Coast Guard Finds Flaws In Converted Patrol Boats

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
Washington Post
December 2, 2006
Pg. D1

By Renae Merle, Washington Post Staff Writer
Months after a whistle-blower took to the popular Web site YouTube to warn of communications problems with converted patrol boats, the Coast Guard says it has stopped using the ships after finding structural problems that made them potentially dangerous.
In August, Michael De Kort, a former engineer at Bethesda-based Lockheed Martin, posted a 10-minute video saying there were blind spots in the ships' security cameras, equipment that malfunctioned in cold weather and other problems.
But the Coast Guard said yesterday that the problems that prompted the sidelining of the ships were structural. "They had nothing to do with secure communications," said Cmdr. Jeff Carter, the Coast Guard's chief spokesman.
The ships were part of a massive modernization program run by Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman to replace the service's aging ships and helicopters. But the four-year-old program has seen cost increases -- from $17 billion to $24 billion -- and run into technical and management problems. In an August report, the Homeland Security Department's inspector general said the department's oversight of the modernization was hampered by funding limitations and lack of experience with this type of program.
As part of the Lockheed-Northrop program, the Coast Guard initially planned to upgrade 49 patrol boats but stopped in 2005 after noticing problems with the hull and cracks in the deck. At that time, the eight ships already converted were put on restrictive duty that forbade them operating where the waves were higher than eight feet.
Then earlier this month, the Coast Guard's chief engineer, Rear Adm. Dale Gabel, began inspecting the ships after buckling in the structure underneath the main engine was reported on one of them. He found similar problems on other patrol boats as well as signs of hull weakness, Carter said. The Coast Guard was "not willing to put the crew's safety in jeopardy," he said.
The Coast Guard is studying how to fix the ships, which would incur additional costs for the modernization program, he said.
"We're confident that we can manage this," Carter said. "There will be some pain involved, of course, but we will continue to execute our mission."
Integrated Coast Guard Systems, the Lockheed-Northrop consortium that runs the program, said in a statement that it will assist the Coast Guard in "developing a cost effective solution that addresses their current patrol boat hours gap as well as understand the underlying reasons for the problems on the 123-foot cutters."
De Kort had posted his video on YouTube after complaining to his bosses, government investigators and congressmen.
His allegations are still under investigations by the Homeland Security Department's inspector general, said spokeswoman Tamara Faulkner.
"I believe I am going to be told soon that my issues had merit, and that the majority if not all of them have not been taken care of," De Kort said in an interview yesterday. "However, it appears that with the hull and propeller issues, maybe some of my issues were second fiddle to the fact that the boat can't be operated."
Staff writer Griff Witte contributed to this report.