Coast Guard brass defend Deepwater cutter work

The newly built National Security Cutter Bertholf is on track for acceptance by the Coast Guard in late April or early May and is to undergo routine final testing for certification of its electronics systems soon afterward, federal officials said Tuesday.

In a telephone news conference, Coast Guard Rear Adm. Gary Blore, assistant commandant for acquisition, and Rear Adm. Ronald Rabago, program executive officer, defended progress on the Bertholf against recent allegations that have appeared on several Web sites and in a newspaper report.

The ship is part of the service's $24 billion Deepwater asset modernization program built by contractor Integrated Coast Guard Systems, which is a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp.

The recent criticisms have focused on alleged problems and delays related to the Bertholf's command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance suite, or C4ISR. The electronics suite includes hardware and software for navigation and wireless transmission of classified and unclassified data, among other missions. Some of the claims relate to the Bertholf's radios that allegedly leak classified information. Other claims relate to delays allegedly arising from those information technology problems.

Blore and Rabago said that although the Bertholf was preliminarily scheduled for acceptance at the end of February, the date was pushed back to late April or early May due primarily to problems with launch-and-recovery apparatus and safety equipment, not the C4ISR systems. Furthermore, cost projections for the Bertholf already anticipated acceptance in late April, they said.

In addition, Blore and Rabago disputed claims that there were delays related to the C4ISR systems. They said it is routine for the Coast Guard to accept delivery of a ship and then take several weeks or months to test for and correct, C4ISR-related problems before granting the ship certification for full mission capability.

In recent months, the Coast Guard has been doing preliminary testing on the Bertholf's C4ISR suite, and the contractors have fixed 80 percent of the problems discovered to date, Rabago said. Final certification of the C4ISR suite is expected within weeks or months after the ship is accepted in late April or early May, Blore and Rabago said.

A Coast Guard news journal article published Feb. 25 acknowledged some risk of delays in the final certification of the C4SIR suite because of unspecified challenges related to information assurance.

But Blore said Tuesday that the C4ISR certification is unlikely to cause further delays. "We do not anticipate that being an issue." The Coast Guard is working closely with contractor Lockheed Martin to ensure that any remaining concerns about the C4ISR suite are quickly addressed, he added.

The allegations about electronics systems are the latest in a series of difficulties for the Deepwater procurement program, which began in 2002.

A year ago, the Coast Guard revoked its previous acceptance of eight Deepwater 123-foot patrol boats because of structural problems with the boats. The Coast Guard asked for a $96 million refund from Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman.

The Coast Guard also took over the role of lead systems integrator for future projects under the contract but allowed Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to continue work on Deepwater components that were far along.

The allegations about faulty C4ISR systems also surfaced last year in relation to the 123-foot patrol boats and have been discussed in congressional hearings. There have been claims that the Bertholf's and the patrol boats' C4ISR problems stem from the same root causes in poor design and improper approvals.

However, Blore and Rabago denied any similarities and said the C4SIR electronics systems on the Bertholf are different from those on the patrol boats. The Bertholf's systems are of a different design and more complex, Blore said.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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