“Coast Guard Readiness: How Far Can We Stretch Our Nation’s Only Multi-Mission, Military Force?”–Senate Testimony

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft at the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Patrick Kelley.

Below is the Commandant’s written testimony for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard hearing titled, “Coast Guard Readiness: How Far Can We Stretch Our Nation’s Only Multi-Mission, Military Force?”

Release Date:
November 16, 2017

253 Russell Senate Office Building

Good morning Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to testify today and thank you for your enduring support of the United States Coast Guard.

As the world’s premier, multi-mission, maritime service, the Coast Guard offers a unique and enduring value to the nation. The only branch of the U.S. Armed Forces within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), a federal law enforcement agency, a regulatory body, a first responder, and a member of the U.S. Intelligence Community – the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to help secure the maritime border, combat transnational criminal organizations (TCO), and safeguard commerce on America’s waterways.

The Coast Guard’s combination of broad authorities and complementary capabilities squarely align with the President’s national security and economic prosperity priorities and offer an agile toolset to address the Nation’s most pressing challenges. Appropriately positioned in DHS, the Coast Guard is a military service and a branch of the Armed Forces of the United States at all times.[1] We are also an important part of the modern Joint Force[2] and currently have forces assigned to each of the five Geographic Combatant Commanders as well as Cyber Command.

As demonstrated in the 2017 record hurricane activity, the Coast Guard is the nation’s “maritime first responder” and plays a leading role in executing the National Response Framework (NRF) for disaster situations. Our bias for action and ability to rapidly surge resources in response to emerging threats or contingencies distinguishes the Coast Guard and are critical to success across the spectrum of missions we prosecute.


1 14 U.S.C. § 1; 10 U.S.C. § 101
2 In addition to the Coast Guard’s status as an Armed Force (10 U.S.C. § 101), see also Memorandum of Agreement Between the Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security on the Use of Coast Guard Capabilities and Resources in Support of the National Military Strategy, 02 May 2008, as amended 18 May 2010.

Agile Force

The Coast Guard’s 88,000 active duty, reserve, civil service and auxiliary members offer a unique mix of authorities and extensive experience operating with both military and interagency response organizations. Beyond our statutory search and rescue requirements, which traditionally result in an average of 3,600 lives saved each year, the Coast Guard supports the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and states during nationally declared disasters by:

  1. Saving lives in distress, and ensuring the survivability of our own forces and assets for immediate post-disaster response operations;
  2. Securing and reconstituting ports, waterways, and critical maritime infrastructure;
  3. Conducting environmental response operations (oil, chemical and hazardous material); and
  4. Supporting other agencies and the whole-of-government response effort.

Coast Guard personnel are well trained and experienced in response operations, which make them a sound choice to serve in visible positions in the NRF structure. This ability to operate concurrently in both military Joint Task Force and civilian NRF frameworks enhances unity of effort and dramatically improves effectiveness.

As an armed force, the Coast Guard can be a supported or supporting commander, and our forces are frequently integrated with Department of Defense (DoD) services in Joint Task Force organizations. We regularly provide forces in support of DoD exercises, Combatant Commander contingency plans, and theater security cooperation activities, all of which enable Coast Guard and DoD forces to integrate seamlessly during response operations.

Saving lives in distress is our first priority, and Coast Guard crews are typically the first federal responders on-scene. As a storm approaches, Coast Guard personnel make risk-based decisions to reposition assets and people to safe locations just outside of the storm’s path, ultimately facilitating rapid response as soon as it is safe to do so. Brave men and women on the front lines make it happen, invoking a deeply ingrained bias for action to repeatedly go into harm’s way and serve others.

In addition to conducting SAR operations, the Coast Guard surges forces and assets into the impacted regions to restore the $4.6 trillion maritime transportation system, respond to pollution, provide security and additional law enforcement capability, and protect offshore petrochemical platforms.

Critical Success Factors

The Coast Guard employs a decentralized command and control structure and distributed decision-making to provide operational commanders with the authority to move forces quickly to respond to large contingencies.

Our two Area Commanders, and their nine subordinate District Commanders, shift and reallocate forces from one region to another based on risk and the anticipated demand for operational capabilities. Well-reasoned and regularly exercised Continuity of Operations Plans preserve operational effectiveness while offering safe refuge for displaced operational commanders.

Coast Guard cutters, aircraft, and boats are built to respond to a variety of missions without the need for any reconfiguration or the addition of special equipment. During the recent hurricanes, cutters conducting counter-drug patrols in the Transit Zone quickly diverted to disaster areas to provide command and control, deliver rotary wing air capability from the sea, provide forward staging facilities, and deliver critical relief commodities – particularly in the U.S. Virgin Islands and Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Coast Guard aircraft that normally perform law enforcement surveillance to thwart transnational maritime criminal activities were dynamically repositioned and re-tasked to deliver disaster relief supplies, additional responders, and equipment to affected areas.

Additionally, Coast Guard forces were and are on station at key locations around the nation, most of them on short-notice recall, so they can respond quickly to emergent events. When a major catastrophe occurs, or is anticipated, we can reposition forces quickly to that area to optimize the response.

Over a five week period, Hurricanes HARVEY, IRMA, MARIA, and NATE impacted over 2,540 miles of shoreline[3], and Coast Guard women and men in helicopters, boats, cutters, vehicles and on foot rescued over 11,300 people and over 1,500 pets. Mere hours before Hurricane HARVEY made landfall, Coast Guard helicopter crews rescued mariners in peril[4] off the coast of Corpus Christi, Texas before repositioning to Alice, Texas.

The Coast Guard resolved over 1,269 aids to navigation discrepancies, handled 290 pollution cases, located and assessed more than 3,623 grounded vessels, with more than 1,585 removed to date. Within hours after each storm’s passage, Coast Guard Damage and Recovery Assessment Teams were on-scene determining the status of ports and waterways, leveraging electronic aids to navigation when feasible to facilitate the rapid reopening of the maritime transportation system and energy sectors vital to recovery, and assessing impacts to Coast Guard facilities and capabilities.


3 Using CRS method of Shoreline Measurement: Texas: 367 mi, Louisiana: 397 mi, Florida: 1,350 mi, Puerto Rico: 311 mi, USVI: 117 mi
4 Two MH-65’s from Sector/Air Station Corpus Christi saved 12 lives off a vessel taking on water in 45 knot sustained/60 knot gusting winds.

Enduring Challenges

Operational successes introduced real costs. Damage to Coast Guard facilities, IT, aids to navigation, and the cost of deferred maintenance are significant. Similar to any prolonged natural disaster or security event, responding to consecutive major hurricanes severely strained capacity and required us to assume additional risk in other geographic regions and mission areas. Across the recent disaster response operations, more than 3,000 Coast Guard women and men, and 200 assets or platforms deployed from places as far away as Alaska, Hawaii and Maine.

As a result, the rest of the Coast Guard assumed additional risk, and units were significantly challenged to sustain maintenance and training standards while diminishing future readiness. The Medium Endurance Cutter MOHAWK, already aged and well beyond its designed service life, deferred major maintenance in order to get underway and avoid Irma. Cutter FORWARD diverted from a counter-drug patrol to provide supplies and critical command and control services after all three major hurricanes.

Given the heavy demand for aviation services following each storm, training at Aviation Training Center Mobile was suspended, creating a backlog in the pilot training pipeline at a time when we are facing a critical aviator shortage. Maintaining a full-time SAR response posture at our air stations requires at least three aircraft, yet many of our units that contributed assets to hurricane operations were forced to get by with just one. Forces available for counter-drug, fisheries enforcement, and migrant interdiction operations in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Florida Straits were significantly reduced as well. In total, risk-based choices to maximize hurricane response operations stretched our existing resources to their limits.

The size of the Service also limits our capacity to respond to prolonged and sequential events. While the Coast Guard is well-positioned for immediate and effective first response, our “bench strength” makes it impossible to sustain these operations for an extended period of time. In addition, many of our heroic first responders suffered life-changing personal loss as well. Approximately 700 Coast Guard families’ homes were damaged to the point where they will need to be relocated.

Conclusion

The Coast Guard’s unique blend of authorities, capabilities, capacities, and partnerships position us well for success during maritime SAR events and natural disasters. Flexible, multi-mission forces and agile command and control systems provide the solid foundation from which we base these critical response operations.

When the Coast Guard has the opportunity to recapitalize our facilities, we need to make them more storm-resilient and survivable. In fact, several of our shore facilities that were rebuilt following Hurricane IKE suffered minimal damage along the paths of HARVEY and IRMA, a testament to modern building codes and standards.

Modern assets bring exceptional capability, but our greatest strength will always be our people. Coast Guard operations require a capable, proficient, and resilient workforce that draws upon the broad range of skills, talents, and experiences found in the American population. Together, modern platforms and a strong, resilient workforce will maximize the Coast Guard’s capacity to meet future challenges.

History has proven that a responsive, capable, and agile Coast Guard is an indispensable instrument of national security. With the continued support of the Administration and Congress, the Coast Guard will continue to live up to our motto. We will be Semper Paratus – Always Ready. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today and for all you do for the men and women of the Coast Guard. I look forward to your questions.

A Navy Patrol Craft Working With the Coast Guard

USS Zephyr (PC 8) and U.S. Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment Pacific personnel, conducting operations in support of JIATF-S Operation Martillo. U.S. Navy photo by MC3 Casey J. HopkinsDefenseMediaNetwork has an interview with the then CO of USS Zephyr (PC-8), LCdr Cameron Ingram, shortly after they had participated in the seizure of a GoFast under Seventh District Operational Control.

The CO, obviously enjoyed working with the LEDET, and it appears he likes the Coast Guard’s Over the Horizon boat which operated from the Zephyr.

USS Zephyr crew members operate a Puma UAV.

They have aboard the Puma UAV. Seems it could work on the Webber class as well. On Zephyr the UAV is operated by an HM and an EN.

They also have the new Mk38 mod3 which includes a coaxial 7.62 mm machinegun. This gun should start showing up on Webber class WPCs soon. Interestingly while he appreciates the optics that come with the Mk38 mod3, he would still like to have a FLIR on the mast.

There is an interesting discussion following the interviewers question, “It’s good to have an extra watchstander,” about the benefits of having a Merchant Marine Academy cadet aboard.

“Effective Border Security: Addressing the Causes and Root Problems South of Mexico,” Video

If you did not see the U.S. Naval Institute presentation, Effective Border Security:
Addressing the Causes and Root Problems South of Mexico,”
when it aired live on Tuesday, 29 August, you can still watch it. The US Naval Institute News Service has both commentary and a video of the discussion here.

The discussion featured ADM Kurt W. Tidd, USN, Commander, U.S. Southern Command and The Hon. Earl Anthony Wayne, Career Ambassador (Ret.)
former Ambassador of the United States to Mexico (2011-2015) and Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The conversation was moderated by ADM Thad W. Allen, USCG (Ret.) former Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard (2006-2010).

It is an hour and 20 minutes. I will mention a couple of things that caught my attention.

The transnational criminal organizations are evolving. Adm. Tidd indicated that illegal gold mining, which is wrecking the environment in several Latin American countries is yielding an estimated $3.5B in profits compared to $2B (wholesale) from the sale of cocaine, and once taken outside the country is no longer “illegal.”

Heroin, primarily from Mexico, and synthetic opioids primarily from China but entering the US from Mexico are becoming more of a problem than Cocaine.

The US has finally acknowledged that we are part of the problem, that $19B to $29B profit in drug sales in the US, buys a lot of influence and arms.

SOUTHCOM is attempting to build capacity in Latin American militaries and sees developing these four principles within those services as essential.

  • Respect for human rights.
  • Need for professional NCOs
  • Talent from all parts of society including women
  • Jointness not only among the military but also law enforcement and diplomatic

Adm. Tidd both complemented the Coast Guard and noted the absence of the Navy when he said, “My Navy all has white hulls and orange stripes.”

Question at 58:15 about how we might interdict the established target of 40%. Adm. Tidd talked around the question, suggested we could get help from our allies but he also said there were not enough ships in the USN and USCG to interdict our way out of the problem, which may be true, but if we really do have good information of 80% of the traffic as has been reported repeatedly, then there are enough ships to achieve a 40% interdiction rate.  It is simply not a priority. Earlier in the presentation, Admiral Tidd acknowledged that in an earlier assignment he had allocated Navy resources and had decided against assigning them to SOUTHCOM.

Opinion on the border wall 1h01m

1h07 capabilities of our allies

Positive aspects of NAFTA 1h11

Effective Border Security: Addressing the Causes and Root Problems South of Mexico–Discussion

Passing along an announcement of an event coming up Tuesday, 29 August. Below is the announcement edited slightly. 

Livestream will be available here on 29 August at 1900.

As part of

The U.S. Coast Guard Academy 2017- 2018 Leadership Lecture Series

The U.S. Naval Institute presents

Effective Border Security:
Addressing the Causes and Root Problems South of Mexico

Featuring

ADM Kurt W. Tidd, USN
Commander, U.S. Southern Command

and

The Hon. Earl Anthony Wayne, Career Ambassador (Ret.)
former Ambassador of the United States to Mexico (2011-2015) and
Public Policy Fellow, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars

in a conversation moderated by ADM Thad W. Allen, USCG (Ret.)
former Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard (2006-2010) 

29 August 2017, 1900-2000 Eastern

U.S. Coast Guard Academy, Leamy Hall

Space is limited, please contact conferences@usni.org if you have questions or are interested in attending in person.

This event is made possible with support from The William M. Wood Foundation.

Hearing: Coast Guard Requirements, Priorities, and Future Acquisition Plans (FY-2018)

 

May 18, the Commandant, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, addressed the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. The recorded testimony is above. It is fairly long (1h40m). The Commandant’s initial statement, following the introductions, begins at 8m40s and ends approximately minute 14.

The administration’s FY 2018 budget request was not available, but the Commandant was there to discuss future priorities, requirements, and programs. The Department Secretary, General Kelly, is expected to address the Subcommittee on May 24 at 3PM Eastern.

I will just mention a few of the items I thought significant.

Admiral Zukunft noted that Huntington Ingalls has begun cutting steel for NSC #9. Questioned about NSC#10, he said, if it were funded, the Coast Guard would of course use it, but that the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is the Coast Guard’s #1 priority. His response, that another NSC would have an effect on long-range operating cost, seemed to suggest anticipated significantly lower operating costs for the OPC. Significantly, there has been no mention of reducing the OPC program by one ship to offset the addition of NSC #9. (There is already a strong push to build more NSCs, a bill to authorized a multi-year buy of three more.)

He contended that the Coast Guard has taken a harder hit, due to budget restrictions, than other armed services and would need 5% annual growth and at least $2B annually for Acquisitions, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I). Later he stated that this annual AC&I appropriation would included about $300M annually for shore facilities. He pointed to a need to restore 1100 Reserve Billets and add 5,000 active duty military billets while retaining current levels of Civilian staff.

Apparently the FY2918 budget will begin a program to replace 35 Inland tenders at an estimated cost of approximately $25M each ($875M total). (Even if, in the unlikely event, this program were funded in only five years, that would only average $175M/year, so it is not a big program, but one that should have begun at least a decade ago.)

Cyber security for ports was discussed. The Commandant sees the Coast Guard role as decimating best practices, rather than imposing regulation. We now have a cyber program of record–still very small, two CG Academy graduates going directly into the program. The fact that two billets is worth mentioning, is probably the best indication of how really small the program is. A much smaller pre-World War II Coast Guard probably had more people working on breaking German and Japanese codes. 

Marine Inspection was addressed. The Commandant noted the increased demand for Inspections because 6,000 tugs have been added to inspection program. He noted a need for more stringent oversight of 3rd party inspectors, who in some cases have not been as meticulous as they should have been. He also noted that the US flag merchant fleet, notably the MSC’s Afloat Prepositioning Fleet, will need replacement, which will also raise demand for marine inspectors.

The Commandant also voiced his support for the Jones Act. He noted, we only have three shipyards building Jones Act ships in the US, and their loss would be short-sighted.

There was much discussion about the Arctic and the Icebreaker Fleet. Looks like follow-on funding for icebreaker program (at least after the first) will have to come from CG AC&I rather than the Navy budget. This may be difficult, but it is the way it should be. The chair of committee expressed his reservations about attempting to fund such big-ticket items through the DHS budget. The Commandant stated that the Coast Guard is still considering the acquisition of the commercial Icebreaker Aiviq (but apparently they are doing it very slowly–the chairman of the committee seemed a bit irritated about this).

The committee members seemed to latch onto the idea that the USCG, rather than the Navy, would be responsible for enforcing US sovereignty in the Arctic (which by US definition includes the Aleutians), and seemed to be asking if the Coast Guard was prepared to fight the Russians and/or Chinese in the Arctic. The Commandant suggested instead, that our role was to provide presence in the pre-conflict phase in order assert US sovereignty. He acknowledged that the National Security Cutters are only armed defensively and are not suitable for conventional naval warfare against an enemy combatant.

The Commandant acknowledged that, at some point it may be desirable to arm Polar Icebreakers, meaning they should be built with space, weight, and power reservations for additional weapons.

(I am all for keeping open the option of arming our icebreakers, so that they can defend themselves and do their part, if there is a conflict in a polar region, but there did not seem to be recognition among the Congression Representatives, that an Arctic conflict is most likely to be determined by submarines and aircraft. The icebreakers’ role is likely to be primarily logistical.)

The Commandant apparently does expect that there may be disagreements with regard to the extent of the US authority over certain areas of the Arctic.

In discussing the need for land based Unmanned Air Systems, there was a curious note at minute 40 about go-fast boats going south. Where are they going?

Alien Migrant Interdiction (AMIO). We have gone for seven weeks without a single Cuban Migrant being interdicted. This is because of the end of Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy. This has allowed reallocation of resources to drug interdiction South of Cuba and human trafficking from the Bahamas

A Congressional Representative, from Texas pointed out there is no CG presence on the Rio Grande River, in spite of it being an international waterway. There was no mention of it, but perhaps he was thinking of the Falcon Lake incident in 2010 when an American was allegedly shot in the head by Mexican drug runners. Maybe something we should reconsider.

The Commandant promised the CG would have an unfunded priority list for FY2018.

New French Friends in the Caribbean Neighborhood

French Navy Guyana-based Light Patrol Vessel PLG La Confiance is Now on Active Duty

French Navy PLG light patrol vessel La Confiance in combined anti-drug training with US Coast Guard Cutter Winslow Griesser. French Navy picture.

NavyRecognition reports,

“The “La Confiance” PLG (Patrouilleur Léger Guyanais or French Guyana-based Light Patrol Vessel) is now on “Active Duty” and able to conduct operational missions following a ceremony held April 27th…”

It is the first of two small ships of a new class designed specifically for service in the French Atlantic EEZ in the Western Hemisphere. The size is a bit unusual.

They will replace two P400 class patrol craft currently based in French Guyana. The P400s are about the same size as the Webber class “Fast Response Cutters.”

The French do not have an ocean-going coast guard like ours, so their navy does many of the functions performed by the USCG. The new ships make an interesting comparison with the Webber class; I think they even look a bit alike. In many ways the PLG corresponds to what I suggested earlier as cutter X:

…taking the crew and equipment of a Webber class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) and putting them in a larger hull with more endurance and seakeeping, while accepting lower top speed than the FRC.

Comparing the “La Confiance” PLG to the FRCs:

  • Displacement: PLG 700 tons; FRC 354 full load
  • Crew: 24, same for both, PLG can also accomodate 14 people, special forces for example.
  • Dimensions: PLG  60 m (197 ft) x 9.50 m (31.2 ft) x 3.2 m  (10.5 ft); FRC 46.8 m (154 ft) x 8.11 m (26.6 ft) x 2.9 m (9.5 ft)
  • Power: PLG 6,000 KW (8,046 HP), FRC 8,600 KW (11,600 HP)
  • Speed: PLG 21, FRC 28
  • Range: PLG 3,500 nmi at 12 knots, FRC 2,950 at 14 knots
  • Endurance: PLG 12 days; FRC 5 days
  • Boats: PLG two, FRC one

La confiance PLG patrol vessel french navy 1

French Navy La Confiance PLG light patrol vessel arriving in Fort-de-France, Martinique. Picture: E.Mocquillon © Marine nationale

More from the builder here.