CG funding, DHS not interested, Perhaps DOD would be

I’ve read reports of Congressional hearings lately that, combined with the continual erosion of Coast Guard AC&I funding have crystalized my view that the Coast Guard’s funding methods need some tweeking.

SOUTHCOM

First there is this story of SOUTHCOM (Marine Gen. John Kelly)’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee in which he pleads for additional Coast Guard cutters to allow him to act on intelligence his organization already has.

“We got 158 metric tons of cocaine last year, without violence, before it ever even made it to Central America,” he said. “I do that with very, very few ships. I know that if sequestration’s happened, I would be down to maybe one, maybe two, Coast Guard cutters. That means, of the 158 tons that I would expect to get this year, I’d probably, if I’m lucky, get 20 tons. All the rest would just come into the United States along this incredible efficient network.”

He later explained, “Once it gets ashore in Central America and moves up through Mexico, we’re taking almost nothing off the market.”

General Kelly has taken to using unusually strong language including the words “defeat” and “existential theat.”

He also suggests that returning ISIS fighters might use the drug and people smuggling routes to enter the US from Latin America

NORTHCOM

Then there is this post from DefenseNews, reporting fireworks, as the Senate Armed Services Committee grilled Adm. William Gortney (NORTHCOM), Thomas Dee (Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Expeditionary Programs and Logistics) and Vice Adm. Charles Michel (Coast Guard’s Deputy Commandant for Operations) about the Armed Services’ ability to operate in the Arctic and particularly about procurement of another icebreaker.

NORTHCOM has new concerns about the Arctic. Not only have the  Russians been building up military forces in the Arctic, they also have new weapons that might make a conventional cruise missile strike against the US feasible.

If we need to rebuild the DEW line to meet a new threat, we are going to need more icebreakers.

The Problem

The irony, of course, is that the Senate Armed Services Committee, as powerful as it may be, has essentially no direct influence on the Coast Guard’s budget, but perhaps it should.

The Coast Guard is after all an Armed Service of the United States at all times.

The Coast Guard has gotten some funding occasionally through the Navy, but not surprisingly this is an anomaly. Organizational dynamics being what they are, the Navy will always think money spent on the Coast Guard as a diversion and will want to either end it as quickly as possible, do the task with Navy assets, or have it funded from the Coast Guard budget. So getting anything like regular funding through the Navy is unlikely.

The DOD budget is not constructed the way you might think. All the money does not go to the services. A substantial part of the budget goes to the Department itself and a number of agencies of the Department outside control of the individual services. In the 2015 DOD budget request this amounted to 18.1 percent ($89.8 billion) – to fund the Defense-Wide account, which includes the Defense Health Program, intelligence agencies, Missile Defense Agency, Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and the many smaller DoD agencies. This is actually the fastest growing part of the DoD budget.

Perhaps there is a way DOD can transfer money to supplement the Coast Guard budget to answer the needs of Combatant Commanders (COCOMs) just as it funds independent agenies.

Drug Enforcement Return on Investment

FierceHomelandSecurity is reporting on testimony of both the Commandant and the Commander of SouthCom, Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, before a joint hearing of the House Transportation and Infrastructure and Foreign Affairs subcommittees.

“Joint Interagency Task Force South, which is part of Southcom and includes the Coast Guard, (other–Chuck) military services and other agencies, seizes the majority of the cocaine bound for the United States, said Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, the Southcom commander. Yet it receives only 1.5 percent of the federal government’s total counternarcotics budget, he said.”

Commandant Adm. Robert Papp, who appeared alongside Kelly, said that in the past five years, the Coast Guard seized more than twice the amount of cocaine as all domestic law enforcement agencies – federal, state and local – combined.

Over the last five years, Coast Guard ships and law enforcement detachments operating in the offshore regions have removed more than a million pounds of cocaine with a wholesale value of nearly $17 billion. This is more than two times the amount of cocaine seized by all other U.S. federal, state and local law enforcement agencies combined.

While I have my own reservations about the effectiveness of efforts to restrict supply, if you are going to attempt to cut supply, it sure looks like funding Coast Guard efforts should be the first place to put your money.

Intercept That Drug Runner–Sorry, Not Enough Ships

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There have been several articles recently as a result of a breakfast meeting with reporters hosted by Air Force Gen. Douglas Fraser, chief of the U.S. Southern Command, reporting that SouthCom is intercepting only one in three drug shipments that they know about. He sited diversion of assets for combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and operations off Libya, Somalia, and Iran.

One thing I found very curious, as noted in the AOL defense report, “Fraser focused on Navy vessels and did not specifically address the Coast Guard, which does contribute some ships to Southern Command operations.” Why the hell not?

The General reported a decline in our ability to intercept drug shipments.

At sea, Fraser explained, the U.S. Navy is retiring the smaller ships that have traditionally been the mainstay of drug interdiction patrols, the aging and increasingly expensive to operate Perry-class frigates, while their much-delayed replacement, the Littoral Combat Ships, is just beginning to enter service. “We ‘ll see a gap in the numbers of those types of ships,” Fraser said. “So we’re working with the Navy to see what other types of vessels and capability that’s coming back from Iraq might be available,” particularly small craft that have been used for river patrol and offshore patrol in the Gulf. Such boats could boost the U.S. fleet’s own interception capability but also, and perhaps more importantly, some could be transferred to friendly countries that are currently short on assets to intercept drug boats moving through their own territorial waters.

Nationaldefensemagazine.org also reported he made reference to the possibility of terrorists entering the US by using the drug smuggling routes.

There was much made of the lack of assets available to partner nations.

Here is a proposal, The Coast Guard still has 10 WHECs and 29 WMECs that are due for replacement. If we can get them replaced, we can turn them over to partner nations. That should essentially totally eliminate any shortage of vessels in SouthCom. The sooner we replace them the more useful they will be.

Why couldn’t the General have put in a good word for the Coast Guard?