Coast Guard’s Future Depends on Deepwater

By Rear Adm. Patrick M. Stillman

The Deepwater program, which began in 1996, is designed to provide the Coast Guard with the necessary tools to perform its maritime homeland security mission. The future of the nation’s maritime security depends on the successful implementation of the Integrated Deepwater System program.

Maritime homeland security—the protection of U.S. resources, littoral infrastructure and coastal regions—has been a Coast Guard mission since Alexander Hamilton, in 1787, called for “a few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.”

The September 11 attacks demonstrated that terrorists are willing to take advantage of weaknesses in our transportation and commerce networks. The U.S. coastline presents an array of attractive targets including ports, military facilities, cargo ships, oil tankers, nuclear power plants and oil refineries. Attacks on these targets could damage critical military facilities, shut down vital economic hubs and cause economic and environmental disasters.

The U.S. maritime transportation system is vulnerable. The sheer volume of maritime traffic entering the United States, combined with the imperative of maintaining an open trading system, complicates the task of weeding out illegitimate traffic. More than 7,500 foreign-flag ships visit the United States every year, many with multinational crews and cargo. Smugglers already take advantage of our relatively open borders and waterways. We cannot discount the possibility that terrorists and weapons will be infiltrated via the same routes.

The amount of territory involved is enormous and diverse, covering more than 350 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline. The Coast Guard must operate in a wide variety of environments, from Arctic waters to the Caribbean. Additionally, the volume of trade entering the United States is large and will continue to increase in the future. Some experts believe that maritime trade could triple by 2020.

The present system for monitoring and responding to potential threats is inadequate. A critical component of our maritime homeland security strategy will be our ability to push out our borders by identifying and stopping threats well before they reach U.S. shores. This strategy prevents those who would harm the United States from blending in with legitimate maritime traffic and allows the Coast Guard time to take action.

The current fleet does not have the technological capability or sufficiently reliable assets to detect and respond to every type of terrorist threat to American ports.

The Coast Guard does not lack experience, talent or dedication. However, it lacks the modern platforms and systems to perform its future missions effectively and efficiently. The Coast Guard’s fleet of cutters, patrol boats and aircraft is rapidly aging and technologically obsolete. This situation results in excessive maintenance and support costs, endangers lives and impedes the ability of the service to perform its missions.

The fleet of medium and high-endurance cutters is currently the 37th oldest of the world’s 39 similarly-sized naval fleets. Most of the Coast Guard’s deepwater assets will have reached the end of their service lives by the end of the decade.

The Integrated Deepwater System (IDS), the Coast Guard’s recapitalization program for these assets, is the solution. Far more than a one-for-one replacement effort, the IDS will provide the Coast Guard with a state-of-the-market integrated system of assets to detect and respond to maritime threats. The Deepwater program has followed a cutting-edge mission-based performance acquisition strategy to achieve this goal.

Three industry teams were given the flexibility to design a system to fulfill mission requirements, with the only specified platform being the National Security Cutter. Funding this program is critical to provide the men and women of the Coast Guard with the necessary capabilities to perform their missions.

The Coast Guard established the Deepwater program executive office in April 2001. The complexity of the program necessitated the establishment of this organization, the first in the service’s history.

In June 2001, Acquisition Solutions Inc. completed an independent assessment of the Deepwater acquisition strategy. Phase 1 of the procurement strategy was completed on June 15. Three industry teams prepared conceptual designs for Deepwater. The three prime contractors during Phase 1 were Litton-Avondale Industries, Lockheed Martin Naval Electronics and Surveillance Systems, and Science Applications International Corporation.

The Phase 2 Request for Proposals was released on June 29. Proposals were received on September 28. The Coast Guard currently is reviewing the proposals and the contract is scheduled for award in the third quarter of fiscal year 2002. The Coast Guard’s 2002 budget includes $320 million for Deepwater.

The Integrated Deepwater System will provide the appropriate tools for the Coast Guard to anticipate and respond to potential threats in a timely fashion, as well as optimize the use of its assets by concentrating them in the areas where they are most needed.

The system will provide:

Deepwater is critical to maritime domain awareness, the cornerstone of the Coast Guard’s strategy to protect U.S. shores. The ability to execute the Deepwater task sequence—survey, detect, classify, identify and prosecute—depends on the success of the program.

The ability to interdict and board ships is a key element in law enforcement, as well as the verification of shipping information. Future Deepwater assets will have the necessary surveillance, speed, agility and firepower to overcome the sophisticated equipment available to today’s smugglers, terrorists and other potential adversaries.

Deepwater assets also will be able to perform as command-and-control centers to coordinate effective response to homeland attacks. Its coordination with the National Distress and Response Modernization Project will boost this capability. The NDRSMP will modernize and upgrade the increasingly obsolescent, national distress and response system used to monitor the international distress frequency, coordinate search and rescue response operations, and communicate with commercial and recreational vessels that might be at risk.

The upgraded distress and response system will provide the foundation for a Coast Guard command-and-control network for units protecting U.S. ports and coastlines—including deepwater ships and aircraft.

Preventing Attacks
We must prepare for the day when our efforts to prevent terrorist attacks fail and another tragedy occurs. The Coast Guard will be on the front lines—performing consequence management missions and providing command-and-control support for extended periods of time.

But even though homeland security has become a pressing concern, the Coast Guard’s other missions of ensuring maritime safety, maritime mobility, natural resource protection, and national defense have not waned. Indeed, the 1999 Interagency Task Force on Coast Guard Roles and Missions concluded that the United States “will continue to need a flexible, adaptable, multi-mission, military Coast Guard to meet national maritime interests and requirements well into the next century.”

Meeting these requirements, in addition to increased homeland security demands, has placed a strain on the service. The introduction of more capable assets will help to address this problem. The Deepwater advanced communications technology will enable more efficient allocation of Coast Guard assets, helping the service to perform its traditional missions while fulfilling its homeland security role.

The Coast Guard also performs missions in conjunction with the Navy. These include overseas port security, enforcement of economic sanctions, and force protection. The National Fleet concept signed in September 1998 and reaffirmed in 2001 addresses Coast Guard/Navy integration, as well as coordinated planning, training, research, development and procurement between the two services.

However, the men and women of the Coast Guard will not have the tools to do their jobs without sustained funding of Deepwater.

The United States Coast Guard—particularly its deepwater force of cutters and aircraft—is especially relevant to maritime homeland security.

The service has a proven track record of performing homeland security missions, from interdicting drug smugglers to hazardous waste cleanup. The Coast Guard was one of the first federal agencies on scene on September 11.

Coast Guard forces previously assigned to other operations—including 55 cutters, 42 aircraft, and thousands of personnel—were immediately reassigned to homeland security tasks.

Deepwater assets, including four helicopters and the USCGC Tahoma, were among the first to respond. Around the United States, cutters patrolled offshore and in harbors to maintain a deterrent presence and escort high-value ships (such as cruise ships, tankers) into and out of American ports.

The Coast Guard also brings specialized law enforcement capabilities to the table, having the legal authority to conduct maritime law enforcement operations. These capabilities will be immensely important as national security strategies increasingly incorporate a blend of military and law enforcement missions. nd

U.S. Coast Guard Rear Adm. Patrick M. Stillman is program executive officer for the Deepwater program.

Topics: Procurement, Coast Guard, Counterterrorism

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