Coast Guard Seeks Integrator Input

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Coast Guard Seeks Integrator Input

By Nick Wakeman
Staff Writer

The Coast Guard wants to rebuild the National Distress System, a complex job potentially worth $140 million for the systems integrator who wins the contract.

Not only is the current system technologically obsolete - it was built in the disco and 8-track-tape era of the 1970s - but it is difficult to maintain and expand, said Cmdr. Jon Allen, deputy project manager for the Coast Guard.

The system is the backbone of the Coast Guard's Short Range Communication System and uses VHF-FM radios for voice communications. The system, which has 300 remote-controlled radio transceivers, primarily monitors Channel 16, the international VHF maritime distress frequency. It also serves as the command and control network for Coast Guard search and rescue missions.

The contract, which will go to a single winner, covers a complex job, Allen said. "That's why we want a systems integrator to put it all together for us." The integrator must bring in telecommunications capabilities and have original equipment manufacturers on the team, Allen said.

He would not comment on the time frame for an award but said the agency has money in its current budget for preliminary work. The Coast Guard expects the project to cost between $100 million and $140 million, he said.

The current system's outdated technology has coverage deficiencies, including at least 65 gaps along the U.S. shoreline. Like the old system, the new one must extend 20 nautical miles from the shore.

Also, the new system will have enhanced features for tracking and identifying commercial and recreational vessels by using auto-positioning capabilities, Allen said. With the current system, it is difficult to determine the position of a vessel if it has a weak radio signal or only sends out a single distress call, he said.

The Coast Guard has not issued a request for proposals but rather is trying to attract potential bidders through the Commerce Business Daily to see what type of technology is available, Allen said.

A CBD notice in May outlined the goals of the program and invited contractors to meet individually with the Coast Guard for more detailed discussions. Industry responses will help the Coast Guard develop the specifications that will go into a request for proposal.

"This is a new approach for us," Allen said. "Industry is always saying they want more information up front and early, so that is what we are trying to do."

The Coast Guard wants to learn if the technology exists to meet its goals; if the system can be built in a timely fashion; and if it can be done for the budget the agency anticipates, Allen said.

"We are still in the concept/exploration phase," Allen said. "We are still looking at what all the parameters should be."

Besides command and control and distress signaling capabilities, the Coast Guard also wants the system to provide two-way voice and data communications; be interoperable with other government agencies and the public; allow multifunctional, simultaneous operations; be secure; and work during adverse conditions such as war or natural disaster.

The project will use off-the-shelf technology, which should help control costs and let the system adapt and grow as new commercial technologies are developed, Allen said.

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