Marine 911 contract on horizon

The Coast Guard is cruising along with some major procurements.

Following last month's award of the Integrated Deepwater System contract — a landmark deal worth up to $17 billion to a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. — the Coast Guard next expects to select a company in September to modernize its marine 911 system.

The first phase of the project began in September 2000, when General Dynamics Corp., Lockheed Martin and Science Applications International Corp. were awarded contracts that totaled nearly $25 million to develop, design and demonstrate an integrated National Distress and Response System.

One of those firms will be selected for the next phase, potentially worth $1 billion during 20 years, to update the 30-year-old communications and data systems the Coast Guard uses to receive emergency calls from boaters and to share information among its own facilities.

"The maritime 911 system not only provides a distress network but also provides an integrated coastal command and control system breaking down communications barriers experienced between cooperating agencies when responding jointly to emergencies," Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas Collins said in testimony at a hearing July 9 before the House Judiciary Committee's Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security Subcommittee.

General Dynamics held a news briefing July 11 to discuss the effort. "They've got antiquated systems that are beginning to have some reliability problems," said Jeff Osman, General Dynamics' program manager for the system. "This system is going to improve communications significantly."

The system will provide 98 percent coverage, a 12 percent increase, up to 20 nautical miles off the shore, bridging existing communications gaps. Other upgrades include a position location capability that automatically pinpoints a mariner in distress.

The Coast Guard plans for the winner to have systems installed at two of its 46 group communications centers by the end of fiscal 2003 and nationwide by the end of fiscal 2006, Osman said. The rest of the contract life will be devoted to operation and maintenance, he said.

The system will be interoperable with Deepwater systems, other civilian agencies and the military, Osman said.

There soon could be even bigger changes.

Earlier this month, President Bush unveiled his proposal to create a Cabinet-level Homeland Security Department that would house several existing agencies, including the Coast Guard.

"The Coast Guard is well positioned to move into the new department and respond to the nation's future maritime needs," Collins said.

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