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.

Fisheries Regulation Coming to Waters Beyond the EEZ?

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Photo: The John B a fishing trawler with drum winches at Howth, Dublin, by William Murphy

Bryant’s Maritime Consulting points us to an announcement. 

In its resolution 69/292 of 19 June 2015, the General Assembly decided to develop an international legally binding instrument under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction.

To that end, it decided to establish, prior to holding an intergovernmental conference, a Preparatory Committee, to make substantive recommendations to the General Assembly on the elements of a draft text of an international legally binding instrument under UNCLOS, taking into account the various reports of the Co-Chairs on the work of the Ad Hoc Open-ended Informal Working Group to study issues relating to the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity beyond areas of national jurisdiction.

This raises a number of questions. Who establishes the rules? Who is going to enforce this? How will the enforcer (whoever it may be) deal with uncooperative flag states? If a perpetrator is caught, where will they be jailed? Who will try the crewmembers? The owners? Where wil they serve their sentence?

Considering the lack of success with enforcement of the ban on drift nets and China’s refusal to follow the decision of the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s decision regarding the South China Sea, is this just political theater? Or will someone step up and give, what I presume will be an agreement, some teeth?

UN mandates have authorized the use of force in the past. Could maritime law enforcement wear a blue beret?

Changing EEZs

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Pacific Exclusive Economic Zones. David Butler/Globe staff, click on the chart to enlarge

An interesting discussion in the Boston Globe about how to deal with potential changes in the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones as rising sea levels change the shape of land areas, perhaps resulting in the complete disappearance of some sovereign nations.

One of the possibilities is that the EEZs may be frozen in their current configuration and become an asset of the population, even after the land becomes uninhabitable or disappears completely, and that this asset may be sold, traded, or leased away. We know territorial sovereignty can be sold, after all, the US benefited from the Louisiana Purchase and Seward’s Folly (Alaska).

A Chinese Corporation has been attempting to build a new port complex on “reclaimed” land in Sri Lanka. “Located next to the Colombo Port, the US$1.4 billion project will add about 233 hectares of reclaimed land to the capital and house luxury office buildings, apartment blocks, a golf course, a water sport area, medical facilities, education institutions, hotels, a theme park and marinas.” The project is on hold right now, but if it goes forward, the Chinese firm would be granted  20 hectares (49.4 acres) on an outright basis and 88 hectares (244.6 acres) on a 99-year lease.

This is not a transfer of sovereignty, and  Sri Lanka is not in any danger of disappearing, but it does indicate the scope of China’s interest in the area and, located right off the Southern tip of India,  it is sure to feed into India’s fears of being surrounded by a Chinese “string of pearls.”

Potentially more serious is the decision of the government of the Maldives, “The law passed by the Parliament will now allow absolute foreign ownership of land in Maldives if the investment is above USD 1 billion. The caveat to the law is that 70% of the land has to be reclaimed from the sea.”

The Maldives, with an average elevation of 1.6 meters,  is one of those island nations that are in danger of being adversely effected by rising see levels. If anyone takes the Maldives up on their offer, it will probably be the Chinese, who have already shown a lot of interest in the Indian Ocean island nation. Again this is not a transfer of sovereignty, but it may be a harbinger of things to come

(Beside it really wanted everyone to see the chart of Pacific EEZs. A lot of that is US EEZ.)