Coast Guard sends SOS

Coast Guard officials plan to make commercial off-the-shelf technology the

centerpiece of a 20-year, $9.8 billion project to modernize the service

with new ships, aircraft, communications and sensor equipment.

The approach is designed to get new, yet proven, technology into the

service quickly and for less money and to provide many basic operational

capabilities that the service currently lacks.

The Coast Guard's Integrated Deepwater Project does not specify hardware

or components but rather asks vendors to come up with the best combination

of products and technologies, whether owned or leased, to meet the Coast

Guard's performance goals, said Adm. James Loy, the Coast Guard commandant.

Loy spoke April 26 at a seminar in Washington, D.C., sponsored by DFI International

Inc., a consulting firm. The options offered could include satellites and

unmanned aerial vehicles, he said.

What's new about the Coast Guard project is that it does not call for

simply replacing one-for-one the service's Deepwater assets, such as ships,

or upgrading equipment to newer versions. Instead, the service is giving

three potential contractor teams the freedom to design a cutting-edge system

composed of whatever assets are needed to enable the service to carry out

its diverse mission of law enforcement, maritime activities and national

defense.

The teams will be led by Avondale Industries Inc., Lockheed Martin Government

Electronic Systems and Science Applications International Corp.

Loy recognized the approach means cutting jobs but said that the Coast

Guard would be careful not to repeat a past 4,000-person cut that "went

too far."

Congress has scrutinized the Deepwater project, expected to be awarded

to a single team in January 2002. A March 15 General Accounting Office report

questioned the Coast Guard's plans to request $350 million for fiscal 2002

before the planning phase of the project is complete and before it has developed

and proven the effectiveness of new technologies.

But Capt. Richard Kelly, the sponsor's representative for Deepwater,

said the contract specifies that the technology be proven, not still under

development. Because implementation of Deepwater could take 20 years, the

Coast Guard wants the option to use technologies that may be developed for

other services.

The Coast Guard's existing ships and planes are "blind, deaf and dumb,"

Kelly said. Without electro-optical and infrared equipment, the agency is

operating with limited capabilities.

"We want to see so we have the ability to detect what's out there and

identify it to use our ships more effectively," Kelly said. Also, the ships

and aircraft can't share data that would provide everyone with the same

situational awareness, he said.

The project has at least one congressional supporter, Sen. John Breaux

(D-La.). Breaux, a member of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation

Committee, said the Deepwater modernization is an ideal opportunity to take

advantage of leasing some equipment, such as communications equipment, that

could lower the costs related to owning and maintaining such hardware.

Following a recent meeting of senior Transportation Department officials,

the Deepwater project is high on the entire department's fiscal 2002 budget

priorities, said Eugene Conti, assistant secretary for transportation policy.

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