Study calls for Pacific ‘fairways’ for safer navigation

(ALAMEDA, Calif.) — The U.S. Coast Guard is requesting public comment on the draft Pacific Coast Port Access Route Study (PAC-PARS). This is the first comprehensive evaluation of vessel traffic […]

(ALAMEDA, Calif.) — The U.S. Coast Guard is requesting public comment on the draft Pacific Coast Port Access Route Study (PAC-PARS). This is the first comprehensive evaluation of vessel traffic patterns in waters off the coasts of California, Oregon and Washington.

A Federal Register notice of availability for the draft PAC-PARS has been opened for comment. Comments and related materials must be received on or before Oct. 25.

The main goal of the PAC-PARS is to evaluate historic and future waterway usage to determine navigational risk and provide recommendations to uphold safety of navigation. To do this, the study examined vessel tracking data from the past 10 years and considered environmental data, existing and planned offshore development infrastructure, and historical marine incident data among other datasets.

The Coast Guard also considered concerns and recommendations from key maritime stakeholders and members of the public. Prior to this public comment period, the Coast Guard received comments during two previous public comment periods spanning over 200 days.

“There has been significant growth of waterway use along the Pacific Coast; we are committed to maintaining a high level of navigational safety for all members of the maritime community,” said Lt. Cmdr. Sara Conrad, activities chief for Coast Guard Pacific Area Port and Facilities. “This draft study provides recommendations that facilitate safe vessel transits along the coast and connect to major port approaches in light of the increasing demand for use of our waterways.”

U.S. Coast Guard photo

The draft PAC-PARS recommends establishing new voluntary fairways for coastwise and nearshore vessel traffic with connections to existing Traffic Separation Schemes and ports. These fairways would facilitate safe and predictable traffic patterns as the demand for and use of Pacific coastal waters increases. Charts of these recommended fairways can be found in Appendix I, II and III of the study.

The public can also view the study in a more user-friendly manner at the USCG Navigation Centers website . The Coast Guard posted the study to a Homeport webpage where the most current information about upcoming webinars and outreach activities will be posted.

A notice of availability for the draft study was published on the Federal Register under docket USCG-2021-0345, and can be found here.

– U.S. Coast Guard

Coast Guard Offloads $475 Million In Illegal Narcotics In Miami

MIAMI — The crew of the USCGC Legare (WMEC 912) offloaded approximately 24,700 pounds of cocaine and 3,892 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $475 million, Thursday at Base Miami Beach. The…

MIAMI — The crew of the USCGC Legare (WMEC 912) offloaded approximately 24,700 pounds of cocaine and 3,892 pounds of marijuana, worth an estimated $475 million, Thursday at Base Miami Beach. The...

Japan, Canada Wrap Western Pacific Drills with U.S., USS Tripoli Underway in South China Sea

Japan, Canada and the United States wrapped up Noble Raven 22 this week, an exercise that took place in the waters from Guam to the South China Sea, according to a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force news release. The exercise, which included tactical training, began on Aug. 30 and featured JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183) […]

Noble Raven – JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Takanami (DD-110), RCN frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH331) destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) and replenishment ship USNS Rappahannock (T-AO-204) conduct a joint sail during exercise Noble Raven.

Japan, Canada and the United States wrapped up Noble Raven 22 this week, an exercise that took place in the waters from Guam to the South China Sea, according to a Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force news release.

The exercise, which included tactical training, began on Aug. 30 and featured JMSDF helicopter destroyer JS Izumo (DDH-183) and destroyer JS Takanami (DD-110), Royal Canadian Navy frigate HMCS Vancouver (FFH331), and U.S. Navy destroyer USS Higgins (DDG-76) and replenishment ships USNS John Ericsson (T-AO-194) and USNS Rappahannock (T-AO-204).

Izumo and Takanami form the first surface unit of the JMSDF’s Indo-Pacific Deployment 2022 (IPD22), a a four-month deployment throughout the Indo-Pacific region from June 13 to Oct. 28.
“Through increased practical exercise, we improved tactical capabilities and interoperability between the JMSDF, the U.S. Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy, and we promoted cooperative relationship of Japan-U.S.-Canadian naval forces in order to realize a Free and Open Indo-Pacific,” Rear Adm. Toshiyuki Hirata, the commander of the first surface unit, said in the news release.

Vancouver together with sister ship HMCS Winnipeg (FFH338) are on a deployment to the region following their participation in the Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise, which ended on Aug. 4. Winnipeg is now conducting Operation Projection, in which the Canadian Armed Forces conduct port visits, training, exercises and engagements with foreign navies and other international security partners in the region. Winnipeg is currently in Singapore, having docked there on Tuesday for a week-long port call and maintenance. Meanwhile, Vancouver is conducting both Operation Projection and Operation Neon – Canada’s contribution to a coordinated multinational effort to support United Nations Security Council sanctions imposed on North Korea. Canada’s participation includes surveillance and monitoring any ships that break the U.N. sanctions.

In other developments, amphibious assault ship USS Tripoli (LHA-7) is now back operating in the South China Sea, according to U.S. Defense Department imagery. Tripoli is scheduled to take part in an amphibious exercise in Japan with the JMSDF from Sept. 16-19, according to a Thursday news release from the JMSDF. The JMSDF and U.S. Navy will conduct a bilateral exercise in the waters around Japan and at the Numazu Beach training area, Honshu, the release said. The exercise participants will include Tripoli, landing ship dock USS Rushmore (LSD-47) and landing ship tank JS Osumi (LST-4001). The drills will involve both a beaching exercise and a search and rescue exercise.

An F-35B Lightning II aircraft assigned to Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron (VMM) 262 (Reinforced) launches from amphibious assault carrier USS Tripoli (LHA 7) in the South China Sea on Sept. 5, 2022. U.S. Navy Photo

On Friday, the Joint Staff Office of Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a news release detailing the sighting of a Russian destroyer in the Sea of Japan on Thursday at 11 a.m. local time. The hull number and image provided corresponds to destroyer RFS Marshal Shaposhnikov (543). The destroyer then sailed east through La Pérouse Strait on Friday, according to the release, which said JMSDF fast attack craft JS Kumataka (PG-827) and JMSDF P-3C Orions Maritime Patrol Aircraft of Fleet Air Wing 2 stationed at JMSDF Hachinohe Air Base, Honshu shadowed the Russian ship.

Meanwhile, Littoral Combat Ships USS Jackson (LCS-6) and USS Oakland (LCS-24) have been in the Oceania region throughout August with embarked U.S. Coast Guard Pacific Tactical Law Enforcement Team detachments, according to a U.S. Pacific Fleet news release. The ships and detachments are performing “maritime law enforcement operations in support of U.S. and Pacific Island nations fisheries laws.”

The deployments are part of the Oceania Maritime Support Initiative (OMSI), an effort led by the U.S. Secretary of Defense to better maritime security in the region.

“The joint Navy and Coast Guard OMSI mission capitalizes on the agility and mission adaptability LCS was designed for,” Cmdr. Derek Jaskowiak, the commanding officer of Oakland, said in the release. “It is our privilege to support our partner nations through presence in Oceania and to ensure continued security, stability, and prosperity throughout the region”.

Oakland finished its OMSI patrol in late August and Jackson will remain on station for the rest of this month. Jackson has been deployed in the Indo-Pacific region since July 2021, while Oakland only recently deployed this August, replacing USS Tulsa (LCS-16). Tulsa returned to San Diego on July 30. The third LCS in the Indo-Pacific, USS Charleston (LCS-18) – which arrived in the region in May last year – was in Singapore on Sept. 2 and hosted the change of command ceremony for Destroyer Squadron 7 (DESRON7).

The U.S. Navy this week announced that a destroyer and a submarine have recently returned home from deployments to the Indo-Pacific. On Tuesday, the service announced the return of destroyer USS Momsen (DDG-92) to its homeport of Naval Station Everett Washington following a seven-month deployment to U.S. 3rd, 5th, and 7th Fleets.

Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Momsen (DDG 92), assigned to Carrier Strike Group Three, arrives in Naval Station Everett, Washington, Sept. 6, following a seven-month deployment to the U.S. 3rd, 5th and 7th Fleets in support of a free and open Indo-Pacific. U.S. Navy Photo

Momsen conducted independent operations in and around the South China Sea, participating in cooperative deployments strengthening relationships with partnering allies. These efforts included a bi-lateral exercises focused on increasing interoperability with the Indian Navy’s guided-missile frigate INS Trishul (F 43),” PACFLEET said in the release.

While operating in 5th Fleet, Momsen took part in Iron Defender 2022, an exercise that takes place each year between the United Arab Emirates and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command.

“While operating in support of Combined Task Force (CTF) 150 counter-narcotics operations, Momsen worked in coordination with the U.S. Coast Guard, seizing 640 kilograms of methamphetamine worth $39 million from a fishing vessel while patrolling international waters in the Gulf of Oman,” the release reads.

On Thursday, the Navy announced that submarine USS Scranton (SSN-756) returned to Naval Base Point Loma, San Diego on Wednesday following a seven-month deployment to the Western Pacific.

“Our time on deployment proved the submarine force is the most flexible deterrent available to our strategic planners against near peer competitors,” Cmdr. Michael McGuire, Scranton’s commanding officer, said in the news release, “Scranton benefited greatly from the adaptive planning based on the dynamic operations in 7th Fleet. I can say without a doubt that the officers, chiefs and ship’s crew are better prepared to continue to defend our great nation.”

Scranton traveled about 50,000 nautical miles while out on the deployment and stopped in Yokosuka, Okinawa and Guam, according to the release.

Report to Congress on Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the […]

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (Polar Icebreaker) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Coast Guard Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program is a program to acquire three new PSCs (i.e., heavy polar icebreakers), to be followed years from now by the acquisition of up to three new Arctic Security Cutters (ASCs) (i.e., medium polar icebreakers). The procurement of the first two PSCs is fully funded; the Coast Guard says the first PSC is to be delivered to the Coast Guard in the spring of 2025.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $167.2 million in continued procurement funding for the PSC program, which would be used for, among other things, program management and production activities associated with the PSC program’s Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) contract, long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third PSC, and government-furnished equipment (GFE), logistics, and cyber-security planning costs.

The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget also requests $125.0 million in procurement funding for the purchase of an existing commercially available polar icebreaker that would be used to augment the Coast Guard’s polar icebreaking capacity until the new PSCs enter service. Under the Coast Guard’s proposal, the Coast Guard would conduct a full and open competition for the purchase, the commercially available icebreaker that the Coast Guard selects for acquisition would be modified for Coast Guard operations following its acquisition, and the ship would enter service 18 to 24 months after being acquired.

The Navy and Coast Guard in 2020 estimated the total procurement costs of the three PSCs in then-year dollars as $1,038 million (i.e., about $1.0 billion) for the first ship, $794 million for the second ship, and $841 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated cost of $2,673 million (i.e., about $2.7 billion). Within those figures, the shipbuilder’s portion of the total procurement cost is $746 million for the first ship, $544 million for the second ship, and $535 million for the third ship, for a combined estimated shipbuilder’s cost of $1,825 million (i.e., about $1.8 billion).

On April 23, 2019, the Coast Guard-Navy Integrated Program Office for the PSC program awarded a $745.9 million fixed-price, incentive-firm contract for the detail design and construction (DD&C) of the first PSC to Halter Marine Inc. (formerly VT Halter Marine) of Pascagoula, MS, a shipyard owned by Singapore Technologies (ST) Engineering. Halter Marine was the leader of one of three industry teams that competed for the DD&C contract. On December 29, 2021, the Coast Guard exercised a $552.7 million fixed price incentive option to its contract with Halter Marine Inc. for the second PSC.

The DD&C contract includes options for building the second and third PSCs. If both of these options are exercised, the total value of the contract would increase to $1,942.8 million (i.e., about $1.9 billion). The figures of $745.9 million and $1,942.8 million cover only the shipbuilder’s portion of the PSCs’ total procurement cost; they do not include the cost of government-furnished equipment (or GFE, meaning equipment for the ships that the government purchases and then provides to the shipbuilder for incorporation into the ship), post-delivery costs, costs for Navy-specific equipment, or government program-management costs.

The operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet currently consists of one heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Star, and one medium polar icebreaker, Healy. In addition to Polar Star, the Coast Guard has a second heavy polar icebreaker, Polar Sea. Polar Sea, however, suffered an engine casualty in June 2010 and has been nonoperational since then. Polar Star and Polar Sea entered service in 1976 and 1978, respectively, and are now well beyond their originally intended 30-year service lives. The Coast Guard plans to extend the service life of Polar Star until the delivery of at least the second PSC. The Coast Guard is using Polar Sea as a source of spare parts for keeping Polar Star operational.

Download the document here.

Report to Congress on Coast Guard Cutter Procurement

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress From the report The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR), which dates to 2004, calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 64 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements […]

The following is the Aug. 30, 2022 Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress

From the report

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR), which dates to 2004, calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 64 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The total of 64 FRCs includes 58 for domestic use and 6 for use by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are replacing the Coast Guard’s 12 Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Congress has fully funded the procurement of 11 NSCs—three more than the 8 in the Coast Guard’s POR—including the 10th and 11th in FY2018, which (like the 9th NSC) were not requested by the Coast Guard. In FY2020, Congress provided $100.5 million for procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 12th NSC, so as to preserve the option of procuring a 12th NSC while the Coast Guard evaluates its future needs. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $60.0 million in procurement funding for the NSC program. This request does not include further funding for a 12th NSC; it does include funding for closing out NSC procurement activities and transitioning to sustainment of in-service NSCs. Nine NSCs have entered service; the ninth was commissioned into service on March 19, 2021. The 10th is scheduled for delivery in 2023.

OPCs are to be less expensive and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program and the Polar Security Cutter (PSC) program as the service’s highest acquisition priorities. (The PSC program is covered in another CRS report.) The Coast Guard’s FY2020 budget submission estimated the total acquisition cost of the 25 ships at $10.270 billion, or an average of about $411 million per ship. The first OPC was funded in FY2018. The first four OPCs are being built by Eastern Shipbuilding Group (ESG) of Panama City, FL. The Coast Guard held a full and open competition for a new contract to build the next 11 OPCs (numbers 5 through 15). On June 30, 2022, the Coast Guard announced that it had awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract to Austal USA of Mobile, AL, to produce up to 11 offshore patrol cutters (OPCs). The initial award is valued at $208.3 million and supports detail design and procurement of LLTM for the fifth OPC, with options for production of up to 11 OPCs in total. The contract has a potential value of up to $3.33 billion if all options are exercised. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $650.0 million in procurement funding for the 5th OPC, LLTM for the 6th, and other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. The Coast Guard’s FY2020 budget submission estimated the total acquisition cost of the 58 cutters intended for domestic use at $3.748.1 billion, or an average of about $65 million per cutter. A total of 64 FRCs were funded through FY2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2022 budget did not request funding for the procurement of additional FRCs. In acting on the Coast Guard’s proposed FY2022 budget, Congress added $130 million in FRC procurement funding for the construction of up to two additional FRCs and associated class-wide activities. On August 9, 2022, the Coast Guard exercised a contract option with the FRC builder (Bollinger Shipyards of Lockport, LA) for $55.5 million of the $130 million for production of one FRC plus associated deliverables; this FRC will be the 65th. As of July 22, 2022, 48 FRCs have been commissioned into service. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2023 budget requests $16.0 million in procurement funding for the FRC program; this request does not include funding for any additional FRCs.

Download the document here.

Solomon Islands Blocks All Naval Port Visits After U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Denied Entry

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare has announced a temporary moratorium on visits by foreign naval vessels after turning away a U.S Coast Guard Cutter last week. Speaking at a ceremony welcoming hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) to Honiara, Sogavare said that bureaucratic issues were behind the denial of diplomatic clearance to USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140). […]

Sentinel-class fast response cutter USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140) crew arrives in Port Moresby for a port visit on Aug. 23, 2022. US Coast Guard Photo

Solomon Islands Prime Minister Sogavare has announced a temporary moratorium on visits by foreign naval vessels after turning away a U.S Coast Guard Cutter last week.

Speaking at a ceremony welcoming hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) to Honiara, Sogavare said that bureaucratic issues were behind the denial of diplomatic clearance to USCGC Oliver Henry (WPC-1140).

“Unfortunately, by the time the approval was communicated on the evening of 20th August 2022, the Ship’s captain had decided to leave our waters.” Sogavare said in statement.

The port call was routine, said National Security Council spokesman John Kirby during a press conference Tuesday. Oliver Henry planned to stop at Solomon Island to refuel and resupply, but after the U.S. did not receive diplomatic clearance in time, the ship diverted to Papua New Guinea.

“We’re disappointed in this decision,” Kirby said during the briefing. “While the lack of diplomatic clearance for the Oliver Henry was regrettable, however, the United States is pleased that the U.S. Navy ship Mercy – it’s a hospital ship – received diplomatic clearance and was able to take port in Solomon Islands on the 29th.”

While Solomon Islands took time to review its diplomatic clearance process, foreign partners had been asked to postpone upcoming naval visits until further notice, he said.

“To this end we have requested our partners to give us time to review and put in place our new processes before sending further requests for military vessels to enter the country,” Sogavare said. “Once the new mechanism is in place, we will inform you all. We anticipate the new process to be smoother and timelier.”

In a Tuesday statement, Solomon Islands government said that the new rules would apply to all visiting naval vessels.

“The government has asked all partner countries with plans to conduct naval visits or patrols to put them on hold until a revised national mechanism is in place,” according to a government statement “These will universally apply to all visiting naval vessels.”

U.S. hospital ship USNS Mercy (T-AH-19) has been exempted from the moratorium and is expected to remain in Solomon Islands for several weeks as part of Pacific Partnership 2022.

USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) arrives in San Diego on May 15, 2020. US Navy Photo

In May, Solomon Islands signed a secretive security agreement with China. While the details of the deal haven’t been made public, a leaked draft suggested that People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels would be permitted to make logistics stops in Solomon Islands, raising concerns that Beijing may be planning to establish a permanent overseas presence.

Since the deal was signed, Sogavare has been accused of consolidating power along Chinese lines. Last month the state-owned broadcaster, SBIC, was brought under the direct editorial control of the government, while Sogavare has gone so far as to suggest banning foreign journalists from the country.

Beijing has also deepened security cooperation with the Royal Solomon Islands Police Force (RSPIF), which Chinese police have begun to train.

The U.S Embassy in Canberra told USNI News in a statement that it was “disappointed” that Solomon Islands had turned away USCGC Oliver Henry.

“On Aug. 23, the Government of Solomon Islands failed to provide diplomatic clearance to a U.S. Coast Guard ship for refuelling and provision in Honiara,” according to the statement. “The United States is disappointed that the U.S. Coast Guard ship was not able to make this planned stop in Honiara.”

The U.S Embassy also confirmed that the U.S Government had been officially notified of Solomon Islands’ decision to impose a moratorium on August 29th.

“On Aug. 29, the United States received formal notification from the Government of Solomon Islands regarding a moratorium on all naval visits, pending updates in protocol procedures,” according to the statement. “The U.S. Navy Ship Mercy received diplomatic clearance prior to the moratorium being implemented. We will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

Before being denied permission to dock in Honiara, USCGC Oliver Henry participated in Operation Island Chief alongside a USCG HC-130J. Operation Island Chief is one of four operations conducted annually by the Pacific Islands Forum Fisheries Agency (FFA) which focuses on countering Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

A spokesperson for U.S. Coast Guard Forces Micronesia / Sector Guam confirmed to USNI News that, as part of Operation Island Chief, Oliver Henry had been conducting patrols within Solomon Islands’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

As a result of being denied access to Solomon Islands, Oliver Henry diverted to Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea (PNG) to refuel and restock, arriving on Aug. 23. The Office of Solomon Islands Prime Minister Manasseh Sogavare did not respond to questions from USNI News as of this posting.

Incident Photos: Cargo Ship and Bulker Damaged in Sabine Pass Collision

A cargo ship and bulk carrier sustained damage following a collision in Sabine Pass ship channel over the weekend after one of the vessels suffered a loss of steering. Coast…

A cargo ship and bulk carrier sustained damage following a collision in Sabine Pass ship channel over the weekend after one of the vessels suffered a loss of steering. Coast...

GAO’s Open High Priority Recommendations for the Pentagon

The following is the Aug. 22, 2022 open letter from the Government Accountability Office to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Defense. From the report We ask for your continued attention to the remaining 66 open priority recommendations identified in the 2021 letter. We are also adding 18 new recommendations related to […]

The following is the Aug. 22, 2022 open letter from the Government Accountability Office to Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, Priority Open Recommendations: Department of Defense.

From the report

We ask for your continued attention to the remaining 66 open priority recommendations identified in the 2021 letter. We are also adding 18 new recommendations related to Navy readiness, cybersecurity and the information environment, defense management, federal contracting, and financial management. This brings the total number of current priority recommendations to 84. (See the enclosure for the list of recommendations and actions needed to implement them.)

DOD’s 84 priority recommendations fall into the following eight areas.

1. Acquisitions and Contract Management. Fifteen of the 22 recommendations in this area, if implemented, would help DOD improve management of its costliest weapon acquisition programs. DOD expects these programs will cost more than $1.79 trillion to acquire, but many of these programs continue to fall short of cost, schedule, and performance goals.

As a result, DOD faces challenges delivering innovative technologies to the warfighter to keep pace with evolving threats, including those posed by strategic competitors, such as China and Russia.

To address this, we recommended, for example, that DOD define a science and technology management framework that includes emphasizing greater use of existing flexibilities to more quickly initiate and discontinue projects to respond to the rapid pace of innovation. We also recommended that DOD revise a Capability Portfolio Management directive in accordance with best practices and promote the development of better tools to enable more integrated portfolio reviews and analyses of weapon system investments. Implementation of the remaining seven recommendations in this area, including having the Army, Navy, and Air Force use a balanced set of performance metrics to manage their departments’ procurement organizations, including outcome-oriented metrics, would help to address risks involving contracted services and operational contract support.

2. Rebuilding Readiness and Force Structure. The 20 recommendations in this area relate to rebuilding and maintaining readiness and developing the force structure needed to execute the missions specified in the National Defense Strategy. The National Defense Strategy identifies building a resilient joint force as one of four defense priorities.13 For example, we recommended that the Navy use collected data on sailor fatigue to identify, monitor, and evaluate factors that contribute to fatigue and inadequate sleep such as the effects of crew shortfalls, work requirements, administrative requirements, and collateral duties. Implementation of these priority recommendations would help DOD field a more joint and ready force.

3. Financial Management. Implementing the 20 recommendations in this area would move the department closer to its objective of an unmodified (“clean”) financial audit opinion. Material weaknesses include intragovernmental transactions and intradepartmental eliminations, suspense accounts, legacy systems, and real property. Further, many of our recommendations also align with DOD’s fiscal year 2022 audit priority areas. For example, having a universe of transactions and improving internal controls over financial reporting are critical audit remediation efforts.

4. Driving Enterprise-Wide Business Reform. Implementing these four recommendations would help DOD reform its business operations to achieve greater performance and minimize fraud, waste, and abuse. Specifically, we recommended that DOD develop and institutionalize formal policies or agreements as they relate to DOD reform and efficiency collaboration efforts, in order for these efforts to be sustained beyond any leadership and organizational changes.

5. Cybersecurity and the Information Environment. Implementing these nine recommendations would assist DOD in addressing cyber and electromagnetic spectrum threats to U.S. national and economic security, which are increasing in frequency, scale, sophistication, and severity of impact. In particular, they would drive improvements in work roles, cyber hygiene, personnel vetting, and electromagnetic spectrum operations. For example, we recommended that DOD direct a component to monitor the extent to which practices are implemented to protect the department’s network from key cyberattack techniques.

6. Health Care. By implementing five recommendations related to TRICARE’s improper payments and DOD’s military treatment facilities, DOD would be better positioned to reduce or manage duplication, improve efficiencies, and reduce improper payments. To address improper payments, for example, we recommended that DOD implement a more comprehensive TRICARE improper payment measurement methodology that includes medical record reviews and develop more robust corrective action plans that address underlying causes of improper payments. Because health care costs are a significant driver of DOD’s budget, with the Defense Health Program accounting for $36.9 billion in DOD’s fiscal year 2023 budget request, focusing on health care is critical.

7. Preventing Sexual Harassment. The two recommendations in this area relate to unwanted sexual behaviors in the military that undermine core values, unit cohesion, combat readiness, and public goodwill. This includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, and domestic violence involving sexual assault. Specifically, we recommended that DOD develop a strategy for holding individuals in positions of leadership accountable for promoting, supporting, and enforcing the department’s sexual harassment policies and programs. Also, DOD should ensure that the Office of Diversity Management and Equal Opportunity develops and aggressively implements an oversight framework to help guide the department’s efforts. Implementation of our recommendations would help address the weaknesses we found in DOD’s approach to instituting effective policies and programs on sexual harassment.

8. Strengthening Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion within DOD. The two recommendations in this area would help DOD become a workplace of choice that is characterized by diversity, equality, and inclusion and is free from barriers that may prevent personnel from realizing their potential and rising to the highest levels of responsibility. Specifically, we recommended that DOD ensure the services receive guidance on recruitment and retention efforts of female active-duty servicemembers and that DOD conduct an evaluation to identify and take steps to address the causes of any disparities in the military justice system. Implementation of our recommendations would strengthen the department’s efforts to recruit and retain female servicemembers, as well as better understand the reasons for racial and gender disparities in the military justice system.

Download the document here.

Gulf Coast Shipyards Growing Capacity While Navy Shipbuilding Plans Remain Unsettled

PASCAGOULA, Miss. — From the fantail of the 24,000-ton Richard M. McCool, Jr., (LPD-28), one can see the world’s most complex warships coming together, with shipbuilders welding, painting and running cables in the Mississippi sun. Two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers – Leah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) and the first Flight III Burke Jack Lucas […]

Amphibious warship Richard M. McCool, Jr., (LPD-29) on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

PASCAGOULA, Miss. — From the fantail of the 24,000-ton Richard M. McCool, Jr., (LPD-28), one can see the world’s most complex warships coming together, with shipbuilders welding, painting and running cables in the Mississippi sun.

Two Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers – Leah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) and the first Flight III Burke Jack Lucas (DDG-125) – are under construction and moored nearby. Further down the pier the Coast Guard National Security Cutter Calhoun (WMSL-759) is nearing completion. Towering stories over the pier nearby, still primer white, is the half-way complete Bougainville (LHA-8), the Navy’s next 45,000-ton big deck amphibious ship, designed from the keel up to host Marine F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighters. Just north of McCool is the angular hull of Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002), awaiting the start of its combat systems activation before joining the fleet.

While Ingalls Shipbuilding is full of activity now, there’s uncertainty not only for this yard, but for naval shipbuilders around the country as the Navy struggles with its long-range shipbuilding outlook. A few months ago, it wasn’t clear if the Navy would buy many more ships like McCool.

Earlier this year, the Department of the Navy was divided over the total number of amphibious warships the Navy could buy to execute the Marines’ new plan to take on China in the Western Pacific. Absent new orders, the San Antonio-class (LPD-17) line would top out at LPD-32, with no clear path on the future for the gator navy.

Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002) at Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., on Aug. 4, 2022 USNI News Photo

Congress eventually settled what became a public spat between the Navy and the Marine Corps over the amphibious fleet size. Lawmakers sided with the Marine Corps by including a standalone bill that requires a floor of 31 amphibious ships in the Navy’s inventory.

“The amphibious warfare ship force structure of the Navy must be maintained at 31, composed of 10 amphibious assault ships general-purpose and multi-purpose, and 21 amphibious transport dock types, in order to meet global commitments,” reads the standalone bill put forward by House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee chair Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) and ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.).

The legislative decision resulted in a sigh of relief at HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss., where the 24,000-ton amphibs have been built since the start of the line, as well as the 45,000-ton America-class big deck amphibious ships.

Unlike the steady design, development and construction in the submarine community, surface programs in both the Navy and the Coast Guard have suffered from starts, stops, changes in missions and priorities. The Navy has issued calls for a bigger fleet, but the Pentagon has submitted shipbuilding budgets seeking limited new construction while decommissioning more ships than it plans to buy.

The Navy is still piecing together a plan for its next-generation DDG(X) guided-missile destroyer as it builds the current Flight III Arleigh Burke combatants (DDG-51s). Additionally, the service is considering whether it should start a second line for the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate (FFG-62) that will succeed the two designs of the Littoral Combat Ship. The Navy and Marines are also divided on the pace for the Light Amphibious Warship program, which the Marine Corps says is essential to its new Marine Littoral Regiments that are key to the emerging island-hopping campaign in the Western Pacific.

Despite the lack of specifics, shipyards in the Gulf Coast have quietly mounted extensive capital expansion efforts for new construction and repair work as D.C. hammers out the plans for the future fleet.

USNI News toured three shipyards this month – Ingalls Shipbuilding, Austal USA and Halter Marine – that are pushing out new ships for the Navy and Coast Guard. In addition to new construction, Austal USA and Ingalls are increasing their volume for repair overhauls as the Navy continues to dig out of a maintenance backlog that mounted during the Global War on Terror.

Ingalls Shipbuilding

Arleigh Burke destroyers Jack H. Lucas (DDG-125), Lenah H. Sutcliffe Higbee (DDG-123) and the Legend-class cutter Calhoun (WMSL-759) at Ingalls Shipbuilding on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

The 800 acres of Ingalls Shipbuilding’s west yard is arguably the most complex shipyard in North America, based on the number and different types of ships it builds. The manmade square on the Pascagoula River was purpose-built in the late 1960s to construct the Spruance-class guided-missile destroyers based on the modular construction tenants of European shipbuilding.

“We’re a big volume, big production shipyard,” Ingalls President Kari Wilkinson told USNI News during an Aug. 4 visit to the yard.


As of today, the yard is under contract to build 17 ships across four lines – nine Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers, three San Antonio-class amphibious warships, two America-class big deck amphibs and the last two of 11 planned Coast Guard Legend-class National Security Cutters.

That work has been steady, but some lines are beginning to wind down and Ingalls is positioning itself to bid for emerging work from the Navy – like the second line for the Constellation-class guided-missile frigate and the next-generation destroyer known as DDG(X). The Navy’s final disposition on the amphibious fleet will have major ramifications for the yard.

“We would love to grow that and continue to support all those [amphibious] classes of ships. We’ve got the bench strength for it. We don’t want to lose that capability because we’ve got some tremendous experience in that regard,” Wilkinson said.

Shipbuilder welding on the bow section of a future San Antonio-class amphibious warship at Ingalls Shipbuilding on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

The steadiest future work is in the destroyer business. The yard is finishing Jack Lucas (DDG-125), which is the first Flight III Arleigh Burke ship that was developed a decade ago as a stopgap ahead of developing a new large surface combatant for the service. Congress is interested in extending the line for another 15 hulls as part of a multi-year deal split between Ingalls and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine. The potential multi-year is currently under consideration as part of the Fiscal Year 2023 defense policy bill. The Navy has been careful to split the hulls between Bath and Ingalls evenly, but defense officials and legislative sources have told USNI News that Ingalls has the capacity to build more DDGs if the Navy ups the rate to three ships per year.

Foreseeing the transition in its business, Ingalls is wrapping a “shipyard of the future” modernization that has pumped almost $1 billion into the Pascagoula yard over the last five years, Wilkinson said.

“How do we make the work easier for people? It makes them more efficient,” Wilkinson said.

“With efficiency comes additional capacity to process. We know that budgets are going to continue to be challenged. We’re trying to keep ourselves in excellent posture to offer the best product for the lowest cost.”

Covered work areas at Ingalls Shipbuilding West Bank facility on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

Much of the work is to increase automation and ease the work for the 11,300 builders who work at the yard. That includes robot welders, laser cutters, more climate-controlled buildings and a complete revamp of its planning infrastructure to squeeze efficiency out of the workforce.

“We’ve not laid anyone off. Labor is always going to be a challenge, to come by right-skilled labor, it’s getting increasingly difficult. You hear that everywhere. The extent to which we can automate things that make sense for us, and it’s efficient, and it’s not going to lay somebody off, we’re going to do that,” Wilkinson said.

“As we have freed up people for other things, they’ve gone to other places in the shipyard to leverage their skill sets.”

A major change to the yard is giant fabric panels covering work areas. Instead of wide swaths of uncovered concrete, most of the open space at Ingalls is now covered from the worst of the Mississippi sun.

“We covered over a million square feet of space between buildings that used to be out in the open,” Wilkinson said.

The hull of the futureUSS Bougainville (LHA-8) at Ingalls Shipbuilding on Aug. 4, 2022. USNI News Photo

Another push for the shipyard of the future drive was the purchase of a modern drydock with a capacity of 75,000 tons that can position ships more easily across the square faces of the shipyard.

“It is much more affordable to move a drydock to a different location rather than move the ship,” she said.

The drydock was instrumental in the yard’s efforts to repair the badly damaged USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) that was struck by a merchant ship in 2017. The drydock allowed shipyard workers to lift the destroyer out of the water to the pier at the west yard for repairs.

The two years of work on Fitz opened up opportunities for other maintenance work at the yard. Ingalls original east bank yard, established in 1938. The new East Bank facility opened in 2020.

“We typically use repair and overhaul work for filler. We don’t want to lose talent,” Wilkinson said.
“However, there is an interesting business conversation about the east bank as a [repair] center of excellence. So we want to support our customer in a conversation and overhaul is something they need us to do. We’re certainly open to that.”

During USNI News’ visit to the yard, Ingalls was beginning the combat system activation work on Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002). Last week, USNI News reported that the two other ships in the class — USS Zumwalt (DDG-1000) and USS Michael Monsoor (DDG-1001) — would undergo a modernization overhaul at Ingalls to include the installation of the Navy’s first at-sea hypersonic weapon systems.

Austal USA

Shipyard worker at the Austal USA yard in Mobile, Ala., looking on Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship Augusta (LCS-34). USNI News Photo

It was fair for employees at Austal USA’s Mobile, Ala., yard to feel nervous at the start of 2022. The two main lines of the shipbuilder’s aluminum construction were winding down with little new booked work.

The Navy decided to cap the Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship at 19 hulls, while the Spearhead-class Expeditionary Fast Transport (EPF) had been kept alive past its expected 10-ship requirement largely due to the Alabama congressional delegation’s efforts during the annual budget process.

In anticipation of the end of the Indys and the EPFs, Austal retooled its manufacturing panel line to start building steel ships – winning its first contract in late 2021 for the line to build two Navajo-class Towing, Salvage and Rescue Ship.

In June, the yard won the Coast Guard bid to replace Eastern Shipbuilding as the builder of the Heritage-class Offshore Patrol Cutters starting with the fifth hull — the future Pickering (WMSM-919) — with options for as many as 11 cutters with a value of up to $3.3 billion. Additionally, the yard won two more options for more Navajos in late July and a floating drydock for the Navy.

President Rusty Murdaugh has overseen the Australian-owned Austal USA since early 2021 and chalks up the success of never losing a bid for new construction to the Mobile yard’s adherence to the “lean manufacturing” ethos born from the Japanese auto industry that wrings out waste and inefficiency from industrial processes.

The future USNS Cody (EPF-14) at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 3, 2022. USNI News Photo

“We’ve always been very vertically integrated. We’ve had our own design team. Not many yards have their own design team. We’ve always had our own design for manufacturing process,” he told USNI News in an interview during a recent visit to the yard.

“We’ve done it ourselves, from making the tanks and some of the other things that a lot of yards subcontract out. We do that because it’s lean.”

The in-house design chops and heavily managed workflow of Austal’s panel lines and module construction allow the yard to build several different new construction ships at once on the same steel line, from the OPCs to smaller autonomous ships the Navy is developing for its Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle program.


“To do a 70-foot autonomy ship was something not on our radar a couple of years ago but what you’ll see is the yard is agnostic… [Austal USA] is, able to build 70-foot ships or 700-foot ships. That’s the range of shipbuilding that we have going on as booked business right now and we’re going to continue to keep that wide range as long as it meets the needs of our customers and supports the yard’s ability to do high volume,” Murdaugh said.

“We’ve changed the way we manage the business from hulls to platforms. And so the panel can handle eight to 10 different platforms going through it at once. It has a lot of capacity. And we have growth plans that go out 50 years so that we can double the panel line.”

Austal was key to developing the autonomous systems in the Ghost Fleet Overlord test vessels. The yard also added extensive autonomous features to Spearhead-class Apalachicola (EPF-13).

Independence-class Littoral Combat Ship Santa Barbara (LCS-32) fitting out along the Mobile River. USNI News Photo

In addition to the OPCs, in which Austal beat both original shipbuilder Eastern and Ingalls, Austal is positioning its steel line as a contender for a second line of the Constellation-class frigate following Fincantieri Marinette Marine’s Wisconsin yard and the Light Amphibious Warship.

Murdaugh declined to detail the yard’s plans for OPC, citing the ongoing protest from Eastern over the contract award to Austal.

Austal is also building components for the Virginia-class submarine program and aircraft elevators for aircraft carrier Enterprise (CVN-80) on its steel line.

The yard is also expanding its repair footprint. In 2020, the yard bought the defunct World of Marine Alabama and with it a floating drydock and 3,000 feet of shoreline on the opposite bank of the Mobile River.

A shipyard worker walks through the bow section of the future USNS Cody (EPF-14) at Austal USA in Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 3, 2022. USNI News Photo

“By buying the yard across the river, we not only got a dry dock that ensures that we’re in control of whenever we want to launch, but it gave us a lot more deep water,” Murdaugh said.

“That strategy actually worked quite well because they had said that repair work in the South is gone. We are booked through February [of 2023] and might be booked through June [soon].”

Austal has also expanded its repair business to San Diego – home of the Independence-class ships — by finalizing a deal with the Port of San Diego to construct a facility and add a dry dock to a parcel adjacent to Naval Base San Diego on 32nd St.

“We’ve changed our strategic plan, we’ve changed our arrangement of our folks, and it’s not static, it evolves as we evolve,” Murdaugh said.

“But now we got to the point where we’re in a high growth mode, and we still have lots of capacity to fill, so that the organization will just continue to go wider instead of deeper.”

Halter Marine

Halter Marine Aug. 5, 2022. USNI News Photo

Tucked in the shallow Bayou Cassotte in Pascagoula, just west of the Alabama state line, is Halter Marine’s remaining Gulf Coast yard. At the height of the offshore oil and gas boom in the 2010s, its Singapore parent snapped up yards up and down the Gulf Coast to meet the commercial demand.

When the boom turned bust starting in 2017, Halter consolidated to one new construction yard and retooled to exclusively focus on government work, while separate sister yard ST Engineering Halter Marine and Offshore concentrated on repair for oil and gas ships and platforms. The waterfront has clear access to the Gulf Coast, making it ideal for deeper drafting ships.

In 2019, the yard won a $745.9 million design contract to build the first heavy icebreaker for the Coast Guard, with options for two more for a total of $1.9 billion if all the options are exercised.

In 2020, Halter installed Bob Merchent – retired HII vice president for surface combatants – as the head of the yard to oversee the construction of the Coast Guard’s Polar Security Cutter. The yard also brought on retired Rear Adm. Ronald Rábago, who led Coast Guard acquisition before retiring in 2014.

“We’d say, number one, it’s a complex vessel in the sense of its mission set. We haven’t delivered a heavy icebreaker in this country for over 40 years. The last one was Polar Star and the technology has changed dramatically,” Rábago told USNI News in an interview at the Mississippi yard.

To accommodate the construction of the 23,000-ton icebreaker, the yard went through its own capital improvement plan, including strengthening the ground on which it will build the ship.

“We put in over 1,000 piles into the ground over 80 [feet deep]and then put a concrete cap that is going to be able to support the Polar Security Cutter going forward,” Rábago said.

Additionally, the yard has invested in robotic welding machines to handle the different thicknesses of the steel required for the heavy hull of the icebreaker.

“We just finished the testing and commissioning of new welding robots that are able to do really remarkable things,” Rábago said. “This is going to be really important for the Polar Security Cutter because of the thickness of the steel in the lower sections.”

Yard leaders told USNI News that the company is on the cusp of finalizing the design. They did not mention a date, but noted the ships’ auxiliary systems are at the yard ready to be installed and that most of the steel for the icebreaker is already on site.

Hull section at Halter Marine on Aug. 5, 2022. USNI News Photo

In addition to the Polar Security Cutter, Halter is considering competing for the Navy’s Light Amphibious Warship. The yard is currently building amphibious tank-landing ships for an unspecified foreign customer and would use the design as a basis for a LAW bid. Halter is also building the latest Pathfinder-class oceanographic survey ship (T-AGS-67) for Military Sealift Command and berthing barges for the Navy.

Halter is also exploring the potential to partner with other companies to provide hulls for autonomous ships as the Navy explores more unmanned vessels for the fleet.

“The base platform is a vessel. It’s a ship. It’ll have propulsion plant. It’ll have a navigation system,” Merchent said. “It’s just the interfaces and some of the physical layout arrangements will be different for the autonomous mission. We’re shipbuilders, we know how to build ships.”

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