With contract for third cutter, Coast Guard hopes design issues have been resolved

Bertholf, the first of eight National Security Cutters, sits at a berth at Northrop Grumman’s shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. It is due for delivery in 2008. The second, Waesche, visible to the rear, is due for delivery in 2009. (Courtesy Northrop Grumman Ship Systems)

The contract awarded in August 2007 to Northrop Grumman Ship Systems for construction of the third U.S. Coast Guard National Security Cutter (NSC) may signal a resolution of the most serious cost and design issues overshadowing the NSC program.

The first of the 418-foot cutters, Bertholf, is due for delivery from the Northrop Grumman Ship Systems shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., in early 2008, with delivery of the second, Waesche, scheduled for 2009.
Overall management responsibility for the Coast Guard’s modernization program, Deepwater, was originally awarded to a joint venture between Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman known as Integrated Coast Guard Systems (ICGS). As major Deepwater problems became known, Congress began to question ICGS’s performance.
The issue of possible NSC design flaws centers on differing interpretations of hull design calculations for determining the useful life of the hulls. Department of Homeland Security Inspector General Richard L. Skinner testified to Congress, “The NSC, as designed and constructed, will not meet performance specifications described in the original Deepwater contract. Specifically, due to design deficiencies, the NSC’s structure provides insufficient fatigue strength to achieve a 30-year service life under Caribbean (General Atlantic) and Gulf of Alaska (North Pacific) sea conditions.”
Northrop Grumman Ship Systems presented a different view. Philip A. Teel, vice chairman of ICGS and president of Northrop Grumman Ship Systems, told Congress, “The NSC is designed to meet a 30-year service life and many of the structural items raised by the Coast Guard have been addressed and were incorporated in the Bertholf and Waesche prior to production. “With regard to NSC fatigue life, even the best engineers have different opinions.”
George Kardulias, a Coast Guard spokesman, said that lessons learned from the first two vessels in the NSC series are being incorporated in the later vessels to ensure both a 30-year service life and fatigue life. In total, the building of eight NSCs is planned.
“Confusion over the definition of service life and fatigue life is the problem,” he said. “NSC1 and NSC2 as originally designed met the 30-years service life standard.” To achieve the 30-year fatigue-life standard, changes may be made during future in-service shipyard work to Bertholf and Waesche. “Our technical authority is constantly reviewing simulation model data and making design changes so we can be certain they will also meet a 30-year fatigue life,” he said.
He noted that basin and computer modeling results of the NSC design at the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) only questioned a 30-year fatigue life if a ship were to be kept in the cold waters of the Bering Sea for 30 years. To provide additional data for the NAVSEA computer modeling of fatigue life, NSC1 will have sensors installed to record hull stress data.
“NSC3 will incorporate design lessons learned from NSC1 and NSC2 and will have the 30-year service life and 30-year fatigue life after it leaves the shipyard,” he said.
The Coast Guard commandant, Adm. Thad Allen, outlined the Coast Guard’s new role and shipbuilding approach to correct Deepwater problems: “The Coast Guard will expand the role of the American Bureau of Shipping, or other third-parties as appropriate, for Deepwater vessels to increase assurances that Deepwater assets are properly designed and constructed in accordance with established standards. The Coast Guard will work collaboratively with Integrated Coast Guard Systems to identify and implement an expeditious resolution to all outstanding issues regarding the National Security Cutters.”
By Professional Mariner Staff