Video–“Coast Guard Readiness: How Far Can We Stretch Our Nation’s Only Multi-Mission, Military Force?”

Above is the video of the Senate Subcommittee hearing for which I provided the Commandant’s prepared remarks earlier.

Participating Senators I noted were:

  • Dan Sullivan, Sub-Committee chair (R, Alaska)(Lt.Col., US Marine Corps Reserve)
  • Gary Peters, ranking member (D, Michigan)(LCdr. US Navy Reserve, Supply Corps)
  • Bill Nelson, ranking member of the Commerce Committee (D, Florida)(Capt. US Army Reserve)(NASA Scuttle payload specialist)
  • Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Seapower sub-committee (R, Mississippi)(Lt.Col. ret. USAF reserve)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) (USMC Reserve 1970 to 1976 discharges as Sargent)
  • Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii)
  • Ed Markey (D, Mass.) (Spec4, US Army Reserve, 1968-73)
  • Jim Inhofe (R, Oklahoma) (Spec4, US Army, 1956-1958)
  • Maria Cantwell (D, Washington)

You can also check out the original post from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. (Same video is available there, but the meeting does not actually start on that version of the video until minute 36.) There you can also find the written statements of the other three witness who constituted the second panel. The Commandant was the sole witness on the first panel.

This was something of a love fest for the Coast Guard with repeated praise for the people and actions of the Coast Guard.

This hearing was reputedly about how the Coast Guard had been impacted by the unusually severe Hurricane season. There is not a lot new here but there were some interesting remarks.

Polar Icebreaker Contracts

The intention is to Contract for the first Icebreaker and then employ block buy for the next two (28m). To me this seems to negate most of the advantage of a block buy. I don’t believe we will or should buy one and then wait until we have tried it out before contracting for the next two. That would necessitate a delay of at least five years during which we would still have the nightmare scenario of our only heavy icebreaker having no rescue if it should break down in the ice–certainly not an impossibility even with a new ship. If we are going to contract for the remaining two before testing the first, we might as well block buy all three.

First of class is always the most expensive. If the shipyard gets a block buy they know that initial improvements in productivity can be amortized over the entire block buy quantity. In some cases, in order to win the whole project, the shipyard will cut the price of the first ship substantially knowing they will make a profit over the entire project.

If we buy one and then block buy the second and third, we have paid for improvements to the winning yard with the first contract and minimized the chances for a competitive bid for numbers two and three.

Legislation has capped DOD participation in icebreaker procurement, so the bulk of icebreaker procurement costs will come out of the Coast Guard budget.

Authorization

There was a lot of discussion about the need to have the Coast Guard Authorization Bill signed into law, still not approved. You can see it here.

Other topics

There was a discussion of the high cost of the Coast Guard response to the recent series of Hurricanes.

Representative Sullivan spent a lot of time, discussing and advocating for an eleven mile road from King Cove  (population estimate–989) to Cold Bay, Alaska (population estimate–122) which has an all-weather airport with two runways, one 10,180 feet and one 6285 feet in length. The Coast Guard connection is that the road would minimize or eliminate the necessity for the Coast Guard to Medivac emergencies from King Cove by helicopter, which is frequently hazardous. It is a Federal issue, because the road would run through a Federal reserve. The Commandant fully supported the desirability of completing the proposed single lane gravel road as a means of minimizing the requirement for helicopter medivac.

Video Breakdown

28m Domestic icebreakers–Design work on new domestic icebreakers is expected to start in 2030. That sounds a bit late to me. Mackinaw was commissioned in 2006 so if that is what he is really talking about, that makes sense, but the 140 foot icebreaking tugs are a different story. The first for of these will be 51 years old in 2030. More than  half of them have already completed in-service which was expected to add 15 years to their service life. Morro Bay, at least, is expected to reach the end of her service life in 2030, and considering how long it takes us to build a ship we really need to start the process not later than 2025.

45m Western Pacific Fisheries Protection–They have not seen much risk of Illegal, Unregulated, or Unreported fishing. 

51m Inland River Tenders

56m We may need to replace the 52 ft MLBs with something larger than the 47 foot MLB sometime in the future, but their end of life is not yet apparent

58m Coast Guard Museum in New London

60m Sexual Assault in the CG

1h02m Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands continuing commitment and its effects on drug seizures and alien migrant interdiction.

1h05m Vessel homeporting

1h08 CG center of expertise, particularly in regard to clean up spills in ice and fresh water

1h16m Army Corp of Engineers dredging backlog.

1h17m  Second Panel begins.

1h19m Medivac from King Cove

1h31m Mr Smithson regarding Deepwater Horizon experience, unified approach, investment in mitigation.

 

USCGC Polar SeaThe US Naval Institute reports the Coast Guard has issued a draft Request for Proposals for a new Heavy Icebreaker with options for two more.

Certainly good news to see the process moving along, but it is also important to remember what it is not.

It is only a draft. “Responses to the draft RFP are due Dec. 11, and the Coast Guard and Navy will release a final RFP early next year, to support a Fiscal Year 2019 contract award.”

Like all of our contracts so far, there is no apparent consideration of a block buy that would lock Congress into funding the entire program–three ships in this case. Perhaps an astute shipbuilder will include that in their ultimate response, in case the Congress wants to commit for all three.

Unfortunately I can’t comment on the draft because of its limited distribution. Hopefully because,

“…Polar icebreakers enable the U.S. to maintain defense readiness in the Arctic and Antarctic regions; enforce treaties and other laws needed to safeguard both industry and the environment; provide ports, waterways and coastal security; and provide logistical support – including vessel escort – to facilitate the movement of goods and personnel necessary to support scientific research, commerce, national security activities and maritime safety.”

They will be provided with the means to be upgraded to allow them to exercise both self-defense and a modicum of offensive capability.

 

Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities, Part II, 25 July, 2017

The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing recorded above is a follow-on to one already discussed. The video does not actually begin until minute 10:40. It is basically done in two parts as indicated below.

Panel I

Panel II

  • Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition and Chief Acquisition Officer, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Rear Admiral Richard D. West (Navy Ret.), Chair, Committee on Polar Icebreaker Assessment, National Academy of Sciences | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service | Written Testimony

Elsewhere the Coast Guard reported on the Commandant’s testimony, but what we really need to listen to is what the Congressional Sub-Committee members are telling us. They seem to love and respect the Coast Guard (you may have noticed Congress keeps giving us more than we ask for), but they are not pleased with the planning documents they are getting from the Coast Guard. I would particularly recommend you watch the opening comments of Representatives Hunter (10:40 to 13:30), Garamendi (to 17:00), and DeFazio (to 21:20). It will probably make you mad. You should be mad. We have to identify the problem and fix it.

If you want only a taste, here is a short version: 

So what is discussed?:

  • 27:00 Great Lakes icebreakers, line item for design of a Great Lakes Icebreaker is being budgeted but no plan for buying one.
  • 29:30 Five Year plan “reflects Fiscal guidance.” That is, we are being told, we have to fit our budget request into predetermined ceilings, so it is less than we really need.
  • 35:00 We are asking DOD to fund six FRCs CENTCOM has requested to replace the 110s currently assigned.
  • 37:00 Graph comparing AC&I funding as requested, authorized, and funded.
  • 39:00 Twenty year plan which was due to Congress at the end of June has not been submitted to Department.
  • 44:00 DOD does not see icebreakers as a National Defense resource. Navy will not pay for the first icebreakers.
  • 54:00 Strong support for icebreakers among the representatives.
  • 57:30 Question on icebreaker lease. Ice trials issue still on the table.
  • 1h02:00 Discussion of Cyber.
  • 1h09 Why not a block buy on the first ship?
  • 1h18m Commandant’s testimony ended
  • 1h34m.Particularly watch Ronald O’Rourke’s testimony, he suggests accelerating the OPC program may be an alternative to WMEC life extension program.
  • 1h43m Sub-Committee liked getting the fleet mix study, but that was several years ago.
  • Block Buy Report due in Dec.
  • Expected cost of heavy icebreaker has dropped about $200M.
  • 2h07m again, “no military requirement for an icebreaker.” Representatives feel that question should be studied.
  • 2h15m if we wait a number of years between the first and second WAGB contract results in loss of expertise and additional cost.

The discussion was dominated by three topics,

  • Coast Guard long term planning,
  • block buys for the OPC and Icebreakers,
  • whether we should build three or four heavy icebreakers.

Three or four heavy icebreakers: The proposal to build four heavy icebreakers rather than three came from a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It is largely based on the reasonable assumption that heavy icebreaker #4 will cost less than medium icebreaker #1, as a result of the learning curve savings on heavy icebreakers and first of class costs for the medium icebreakers. I have not read the study but they don’t seem to have addressed the question, of the need for a total of six icebreakers found in the high altitude study. Assuming we build four of a single class of icebreakers, should we then start on a new class of two medium icebreakers with its attendant start-up costs or should we go ahead and build six heavies?

Block Buys for OPC and Icebreakers: The Congress has authorized the Coast Guard to use “Block Buy” funding for its shipbuilding programs. The Coast Guard seems hesitant to even ask to do this. In the case of the OPC, it might save us more than $1B. We could have (and I believe should have) asked to use multi-year procurement for the second phase of the Webber class WPC buy, but we did not.

The National Academy of Sciences study recommends we use block buy procurement for four icebreakers. The current contract for the OPCs is a contract for the first with options for eight more to be funded through FY2023. Until the options are executed we have the option of seeking a block buy contract for future construction.

Block buys commit Congress to fully fund all vessels included in a program to the extent of the contract. If they back out there are penalties incurred. From the Coast Guard’s point of view it would seem a commitment from Congress would be a good thing.

Because of that commitment, shipyards are likely more willing to invest in productivity improvements, resulting in lower costs.

The Commandant’s remarks on the Icebreaker seem to indicate we will wait until we finish and evaluate operations of the first new Polar Icebreaker before seeking funding for a second. If that happens not only will we miss the potential savings of the a block buy, we will also lose the experience the shipyard gained building the first. Long delays between the first few NSCs was largely why we did not see a significant price drop after the first ship.

Coast Guard long term planning: Our current program of record is a continuation of the “Deep Water” program which originated in 2002 and updated in 2005 following 9/11. A fleet mix study (apparently completed in 2009) confirmed that the Program of Record, if executed, would be an improvement of the fleet as it existed in 2007, but it also showed that it fell well short of meeting all the Coast Guard’s statutory requirements with many missions at risk. Additionally the fleet mix study assumed 230 days away from homeport for both the NSCs and the OPC using the “Crew Rotation Concept.”

We still have a very long way to go before we can achieve the Program of Record. There has been no meaningful test of the “Crew Rotation Concept” in spite of the fact that virtually every test of rotating multiple crews among multiple ships has proven problematic and has failed to realize the claimed benefits. Aircraft are also not achieving utilization hours planned. The OPCs, if constructed as currently planned, will not be completed until 2034.

In short our planning is out of date and the current planning seems to be limited to answering the question, “What will fit in the predetermined, but inadequate budget?”

If five-year plan is subject to “fiscal guidance” then why would the 20 year plan not also be subject to “fiscal guidance.” If we are to provide a true picture of what we need we need to change what we are doing.

What do we need to do?:

  • We need to know what we need.
  • We need to know the consequences of not getting what we need.
  • We need to be able to communicate both what we need and the consequences of inadequate funding to the Congress and Administration.

As noted in the introduction to the executive summary of the Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Analysis.

To support its role as Systems Integrator (SI), the Coast Guard (CG) needs to establish and continually update a strategic plan for the acquisition, operation, and sustainment of capabilities necessary in achieving organizational goals. Key to this strategic plan is a repeatable, comprehensive process that identifies alternative capabilities and Fleet mix solutions that will meet future mission requirements in an efficient, effective, and affordable manner.

This should not be a one time thing. We need to do this regularly as a repetitive process that is improved over time. We also really need to look at alternatives, not just already chosen solutions.

Once we know where we want to go we can come up with a 20 year (or better yet a 30 year) plan, beginning with what are we going to lose.

It might be best if the long-term plan did not include cost figures. Then we don’t have to comply with preconceptions of cost limits. Identify generic platform types with the capabilities we need.

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Copies of Acquisition and Operation of Polar Icebreakers: Fulfilling the Nation’s Needs are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu