You can read the Commandant’s State of the Coast Guard speech here (pdf). It is only eight pages.
The Commandant continues to hammer on themes he has addressed in the past–the Arctic Strategy in response to the opening of a new ocean and the Western Hemisphere Strategy in response to lawlessness in Central America and the resulting immigration crisis (plus the ships needed to employment the strategies–OPCs and Icebreakers in particular), and duty to our people (the Human Capital Strategy). While the topics are familiar, his tone is more optimistic.
The Coast Guard budget for FY2016 included the largest acquisitions, construction, and improvements (AC&I) budget in its history and the Commandant appears to believe this will not be a flute.
The Commandant has chosen his battles and is doing well in terms of conveying what he sees as the critical narrative. Now it sounds like he is about to expand his objectives.
The Commandant has promised an analysis of Coast Guard personnel requirements.
Most people have seen the great American cinema classic Jaws. In it, Police Chief Brody, when he first lays eyes on the 30-foot Great White shark attacking New England beachgoers, says to his colleague, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” It is a great line that lives on as an expression to state the obvious.
We’ll let me nuance that a bit. Looking at the challenges we’re facing in the world today: ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to need a bigger Coast Guard….As required by our 2015 Authorization Act, I am directing a Coast Guard Manpower Requirements Plan to formally establish a force size informed by strategy, analysis and risk management.
Allow me to look even further down the road,
The world seems to becoming an increasingly dangerous place. The brief window when the US ruled a mono-polar world is closed. It may be time for the Coast Guard to reemphasize its military character. If you look at long term trends, the size of the Coast Guard, in terms of personnel has generally been stable or growing, while the still much larger, Navy has continued to shrink. When I was commissioned in 1969, the Navy was about 21 times larger than the Coast Guard and the Marine Corps was over eight times as large. Now the Navy is less than eight times the size of the Coast Guard, and the Marine Corps is less than five times as large. In terms of personnel the Coast Guard is already larger than the British or French Navy. This suggest that its potential as a significant naval force should not be ignored.
The Coast Guard now seems poised to have a future fleet of nine frigate sized National Security Cutters and 25 corvette (or light frigate) sized Offshore Patrol Cutters. That is 34 surface combatants, not an insignificant number when you consider the Navy has and will have only about 120 cruisers, destroyers frigates and LCS. While the cutters quality as warships is far below that of DDG, they are not far removed from that of an LCS and in some respects, particularly endurance, they are superior. We really need to look at what we could do, for relatively small marginal costs, to make these ships effective contributions to the National Fleet. In a similar fashion we need to look at how other elements of the Coast Guard could strengthen national defense.
The Coast Guard may be the US’s secret naval edge, unrecognized by our enemies and by our own government, the Navy and many of our own people, but risking the stealthy nature of our contribution to national defense, a more formalized and recognized military tasking could justify continued expansion that could also improve performance in other mission areas, and give us the bigger Coast Guard the Commandant think we need.