NSC gets TEMPEST certification, much needed modernization moves forward

SAN FRANCISCO -- U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf approaches U.S. Coast Guard cutter Eagle in the San Francisco Bay here July 23.  This represents the first time the oldest built cutter and the newest built cutter in the Coast Guard have transited together. U.S.C.G. photo

SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. Coast Guard cutter Bertholf approaches U.S. Coast Guard cutter Eagle in the San Francisco Bay here July 23. This represents the first time the oldest built cutter and the newest built cutter in the Coast Guard have transited together. U.S.C.G. photo


The Office of Acquisition has been working hard to make it happen and modernization is moving forward for the Coast Guard.

As you can see in this article the CGC Bertholf, the first National Security Cutter (NSC) and a key component of the modernization program, was granted Authority to Operate (ATO) for its C4ISR systems. This clears the way for the lead ship in the new class of National Security Cutters (NSC) to join the fleet in fully operational status.

On an aside, there seems to have been a lot of confusion about the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) and Tempest certification. They are not actually the same thing and you can have a boat that is Tempest-certified that does not have a SCIF. Once the SCIF is installed on the CGC Bertholf the ship will recertify.

When talking about the costs of acquisition or modernization, it seems to be very easy sometimes to lose sight of why this program is so important to the men and women within the service and the people of this country.

We are today’s Coast Guard and we need to be prepared for today’s challenges and the future. The Commandant in his State of the Coast Guard 2009 address said:

“Regardless of whether we’re enjoying budget growth, managing level funding or dealing with a programmatic reduction, such as termination of LORAN-C, the best way to operate the Coast Guard is through a modernized service.  I’ve told our people at all hands all over the Coast Guard that modernization is a change in business process and command and control.  It’s not budget-driven.  It is driven by the necessity to change and adapt to ensure future readiness. ”

I know that some of the Coast Guardsmen reading this will get their hackles up because we are kind of proud of being able to do so much with so little. There is a gritty kind of pride that comes from being able to do what some people might think impossible. We have one of the oldest fleets on the planet yet we are a leader in the world’s coast guards and that accomplishment is not something to spit at.

The service members of the Coast Guard complete missions every day with assets that are past their shelf life. We have some cutters so old that there are people serving on them that were not even born when they were commissioned. Of the world’s 42 major naval fleets, the Coast Guard has the third oldest with aircraft and cutters dating back 30-40 years. (A little first hand experience here, my first assignment was to a 378-foot High Endurance Cutter. I was born in 1979 while the cutter I was on was commissioned on 1972.)

In 2005 there was a press release put out by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental affairs. The very first line of that document cites “safety and efficiency of Coast Guard ships and aircraft” as a reason to move forward with modernization. Today’s Coast Guard is a very different one than it was even last year, let alone 4 years ago, but increasing safety and efficiency are just as important to us now as it was back then.

The thing is, it seems really hard sometimes for people to wrap their heads around why having a boat that is 37 years old is a big deal. How is that less safe or efficient, the boats still float right? People drive cars that are that old all the time!

Yes, people do drive vintage cars, and while the crews of these aging assets give them the care and attention you must in order to keep your vintage vehicle running…how many vintage cars have their drivers driving them through 50ft seas in the Bering Sea? How many vintage cars have to fly into hurricanes to pull people from the roofs of their houses? How many vintage car drivers are responsible to use those vintage cars to save lives, stop drugs, and protect fisheries every day?

When a vintage car breaks down the parts can cost a lot more and sometimes there might just be no parts to be found to fix the car. What do you do then? Well if you are the Coast Guard, you happen to have hard working engineers in the back seat of your car who are able to do some pretty amazing things with little more than staunch determination.

So, would you want to try and save your grandma in the middle of a hurricane with a vintage car? A car that while it runs is not going to go as fast or be as safe as a modern car. Don’t get me wrong, I think vintage cars are beautiful and there is a proud history certain grace about our fleet. Personally I would feel safer as the driver, and more confident trying to save someone I loved, in a car that was built to deal with today’s roads and had the modern safety features.

Through our new acquisition organization the NSCs are coming, with the NSC Waesche and NSC Stratton next in line. The new Sentinel Class Patrol Boat contract was awarded, new small boats are coming to stations all over the country. The new cutters are coming and if the Coast Guard can perform at the level it does with one of the oldest fleets in the world, imagine what we could do for you when we have ships that were built for today’s maritime environment and challenges?

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