Mississippi’s Senior Senator, Roger Wicker, has been pushing for two things–a simple, full accounting of Coast Guard needs as well as full funding for the Coast Guard. And he’s gotten none of them. As you can tell from his comments, in the article here, the Senator is fed up.

That’s good. Maybe some righteous indignation for a good cause can help get the Coast Guard the money it needs to move ahead over the next couple of decades. And if we can get the Coast Guard in a good place for the price of a big-deck amphib, that’s…an investment well worth the money.

The problem here though, is that the Coast Guard is a popular cause. It’s so popular, everybody wants to freight Coast Guard funding proposals with a lot of junk. We never really get a stand up “yes-no” vote on pure Coast Guard funding. It either gets lumped in with a whole bunch of extra garbage — like in the infrastructure amendment, or there’s some other poison pill addition that makes Coast Guard funding unpalatable.

But even a stand-alone Coast Guard funding bill has poison pills. Wicker’s Coast Guard bill tacked on a request for funding the Coast Guard during government shutdowns. Now, I’m a Democrat, and, while I really want to see Coast Guard folks get funded during shutdowns, I sure as heck don’t want to make it any easier for my Republican colleagues to shut down the government. I believe shutting down the government is a serious proposition, and steps to make shutdowns as politically-painless as possible are wrong.

We need more irked Senators out there who are willing to help get the Coast Guard ready for the next couple of decades. For once, let’s go get the Coast Guard fully funded.

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If you want to know about defense journalism and the state of the Coast Guard in relation to the rest of the Uniformed Services, just look at the latest HASC markup. Defense media got the topline messages–that the HASC had grown Biden’s defense budget by $25 billion, and that the Navy got several ships. They covered the heck of out that–it was easy to digest. But, once you dig a little into the details–which, frankly, I don’t understand why the reporters weren’t out there digging–there are all kinds of neat-and-interesting Easter eggs in the HASC markup. Like Mike Gallagher’s $350 million Great Lakes icebreaker and $20 million icebreaking tug deal, that I talk about over in Forbes (here).

Look, I like Mike Gallagher (WI-8). He’s a sharp guy and he legislates. His up-and-coming defense role, along with 2nd-termer dfsElaine Luria (VA-2), make the House Armed Services Hearings far more lively. But, that said, the “Great Lakes Winter Shipping Act of 2021” is just too much. I get that the Great Lakes Congressional delegation is powerful, and that one crosses them at one’s own peril, but when we have real national security challenges at both the North and South Poles and our ocean-going icebreaker fleet is either breaking down or catching on fire–or both–then, the last thing we should be doing is funding the recapitalization of a purpose-built icebreaker of little use anywhere beyond the Great Lakes. Mike knows this, and that makes his maneuver here a little off-putting.

I mean, heck, the Coast Guard put an open ocean icebreaker on the unfunded priorities list. Fund that!

I think Mike knows we should be building (or renting) mid-sized, open-ocean icebreakers, and that the best route is to get a design funded, get a few started building, reserving one for Great Lakes use in a pinch. Once we have a brace of open-ocean breakers, then we can get about recapitalizing or supplementing the existing Great Lakes icebreaker, the 15-year old USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30). But Mike’s not going for that.

I get it–there’s another thing here. Mike’s gotta accede to his local power-players–and yes, everybody does this–but the Great Lakes industries are being way too grabby. Mike, if he wants to be a true great, needs to have the guts to tell his folks “the way it is.” His constituents want luxurious levels of icebreaking–to the point where every single little puddle-jumping ferry gets icebreaking help. But that, in the current budget environment, when the Coast Guard is already stressed to the breaking point, is far too much of a subsidy. Mike needs to do some more work–go get the billions that FEMA’s port security grants people hand out, and make it bend a little towards supporting local icebreaking capabilities. Get States and Locals need to pony up if they want the icebreaking support that the “Great Lakes Winter Shipping Act of 2021” tries to mandate as a USCG performance metric. And heck, even if the Congress forces the Coast Guard to ante up, at least Mike needs to recognize that flooding and high-water levels (along with other more free-market types of things) are probably going to catch commerce and delay transits anyway, further down the Great Lakes, for even longer than Lake ice ever will.

It’s not all bad. The really good thing in the bill is the $20 million targeted for the 140-foot Bay Class icebreaking tugs. You can never have too few tugs! And the Coast Guard’s six 140-footers in the Lakes handle the lion’s share of regular breaking, anyway. But they’re old, they’ve been SLEPPED and and they’ll need to be replaced with modern variants. It’s prudent to move forward with a full-press recapitalization there. (And, maybe, we should also recognize the good, solid work done on those 140-footers by the Coast Guard Yard, and send more money over there than Rep. Elaine Luria is trying to do elsewhere in the NDAA.)

So, as I said, Mike’s NDAA amendment isn’t all bad. But it does need some tweaks to stay in the NDAA. Right now, it’s a commerce/infrastructure deal and belongs in the stew of fraught infrastructure legislation that’ll probably not pass. If the icebreaking targets are removed, and the language requiring a purpose-built cutter gets replaced with something that supports a mid-sized open ocean breaker to back Great Lakes needs, then this amendment firmly belongs in the NDAA. But right now, as it’s written, it’s just authorizer bluster that won’t survive the appropriations process.

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In Forbes: Coast Guard Yard Funding–Staying Alive

September 8, 2021

Well, we’ve come a long way from where we started four months ago–back when I pointed out that the Coast Guard Yard was left entirely out of the Shipyard Act, a massive, $25 billion dollar effort to fund all the emergent needs at the Navy’s four public shipyards. Now, it looks like my pestering may […]

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In Forbes: Using Buoys As Maritime Autonomy Ground-Truth

August 31, 2021

I have a small piece in Forbes discussing what buoys–the original maritime autonomous systems–can offer our hype-driven race for autonomous maritime systems. The answer is, basically, ground truth. Buoys are so mundane, and have so much sea-time, that nobody bothers to shape their performance rates. And, after more than a couple centuries of design refinement, […]

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In Marine News: Shipbuilding And The Navy of Tomorrow

August 5, 2021

Last month, I had a piece published in one of the magazines in the MarineLink constellation–the link is here. Please go read it! For the piece, I was charged to discuss the technical and geopolitical drivers of naval shipbuilding, so there was a lot to cram into the essay. It’s a bit dense. At any […]

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Columbia Class Troop Carriers: Mixing Up The Fleet Mix

July 19, 2021

After three generations of converting surplus/obsolete SSBN hull forms to commando carriers, it’s time to start planning for a Columbia Class commando-carrying variant. Despite a lot of classification, open records suggest undersea commando carriers have accumulated a record of success that stretches back to World War II. And with the Marine Corps already organizing their […]

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In CRS: Discussing Large Surface Combatants

July 16, 2021

With the release of the Pentagon’s 30-year naval force structure estimates, the indefatiguable Ronald O’Rourke, over at the Congressional Research Service, updated his analysis of the Navy’s surface combatant programs, using, in part, my concerned post over at Forbes.com (here). In the Forbes piece, I detailed how the Pentagon could be setting up to ramp-down […]

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In Forbes: A Small Rant On The Littoral Combat Ship

June 29, 2021

It is really annoying to publish a story where Navy PR sources tell me that on-land testing of the Freedom Class gear is still underway, only to see another part of the Navy, barely twenty-four hours after I posted this, trot out Vice Admiral Roy Kitchener, the commander of naval surface forces, to tell a […]

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In Forbes and In Press: Talking To POGO About Shipyards

June 14, 2021

POGO is doing some interesting work on keeping shipyards accountable. The indefatigable Jason Paladino has a pretty good explainer up, talking about the Shipyard Act–identifying concerning issues like the “no-strings-attached” aspects of the $25 billion shipyard supplement, the apparent “quid-pro-quo” on the lobbying/campaign donation side of the shipyard business, as well as questioning the private […]

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In Forbes: First Freedom Class Fix In “Early” FY 2022?

June 7, 2021

Here’s the link. So the Freedom Class’ combining gear fiasco–which smart people saw coming waaaay back when LCS-1’s combining gear was first delayed–is moving ahead, with the Navy expecting Lockheed Martin to deliver a tested fix by “early” FY 2022. Good luck. As a pessimist, I suspect this announcement was too aggressive, when the Navy […]

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