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CG won't accept defective cutters

The agency is overhauling its fleet modernization program after eight cutters developed problems

The agency is overhauling its fleet modernization program after eight cutters developed problems

The Coast Guard has notified its Deepwater contractors that it has revoked acceptance of eight defective 123-foot cutters, a first step in the agency’s attempt to recover all or part of the $100 million it spent on them.

Rear Adm. Gary T. Blore, executive officer of the Coast Guard’s $24 billion, 25-year Deepwater modernization program, reported that the agency is trying to recoup its money during May 17 testimony before two subcommittees of the House Homeland Security Committee. Coast Guard contracting officer Pam Bible, who administers contracts for the 123-footer, sent the revocation letter to Integrated Coast Guard Systems, a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, the same day Blore testified.

The letter said hull and shaft alignment problems with the 123-footer “were present at the time of acceptance and could not have been discovered by a reasonable inspection at the time of acceptance.” The letter goes on to say the amount of damages hasn’t been determined, but once they are the Coast Guard “will provide ICGS a letter for payment.”

The Coast Guard had to retire the eight 123-foot cutters, all of them 110-footers that ICGS had lengthened to extend their service life. The vessels developed cracks and buckles in their hulls and decks, and suffered from chronic shaft misalignment. ICGS was supposed to convert 49 110s to 123 feet, but the Coast Guard suspended the conversions in May 2005 after problems appeared. It took the eight cutters out of service last November and decommissioned them in April.

Bible’s letter to ICGS says the Coast Guard asked ICGS to explain what went wrong with the cutters. Receiving no response, it will go ahead with its own analysis and asking restitution under the contract.

The Coast Guard says it also has had problems with ICGS’s designs for two of its new Fast Response Cutters, which are supposed to become the backbone of its 21st-century fleet. It had hoped to bring the first of 56 FRCs into service as replacements for the 110- and 123-footers by 2007, but that $3 billion program is stalled indefinitely. The FRC design — the Coast Guard’s first cutter with hull, deck and bulkheads made of lightweight laminates or composites — is under review after tank-testing found excessive cavitation, usually a result of a poor hull shape.

While it reviews that design, the agency has issued a request for bids to build a proven patrol boat to meet its needs until the FRC design is back on track. The first of 12 of those are supposed to be on the water by 2010. It also has had to make design changes to its new 418-foot National Security Cutter after a review questioned whether the $564 million ship would last 30 years, as expected.

Blore told members of the subcommittees on management, investigations and oversight, and border, maritime and global terrorism that the Coast Guard experiment in contracting out management of its acquisition program is being overhauled. Rather than holding contractors to performance standards only, the Coast Guard will go back to issuing more specifications telling contractors exactly what it wants, says Deepwater spokeswoman Mary Elder. And on July 13 Blore will assume command of a newly structured acquisition directorate that will be responsible for directly managing all 15 Deepwater projects, along with other acquisition programs, she says.

Hobbled by an aging fleet, the Coast Guard needs the support of Congress for its ongoing modernization, Blore told the hearing.