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Panel I of a Hearing of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee of the House Transportation Committee -Hearing on Coast Guard Funding

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


Federal News Service

April 28, 2004 Wednesday

HEADLINE: PANEL I OF A HEARING OF THE COAST GUARD & MARITIME TRANSPORTATION SUBCOMMITTEE OF THE HOUSE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE

SUBJECT: HEARING ON COAST GUARD FUNDING

CHAIRED BY: REP. FRANK LOBIONDO (R-NJ)

WITNESS: VICE ADM. THOMAS BARRETT, VICE COMMANDANT, U.S. COAST GUARD

REP. BOB FILNER (D-CA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you for scheduling this hearing. I do want to echo your statement in many ways.

We know that this Deepwater project is a revolutionary one in terms of our procurement. Trying to replace all of the Coast Guard ships and aircraft that operate more than 50 miles offshore is a daunting task.

Hopefully, it is based on analysis of Coast Guard operations and designed to provide the correctness of assets to carry out Coast Guard missions that have now changed for the 21st century.

As the chairman mentioned, assets are breaking down. The HH-65 helicopters have been losing power, we're told. High- and medium- endurance cutters, as he said, have had to decrease their patrols due to failing ship systems. The fleet of patrol boats have suffered hull breaches, at least 20 of them, requiring emergency drydock repairs.

And so all of these legacy assets are requiring even more money just to keep them going. At the same time, we are trying to provide increased funding for the Deepwater project to replace them. And we have, as the chairman said, recommended $1.1 billion for Fiscal '05. And we had hoped that this increased funding was to accelerate the procurement schedule.

I think you all have read the RAND Corporation study of -- (inaudible) -- Coast Guard mission requirements. They recommend buying significantly more aircraft cutters to enable the Coast Guard to carry out the historical mission that we expect and the growing homeland security missions that we now require.

In addition, the Center for Naval Analysis, CNA, has also found that the Coast Guard will need more aircraft and cutters to meet all these responsibilities.

The Deepwater plan now includes eight national security cutters. The RAND and CNA recommendations are for more than five times that, 44. Deepwater plans 25 offshore patrol cutters. RAND nearly doubles that at 46. Deepwater says 58 fast-response cutters. RAND almost doubles that with 90. And the 93 multi-mission cutter helicopters that Deepwater has planned for would be recommended for 50 percent more than that, at 139.

Now, we may not be able to meet those goals of RAND and CNA. But it's clear we have to spend billions more than the Coast Guard has currently planned to support, again, the historical mission and the new responsibilities.

I am particularly concerned, as the panel has perceived with the multi-mission cutter helicopter component of the Deepwater plan. As I understand it-and Admiral, you might want to comment on it-the Coast Guard is moving in the direction of rebuilding their HH-65 Dolphin helicopter.

At the end of this massive acquisition project, we'll be operating with a fleet of helicopter frames that are 40 years old. It doesn't make sense, it seems to me, to complete this type of major acquisition-I call this revolutionary-and have a fleet of helicopters that will be older, probably, than any other fleet of helicopters in the world, operated by Coast Guard.

So my message would be-and I think the chairman and I agree-we support replacing all of your cutters and aircraft as soon as possible. Obviously we want the men and women serving the Coast Guard to have the best and safest tools to carry out the mission.

But we need to know, Admiral, we need to know the price tag, the asset mix, the schedule for accomplishing this. I think, without that information, we are just spending money without knowing whether it is going to go to accelerate the program or buy ships, repair aircraft, or whatever.

I think this committee needs that information as soon as possible, Mr. Chairman, and I hope this hearing will move us forward in that, and I look forward to working with you to ensure that our Coast Guard is successful in its traditional responsibilities and its 21st century homeland defense efforts.

REP. LOBIONDO: Thank you, Mr. Filner. Mr. Coble, thank you for joining us. Do you have an opening statement?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. FILNER: Mr. Chairman, I would hope that you would allow today perhaps several rounds. I was just astounded by the brevity of the opening statement relative to the complex questions we've been asking, both in our opening statements and many times before. And we are getting-we are not getting answers to the questions, and I want to try to go deeper. I mean, I'll read you one sentence from the statement that the admiral made where he was giving word and not any sort of plan or action or numbers. "We have not simultaneously employed integrated product teams across multiple acquisition product lines, nor have we employed a performance-based strategy for such a long-term undertaking." What the hell does that mean? I mean, we're not getting anything that we can in fact put numbers on and go into some of these very important questions you have asked. So I'm going to try to hone in on-you talked about the ship. I'd like to talk about the aircraft a little bit, and hope we have enough time to get some real answers, and not all this bureaucratic doublespeak.

For example, admiral, the current capacity of the Coast Guard and the Department of Homeland Security to deploy helicopters for airborne use of force meet both-fast-boat drug interdiction as well as any terrorist threat to our ports or waterways, coastline. How many armed cutter-capable helicopters do you have today to do this?

AMB. BARRETT: We have eight, sir --

REP. FILNER: Eight helicopters. Just think of that, Mr. Chairman. The United States of America has eight armed helicopters to meet the threat in the 21st century. It seems to me-just start with that: What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about that? Simply-I mean, I'm a layman here, but it doesn't sound like what we need. And, for example, I know you have-those eight are deployed generally on the East Coast. They have in fact done a great job for you and for this nation. As I understand it, I mean they have 100 percent kind of achievement. They've interdicted billions of dollars worth of drugs. And yet we have eight. I don't understand how the Coast Guard, the Department of Homeland Security, this administration can say that without any sense that we've got to do better. So we've got to get, as you know and you stated, an armed cutter helicopter that will meet the new requirements.

I think, as a representative of the West Coast-my chairman is on the East Coast-that we have-I'd like those eight back on the West Coast, or you know additionally. And in fact there are-you could lease those and put them there.

It seems to me from the questions that Admiral Collins has answered earlier, and your statements, that what-how you are moving forward-and you haven't really given us the plan or the cost of that, or the cost effectiveness of it-is you're going to take the American Honeywell engine out of your copter fleet, replace it with the French Turbomeca engine-that has more power than a helicopter can use, I'm told-and even with that powerful reengined copter, you can't meet the vertical insertion and other requirements for boarding ships and repelling terrorists. The cabin of that HH-65 is too small. There's only one door, restricting access and exit in emergency operation that doesn't have maneuverability. And in fact it was rejected in the original Deepwater solution.

If I'm right on those points-and you can comment on them-how do you fix that? How do we get to the-if you're going to reengine the HH-65 -- and at the end, how much does that cost? -- what does that do? You said yourself you've got to have all the assets operating, and yet to reengine those you are going to have to take about 10 percent at any one time out of operation. And at the end of this process we're going to have 40-year-old helicopters that don't meet the needs of the 21st century. How are we going to move from where we are to where we have to be?

AMB. BARRETT: Thank you, Mr. Filner. I'd be glad to address that in sequence. As you pointed out, airborne use of force, airborne insertion is a capability we need to bring forward, and we know that. We are working to bring that capability to our HH-60 fleet, and we will bring that capability to our HH-65 fleet, both with the engine replacement program and eventually, as you point out, upgrading the helicopter as a whole to a revised airframe piece through the Deepwater program. Powering up the replacement engines provide adequate power margins for the 65s to conduct airborne use of force and the full helicopter modification that Deepwater envisions will provide the airframe changes to allow the equipment to function adequately.

But I would offer to you, which you may not --

REP. FILNER: How long is that process going to take, and how much is it going to cost?

AMB. BARRETT: Well, the program on the line right now, the HH- 65, the reengining program, will run two and a half to three million dollars an airframe, or roughly in the neighborhood of $250 million to $300 million for that piece of equipment.

REP. FILNER: Over how long a time?

AMB. BARRETT: Eighteen to 24 months is our notional timeline to reengine the existing fleet of --

REP. FILNER: Have you given us the cost-effective comparison with doing that versus moving to the next generation of new helicopters as opposed to having at the end of a process that is going to take X hundred million dollars over X period of time, taking out X percent of your fleet? And at the end where are we? And what are we doing in the meantime? That is, I don't have any of those helicopters on the West Coast interdicting drugs while you're reengining your --

AMB. BARRETT: Yes, sir. Well, as you know, we deploy the aircraft from Jacksonville on a regular basis to the West Coast, and down the East (back ?) to do the drug stuff. But I would offer you too that we really had no alternative to reengining these aircraft. We have an immediate flight safety risk. We've got operational restrictions on the aircraft now. They are our primary aboard ship airframe. And the ability to bring a replacement helicopter on, aside from any considerations of cost or benefit, is simply not there. We needed to power-up the aircraft and fix the control problem immediately for the safety of our crews and our immediate mission performance.

The Deepwater process --

REP. FILNER: I just-I'm sorry, I just don't understand that. It's going to take you an incredible amount of money and over an incredible amount of time to do something that I'm told you tried in fact with your ships in the '60s and '70s-that is, to repair an aging asset and spend a lot of money, then you don't have any money for the new assets, and you're in the 21st century. We start off way behind. That is, has there been, for example, any sort of fair and open competition for the new multi-purpose helicopter that you are trying to go through with this reengining process? I mean, have you done that? And what is the cost effectiveness? I have-I don't know if the chairman has seen it-I haven't seen-you're telling us you've got to do it now, the only way you can go-but I haven't seen any cost-effective analysis going that way versus this way.

AMB. BARRETT: Well, as you know, we tasked the integrated Coast Guard Deepwater systems to come up with a system to our power loss failure. And in the process of going through that, they went out and looked for solutions in the marketplace that could be rapidly brought on board. They used a competitive and value-based requirements-based process to do that, and this was the best solution --

REP. FILNER: Hold on, wait, wait, wait. Are you saying that the current -- (inaudible) -- ? Okay, just on that, I mean, we're not getting good answers. We need a lot of time at this. Are you saying that Northrup of Lockheed went through an open competition or a request for proposals that evaluated one versus the other? Are you saying that?

AMB. BARRETT: We gave them the task order, the requirement, to rapidly improve the reliability, safety and reliability, of our HH-65 aircraft with great urgency. And they went out, elicited proposals to do that, and made a decision and recommendation to that based on that survey and their assessment of the capabilities and the ability of different proposals to address our requirements.

And --

REP. FILNER: Is there any relationship, sir-is there any relationship between Northrup or Lockheed with the French reengining process or the-that group that you said was decided on, was there any relationship-maybe financial? -- how cynical of me to ever think that-between the reengining by a certain company with a certain engine and Northrup or Lockheed? Is there any marketing or financial interest? Any relationships between those two?

AMB. BARRETT: I'm not in a position to comment on that. I do know --

REP. FILNER: But you're not in a position to comment-you mean you don't know, or you don't want to comment on it yes or no?

AMB. BARRETT: No, I don't specifically what relationships exist between those corporations.

REP. FILNER: I would just ask, and I think this committee should ask-we're going to have a second panel, right? There may be some relationships which impact those decisions, and if there are, without being disposed to you or to us, I would find very upsetting. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

REP. LOBIONDO: Well, thank you, Mr. Filner. Obviously the committee has a lot of concerns about where we are and where we are going. But I would just like to remind anyone who is listening, as we move through these very difficult questions this is not a position that the Coast Guard has put themselves in; that during the 1990s the proposal for Deepwater was almost studied to death. A lot of us in Congress were screaming for that to move forward, without any real results. During that same period of time, the Coast Guard was literally gutted. Funding was gutted from the Coast Guard. Their mission requirements were increased by the Congress of the United States, and their funding was dramatically decreased. Now, just like some of their large cutters, they don't turn on a dime. In the last couple of years, through all of our collective team effort, we've been able to increase the Coast Guard's operation and maintenance budget by more than 50 percent. We've got Operation Deepwater on track. But that can't erase years and years and years of neglect, and expecting the Coast Guard to do more with less. So we are right to be asking these very tough and difficult questions. But I think to sort of leave the thought that the Coast Guard has just been sort of wandering aimlessly for 10 or 15 years is a little bit misleading.

REP. LOBIONDO: Mr. Coble.

REP. FILNER: Mr. Chairman, if you would yield for just-I (don't disagree ?) with the words you say. However, it's up to the Coast Guard to give us the plan to move forward --

AMB. BARRETT: Yes, and I --

REP. FILNER: And we need them to give us-they haven't given us any real timeline, budget, cost effective studies that would allow us-we want to give them everything they need, right?

REP. LOBIONDO: Right.

REP. FILNER: And yet they're not telling us --

REP. LOBIONDO: And, Mr. Filner --

REP. FILNER: -- in a way which will allow us to do that. That's what I'm --

REP. LOBIONDO: And in that we are in agreement. And I think the admiral will take back the strong sentiments of the committee that we need that information and we need it five minutes ago. But, again, I don't want to spend too much time on this. But they're in a very difficult position-not because of their own doing. Now, they can help themselves out of it, if they give us some additional information, and we can all go to work on what we need to do. But there's a little bit of background information that in order to make an informed decision everyone has to understand.

Mr. Coble?

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

REP. LOBIONDO: Mr. Filner.

REP. FILNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I just want to follow up a couple of points that I raised initially. I may have phrased the question differently, admiral, but I was trying to ask how much it would cost to modernize the Dolphin fleet. I think you gave me a figure of a couple million dollars.

AMB. BARRETT: I gave you the figure for the re-engining of the --

REP. FILNER: Remember, I'm a lay man-you're the expert. If I'm asking a question that doesn't make sense, please don't answer just that question and say, "Oh, I answered your question." I'm trying to figure out the cost effectiveness of going one route or the other. And you told me just the engine. Maybe that's what I asked. I meant to say, What's the remodernized thing? What would it cost to do that? And I think you should have said, Well, it'd cost this much for the engine, but you've got to do avionics and armor and gear boxes and tail rotors and tell me what all that costs, and don't just leave it to me to have a staff tell me, But he didn't tell you that.

AMB. BARRETT: Sir, I'd have to get you that for the record. You're talking the total cost of the MCH program. I would have to provide that for you for the record, and I would be pleased to do that --

REP. FILNER: I mean, do you have that figure somewhere? I hope you would, because you're telling us-I have heard that it costs-that you have estimated-I read somewhere around $9 million per helicopter. Is that in the ball park?

AMB. BARRETT: That sounds high to me. I think the last ball park we had for that pending, if you're talking about this year dollars, we're talking in the neighborhood of six to six and a half million dollars. So the re-engining is about 50 percent of what we think the total package would be.

REP. FILNER: But, see, Mr. Chairman, here's where the issue I'm trying to raise is. What is the cost effective and the timeline and et cetera of doing whatever it costs per Dolphin versus buying a new one now and saving several years? I mean, do you want to go before a future 9/11 commission and say, You know, it took us three years to remodernize, and if we had bought the one earlier, we could have stopped that last attack that took 5,000 lives? I don't understand why you couldn't start a competition now for that multi-purpose helicopter, get it now. Your ICGS consortium has recommended one already. Why not go that route versus the other? It simply boggles my mind that you will take the additional time. You said you need all the assets in place in your opening statement. Now we can't afford-but you've got to take some out to change that, so you're lessening your capabilities. Meanwhile, we're going to have to wait three years, and we're going to have a out-moded helicopter in any case. What is the common-sense in all that?

AMB. BARRETT: Sir, I think we will have a high-we're satisfied that a prudent decision to re-engine the aircraft and also to bring forward the revision of that airframe, which as far as I know is in pretty good shape-it doesn't corrode-is a cost effective and prudent one. And I'd be glad to provide you-your question is a fair one --

REP. FILNER: But everybody has said that in the last-I've asked the same question of Admiral Collins and others-and everybody says this is a prudent, cost-effective decision. I haven't seen any figures to prove that, and to take into account the timeline, take into account the costs, take into account the availability of the assets while you're taking them out to re-modernize-et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. I mean, that's the kind of analysis this committee needs. We're not getting it.

AMB. BARRETT: I appreciate that. I understand that, and I-we have obviously failed to provide that to you. But I will for the record provide the way we look at that type of action, the total ownership cost involved, how we view it to be mission effective, and the methodology we use to make that assessment.

But I'd be pleased to provide that, and obviously we haven't done that so far.

REP. FILNER: I would appreciate that. If I just may say just briefly that is something I keep saying, but the need for a West Coast drug interdiction capability now. You know and you've said you're short of air assets. You'll be taken if you proceed down this route of folly-you're going to have X percent, 10 percent maybe out at any one time. We voted-this subcommittee, the subcommittee the full committee and the House of Representatives has voted to establish a West Coast -- (inaudible) -- fleet in our authorization bill. I think you should take advantage of that authorization. You have an existing arrangement, lease arrangement that you can't expand. You cannot divert the Dolphin or Jayhawks for that purpose. They just simply don't need it, and there's not enough of them to take them away from your other missions. Again, I think you need something now.

And, admiral, I just simply don't understand -- 9/11 has occurred, you have a committee and a Congress who are willing to expend whatever you need to move forward, in the assets and the timeline-so speed is of the essence. And, as I said, none of us wants to be put before another commission because something happened next year, and you said, Oh, we were planning to have that two or three years down the line, when we know we need it now. And the assets are available now. You can get them right now. It's a question of making the lease, making the purchase, whatever. And if you're going to take 10 percent of your fleet out anyway, it would probably pay for itself to lease these other ones. So why can't we-just-we've given you the money to do it-why not do it, (like we've authorized ?).

Sir?

AMB. BARRETT: Well, again, we think the right solution is to bring on the capabilities in the 65 and 60 fleet. There are also significant training and support issues if we establish a second squadron if you will outside of Jacksonville with a different type of airframe.

REP. FILNER: I guess I give up. We know there are drugs going through right now that we could stop if we had the assets. We could do it now. We could stop potential terrorists now. And you keep saying, We have a plan X years out. I just don't get it. I mean, the chairman said we support the Coast Guard, you can't turn it around on a dime. We understand all that. But assets are available. The money I think is available. I don't understand your hesitancy and your caution and just this bureaucratic kind of movement in a post-9/11 world doesn't-if I can use this metaphor, cut it.

REP. LOBIONDO: Maybe-Mr. Filner, it's a good question, and, admiral, maybe while we certainly supported through the authorization-it's a little bit different than the actual appropriation --

AMB. BARRETT: Sure.

REP. LOBIONDO: -- and maybe you could come back to us for the record and tell us, you know, the dollars that we are lacking here, because I have a little bit different interpretation of dollars being available. It's my understanding that dollars aren't available-that the authorization is there, our will of this subcommittee is there, and as you know the magnificent Congress that we serve in authorizes the Coast Guard bill with 400-plus votes. And then when it comes to an appropriation it's all together a different story. And when that appropriation comes down, and you know the Coast Guard has got some pretty tough decisions to make, and I'd like to know where that gaps comes in.

REP. FILNER: I understand, Mr. Chairman. But I-you know, if the commandant of the Coast Guard came before the Congress of the United States, and says, We need X number of multi-purpose helicopters, X amount of (bass ?) cutters, now, and this is what's the cost-I think the Congress would have great difficulty in not responding to that. And I know they have to operate as part of a team and part of an administration. But a clear statement of the need I think would go a long way rather than this bureaucratic stuff, well, you know, we've never done this kind of test, and we never --

REP. LOBIONDO: Mr. Taylor.

REP. TAYLOR: Commandant, I-Mr. Filner -- (inaudible) -- for something in the simplest of terms. Has the Coast Guard given much consideration for its next generation of helicopters, rather than reinventing a wheel, just buying a variant of the Seahawk, which the Navy has used, and the Blackhawk which the Army uses-for the purpose of commonality and training and parts, et cetera?

AMB. BARRETT: Yes, sir. We-on any of those decisions we look at first our mission performance, operational effectiveness. We do look at the cost and things like commonality and support systems are obviously a cost driver, both in terms of operating costs OE and the total ownership costs of the system and the acquisition costs. But we do review that closely to determine, first, if it meets our mission requirements; and then, secondly, if we can afford that package and if it's the capability we have to have. (END OF TODAY'S COVERAGE. COVERAGE WILL RESUME TOMORROW.)

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