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Testimony of Major General Michael Kostelnik, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, before the House Appropriations Committee, Subcommittee on Homeland Security, on Office of Air and Marine Operations and Investments

Release Date: 
April 19, 2010

Rayburn House Office Building
(Remarks as Prepared)

Chairman Price, Ranking Member Rogers, Members of the Subcommittee, it is a privilege and an honor to appear before you today to discuss the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection's (CBP) Office of Air and Marine (OAM) operations and investments,particularly the work we have done with our DHS partners, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I want to begin by expressing my gratitude to the Committee for its enduring support of the CBP mission, particularly as it relates to our air and marine operations and investments.

Four years ago, OAM embarked on a recapitalization program aimed at replacing a mixed fleet of aged aircraft and marine vessels with a smaller variety of more flexible and sustainable assets equipped to support CBP's homeland security missions. With the support of Congress, significant progress has been made, and OAM is committed to completing its recapitalization effort as efficiently and as quickly as possible. This year, OAM is embarking on an aged aircraft sustainment effort. This will require engineering and risk assessments for some aircraft types, and will help the office determine how long the aircraft can be operated safely as new assets are delivered. As with any recapitalization program, OAM requires a steady stream of funding to keep production lines open and avoid delivery gaps that would lead to operating aging assets longer, or retiring them without replacement. Therefore, we respectfully urge the Committee to support the President's budget request and provide the funds needed to keep the OAM recapitalization program moving forward.

Creating the Office of Air and Marine

When the Office of Air and Marine was officially formed in 2005, it became the world's largest law enforcement air and marine service. The new force included nearly 260 aircraft, more than 100 marine vessels, and nearly 1,000 personnel. As with any newly combined service, OAM faced many challenges. The office inherited a diverse fleet of aircraft and vessels that were obtained through seizures, loans from the Department of Defense (DOD), and other acquisition processes. On average, more than half of the aircraft serving CBP were 30 years old, and many were not fully capable of supporting their required homeland security missions. A large number of riverine vessels were in need of repair or replacement, and the primary marine coastal interceptor vessels were already nearing the end of their service lives. Mission requirement processes were immature, new technology investments lay unfunded and unexplored, and no developmental or operational test and evaluation structure existed. Facilities were in need of major repairs, and the office was hard pressed to meet salary payments for the last months of FY 2006, let alone hire additional personnel needed to fill critical mission vacancies.

Faced with these challenges, OAM leadership embarked on a very aggressive set of initiatives that: brought new operational leadership to headquarters staff and the field branches; used limited hiring initiatives to secure the skills in acquisition, finance, testing and safety necessary for a responsive and flexible nationwide air and marine service; and achieved operational improvements through uniform aircraft and vessel training and standards. OAM created a homeland security force with a unique identity, adopting the best practices from within CBP and from the armed services. Today, OAM is still relatively small, operating 284 aircraft and 253 marine vessels, and with over 1,800 personnel onboard. Though small, it can be compared in mission and capability to the DOD special forces, operating uniquely modified assets that support all of DHS and other federal agencies. It is fully integrated, well-trained, better equipped, and rapidly becoming the high performing security force that meets the nation's needs for border security.

Operational Leadership

The key to building a high-performing organization is leadership. Leaders set the vision, make the hard decisions, determine the risks, and push all elements of the organization to achieve more than they believe they can. Leaders work to obtain the resources needed to do the job, overcome obstacles, and provide the opportunities for future leaders to mature. Within the first year of combined operations, OAM filled key leadership positions with strong, talented candidates. OAM took a rigorous approach to making sure that these positions were filled, and that the right oversight was applied to key strategic decisions. The office established an internal Air Council, composed of field-level and Headquarters directors, to tackle tough organizational issues, help build and assess strategic plans, and address force lay-down alternatives together. An Executive Council, composed of only the most senior executive directors, was created to provide experienced oversight and to tackle the most difficult decisions. Finally, the office pioneered the creation of a senior leadership development program within CBP to begin making long term investments in future leaders.

A Clear Path Forward

Starting in 2006, OAM developed a strategic plan for the recapitalization of its aged aircraft and marine vessels, and provided the innovative plan - with updates - to Congress. Streamlined, internal acquisition processes were established to ensure that future aircraft and marine vessel purchases would be driven by solid mission requirements. The office conducted an objective appraisal of existing aircraft contracts, two of which were cancelled because the aircraft would not meet our mission needs. Several major aircraft and marine vessel procurements were initiated, consistent with the plan and available funding, almost all of which have since been awarded. OAM was the first organization in DHS to introduce stringent Operations Test and Evaluation (OT&E) processes that enabled it to critically evaluate new assets, then to deploy them where they could be most effectively operated. OAM established a new training, test, standards and safety office that led the way in producing uniform air and marine operations handbooks, established a new air and marine basic training course at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Glynco, GA, and instituted a comprehensive, nation-wide safety program.

In order to move forward rapidly, reduce risk, and promote integrated operations and acquisition within DHS, OAM cultivated numerous partnerships. Today, these partnerships are principally with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), USCG, FEMA, and various DOD components. The partnerships have supported OAM's rapid progress toward providing critical aviation and marine capabilities to CBP and other DHS components. They enable the office to tap experienced personnel and support systems possessed by larger agencies, and to take advantage of proven technologies that can be applied to homeland security mission needs.

Strong Performance for Homeland Security

Since the start of FY 2006, OAM has delivered strong performance in its homeland security role. Its agents prevent narcotics from reaching our borders through the source and transit zones of the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific; provide direct support to ground interdiction operations along our land borders; and intercept non-cooperative aircraft attempting to cross over the borders. While operating in the source and transit zones during FY 2009, CBP P-3 long range patrol aircraft supported the seizure or destruction of over 234 metric tons of bulk narcotics - with a total estimated street value of over $3 billion - and provided assets for 58 percent of Joint Interagency Task Force - South missions. Along our borders, the office supported Border Patrol missions that directly led to the interdiction of over 1.4 million pounds of marijuana, cocaine, and heroin; 59,000 undocumented aliens; $33 million in currency; and 365 weapons. In addition, 5,700 flight hours were provided for ICE missions that resulted in 1,400 arrests and the seizure of 162,000 pounds of illegal drugs. OAM provided both aircraft and vessels in support of FEMA emergency response operations during hurricanes, floods, and most recently, Haiti earthquake recovery operations.

To support CBP's nationwide operations, OAM established five new air branches along the northern border and, in December 2008, established a Predator B unmanned aircraft system (UAS) branch in North Dakota. OAM established, and has nearly completed, the staffing and vessel purchases for 11 new marine units along both the northern border and the Gulf of Mexico. OAM is four years into an aggressive service life extension program (SLEP) for its P-3 long-range patrol aircraft that prevented the permanent grounding of the entire fleet. To date, 11 of 16 aircraft have been returned to active service. Last year, the P-3 aircraft, equipped with advanced sea search radars, detected and tracked eight self-propelled semi-submersibles, each carrying 5,000 to 6,800 kilos of cocaine.

Since 2006, CBP has introduced six Predator B long duration remotely piloted aircraft, one of which was converted to a maritime variant, named the Guardian, through a joint CBP/USCG program office. The Predator B has seen service along the southwest border in support of the Border Patrol since 2005, and in February 2009, a second Predator was delivered to North Dakota. In the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009, CBP Predators drawn from both the southern and northern borders supported FEMA missions during the southeastern hurricanes and floods in North Dakota, respectively. During the hurricane activity, the Predators conducted pre-and post-event missions that mapped critical infrastructure and provided FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers vital video and information on storm damage. During the North Dakota floods, the aircraft provided video on the formation of ice dams so that action could be taken to destroy them and prevent the floods from expanding. In June 2009, OAM conducted a successful surge operation to the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Seaway, operating from the Army's Wheeler-Sack airfield at Fort Drum, New York. The airfield at Fort Drum is perfectly located to support contingency operations along the eastern seaboard. The office also began work on a long-range partnership with the Air National Guard's 174th Fighter Wing in Syracuse, New York, to share maintenance training and operational support common to USCG and CBP Predators.

The joint Guardian maritime UAS successfully completed contractor development tests on the west coast this January, and the early results clearly indicate that DHS will have an impressive capability for maritime surveillance and interdiction missions in the source and transit zones. The aircraft is currently undergoing OT&E at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and plans are in place for embarking on the first joint CBP/USCG mission later this spring. In less than one year, CBP introduced a unique, long-range maritime search capability, unmatched by any other capability on the world stage.

In the last four years, OAM has taken delivery of 58 new and upgraded aircraft, mainly helicopters, to replace aging assets along our land borders. OAM now has seven contracts in place for the delivery of 25 more new or upgraded aircraft. Over the next 18 months, the last three medium range Dash-8 patrol aircraft will be delivered. By the end of 2010, 31 of the 50 AS-350 A-Star helicopters under contract will have been delivered. In late FY 2011, the Army will deliver two of four new UH-60M Black Hawk helicopters and two upgraded UH-60L helicopters. And in September 2009, OAM awarded a contract for the first five King Air 350 Multi-role Enforcement Aircraft, the first of which is scheduled for delivery in early 2011 with all the necessary modifications to the base model made to suit OAM's law enforcement mission needs. This state-of-the-art aircraft will be among the most sophisticated surveillance, tracking, and air interdiction platforms in DHS. Just three weeks ago, the first Huey II helicopter, having completed depot-level overhaul, was delivered. The upgraded aircraft has significantly enhanced lift capacity and a full service life, all for about half the cost of a new aircraft. These upgrades were funded by our efforts to locate funds within closed contracts. Once the funding was identified, OAM was able to provide a valuable asset in an exceptionally short period of time. Two more Huey IIs will be delivered in a matter of weeks.

Our marine program has also grown significantly. In addition to the 11 new marine units mentioned earlier, OAM purchased 86 new vessels of various types, and hired all but four of the 197 new marine agents and support personnel funded by Congress in FY 2008 and FY 2009. Starting with only 85 marine agents in 2005, the office has grown its marine security force to nearly 350 agents onboard today. The office conducted a yearlong evaluation of an advanced concept technology demonstrator (ACTD) vessel for a new class of high-speed coastal interceptor needed to keep pace with the evolving maritime threat. The ACTD evaluation approach reduces the agency's acquisition risk by greatly maturing the government's requirements before the procurement effort begins. We anticipate the award of a competitive contract for the new interceptors before the end of this fiscal year.

CBP marine acquisitions have also benefited from a close relationship with the USCG, managed through the DHS Boat Commodity Council. In addition to a joint outboard motor repair program executed at the CBP National Marine Center in St. Augustine, Florida, our USCG partners have transferred approximately 73 small vessels to CBP, all of which will be reconditioned and returned to service as riverine vessels. This partnership has reduced future CBP procurement needs by nearly $15 million.

A Unique Homeland Security Air and Marine Force

I am proud to report that the OAM is aggressively executing its homeland security missions with 284 aircraft and 253 marine vessels located at 79 operating branches, units, and support sites across the nation. Operations along and beyond our borders are achieving impressive results, and as new aircraft, vessels, improved sensors and additional personnel increase our strength and flexibility, the office will continue to push hard not just to accomplish our current mission set, but to be prepared for future missions as the threats change.

Specific Challenges Ahead

As you can see, CBP's Office of Air and Marine has come a long way since its inception. The office has encountered and tackled multiple challenges in order rise to a high standard of performance. However, important challenges remain, and I ask Congress for its continued support. In the years to come, OAM must: continue addressing its aging fleet; keep the contracts and sources active for new aircraft and marine vessel acquisitions; and improve information flow, and data and video distribution, within CBP and to key partners to meet intelligence and imagery analysis needs for operational users.

The age of CBP's assets is a growing concern. On average, nearly half of our aircraft are still more than 33 years old. While age alone does not determine aircraft safety, the office continues to experience age-related maintenance problems with some of its main-line aircraft. The office's 26 OH-6 light helicopters date back to the Vietnam War, and they are nearing the end of their service lives, with many experiencing engine problems, corrosion, and stress cracks. They are currently supported with a managed inspection program, and spare parts from retired aircraft. The 16 1970's vintage C-12/C-12M patrol aircraft are experiencing landing gear issues, limited parts availability, and need to be assessed for corrosion. The same goes for the 5 PA-42 patrol aircraft, another model near the end of its service life. In late 2009, OAM decided to retire all nine MD-600 light helicopters after a training incident led to the determination that these aircraft had become unsafe for border operations. The UH-60A Black Hawk must also be managed closely, not because there is an immediate age-related problem, but because OAM may not be able to overhaul and upgrade all 16 of the aircraft before the Army production line shuts down. Last month, the Army Program Office advised OAM of their plans to increase production on their UH-60 conversion line. The conversion process gives each aircraft 13-15 additional years of service life, reduces annual maintenance costs, and provides CBP with aircraft that can be more easily supported through the Army's logistics system. If the Army is successful in increasing its production rate, thereby closing the line earlier, CBP may not be able to upgrade all of its helicopters. This would mean that five or six of our 16 aircraft would not be overhauled and may have to be retired.

This year, CBP is embarking on an aged aircraft sustainability effort. This will require engineering and risk assessments of the aircraft types mentioned above, and will help OAM determine how long the aircraft can be safely operated. In the best-case scenario, the aged aircraft will continue to operate, with increased inspections and maintenance and only a modest impact on resources. In the worst case, OAM will retire the aircraft sooner rather than later, and adjust aircraft deployments and border security operations accordingly.

Conclusion

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Subcommittee, thank you for this opportunity to testify about the work of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and particularly about our efforts over the past five years on air and marine operations and investments. Your continued support of CBP, and to these mission priorities, has led to significant improvements in the security of our borders and our nation. I will be glad to answer any questions you may have.

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