From: Ocean News Weekly/ By: Ocean Leadership Staff
What It Was
The Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a hearing titled: “The Future of the Fleets: Coast Guard and NOAA Ship Recapitalization”
Why It Matters
Establishing reliable and consistent maritime domain awareness in the Arctic is essential for U.S. national security. The melting ice in the warming region is creating new shipping routes and access to oil and gas in once unnavigable terrain, and other nations are already taking advantage of this with fleets of heavy icebreakers leading the way. These vessels, capable of breaking through several meters of ice, are a necessity for traversing these harsh areas, but the U.S. fleet currently only contains two operational icebreakers, compared to the 41 that belong to Russia.
Chairman Dan Sullivan (AK) and Ranking Member Tammy Baldwin (WI) began the hearing by agreeing that aging fleets of U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ships are reaching the end of their service life. Chairman Sullivan outlined the Coast Guard’s important roles ranging from maritime first responder to national security maintenance. Ranking Member Baldwin noted that NOAA’s ships conduct many important data collection services — weather warnings and forecasts, hurricane modeling, and fish stock assessments — critical to the nation’s coastal economy.
Rear Admiral Michael Haycock (Assistant Commandant for Acquisition, U.S. Coast Guard) echoed these statements in his testimony and updated the subcommittee on progress toward awarding a detail design and construction contract in fiscal year (FY) 2019 for the construction of up to three new heavy polar icebreakers. Ms. Marie Mak (Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, Government Accountability Office (GAO)) emphasized the need to develop a sound business case and a long-term strategic plan that specifies acquisition needs and tradeoffs for the polar icebreakers.
GAO’s research found that ship programs routinely exceed cost and schedule targets and fail to meet performance goals when not following a thorough plan. Ms. Mak stated that the Coast Guard’s plan for its polar icebreaker program contains risks in technology, design, cost, and schedule that are not informed by realistic assessments and will likely exceed the proposed timeline.
Chairman Sullivan expressed frustration regarding the extended timeline and suggested leasing foreign icebreakers to bridge the gap. Haycock stated there were no suitable foreign icebreakers capable of meeting Coast Guard needs and assured the subcommittee the schedule is accelerating, in part to a shortened design timeline and an integrated program office with the U.S. Navy that utilizes Navy expertise and leverages best practices for both services to maintain an accelerated acquisition schedule.
Rear Admiral Michael Silah (Director, Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, NOAA) was an invited witness but was unable to attend due to Hurricane Michael’s landfall. In his written testimony, Silah stated, “NOAA’s aging vessels are increasingly unreliable and expensive to maintain. At the conclusion of Quarter 3 FY 2018, unscheduled maintenance on the NOAA fleet had cost $13.5 million and caused more than 425 lost operational days at sea.” He also explained The NOAA Fleet Plan, a living document that evaluates the status of the current fleet, future needs, and a course of action. This plan outlines a solution for long-term recapitalization of the NOAA fleet.
“The need for the Polar Security Cutter is greater now than it has ever been…If we want to have year-round access to the polar regions for national security, national sovereignty, search and rescue, and any other missions the Coast Guard does – we need to keep making progress on that.” — Rear Admiral Michael Haycock (Assistant Commandant for Acquisition, U.S. Coast Guard)
Find Out More
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