Coast Guard stretches with Deepwater

After decades of using aging communications equipment and ships, the Coast Guard is attempting to create a comprehensive command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system.

In a homeland security directive signed Dec. 22, 2004, President Bush said the government should have a comprehensive awareness of anything in the maritime domain — the territorial waters of the United States — that could affect the nation’s security, safety, economy or environment.

With an exclusive economic zone that extends 200 nautical miles offshore, the U.S. maritime domain is 3.4 million square nautical miles of ocean — more than the combined land area of all fifty states.

Getting a complete intelligence and surveillance picture of such an area would be difficult for any organization. But it’s especially problematic for the Coast Guard, which is responsible for policing the U.S. coastline. After decades of using aging communications equipment and ships, the smallest military service is attempting to create a comprehensive command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) system.

The Coast Guard has had tighter budgets and far less cutting-edge technology than the Defense Department’s military services. As part of the Transportation Department until it joined the Homeland Security Department, the service has operated with what it got, in the process becoming one of the oldest naval fleets in the world. To fill its role in Bush’s National Plan to Achieve Maritime Domain Awareness, the Coast Guard has been working on a data fusion effort that it said will create a common operating picture (COP) for everyone connected to it via a secure Internet connection. Since 2002, the service has also been working on a fleet recapitalization program that will give it the opportunity to create a consistent approach to C4ISR technology.

COPs are designed to take raw data from sensors located on multiple platforms “and run it through your system, and it spits out information on the other end,” said Coast Guard Capt. Curtis Dubay, the Maritime Domain Awareness program’s deputy commander.

The project is a major change for a service that until recently possessed sea and air assets that sometimes could talk with one another only by routing communications through a shore station. Ten years ago, when the Coast Guard released its long-range fleet modernization blueprint known as Deepwater, there was “no real communication path between their assets,” said Rich Lockwood, who leads Lockheed Martin’s Coast Guard systems business.

Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman formed a joint venture, called Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS), to bid on the Deepwater project, winning the $24 billion, 25-year contract in 2002.

“Deepwater is very important,” Dubay said. “It’s going to be bringing both assets and sensors and C4ISR systems to this mix.” In the past, the approach was to buy equipment separately, said Cmdr. Richard Fontana, Deepwater’s C4ISR deputy program manager. “On one hand, it’s more challenging to do a system of systems because you have so many moving parts,” he said. “On the flip side, you have the ability to align them.”


Dubay said talk of a COP is slightly misleading. Developments in the practice and theory of network-centric warfare, the basis of the COP, have led the Coast Guard to adopt new terminology to reflect a new way of thinking. It’s aiming now for a user-defined operating picture (UDOP), Dubay said.

The passage of information to field personnel should depend on their mission. An officer with an interdiction mission has a different objective than someone with a rescue mission. “They’re both going to be accessing what should be the same pool of information, but how they display and use that is going to be derived on their own mission sets,” he added.

This new UDOP — as opposed to COP — approach also facilitates customization based on users’ bandwidth limitations. “You don’t need to jam the entire national surface picture into the UDOP of the person who’s walking down the harbor checking hull numbers in Monterey Bay,” Dubay said.

However, UDOP designers must consider several limitations. Unlike the Navy, the Coast Guard leases satellite connectivity from the private sector, and partially because of that, Deepwater platforms will be upgraded to network speeds of 128 kilobits/sec. That is more than the service has now, but it’s not enough for applications such as video.

“The more data you want to pass, obviously, the more money you spend,” Lockwood said. But Coast Guard missions often don’t require the second-by-second situational awareness that the Navy needs, he added.

“You need to know where a boat is that’s running drugs, but you’re not putting a weapon on it. ... A boat doesn’t move that far in a minute,” he said. When updated information isn’t available, systems can estimate a boat’s likely current position based on its heading and speed.

However, the Coast Guard wants to increase its data throughput as much as possible, Fontana said. The service is investigating the cost benefits of leasing bandwidth on the Ku band to get downlink rates as high as 1 megabit/sec in selective geographic areas, such as the Caribbean, he said.

Meanwhile, Deepwater has been controversial, especially in relation to C4ISR acquisition. In August 2006, a Lockheed Martin engineer posted a video on YouTube that alleged C4ISR system negligence by ICGS on a project to convert older 110-foot patrol boats into 123-foot cutters. The service stopped work on the conversion project in November 2006 because of unrelated hull structural issues.

The engineer’s allegations sparked an inspector general investigation that upheld his charge that contractors had installed C4ISR equipment that couldn’t withstand bad weather. The engineer, Michael De Kort, said a contract program manager chose radio sets for small open-water boats that weren’t waterproof. “When I first heard that, I thought, ‘Nobody is that stupid,’ ” De Kort said.

The IG cleared ICGS of wrongdoing related to accusations that it installed low-quality communications cabling on the cutters and a video surveillance system that did not provide 360-degree views. The IG found that both contentions were correct, but the actions complied with vaguely written Deepwater contract stipulations. The report rejected De Kort’s assertion that the low-quality cabling would fail security tests because of unencrypted electromagnetic emanations. The tests “indicated the cabling installed during the C4ISR upgrade was not a source of compromising emissions,” the IG concluded.

However, De Kort asserted during April 20, 2007, testimony before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee that the cables “transmit clear data outward.”

He remains suspicious. “I don’t believe anybody did anything to solve the root problem, which is why the NSC is so screwed up,” he said, referring to Deepwater’s most recent big project: 418-foot national security cutter ships.

The Justice Department is conducting an investigation.

Lockheed Martin spokesman Troy Scully said the company has “conducted a thorough analysis” of De Kort’s claims, “and we just don’t agree.”

ICGS’ delivery May 8 of the first NSC was anticipated by articles stating that its C4ISR systems would be compromised. A March 18 Washington Times article states that the cutter’s wiring “is not properly shielded so that outsiders — including terrorists — can eavesdrop on Coast Guard communications,” a contention that the Coast Guard and ICGS reject.

The cutter is “probably one of the more rigorously tested platforms the Coast Guard has ever received,” Lockwood said.

Meanwhile, the Coast Guard posted a Feb. 25 entry on its official Coast Guard Journal blog that details its testing procedures. An early visual inspection in July 2007 found problems, but that was the purpose of the examination when the ship’s wiring and systems were not yet complete, the blog post states.

The ship received interim authority May 9 for connectivity to unclassified networks, and deeper levels of connectivity is pending a full certification and accreditation of its security systems. More testing will be conducted after the ship travels from its Mississippi dockyard to its home in Alameda, Calif. The ship already received authority to operate a stand-alone classified messaging system April 30. The grant of interim authority is not strange, Lockwood said.

“We can’t certify a system. That’s inherently the government’s job,” he said. “Right now, we believe we’ve delivered a certifiable system.”

NEXT STORY: Return to sender