Deepwater to link ships, aircraft and land bases

The Coast Guard last week awarded an $11 billion contract to Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp. to replace its aging fleet of about 100 cutters and 200 aircraft and upgrade obsolete computers.

Under the Integrated Deepwater System contract, the largest in the agency's 200-year history, the Lockheed-Northop team has set a four-pronged IT agenda for the next five years:
  • Set up a network for communications, intelligence and surveillance operations

  • Develop systems with a common, integrated support infrastructure

  • Upgrade the onboard systems while revamping the Guard's fleet of cutters and aircraft

  • Deploy new systems for new aircraft and cutters.

The vendor team, known as Integrated Coast Guard Systems, includes more than 100 subcontractors.

Adm. Thomas H. Collins, the Coast Guard's commandant, said the team beat out other bidders'including Boeing Co. and Science Applications International Corp.'because of its strong management approach and low-risk implementation strategy.

The agency's fleet of vessels is one of the oldest in the world, and many of its aircraft were built in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Deepwater project will let Guard ships, helicopters and ashore command centers share data instantly, said Vance D. Coffman, chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin, and Ronald D. Sugar, chief operating officer of Northrop Grumman.

Ironclad armada

The project also will make Guard systems compatible with those of other agencies and help the agency identify high-risk vessels and cargo threats before they arrive at ports, Sugar said.

'The Coast Guard will have an electronically interlinked armada of ocean vessels and air vehicles that will greatly magnify its ability to deal with maritime threats,' Sugar said.

The project is not without its critics, especially because it bundles such a large effort in a single procurement and ties the agency to one contractor for such a lengthy period.

In a report last year, the General Accounting Office questioned whether the Guard could meet Deepwater's ambitious agenda because it depends on a sustained funding stream of more than $500 million every year for the next 20 years.

The Office of Management and Budget questioned whether such funds will be available.
The project has a $325.2 million budget this year, and the Guard has requested $500 million for next year.

Chip Mather, senior vice president of Acquisition Solutions Inc., a consulting firm in Chantilly, Va., said the concerns are valid.

But, he added, 'It's better to have a consistent level of funding and know how much you need to keep the program going.'

Mather, who last year conducted a risk assessment of the project for the agency, said, 'The Coast Guard has incorporated enough flexibility to move a program up or down in their priority list in case it does not get the desired funding.'

GAO noted that the long-term deal has significant risks and benefits. A possible pro is that the long-term relationship with one vendor could yield a good understanding of what the Guard needs.

On the con side, if the relationship founders, a new contractor would have to implement someone else's design, which could be costly.

Right choice

But Mather said the Guard spent three years looking for the right contractor, increasing the likelihood that it made the right decision.

'Of course, a divorce will be messy, but I am sure they have a prenuptial agreement,' he said.
Coast Guard officials conceded that priorities may change during the project's life, but said the plan is adaptable enough to accommodate change.

Under the contract, which can extend for up to 30 years, the Guard will acquire up to 91 ships, 35 aircraft, 34 helicopters and 76 unmanned surveillance aircraft. It also will upgrade 49 existing cutters and 93 helicopters and install new systems.

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