Yes, the Coast Guard’s $25-billion Deepwater technology scheme is a mess, with late and over-budget ships, canceled contracts and one $500-million frigate that can’t talk to the outside world. But there’s a bright side: aviation, as I wrote in the latest Warships International Fleet Review:
Aviation efforts have been fairly successful. EADS provided kits for 96 engine upgrades to HH-65 short-range rescue helicopters (pictured) and has delivered the first of 36 HC-144 patrol planes based on its C-235 transport. In February, an HC-144 flew the type’s debut rescue mission searching for the pilots of two Air Force F-15 fighters that collided in the Gulf of Mexico near Florida. Meanwhile, Lockheed Martin is upgrading the Coast Guard’s six HC-130J and 16 HC-130H Hercules long-range patrol planes, so far without any problems.
And the Coast Guard’s own Aircraft Repair Center in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, is converting the service’s 42 HH-60J medium-range rescue choppers into armed MH-60T models, with the new mission of carrying counter-terrorism teams on dangerous boarding missions. The upgrade adds door guns, armor and new infra-red and daytime sensors. The new MH-60Ts are representative of the Coast Guard’s transformation for the post-September 11 world.
Deepwater’s ships and airplanes aren’t walled off from each other, however, and rising costs across various programs has forced the Coast Guard to defer ambitious plans to outfit ships with a vertical-takeoff robot. Too bad.