure that the Coast Guard has the assets that it needs to both perform its expanded homeland security mission and fulfill its traditional jurisdiction is very important."

According to statistics provided by Collins, the Coast Guard has deployed an average of 56 percent of its assets for homeland and port security purposes since Sept. 11, compared to only 6 percent prior to the terrorist attacks.

"It's evident that the Coast Guard needs more resources if it's going to continue to perform in both roles," Collins said.

With its increased responsibility, the Coast Guard has increased the wear and tear on its fleet, which is the third oldest in the world. Some of the cutters that regularly patrol the seas are from the Vietnam War era and more than 30 years old. Furthermore, Coast Guard officials estimate that two-thirds of the fleet's assets will reach the end of their service lives within the next 15 years.

The Coast Guard's massive coverage area has stretched the fleet's assets to their limits. The service's jurisdiction includes approximately 95,000 miles of U.S. coastline; more than 3.4 million square miles in the Exclusive Economic Zone, which includes the areas surrounding the United States and its territories; 361 commercial ports; and an inland water system that reaches for thousands of miles.

Because the Coast Guard covers such a vast area and its missions are so varied, Stillman said there is a need for an advanced IT network to increase connectivity. Developing this network is as important as replacing the aging and somewhat outdated fleet, he said.

"You've got to be able to fuse intelligence and information in that common picture that permits the operator to be well-informed and focused in terms of where they apply effort," he said. "If you don't have an adroit handle on IT and the unqualified ability to convey information and synthesize it into knowledge in an expedient manner, you are out of luck."

Putting out to sea

The Deepwater program got a jump start in June 2002, when the Coast Guard awarded a performance-based contract to Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS), a joint venture partnership between Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

Although there has been a push by Collins and other lawmakers to accelerate Deepwater's completion, the program's deployment schedule remains on an approximate 20-year timeframe and is beginning to reach important milestones.

As part of the progressive implementation, the first steps have focused on technologically improving existing assets to facilitate future connectivity. This includes an extensive upgrade in the domain of command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems.

"We proposed a complete C4 enterprise across all Coast Guard assets in the Deepwater system — a common enterprise that will be deployed on all ships, aircrafts and shore facilities under the Deepwater scope," said Bruce Winterstine, ICGS' associate program manager.

One project to update the Coast Guard's assets replaces 110-foot cutters with upgraded 123-foot boats with advanced C4ISR packages. The first of these models, the cutter Matagorda, was delivered in March.

Future plans include a new national security cutter that can provide real-time intelligence for mission planning and operations. This project is in the initial production phases, and officials expect to complete it in 2007.

On land, the integration team completed C4ISR upgrades in late 2003 at Communication Area Master Station Atlantic, which directs and oversees daily operations and maintains operational control of all communication stations in the Coast Guard's Atlantic Ocean area. This year, C4ISR upgrades will be completed at Communication Area Master Station Pacific.

The Coast Guard will enjoy a higher level of connectivity with the technology upgrades at land facilities and improvements on ships and airplanes, including the challenging issue of increasing bandwidth.

"What we'll get is all of the Coast Guard assets in the Deepwater program acting as a separate node to develop, fuse and share all of this information in one common operational picture," Winterstine said.

Stillman said that maritime domain awareness, which means a heightened state of readiness, depends on this common operational picture. Citing the diverse description of the Coast Guard's duties, he sums up the fleet's mission scope as a performance chain that includes surveillance, detection, identification, classification and prosecution.

In addition to increasing connectivity among Coast Guard assets, Stillman stressed that the service must also connect with DHS, the Navy and other federal, state and local agencies.

The Coast Guard recently received a boost to its interoperability when the fleet expanded its access to DOD's Secret Internet Protocol Router Network.

The increased access will allow most Coast Guard bases to communicate with the service's headquarters, located at Buzzard Point in Washington, D.C., and increase communication with its homeland security partners.

"One of the core constructs is a much bigger pipe, such that it will accomplish the establishment of a common operating picture across the system," Stillman said. That common operating picture "will not only be germane to key command and control centers on the beach but equally germane to the other assets that comprise the system."

Finding value with a performance-based approach

Stillman is an outspoken proponent of performance-based contracting and feels that this approach will help make the Deepwater program successful.

"There's no question that performance-based contracting is the best way to proceed," Stillman said. "That's a different way of doing business. We gave them a statement of objectives, not a statement of work."

One advantage of this approach lies in the working relationship between the Coast Guard and the ICGS team. In the systems integration office, employees from government and industry work side by side in the same space.

"We are basically committed to defining a successful partnerships.... We don't use that term lightly," Stillman said. "I think that, unquestionably, internal communication and defining expectations [are] extremely critical in this undertaking."

Members of the ICGS team say the flexibility of the Coast Guard's approach is a strength of the Deepwater program.

"I think it's working well. The general concept that we're doing gives the technical community a lot of latitude to test and deliver different technology to meet the Coast Guard's needs," said Cmdr. Mike Anderson, Deepwater program manager. "Anything that helps quicken the ability to switch to newer and better products is definitely in the best interests of the Coast Guard."

According to Anderson, the integration team's ability to select appropriate technologies and make decisions give Lockheed and Northrop Grumman a solid footing in the partnership.

The total-system approach of Deepwater will allow the Coast Guard to meet the needs of connectivity and link each asset to the network. This differs from the past method of simply replacing boats on a one-to-one basis, disregarding interoperability, Anderson said.

Through Deepwater's ideology, the team is able to work on individual asset problems while integrating each asset into the overall network.

"We can deliver a true system of systems, and we can provide the whole solution and ensure that it's interoperable," Winterstine said.

According to Anderson, the Deepwater program has built technology reinforcements into the schedule. Every five years, the integration team will reassess and refresh the program's computer network.

The contract with the integration team will be up for renewal in 2007, and Stillman said customer satisfaction will be an indicator of whether or not to extend the partnership. Program success can be quantitatively measured by the effectiveness of mission performance, he said.

He points to several facets of the Coast Guard as measuring sticks for success, including counter-drug missions and seizures, protecting natural resources, promoting fish stocks and the fleet's ability to deploy to support the Navy.

"We collectively have to carry the mail, and the mail is defined by the efficient and effective capability for the men and women of the Coast Guard to do their jobs," Stillman said. "You can measure activity all day long, but if you're measuring the wrong activity, what good is it?"

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