The Coast Guard’s 5,000-ton, 400-foot National Security Cutters, a centerpiece of the troubled $25-billion Deepwater modernization program, are having serious problems with their secure networks, according to leaked documents. The networks, which must adhere to the National Security Agency’s TEMPEST standard, are 70% likely to fail to meet that standard — and on a scale of 1 to 10, the potential conquences have a severity of 8, the documents from the Coast Guard’s Acquisition Directorate posit.
A separate Coast Guard “sitrep” dated September 5 detailed the problems:
Approximately 60 discrepancies are due to poor workmanship, such as improper installation standards, poor workmanship, etc. The remaining 353 discrepancies are due to design issues. Design issues include boundary devices not in place, improper separation of red/black equipment, equipment not meeting certification requirements, etc. The Post DD-250 Working Group and the Information Assurance Working Group are working together to determine what discrepancies can be resolved prior to delivery and what can be completed post delivery, as well as how the issues could impact delivery.
What does this mean, in plain English? “If NSC1 does not meet TEMPEST requirements … by delivery, the cutter will be unable to process classified information,” according to the first document. The vessels, built by Northrop Grumman with electronics provided by Lockheed Martin, will not be suitable for sensitive missions and won’t be safe to connect to Navy and other military networks. In an age where connectivity means effectiveness, the cutters will be isolated.
Last year, former Lockheed engineer Mike DeKort alleged that Deepwater’s eight 123-foot cutters had similar problems with their TEMPEST gear. Lockheed Martin denied the charge, and the allegations were soon overshadowed by severe buckling in the cutters’ hulls that forced the Coast Guard to remove them from service this spring.
In the wake of the withdrawal, the Coast Guard cancelled the shared Northrop-Lockheed Deepwater “lead systems integrator” management contract, citing poor performance. And this summer, the Coast Guard stood up the Acquisitions Directorate to fill the gap, a big step towards reasonable oversight for a service that long ago had surrendered leadership in its equipment programs to the very companies that stood to benefit financially from the programs. Subsequent correspondence between Coast Guard officials and industry revealed that DeKort had been right all along about the 123s: that their network gear, like their hulls, had failed to meet Coast Guard standards.
The emergence of seemingly identical problems with the larger NSCs indicates that the 123s’ issues weren’t isolated. Lockheed Martin’s work on Deepwater electronics appears to be fundamentally flawed. This comes as no surprise to DeKort, who says that some of the same engineers worked on both the 123s and the NSCs.
For the record, both Lockheed Martin and the Coast Guard have denied that there are any faults in the NSCs, aside from some structural issues that have reportedly been resolved. According to industry, the first cutter is still slated to begin trials this fall. Another cutter is under construction, against a requirement for eight of the vessels.
“Everything will be done before the first piece of classified material ever runs on this ship,” Coast Guard Adm. Ronald Rabago, director of acquisition programs, told Aerospace Daily in an interview at Coast Guard headquarters Sept. 27.
[Navy inspection group] INSURV will inspect the Bertholf and identify any major deficiencies that must be corrected prior to delivery. Based on INSURV’s acceptance trials report, the president of the board, Rear Adm. Raymond M. Klein, USN, may recommend to Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thad W. Allen whether the service should accept delivery of the NSC 1.
According to the Coast Guard and the shipbuilder, an important goal toward earning the recommendation for delivery and acceptance is to minimize the number of deficiencies that the INSURV team may find during its inspection [next year].
“There will always be discrepancies when we are dealing with a complex system like a first-of-class ship, this is true for the Coast Guard and for the Navy as well,” NSC Technical Manager, Richard Celotto, said during an interview at his Arlington, Va., office. “What we hope to get from the INSURV team and our own evaluators is a manageable list of items that, after we complete them, we can recommend that the NSC is ready for acceptance. So part of our goal is to minimize the number of items on that list.”