The U.S. Coast Guard Commandant calls for leadership, strategic direction and resources

by Craig Hooper on February 10, 2011

Admiral Bob Papp just gave the USCG’s State of the Coast Guard address, and warned that the Post-post 9/11 Coast Guard will be setting priorities and limits:

We need to change our focus. We need to train to proficiency — and retain proficiency. In order to achieve proficiency in our most needed activities and capabilities, we may have to reduce our range of activities and capabilities. This is acceptable. Let me repeat this…We may need to reduce the number and range of capabilities we’ve added since 9/11, until properly resourced, and this will be acceptable.

He then made almost an overt request that the Coast Guard get funding to maintain their proficiency in the Arctic:

Our Nation has significant strategic interests in the emerging Arctic waters. Retreating ice has spurred an increase in maritime activity. Increased activity means increased Coast Guard responsibilities. Our service is no stranger to Arctic operations. We’ve been protecting our Nation’s Arctic interests since 1867, when WE literally were the federal government in the “territory” of Alaska. During the cold war, we RE-supplied the Distant Early Warning Line – or DEW line. It was not by accident, when in 1958, Cutters SPAR, STORIS and BRAMBLE became the first vessels to circumnavigate the North American Continent, through the Northwest Passage.

For the past three years, we’ve been conducting seasonal Arctic operations. We’ve learned through testing our assets and procedures, and working closely with our partners, including Alaska Natives and Native Tribal Governments and communities, that we don’t have the ability, and at this juncture, the resources, to operate as effectively as we need to – especially in the Arctic’s far reaches. Arctic operations are challenging and expensive. Crews require special and recurrent training. Equipment must be designed to withstand harsh sub-zero conditions.

We’re fully engaged in on-going Arctic and Ocean policy discussions…and we’re continuing to partner with other Arctic Nations…We’re working with the Arctic Council on an Arctic Search and Rescue Agreement…We’re committed to leading, and where appropriate, supporting our National Arctic Policy. But, if we are serious about protecting our Arctic national interests and resources, then we must make the investment to do so.

So. Basically, the Coast Guard is putting down a marker.  The force remains eager and willing, is a traditional player in critical regions, but it cannot continue carrying the load as resources are stripped away.  Papp brought it up again and again–accident rates, the big NSC Cutters, and, finally, warning what might happen if the critical Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) doesn’t get funded:

…unless we continue to update our ships, planes and boats, and improve our shore stations, we will NOT be able to maintain an acceptable level of readiness to perform our missions…“More with Less” is not an acceptable option – without continued recapitalization, we will NOT be Semper Paratus.

Very interesting speech. It’s a cry to Washington for leadership, real strategic direction and, of course, sufficient resources.

And if there is an agency out there that deserves the strategic best, it’s the U.S. Coast Guard.  Let’s stop using the USCG as a balm for every “crisis of the moment” or security “theatre” fad, and give ’em a long-term, strategically-minded roadmap coupled to enough funds to carry those missions out.

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February 10, 2011 at 5:59 pm

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Craig Hooper February 12, 2011 at 3:25 pm

Oh, I hear you about the Deepwater fiasco and so forth–been a big critic of the NSC Cutter fiasco and some other stuff. But I do think that Congress–and the Executive Branch leaders–have a role to play here–giving the Coast Guard firm strategic direction, funding those roles and then monitoring to make sure the Coast Guard is doing a good job. I don’t think anybody did that–they just threw money at the Coast Guard and let it fritter it away in gold-plated projects for all kinds of disparate projects/missions.

By stating the obvious–that the Coast Guard cannot continue to do all that is expected of it–the Commandant is starting the repair process-Congress and the folks in the Old Executive Office building should back him up.

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etudiant February 12, 2011 at 12:07 pm

Given the spotty performance of the CG fleet modernization efforts, there surely is a crying need for effective leadership. Who can provide it if not the CG itself?

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