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Papp: House Coast Guard reauthorization bill would put NSC program at risk

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A House-approved 3-year Coast Guard authorization bill could jeopardize the acquisition of National Security Cutters, Coast Guard Adm. Robert Papp told a Dec. 1 House panel.

A provision in the bill (H.R. 2838) would prevent the service from starting production on a sixth NSC until it has acquired a sufficient number of Long Range Interceptor II and Cutter Boat Over the Horizon IV small boats for the first three NSCs and until the first two NSCs have been away from homeport 225 days each.

The House bill "risks disrupting the production schedule, raising cost and jeopardizing the entire national security project," Papp said while testifying before the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Coast Guard and maritime transportation.

Right now the Coast Guard lacks the multiple crews to put two NSCs at sea for 225 days, Papp added, noting that the Coast Guard has accepted only 3 NSCs.

"When you have the full build-out and you have the additional crews to be able to do the crew rotation and swap you can get to those extra days," he said.

The NSCs are more important to the Coast Guard's ability to carry out missions in Alaska than an additional icebreaker, Papp said, Coast Guard icebreaking capacity being the main subject of the hearing.

The service currently possesses two heavy icebreakers but one, the Polar Sea, is slated for decommissioning due to engine trouble and the other, the Polar Star, is undergoing refurbishment with an expected return to service in fiscal 2013.

The House authorization bill would mandate that the Polar Star go out of service in fiscal 2015, a provision that Papp also spoke out against.

Asked about the possibility of leasing a new heavy icebreaker, Papp said he is "ambivalent" about the idea, since it's likely such an icebreaker would have to be built from scratch. Coast Guard analysis has found that leasing becomes more expensive than owning after about 20 to 25 years and the service typically keeps ships in service for 30 to 40 or more years, Papp said.

Legal considerations, however, would not prevent the service from leasing, he added. So long as a leased ship is commanded by a Coast Guard commissioned officer, it would be able to go into a war zone as a U.S. asset.

"I mean, I don't foresee a scenario right now where we're going to be warfighting in the Arctic but who knows what, yet, it's an uncertain future," he said.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimonies and webcast available)

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