Fleet Mix–Where are the Trade-Offs?

A recent GAO report offers some insight into how the AC&I budget will work for the next few years. The report is accessible here: Coast Guard: Observations on Acquisition Management and Efforts to Reassess the Deepwater Program
GAO-11-535T, Apr 13, 2011
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The thrust of the report seems to be that while the coast Guard has made some progress in managing its own programs since terminating Deepwater there are still a lot of problems and many of them stem from being unrealistic about budget expectations. There also seems to be an underlying frustration because the Coast Guard is not offering real alternatives to the fleet mix proposed by the discredited “Deepwater” program.

“We reported in 2009 that the administration’s budget projections indicated that the DHS annual budget was expected to remain constant or decrease over the next decade. When the Coast Guard submitted its fiscal year 2012 budget request, it also released its fiscal years 2012-2016 acquisition capital investment plan. In reviewing this plan, we found that the Coast Guard’s projected funding levels for fiscal years 2013 through 2016 are significantly higher than budgets previously appropriated or requested and therefore may be unrealistic. This unrealistic acquisition budget planning exacerbates the challenges Coast Guard acquisition programs face. As seen in figure 2, the average annual budget plan from fiscal year 2012-through fiscal year 2016 is about $520 million, or approximately 37 percent, higher than the average Coast Guard acquisition budgets previously appropriated or requested during the past 6 years.”

It bothers me that there is no discussion of mission effectiveness in the document. It is not even mentioned so presumably it is irrelevant to the budget process. What does seem to be relevant is what you got last year. Apparently the Coast Guard never learned to play the game. If the Coast Guard’s AC&I budget had been $2.35B before, $2.35B in 2015 would not have been questioned. Congress expects funding levels to be flat. Instead for good historical reasons, going back to WWII, our ship building has been episodic, with peaks and valleys. The validity of the budget request doesn’t seem to matter.

Still the Coast Guard does not seem to be dealing with the system as it is. This leads to a breakdown in the planning process. Programs are extended and extra costs are incurred. Congress asked for a fleet mix study and it has not been given one. Actually there was a fleet mix study, but it did not provide real alternatives. Instead it answered how many of the already planned assets the Coast Guard would like to have if money were no object. The results (below) are in the GAO report, but the Coast Guard realized it was too unrealistic to present to Congress.

Table 1: Alternative Fleet Mix Asset Quantities According to Coast Guard’s Phase 1
Fleet Mix Analysis, Surface/Aviation Platforms

———————-Program of record/Fleet mix 1/Fleet mix 2/Fleet mix 3/Fleet mix 4 (objective)
NSC                              8                        9                  9                9                  9
OPC                            25                      32                43              50                57
FRC                             58                      63                75              80                91
HC-130                        22                      32                35              44                44
HC-144                        36                      37                38              40                65
HH-60                          42                      80                86              99              106
HH-65                        102                    140                15             188             223
UAS, Land-Based        12                      19                 21               21              22
UAS, Cutter-Based       18                      15                19               19              19
Source: December 2009 Coast Guard data.

The things I see here are:

  • There are no icecapable ships.
  • There is no consideration of trade-off between types.
  • There are no alternative types considered.
  • There is a recognition that we need more assets than are currently planned.

The Coast Guard is still planning to provide a fleet mix plan, but it will not provide any true alternatives. From the GAO report, “Moreover, the Coast Guard officials stated that this analysis will not reassess whether the current program of record is the appropriate mix of assets to pursue (emphasis applied) and will not assess any mixes smaller than the current program of record. Alternative fleet mixes will be assessed, but these mixes are based on purchasing additional assets after the program of record is acquired, if funding remains within the yearly cost constraints.” (Which it clearly will not.) “Coast Guard officials stated that they are only analyzing the program of record or a larger fleet mix because they found that the first phase of the analysis validated pursuing, at the minimum, the program of record. The Coast Guard expects to complete its phase 2 analysis in the summer of 2011. Because fleet mix analysis phase 2 will not assess options lower than the program of record, it will not prepare the Coast Guard to make the trade-offs that will likely be needed in the current fiscal climate.”

So the Coast Guard is not reassessing the program of record and will not consider any lower cost options. In fact this means that they are not analyzing any alternatives that will actually fit within the budget.

We have been doing this for the last several years and the result is that the Coast Guard has been building one large ship every two years, when it needs to build three or four every year to maintain its fleet and replace ships in a timely manner.

That the Coast Guard does not want to go back to square one and reconsider everything is understandable. Are there alternatives? I’ll suggest a few. These may not be the right answers, but if analysis proves the existing plan is superior at least the Coast Guard will have demonstrated that they are acting in good faith and willing to consider other options:

  • Consider substituting OPCs for NSCs/HECs.
  • Consider replacing some of the planned FRCs with a second class of smaller WPBs.
  • Consider multi-crewing the RFCs.
  • To make it a comprehensive plan, add Arctic Patrol Cutters and Icebreakers to the mix.
  • Consider using C-12s and/or JP-5 fueled, optionally manned Diamond D-42 (and here) for ISR and search, in lieu of shore based UAS and some of the C-144s.
  • Consider using Scan Eagle instead of Fire Scout for the shipboard UAS.
  • Consider where the Coast Guard might use RFCs and shore based aircraft in lieu of an OPC/MEC and helicopter combination.

An honest appraisal of alternatives may only confirm that the current program is the right one, but at the very least it will demonstrate that the Coast Guard is being intellectually honest and provide an opportunity to explain why our budget really needs to be bigger.

5 thoughts on “Fleet Mix–Where are the Trade-Offs?

  1. Pingback: Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study Published - CGBlog.org

  2. Pingback: Coast Guard Capital Investment Plan, 2014-2018 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  3. Pingback: FY2017 Budget Priorities–Commandant | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  4. Pingback: Navy Boosts Target Fleet Size to 355. What is the CG Target? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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