Deepwater in Hot Water | Citizens Against Government Waste

Deepwater in Hot Water

The WasteWatcher

The Coast Guard’s air and sea fleet are aging, with most of the fleet dating back to the 1950s and 1960s.  Responding to the need to update the fleet and react to a shifting threat, the Coast Guard created the Integrated Deepwater System in 2002, which, according to the Coast Guard’s website is “a critical multi-year program to modernize and replace the Coast Guard’s aging ships and aircraft, and improve command and control and logistics systems.  It is the largest acquisition in the history of the Coast Guard.  Integrated Coast Guard Systems has been managing the IDS contract since it was awarded in June, 2002.”  However, there are serious concerns with the procurement of aircraft and the National Security Cutter.

Even though there was no budget request, funds were earmarked in fiscal year 2005 to purchase four CN-235 aircraft for Deepwater.  The Coast Guard opted to use the earmarked funds to instead pay for maintenance and improvements to its fleet of aging helicopters—a project that the Coast Guard regarded as a higher priority.  The Senate used subsequent earmarks to fund the CN-235 program.

The State Department requested $100 million in the fiscal 2008 Defense Supplemental Appropriations Act and is seeking another $100 million in the fiscal 2009 State Department/Foreign Operations Appropriations Bill for the CN-235, which would be given to the Mexican Navy to bolster border security in coordination with the Deepwater program.  But the CN-235 has garnered a reputation for having serious performance issues.  According to Aviation Safety Network, CN-235 crashes in countries such as Turkey, Spain, France, and Indonesia have led to a total of 92 deaths since 1992.

Although the State Department requires that any aircraft used by the Deepwater program have “long-range patrols utilizing day and night sensors and radar,” the CN-235 is not up to the task.  “Coastal or over-land operations are permitted; however, no oceanic or remote operations are authorized,” stated a 2006 memorandum by Coast Guard Captain W. M. Moore that summarized the airworthiness of the CN-235.  The aircraft is not compatible with the Deepwater program and does not fulfill the specific needs cited by the State Department.  Furthermore, the CN-235 purchase was not subject to a competitive bidding process.

The poor planning of the Deepwater program was revealed on an August 19, 2007 segment of 60 Minutes. A $100 million effort to modify eight 110-foot Island Class patrol boats resulted in “severe structural problems,” ultimately forcing the Coast Guard to decommission them.   According to the Coast Guard, the problems are too serious to be fixed.

Deepwater has also had problems with the National Security Cutter (NSC), a 418-foot ship that was supposed to be able to monitor up to 56,000 miles of ocean daily.  Instead of using aluminum or steel to make the hull, a heavy composite material was used by contractor Northrup Grumann.  And while no NSCs were ultimately produced with the composite material, taxpayers footed $38 million in development costs.  A 2007 Department of Homeland Security Office of the Inspector General report highlighted the Cutter's “design deficiencies,” and noted “insufficient fatigue strength … [which will] increase the cutter’s maintenance costs and reduce its service life.” 

Congress must be more vigilant when faced with crucial questions of national security. Funding for the CN-235 aircraft should be removed from the supplemental appropriations bill, instead allowing general funds for aircraft purchases to be placed in the fiscal 2009 appropriations bill only.  Taxpayers have already paid the bill for hundreds of millions of dollars due to insufficient oversight, weak planning, and political pork.  Scrutiny of Deepwater must be bolstered to ensure the program is seaworthy and airworthy.

Jonathan A. Slemrod