Monday, March 19, 2007

Deepwater Cutters cancelled

For shipbuilding, beware the Ides of March. On top of the LCS problems - the USCG's Deepwater is in meltdown. Some of our favorite money sponges are involved.
The U.S. Coast Guard has canceled a roughly $600 million contract awarded to a joint venture of Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., and said it plans to award a new deal next year.

The Coast Guard opted to end the contract for 12 "fast response cutters" about a year after technical concerns were raised during testing on their original design. The design work was suspended in February 2006 and a request for proposals will be issued in May, with the new contract award expected next March, agency spokeswoman Mary Elder said Thursday.

The canceled pact is part of the so-called $24 billion Deepwater modernization contract awarded in June 2002 to Integrated Coast Guard Systems, a joint venture of Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, that has been lambasted in recent inspector general reports and on Capitol Hill for spiraling costs, lax oversight of the contractors and other design flaws.
Hate to say this: but this took place on the Republicans' watch - and it is going to take Democrats to fix it. Hey, like I said before, if it takes the Democrats in power to save shipbuilding, sobeit.
And with a slim Democratic majority in the Senate, Cantwell had trouble getting bipartisan support to even schedule an oversight hearing last month, let alone dig into alleged mismanagement.

The Deepwater contract's main promoters were Republicans, including Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, former Senate majority leader and a member of Cantwell's committee.

Some of the ships' hulls were going to be built in Mississippi.

"Cantwell needs to take the reins and take charge," said Steve Ellis, head of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a watchdog group.

"Taking a timid course on Deepwater won't help the Coast Guard in the long term," said Ellis, who is a Coast Guard Academy graduate and was an officer for six years. "They need these cutters, and they need them to work."
During last month's hearing, Cantwell called the Deepwater controversy a "fleecing of the taxpayer." But it was Snowe who seemed more aggressive when, sounding frustrated, she asked Northrop Grumman Ship Systems President Philip Teel: "Do you agree that there are any problems" with the contract?

Cantwell has been worried about the Deepwater program for some time and has written several letters to government agencies about rumored problems since 2004.

She said she was stunned the Coast Guard and Homeland Security Department, which oversees that agency, had been sitting on a memo questioning the safety of the project's flagship, the first National Security Cutter, for more than two years.

"Importantly, several of these problems compromise the safety and viability of the hull, possibly resulting in structural failure," the 2004 memo said.
Byron, you'll like this background.
Its planned fast-response cutter is so heavy that engineering supervisors have nicknamed it "The Brick."
The fast-response cutter, intended to interdict speedy drug dealers and illegal immigrants, also is on hold. Its weight with additional communications gear is now 52 percent more than expected, a supervising agency engineer said.

"Even a brick, if you put enough horsepower on it, you can make it plane across the water at 35 knots," Capt. Kevin Jarvis said at last month's hearing. But, he added, he didn't think that was what the Coast Guard really wanted.
There may be more trouble down the road.

As part of those negotiations, the Coast Guard is reviewing a proposal from Integrated Coast Guard Systems to fix design problems affecting the most ambitious piece of the Deepwater program - the construction of eight new National Security Cutters.

Those cutters, unlike the smaller, fast-response cutters, are the largest and most technically advanced vessels the Coast Guard will have and are capable of patrolling vast areas for months at a time.

One new National Security Cutter already has been built at the Pascagula shipyard and a second is under construction.

But the price of the first ship ballooned from about $300 million to $564 million. Even worse, several Coast Guard engineers said they are concerned the ship has structural problems that would result in premature cracking of its hull and decks.

What is the lesson here? Oh, gee; where do we start. First of all, there are always problems with new construction. That is just the way things go. One would hope that technology leaps in modeling and design would mitigate them - but they will always be there.

That is not an excuse for LCS, DDG-1000, Deepwater, and to certain extent LPD-17. Especially LCS, the problem stems from poor leadership, "Happy Talk," poor oversight, and the political-Lobbyist power blocks. More than all that though, they come from a refusal to benchmark the last hundred years of Fleet development patterns; the seduction of the PPT; bad theory that borders on a secular religion, and waiting for the last minute to build a new class of ships because "evolutionary" isn't sexy enough. It has to be "revolutionary" and "transformational."

Chickens are roosting. All these cancelled programs do not fix the fact we, Navy and Coast Guard, need ships. 5 years ago. Our answer is in the European shipyards. License build the best in production right now until we fix ourselves. Do a tour of Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden to start.

Hat tip AT2.

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