Q & A: High-tech cutter reaches milestone

The Coast Guard has accepted the first of three National Security Cutters

On May 8, the Coast Guard announced final acceptance of the $700 million National Security Cutter (NSC) Bertholf, the largest asset completed to date in the $24 billion Deepwater acquisition program.

It is a major milestone, but the Coast Guard is facing questions about whether it accepted the cutter before all the systems were ready. The Project on Government Oversight said May 21 that the Bertholf had not yet completed work to meet Tempest standards for securing classified communications.

Federal Computer Week reporter Alice Lipowicz interviewed Rear Adm. Gary Blore, assistant commandant for acquisition at the Coast Guard, to respond to those allegations.

FCW: Congratulations on the final acceptance. What is the situation with the Tempest certifications?

Blore: When we accepted Bertholf, we knew there were no major challenges to getting it Tempest certified. [The Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command] did the testing in April; we don’t have the final report yet. [But] I don’t know of anything that will preclude us from moving forward. We expect to receive the Tempest certification before summer.

We have been working on Tempest certification for three and a half years…. All of the discrepancies [identified in previous testing in 2006 and 2007] have been resolved…. What we have said all along is that we will accept the NSC when it is Tempest-certifiable. I think it is 100 percent there. But I don’t think it’s prudent to act until we receive the report in writing.

FCW: A watchdog group has raised concerns about the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF), a secure, enclosed area for processing classified data. The group says the facility is not going to be fully installed until next year, and final testing for Tempest will occur then. There are rumors that parts of the Bertholf have to be dismantled to accommodate the SCIF.

Blore: It is ludicrous to say it is being dismantled. The secure compartment is established. The space is there.

There are a lot of misunderstandings about the SCIF and Tempest certification. You can have a boat that is Tempest-certified that does not have a SCIF. That is not unusual. Once the SCIF is installed, we will recertify.

We have been working on the SCIF since 2004. I compare this to the Toyota Highlander. Toyota continued to produce the Highlander with the V6 engine while it developed a hybrid engine for it. That is what we are doing with the SCIF, which includes electronic equipment with enhanced capability. We are working with the Navy [to develop and install] the SCIF.

The SCIF is not necessary to accomplish the mission. We will be Tempest-certified and mission-capable with the equipment we have on the Bertholf. We will need to be recertified [with the SCIF installed] in a year. And we may do a software upgrade on the cutter in five or six years, and we will need to be recertified again after that.

FCW: Are you on schedule with the Bertholf?

Blore: We have met all our deadlines for the last six months. Bertholf is ready to go and do operations. It could have gone faster. We would have been happy to have it all done at the final acceptance. The Bertholf was first in class. It will go faster on the Waesche and the Stratton [the second and third NSCs under construction].

The Coast Guard has never had a SCIF before. It was new for us, and it took a little longer.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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