The Coast Guard Is Maritime Security

By Admiral James M. Loy, USCG

U.S. Maritime Security Interests . . .

Waterborne trade is the lifeblood of the U.S. economy. Ships carry raw materials and finished goods to and from every corner of the world, with key ports along the Atlantic, Gulf, and Pacific coasts serving as our gateways to the world. One quarter of all domestic goods is shipped by water, and half of all oil consumed in the United States arrives by sea. In 1997, some 90% of U.S. foreign trade by tonnage—valued at nearly $1.7 trillion—moved by ship. U.S. oceanborne exports have increased 50% since 1990, a trend that is expected to continue. Ironic for a country so tied to the sea and dependent on sea power to protect national interests, the U.S. merchant marine is ranked only 15th in the world, and it carries no more than 3% of U.S. oceanborne foreign trade.

This has potentially grave implications for U.S. military readiness, in addition to global economic competitiveness. Almost all of the equipment, ordnance, and supplies needed to support any sizable projection of military power must move by sea. During the Gulf War, nearly 95% of all material sent to the combat theater—and returned to the United States once peace was restored—was carried on ships. Efficient ports are critical to U.S. military combat operations, as well as to crisis response and humanitarian missions. They also are crucial if the U.S. strategy of engagement is to succeed.

Increased use of the oceans for recreation, fishing, minerals development, and transportation guarantees greater stresses on the marine environment and can pose grave risks to U.S. interests. Globally, critical fish stocks are under great pressure, as overfishing and habitat destruction continue. Living marine resources support a $20 billion commercial industry. Tourism and marine recreation—alone worth millions of dollars to state and local economies each year—likewise demand clean shorelines and marine environments. At the same time, new technologies are permitting more remote exploration and development of minerals and petroleum resources, in ever greater depths. Millions of barrels of oil and cubic feet of natural gas are pumped daily to the shore or offshore gathering platforms through pipelines. We should not discount the vulnerability of these offshore systems to sabotage or the environmental damage that an attack or accident might cause.

Petroleum shipped to the United States from overseas sources also presents a target for environmental terrorists. For waters under U.S. jurisdiction, the challenge will be to ensure the safety and seaworthiness of increasingly large ships, many of which will not be able to berth at U.S. ports because of draft limitations. This will drive the need for more offshore lightering, more offshore facilities, and the transshipment of hazardous materials through long and exposed pipelines. The prevention and response implications for the Coast Guard are obvious.

In addition, we must not underestimate the vulnerability of the maritime transport system to interruption, whether from natural or manmade disasters, piracy, or terrorist attack. The susceptibility of ships and key infrastructure elements is a problem that begs for a multifaceted solution.

. . . and Threats

The Department of Transportation's Strategic Plan 1997-2002 recognizes that "we must be prepared to face global markets, environmental challenges, transnational security threats, and a communications and information revolution." Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, warning of "terrorist threats, the increasing dependence on high- technology transportation systems and communications networks, and increasing illegal immigrant transportation and smuggling," has underscored the need to scrutinize—and be able to counter—a broad range of threats to U.S. hemispheric maritime security. In this regard, the "Outcome Goals" identified by the Secretary will shape operational requirements for all Coast Guard assets:

  • Goal 1. Reduce vulnerability to and consequences of intentional harm to the transportation system and its users.
  • Goal 2. Ensure readiness and capability of all modes of commercial transportation to meet national security needs.
  • Goal 3. Ensure transportation physical and information infrastructure and technology are adequate to facilitate military logistics during mobility, training exercises, and mobilization.
  • Goal 4. Maintain readiness of resources, including operating forces and contingency resources owned, managed, or coordinated by the Department of Transportation necessary to support the President's National Security Strategy and other security-related plans.
  • Goal 5. Reduce flow of illegal drugs and illegal aliens.

The influx of illegal drugs is one of the nation's foremost national security problems. The Coast Guard is the lead maritime agency in the counterdrug effort, and despite the fact that interdiction occupies and consumes a tremendous amount of assets, this task is performed with little extra allocation. Drug interdiction remains difficult because it is assigned to multiple agencies; smugglers have high mobility; and there is a need for more vessels, aircraft, and personnel to patrol the vast U.S. coastlines and the six-million-square-mile Caribbean/eastern Pacific transit zone.

The Coast Guard has established Campaign Steel Web, a multiyear strategy aimed at reducing the supply of drugs to the United States. In 1997, Coast Guard cutters and aircraft deployed off South America and in the transit zone interdicted more than 103,600 pounds of cocaine, keeping more than 500 million "hits" off America's streets and out of our schools. The street value of the cocaine seized, estimated at $3.65 billion, exceeded the Coast Guard's entire 1997 operating budget by half a billion dollars. Still, this represents only an estimated 32% of the cocaine that entered the transit zone, pointing to the critical need for more effective intelligence, surveillance, and interdiction assets.

The influx of illegal drugs will become more difficult to counter as advanced equipment and technology increasingly are employed by drug cartels. In response to Coast Guard efforts, smugglers have begun investing in high-speed craft and low-observable/radar-evading vessels—even semisubmersibles—and aircraft in an attempt to avoid detection. Other capabilities include sophisticated counterinformation technologies that will enable criminals to challenge U.S. and world law enforcement organizations with greater boldness and daring.

Another of Secretary Slater's national security goals is to reduce the flow of illegal aliens entering the United States. For the Coast Guard, migrant interdiction operations are as much humanitarian efforts as they are law enforcement missions. Migrants typically take great risks and endure significant hardships in their attempts to flee their countries and enter the United States; their vessels often are overloaded and unseaworthy, lack basic safety equipment, and are operated by inexperienced mariners. The majority of alien migrant interdiction cases handled by the Coast Guard actually begin as search and rescue missions on the high seas.

Alien smuggling threatens the United States from all sides—along the East and West Coasts, in Hawaii, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Between 1980 and mid-1998, the Coast Guard interdicted 288,000 migrants from 43 countries. Economics and quality of life continue to be the primary factors driving people to brave the seas in the hope of reaching America. We have seen a marked increase in organized alien smuggling, especially from Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and the People's Republic of China.

In 1980, Coast Guard personnel stemmed a mass migration from Cuba, interdicting 125,000 illegal migrants who flooded toward Florida; U.S. Navy surface forces played key roles in supporting our afloat operations. In 1990-1991, Coast Guard deepwater assets responded to another mass migration, interdicting more than 37,600 Haitian migrants attempting to enter the United States illegally. In 1994, our cutters and aircraft responded to two nearly simultaneous mass migrations, working closely with Navy and other DoD assets. An afloat Coast Guard task force commander directed operations for the largest fleet of cutters since World War II, interdicting more than 25,300 Haitian migrants in Operation Able Manner and nearly 38,600 Cuban migrants in Operation Able Vigil.

The expected increase in the number of illegal migrants will create difficult social, economic, and political issues—including public discontent, strain on health care and social assistance systems of coastal states, and the overwhelming of detention facilities—which, in turn, will generate demands for effective Coast Guard interdiction operations farther out to sea. The need is great, therefore, for a cost-effective capability to interdict, and preferably deter, illegal migrant attempts.

These are just two of the threats to U.S. maritime security. Many others (see Table 1) are equally important and demand the same amount of attention. In response, the Coast Guard has envisioned a far-reaching program for the modernization and replacement of current cutter, aircraft, command-and-control, and shoreside infrastructure that will enable us to maintain a credible presence in key maritime regions to deter potential threats to U.S. sovereignty, to exercise sea control, and to project law-enforcement action should deterrence fail.

Maritime Security Roles, Missions and Functions

Admiral Loy is Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard.

James Loy Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard (Ret.) completed a 45-year career in public service, retiring in 2005 as Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. In this capacity, he was involved in all aspects of consolidating 22 separate agencies into one unified Cabinet department as well as managing the agency's day-to-day activities. Prior to the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, Admiral Loy served in the Department of Transportation as Deputy Undersecretary for Security and Chief Operating Officer of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and later as Under Secretary for Security. In these roles, he served as the first administrator of the newly created TSA, which is responsible for protecting the Nation's transportation systems. Admiral Loy retired from the Coast Guard in 2002, having served as its Commandant since May 1998. As head of the 90,000 person service, he restored readiness through workforce development and modernized the Coast Guard's fleet of ships and aircraft. Admiral Loy co-authored the Naval Institute Press book The Architecture of Leadership.

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