by DAVID AXE
Eight years ago the U.S. Coast Guard, owner of one of the world’s oldest naval fleets, launched a $25-billion program to build new ships and airplanes, all connected by a sophisticated communications network. The rescue service called the ambitious program, “Deepwater.”
Deepwater soon found itself in, uh, deep water.
Old patrol boats modernized with Deepwater electronics famously fell apart, resulting in lawsuits and lots of corporate shenanigans by contractors Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. A new class of frigate-size patrol vessels, called “National Security Cutters,” had bad backbones, poorly-designed computers and radios and ended up late and costing twice their original budget. With costs spiraling, the Coast Guard cut the NSC build from 12 to just eight. Things got so bad that the Department of Homeland Security slapped the Coasties with a bunch of restrictions on how they could spend their own money.
To make up for the smaller National Security Cutter fleet, the Coast Guard mulled adding vessels to a follow-on class of smaller “Offshore Patrol Cutters.” Nearly a decade into Deepwater, it’s finally time to start designing the OPCs and finding a company to build them. Considering the service’s track record on new ships, if I were the Coast Guard, I would be very, very nervous.
Coast Guard Blog reminds us of the Offshore Patrol Cutter’s theoretical basic outline: 25 copies, each 360 feet long, diesel-powered and capable of 25 knots, for a maximum of 45 days’ endurance. Crew of around 100, room for two small boats and a helicopter.
Coastie Rear Admiral Gary Blore had looked into buying the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship, but the LCS is meant to be fast and short-legged, whereas the Coast Guard likes its ships slow and long-legged. Also, the Littoral Combat Ship is roughly 100-percent over budget. The Coast Guard can’t afford to hitch itself to another acquisitions disaster. “Certainly, LCS is something that we would consider,” Blore said last year, but I think he was just being nice.
So hold your breath, cross your fingers. Pretty soon, one of the world’s worst shipbuilders is going to start building more new ships, from scratch, with your money.
(Art: Coast Guard)