The Coast Guard has an aging fleet of cutters it is currently recapitalizing, with many vessels averaging over forty years of service. As the National Security Cutter completes construction, its first priority is the Offshore Patrol Cutter. The Coast Guard needs an Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements budget of $2 billion to fully recapitalize the fleet effectively. As the fleet is recapitalized, the Coast Guard cannot become a hollow force and must ensure its end strength is large enough to fulfill its mission. The Coast Guard request of $10.3 billion is $791 million less than enacted fiscal 2016 funding level.
The Navy League recommends: Support a Coast Guard Acquisition, Construction, and Improvements budget of $2 billion to fully recapitalize the fleet. Direct the Coast Guard to reevaluate its manpower requirements to prevent the Coast Guard from becoming a hollow force. Support the Coast Guard’s requirement for a heavy icebreaker.
The Coast Guard's broad mission portfolio, combined with the "Semper Paratus" - Always Ready- ethos of its men and women, continues to serve the nation.
The 25th Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, ADM Paul F. Zukunft faces many familiar but daunting challenges in an unstable world that threatens America not only on our own shores, but in our entire hemisphere. 2015 was a year of many operational successes including responding to 16,400 Search and Rescue cases and saving over 3,500 lives and removing 179 metric tons of illegal narcotics. Also, the Coast Guard interdicted 6,000 undocumented migrants attempting to illegally enter the United States. In addition, the Service conducted 20,700 container inspections and screened 131,276 merchant vessels for potential security threats to U.S. ports, waterways, and coastal regions.
While these were significant accomplishments for the Coast Guard, the world around us is rapidly in a changing, especially in our own hemisphere and in the Arctic. The instability of nations within our own Western Hemisphere is increasing and transnational crime carried out by drug cartels and human smugglers has spiked to intolerable levels. International economics has had its own effect on the world economy as oil prices have plunged, benefitting many nations but causing economic hardships in others. Within the United States, the “shale revolution” has been an economic boon that has caused the U.S. to lead the world in oil and gas production; however, the effect of this has been to increase ten-fold the transportation of these energy commodities on the Mississippi River over past years. The combined impact of these changes has impelled the Coast Guard to revitalize strategies to deal with existing threats and to develop new strategies for new challenges. These strategies are designed to secure the southern border, safeguard maritime commerce as well as to address the growing and boundary-less crime of cybersecurity which could cripple the world’s economy. In the Arctic, the Coast Guard must adapt its operations as well. The abundant natural resources present combined with an unforgiving environment have made Alaska a focal point of the Coast Guard’s fisheries management and search and rescue activities and point to a future where search and rescue and law enforcement missions will become ever important. Carrying out these missions in the Arctic will not be cheap. A new heavy polar icebreaker will likely cost in excess of $1B, but it will give the United States the capability of operating in such an expansive and harsh environment and is an investment of necessity for the nation.
To implement these strategies and accomplish the Coast Guard’s national priorities, the Commandant faces three main budgetary challenges:
• Continuing critical investments in the Coast Guard, especially the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)
• Sustaining Mission Performance by meeting the highest priority operations and sustaining the proper workforce, and
• Maximizing Coast Guard services to the public.
The administration’s budget request of $1.1 billion for Acquisition, Construction and Improvements (AC&I) represents the bare minimum in funding for the Coast Guard to accomplish its missions. The Navy League notes with sorrow that this proposed funding level and its plan for zero personnel increases in FY16 is totally unsatisfactory and strongly proposes a steady acquisition budget of at least $1.5B in FY16 and annually thereafter.
The highest AC&I priority for the Coast Guard is to lay the groundwork for construction of the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) which will replace fourteen 210’ and thirteen 270’ medium-endurance cutters built in the 1960s and 1980s, respectively. The importance of the OPC cannot be underestimated: it will function as the service’s primary operational workhorse to carry out the Coast Guard’s primary missions over the next four decades. Given the magnitude of an impending capability gap caused by the forced decommissionings of existing WHECs and WMECs the Navy League believes that Congress should fund the construction of two OPCs annually. With mission demands continuing to grow and evolve with even greater complexity, more Fast Response Cutters are necessary, as well as sustainment and conversion work on fixed and rotary wing legacy aircraft and missionization of the HC-27J aircraft received from the Air Force.
Achieving a balance of decommissioning aged and ineffective assets and replacing them at just the right time with newer more-effective ones is one of the Coast Guard’s main goals.
As fast-paced operations continue, the Coast Guard must be not only effective through near-flawless mission execution, but it must also efficiently manage its existing assets and act as a good steward of taxpayers’ investments. Some new assets will be coming online in FY17, but at the same time the Coast Guard will have just decommissioned many aging assets and reduced the personnel associated with them. The Navy League appreciates the necessity of being good stewards of the taxpayer’s dollar, but remains concerned with the increasing capability gap caused by the rapid decommissioning of operational assets before replacement assets are available.
Keeping up with the demands of a fast-paced operational environment with minimal assets will be difficult and will place greater demands on an already strained workforce. In a competitive human resource environment, the Coast Guard must maintain parity with the other services in matters such as pay, allowances, training, health-care as well as civilian pay raises and retirement contributions. No matter what develops in Washington’s uncertain budget situation this year, the Navy League believes that it is critical for the Coast Guard to maintain.
"Although the Coast Guard relies on cutters, boats, and aircraft to operate in the maritime environment, it is our people who are our most valued asset and deliver truly unique capabilities to the nation. By honoring our duty to people, we are committed to upholding values that advance a professional working environment today and cultivate the workforce of tomorrow." - Adm. Paul Zukunft