A couple months back, the Coast Guard contested my assertion in The Washington Times that problems with unsecured communications systems aboard the new flagship cutter Bertholf (pictured) would delay that ship’s entry into service. Three months later, the Coast Guard proudly announced that Bertholf had passed a rigorous Navy inspection … and would be accepted.
But the circumstances surrounding the over-budget vessel’s handover are worthy of the best mystery-novel whodunnit. For it appears that Coast Guard or contractor engineers, possibly acting on orders from Coastie HQ, engaged in some under-the-cover-of-darkness shenanigans to ensure the ship was ready for the Navy inspectors.
The first clue that something was amiss came when Defense News reported this little nugget in the wake of Bertholf‘s May 8 acceptance:
[Admiral Gary] Blore took pains to point out that systems testing, grouped under the heading of “information assurance,” is continuing on the Bertholf and that, while progress is being made, the work won’t be completed for some time.
If the communications problems are ongoing, then why did the notoriously-strict Navy “InSurv” inspection board give Bertholf a pass?
Navy Times came up with a possible answer:
Much of the information systems gear was not yet installed when InSurv came onboard, according to the [Coast Guard's acceptance] report, nor did Navy inspectors conduct full tests on the ship’s radios …
Aha! So the ship wasn’t even complete at the time of the inspection. That’s shady enough. But what if the ship had been complete … and then the Coast Guard realized that it would never pass in its current state? If that were the case, it would take some serious misdirection to avoid the inspectors’ sharp eyes. Unless, of course, the faulty comms systems somehow disappeared on the eve of the inspection, leaving the ship admittedly incomplete, but otherwise mostly flawless.
That’s exactly what happened, according to an anonymous tip relayed to me last week. The tipster, who left me no way to contact them, said that Bertholf‘s communications systems had been fully installed as of this spring, but were yanked out of the ship in the weeks preceding InSurv’s visit … and then apparently re-installed after the inspectors had left.
In other words, the Coast Guard might have cheated on their biggest ship’s final exam, leaving us taxpayers owning a flawed, half-billion-dollar vessel. I want to know:
1) What were the circumstances surrounding the “un-installation” of Bertholf‘s communications systems?
2) Who exactly yanked the systems, and when?
3) Who ordered the cheat, and what was their rationale?
I’ve asked the Coast Guard and the Navy, and both declined comment. So I’m putting out a call to all Coasties, Navy inspectors, shipyard workers and industry types who have any knowledge of the Bertholf inspections. Can anyone help me answer any of the questions outlined above? Better still, does anybody have documents or other proof to confirm the cheats? If so, contact me at david_axe-at-hotmail.com. I promise total protection and anonymity to any source.
It’s a mystery exactly how Bertholf went from hopelessly flawed to passing a Navy inspection with flying colors. Together we can solve it.
(Photo: Coast Guard)