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The Coast Guard Needs Affordable Systems

February 13, 2014
By Robert K. Ackerman
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Its mission is expanding as Arctic ice recedes, but it doesn’t have large sums of money to throw at the challenge.

The U.S. Coast Guard wants contractors to provide it with affordable systems instead of top-of-the-line technology solutions, said its commandant. Adm. Robert J .Papp Jr., USCG, told the audience at the West 2014 Thursday luncheon town hall in San Diego that everything the Coast Guard does is within a constrained environment, and it needs solutions that don’t strain its already tight financial resources.

He explained that many contractors apply the Defense Department model to Coast Guard acquisition, but the same rules do not apply and many great technological solutions just cost too much. The Coast Guard will be scrutinizing bidders on its upcoming programs, he added, because affordability is the number-one requirement.

Half of the medium cutter fleet is 45 years old, and the Coast Guard currently has funding for about half of the new cutters it needs. Adm. Papp hopes 8 vital national security cutters will be funded. For its offshore patrol cutter, the Coast Guard plans to buy 25 ships. “We have to capitalize the fleet that is offshore,” he stated.

And these procurement challenges come as the Coast Guard’s mission is increasing in difficulty. As the U.S. Navy shifts some of its assets to the Asia-Pacific region, the Coast Guard will be losing the support it used to receive from that sea service. It will face greater challenges interdicting illegal traffic in the Western Hemisphere, particularly with threats being more decentralized and harder to identify, and the admiral called for a new hemispheric strategy to address those concerns.

Further north, the melting of the Arctic ice cap has opened up the Northwest Passage to resource exploitation and sea-based tourism. Adm. Papp pointed out that just a single problem with a cruise ship would tax the service’s ability to perform its duties. The new national security cutter will function as a floating Coast Guard station, obviating the need for building any new permanent shore infrastructure. However, the Coast Guard will need a broader concept of maritime governance, including a new area of responsibility as the ice retracts further.

 

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