The U.S. Coast Guard’s newest vessel, the National Security Cutter Bertholf, was in the news a lot last week.
The 418-foot vessel -- the first of eight in the new Legend class of cutters -- seized two suspected drug smuggling boats in international waters off the coast of Guatemala on the night of July 8. Coast Guard says the Bertholf’s crew recovered a bale of cocaine as evidence and detained four suspects.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by PAC Tom Sperduto
It was the first drug bust for the Bertholf, commissioned less than a year ago and home-ported in Alameda, Calif. During the operation a marksman aboard a Coast Guard helicopter launched from the Betholf (yes, it’s that big a vessel) shot out the engines of two speedboats and fired warning shots at two more that apparently got away.
Congressional auditors expect to issue their report on the National Security Cutters (NSC), later this summer. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) is studying the development and procurement of the NSC at the behest of appropriations subcommittees in both the House and Senate. Delivery of the Bertholf – part of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater air and maritime fleet recapitalization -- was delayed by design changes made after 9/11 and hurricane damage to the shipyard in 2008.
And the GAO says the eighth and final NSC is not expected to be fully operational before the fourth quarter of calendar 2018, instead of the originally projected 2016.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard has yet to acquire the unmanned aircraft that were planned to extend the NSCs' range. The Coast Guard terminated the Bell Eagle Eye vertical unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) program in 2007. GAO says the Coast Guard plans to draft operational specifications for the UAV by the end of the year. GAO estimates it will take “several years” to acquire, produce and test the UAV before it can be deployed on the National Security Cutter.