The New York Times and the Washington Post published stories yesterday and today criticizing the Coast Guard’s Deepwater program, which is managed by a Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman joint-venture, Integrated Coast Guard Systems. There are a number of disturbing details in these two stories about the management of this project, for example:
Facing a shortage of patrol boats, the contractors and the Coast Guard decided to speed development of a larger ship, the Fast Response Cutter. The hull was to be built from glass-reinforced plastic, known as a composite, something never tried on a large American military ship.
While acknowledging that it might cost much more to build the 58 planned cutters with composite hulls instead of steel, Northrop and Lockheed claimed the boats would last longer and require less maintenance, saving money over the long run.
Coast Guard engineers again were doubtful that Northropâ€™s design would work, citing concerns about weight, hull shape and fuel consumption. The Coast Guard also found inconsistencies in the cost data Northrop used to justify the new hull.
One former Northrop executive said the company was pushing the plan not because it was in the best interest of the Coast Guard, but because Northrop had just spent $64 million to turn its shipyard in Gulfport, Miss., into the countryâ€™s first large-scale composite hull manufacturing plant for military ships.
â€œIt was a pure business decision,â€ said the former executive, who disagreed with the plan and would speak only anonymously for fear of retribution. â€œAnd it was the wrong one.â€
That became clear when a scale model of the Fast Response Cutter was placed in a tank of water â€” and flunked the test. After three years and $38 million, Northrop Grummanâ€™s plan was suspended.
The Coast Guard clearly needs this new generation of ships and equipment. But these types of procurement screw-ups are unacceptable. Hopefully Coast Guard Commandant Thad Allen will take aggressive action to remedy these issues in the coming months (something that the NYT story suggests).