Every year the Navy addresses the Congress and tells them how many ships they have and how many ships they need to do their missions. These numbers do not include Coast Guard ships, but perhaps they should.
The numbers of ships the Navy requires is, to at least some extent, based on the number of Cutters in the Coast Guard.
Protecting a nation’s coast and its ports is normally the most basic and immediate task of any navy. For the US Navy this has hardly been a consideration. Overt threats are kept at arms length by projecting power at great distance, pushing the defensive perimeter far from our shores. But for covert threats, there is also the presumption that those threats will be addressed by the Coast Guard. If there were no Coast Guard, the Navy would have to provide these ships, distracting form their forward strategy.
Additionally war plans anticipate the use of cutters for tasks other than defense of the US coast. If there were no Coast Guard, the Navy would also need to supply these ships.
What would including the Coast Guard do for us? It would
- Identify national security implications of a shortfall in Coast Guard assets
- Identify assets that could be either Coast Guard or Navy and result in more explicit consideration of trade-offs
- Identify capabilities the Navy would like to see in Coast Guard vessels and recognition of the benefits of marginal improvements in cutters toward the national defense
In terms of personnel the Coast Guard is now larger than the Royal Navy. In effect it is the Navy’s closest and most reliable ally. The economic advantages of close coordination are compelling.
We have heard references to a “National Fleet.” Perhaps it is time to apply the concept to procurement planning as well as operations.