Review&Forecast—January 2010 IssueU.S. Coast Guard Faces Change, Challenges Head-on
By Adm. Thad W. Allen
Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard
“A few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of the laws.”
First Secretary of the Treasury
November 27, 1787
First Secretary of the Treasury
November 27, 1787
This simple sentence inspired the creation of the modern U.S. Coast Guard. We proudly remain “sentinels of the laws,” fulfilling our safety, security and stewardship missions as America’s maritime guardian.
We are a unique federal instrument stemming from Hamilton’s vision that has developed into a multimission military service unlike any other. As an armed service, Department of Homeland Security component, national intelligence community member and the nation’s lead representative at the International Maritime Organization, we can form and leverage partnerships across the public and private spectrum. Exercising a broad and complementary mission set, we’re well equipped to mitigate risks and respond to threats throughout the maritime domain.
Over the past year, our personnel—active duty, reserves, civilians and auxiliarists—performed superbly to safeguard America’s maritime interests. We worked with our departmental and interagency partners to respond to natural disasters, safeguard maritime commerce and interdict nearly 350,000 pounds of cocaine. We also saved more than 4,000 lives.
We have never had a closer relationship with the Department of Defense. We are currently operationalizing the Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower—an overarching document jointly signed by all three naval services that stresses maritime presence to promote peace. The U.S. Navy’s USS Crommelin recently deployed with a Coast Guard law enforcement detachment to prevent illegal fisheries in the western Pacific: This is just one example of how the new philosophy is becoming reality.
While we have had success, the demand for our services is outpacing our capacity to provide them. Like other federal agencies, the current economic recession is compounding our challenges. As sound stewards, we’ll leverage all available resources, authorities and partnerships to manage risk as we execute our duties.
One of the ways we intend to do this is by modernizing the service. By properly aligning our operational chain of command and sustaining it with a product-line support system, we’ll create a more flexible and change-centric Coast Guard. This will improve our service delivery to the nation. We will remain within the bounds of our current legal authority while we work with Congress to obtain the legislative authority necessary to achieve a fully modernized Coast Guard.
The Coast Guard’s working environment has changed dramatically over the past decade, and we are evolving to meet new challenges. To fulfill our obligations, the Coast Guard is committed to recapitalizing our aging assets.
Our first national security cutter (NSC), Bertholf, was commissioned in August 2008. During its first operational patrol, Bertholf simultaneously tracked four fast smuggling vessels and then launched a helicopter and small boats to thwart the operation. Bertholf’s en-durance, sensors and multimission capability were on full display—and portend great promise for this new class. The second NSC, Waesche, completed its builder’s trials in August 2009. By incorporating lessons from Bertholf, Waesche’s crew minimized the number of work list items that need to be corrected before the ship is commissioned in May. A third NSC, the Stratton (named after Capt. Dorothy Stratton, the leader of the World War II-era SPARS) is under construction and scheduled to be christened this year. We are especially pleased that the first lady, Michelle Obama, has agreed to be Stratton’s sponsor.
Our recently signed fiscal year 2010 appropriation provides funding to complete the fourth NSC and the long-lead material to start the fifth. We are realizing greater efficiencies with each successive NSC, thereby reducing the life cycle cost of these mission-critical platforms.
Other new assets are also coming on line. The contract for the Sentinel class, the replacement for the 110-foot patrol boat, was awarded in September 2008. We have accepted the eighth HC-144A Ocean Sentry aircraft to replace the HU-25 Falcon, the fourth fully missionized HC-130J long-range aircraft and our sixth MH-60T helicopter, which has enhanced sensors and an airborne use of force (AUF) capability. We have reconfigured 48 of the venerable Dolphin helicopters so that they will also have AUF capability.
Along the coasts, our Rescue 21 system is now providing search-and-rescue (SAR) and short-range communications coverage for more than 29,000 miles of coastline. We have accepted our 14th Response Boat-Medium, which will replace the workhorse 41-foot utility boats that have served the country for decades. All of these new assets are essential because the scope of our missions is expanding.
As the Arctic ice recedes, shipping companies, cruise ships and industry are all increasing their activities in this pristine and resource-laden environment. We are determining our operational requirements based on the recent national security presidential directive that mandates a maritime presence in the region. I recently hosted a group of administration officials on an Arctic trip so that they could get a glimpse of the existing conditions and operational challenges within this remote area. Since we do not have a permanent footprint in the Arctic, my biggest fear is how we would respond to a major SAR case or mass disaster. Considering the dramatic increase in activity, the risks are increasing with every passing day.
The polar regions are focal points of the White House’s Ocean Policy Task Force. I represent the Department of Homeland Security in this multiagency group charged with creating a national oceans policy, developing a comprehensive governance structure and implementing “maritime spatial planning,” which is akin to urban planning for the ocean.
These are daunting but absolutely essential tasks. America is a maritime nation, so we must consider how we can protect the environment, facilitate maritime commerce and responsibly harness oceanic resources. By pursuing a “whole-of-government” approach, we can meet our broad goals while protecting our way of life.
All of these events represent significant change for the Coast Guard and for our nation. What has not changed over the past 219 years is the commitment of our people. Our personnel are the reason we can provide such tremendous value to the nation. They enable us to be always ready so we can meet all threats and all hazards—nationwide and worldwide. As Hamilton would confirm, this is who we are and why we serve.