Charting the Coast Guard's Course

By Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard

Doing What We Do Best

On the front lines, thousands of Coast Guardsmen—active-duty, reserve, and auxiliary—on board hundreds of cutters, stations, marine safety units, air stations, strike teams, and other units stand the 24/7 watch around the world. A few of our 2010 mission-execution statistics tell the story best: 4,300 lives saved; more than 200,000 pounds of cocaine interdicted ($6.4 billion in street value); 257,000 commercial vessels and 71 million crewmembers and passengers screened for possible threats; and the prompt response to the devastating Red River floods in North Dakota.

Our readiness and mission execution were also measured by the rapid and effective response to the earthquake in Haiti. This demonstrated our utility as a versatile tool for both the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Defense. The Coast Guard cutters Forward (WMEC-911), Mohawk (WMEC-913), Valiant (WMEC-621), and Tahoma (WMEC-908) were the first U.S. ships to arrive in Haiti after the earthquake. Two C-130H aircraft from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, Florida were the first U.S. military aircraft to arrive and conduct aerial surveillance of the disaster. The Tahoma ’s commanding officer had previously served as the military liaison officer to Haiti. Building on established relationships, knowing the lay of the land and the local representatives, he was able to deploy the Tahoma ’s crew rapidly, to precise effect.

Exercising on-scene initiative and empowered by their CO to take necessary actions to save lives, the Tahoma ’s crew immediately began providing assistance onshore. This included training the cutter’s crew to provide injections and other medical care at a makeshift clinic established at the Killick Haitian Coast Guard base, which had been leveled by the quake. They were joined by Haitian nurses and doctors, working with the cutter’s first- and second-class health-services technicians. The CO noted at the time, “This crew is doing amazing things. Things they have no training or experience in. I have never seen people give so much of themselves to help others in need.”

Despite such successes, we face many challenges in ensuring future readiness. Indeed, we are already suffering from degraded readiness in key areas that cause grave concern, particularly in light of growing maritime mission demands and current and projected federal budget stresses. The Coast Guard was short on personnel before the “streamlining” of the mid-1990s. We have only now, despite years of significant post-9/11 mission growth, returned to our approximate pre-streamlining size. In the interim, we have taken on entirely new specialty missions to meet homeland-security threats unforeseen ten years ago, such as National Capitol region rotary-wing air intercept. Years of high operational and personnel tempo have worn down many of our capabilities and support systems. The costs of maintaining our medium- and high-endurance cutters, now well past their planned service lives, are escalating. Of the 12 cutters deployed to Haiti, for example, 10 suffered significant problems and 2 had to be pulled offline for major repairs.

We also have undertaken significant internal reorganizations to improve mission support and operations. These changes have brought important benefits; however, they have also redirected extraordinary levels of staff time and attention from other priorities. Another readiness issue—stress on our people—is of particular concern and is appearing in things such as a steady increase in the average days of lost leave over the past several years—a clear indication that uniformed personnel strength is inadequate to mission requirements. I am personally committed to addressing these concerns now, before they manifest themselves as more serious operational and personal-safety issues later.

To meet these challenges and to ensure current and future readiness and mission execution, I have established four priorities and have tasked the Coast Guard’s leadership to focus on these assignments in their planning.

• Sustain mission excellence;

• Recapitalize and build capacity;

• Enhance crisis response and management; and

• Prepare for the future.

Sustain Mission Excellence

The harsh operating environments in which our people routinely find themselves (and it is not hyperbole to say that “When gales blow and others seek safe harbor, Coast Guard crews get under way”) require that they maintain rigorous proficiency in their specialty skills. This involves exceeding minimum qualifications and pursuing consistent, disciplined training (both real-time and simulated), classroom education, and using other training technologies. We have gradually added so many operational and administrative requirements that I am concerned we’ve diluted our maritime professionalism and expertise. It is time to refocus.

Finding the balance between specialization and broad general experience is critical as our missions become more complex. This need is particularly acute as we complete the seven-year process of merging our legacy operations ashore commands into 35 sectors—multidimensional commands that connect our shore-based operations and legal authorities. Our personnel system must evolve to produce both the specialists required to lead our prevention, response, planning, and logistics departments, and the strategic, crisis-tested leaders required to command them. I am particularly concerned about increasing and retaining adequate numbers of senior, experienced marine-safety officers. I’ve challenged my senior leadership to address this issue, considering career paths, rotation and assignment policies, and professional development.

Our deployable operations group and specialized forces members have enthusiastically sought careers in these relatively new units. We have not provided adequate resources, doctrine, and policy to support the high-end tactical capabilities envisioned for them. To remedy this I’ve commenced a stem-to-stern review of their concept of operations. We must also clearly define and obtain the full operational and support costs of new responsibilities such as rotary-wing air intercept, and again, ensure that we do not push mission commitments beyond our ability to safely and professionally execute them. If necessary, I will reduce our range of capabilities and activities until we are properly resourced to perform them. I expect Coast Guard leaders to continue to prioritize and set limits and stand down from missions that cannot safely and proficiently be executed.

Recapitalize and Build Capacity

Fleet and shore infrastructure recapitalization timelines lag well behind the service’s needs. Our Sailors and aviators are being asked to answer the nation’s call with some assets that reached the end of their planned life cycle years ago. Serious mechanical issues, such as those that occurred in the majority of the cutters we dispatched to Haiti, require long hours and divert personnel from their primary mission while they chase repairs that only resolve symptoms. This is an unacceptable condition for the Department of Homeland Security’s maritime operational arm. We must achieve a balanced recapitalization program that can be executed.

There is good news; replacements are starting to arrive. Two of the planned eight National Security Cutters are under way and operational, with a third, the USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), 75 percent complete. The first of the next generation patrol boats, the Fast Response Cutter, will be delivered this year. The new HC-144A Ocean Sentry medium-range patrol, surveillance, and transport airplane is being delivered to the field. The replacement for our medium-endurance cutter fleet, the Offshore Patrol Cutter, will be the workhorse of the offshore fleet for much of this century. It is a critical asset to meet our national requirements for layered security from far offshore to the littorals. While it is reassuring to acquire these much-needed reinforcements, the long-term timeline projections under current acquisition funding levels put our ability to meet mission requirements at risk well into the future.

We must also build adequate capacity and depth in our assets to account for the projected frequency of surge operations and the periodic loss of operational assets due to casualties. Unlike the other armed services, the Coast Guard does not maintain operational spares. As a result, the loss of two HH-60s in recent accidents forced us to halt our nascent tactical vertical insertion program. The same constraints affect us during surge operations. If we send aircraft, cutters, or personnel to a disaster response, each of those assets must be pulled from operational employment elsewhere. While we cannot predict the timing or nature of accidents or natural disasters, it is certain they will occur. We must build in the additional capacity an operational force needs to maintain stability during major surges.

Enhance Crisis Response and Management Capability

Crisis response and management is one of the Coast Guard’s core competencies. Our day-to-day missions—search-and-rescue, high-interest vessel escorts, oil-spill response, inspections, law enforcement, waterways management, among others—all develop the competencies, capabilities, and partnerships that proved invaluable to us in the aftermath of such catastrophes as Hurricane Katrina, the earthquake in Haiti, and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. These events emphasized our strengths, including our extensive partnerships with local, state, federal, tribal, international, defense, private, and nonprofit agencies.

Recent disasters also exposed serious weaknesses. Prominent among them is the lack of depth in our forces for major sustained contingencies. We do not maintain forces in garrison; they are actively employed in daily operational missions. We source contingency response from active-duty operational units, augmented by our small select reserve (another oversubscribed force). Deepwater Horizon put the Coast Guard “in the yellow”—and closing in toward the red—across multiple readiness indicators. Operational commanders with personnel and assets deployed were forced to defer or delay planning, training, and maintenance. We were extremely fortunate that no other crisis occurred at the time, as our capacity to respond was quite limited. Eventually, we will have multiple disasters to cope with simultaneously. We must identify the resource requirements to respond to them. We learned very quickly during Deepwater Horizon that our reserve workforce size, mix of competencies, and concept of operations, designed to support overseas contingency operations and military outloads in our nation’s ports, were inadequate to the task at hand.

We must also explore innovative incident management concepts such as deployable logistics units. And we must define a total force concept for using various combinations of our active-duty, reserve, civilian, and volunteer auxiliary members for contingency operations. Our current force structure was designed decades ago and must adapt to changing conditions and requirements for greater flexibility.

The Deepwater Horizon crisis also demonstrated gaps in our ability to achieve information dominance in a complex, dynamic environment. We need better tools and skills to integrate both open-source and government-controlled information streams and to provide tactical commanders, partners, and senior leadership with comprehensive information and situational awareness.

The way we manage, communicate, and display information is changing rapidly. Managing political sensitivities, media involvement, social media, and volunteer groups is an integral part of the response, requiring timely and accurate information. Finally, I expect our senior leaders to take concrete steps to improve workforce competencies in a range of areas addressed in recent after-action reports.

Prepare for the Future

Virtually every national and global strategic forecast describes a world of steadily increasing activity—both legitimate and illicit—in the maritime domain. The demand for Coast Guard services will remain intense or increase throughout our missions. The recent evolution of the self-propelled fully submersible vessel from its semi-submersible predecessor as an illicit smuggling conveyance is but one example of a threat that requires responsive policies and capabilities. These trends require us to strengthen operational capabilities and to refine our management and business processes to deliver operational outcomes efficiently. External factors continue to increase overhead, mission support, and personnel costs as a percentage of our budget. Therefore we must attach as much value to being the world’s best managers as we do to being the world’s best search-and-rescue crews.

The following are several initiatives that I propose to prepare us for the future.

Lead our nation’s engagement in the Arctic. The U.S. northern border is not only in Idaho and Vermont; it is in the Arctic with Russia, Norway, Canada, and Denmark. America has significant strategic interests in the region. The maritime operating environment is severe; the complexity of every operational and mission-support activity there is multiplied many times over compared with most areas in the United States. The prospect of an incident such as Deepwater Horizon occurring in the remote Arctic is alarming. Specialized equipment and training are required to conduct search-and-rescue and pollution response and to fuel and operate vessels and aircraft. Moreover, the long lead times required to build specialized capabilities mean that we must begin preparing now, with our partners, for the inevitable, significant increases in commercial maritime activity in the Arctic. However, accomplishing more than outreach, planning, and small-scale summer deployments will remain limited until America’s strategic interests in the Arctic gain further national prominence.

Innovate and exploit technology. We need to think differently about our operational and mission-support programs to discover new ways to increase mission reach and flexibility, especially for the most asset- and personnel-intensive activities. For example, we will consider the feasibility of increasing surveillance coverage for missions such as the International Ice Patrol through the use of satellites and unmanned-aircraft systems. We will develop partnerships with Department of Homeland Security Centers of Excellence and other academic and research organizations. We will also adapt to and include the revolutionary, highly collaborative ways our newest members communicate, learn, and socialize.

Continue to increase diversity. To reflect the public we serve, we will continue to assess and refine our diversity strategies and goals. We are reaching into communities where the Coast Guard and its missions are not well known. We have steadily increased diversity at the Coast Guard Academy. I am focusing on command climate, diversity, and leadership as a system, rather than as discrete programs, to ensure that all Coast Guard members can grow and thrive in the service.

Develop capabilities to resist and respond to cyber threats. In 2009 the Coast Guard sustained the largest targeted intrusion of its unclassified network to date. In addition to our own forces, the vast port and maritime transportation systems we protect are vulnerable to cyber attack. We will work with our partners to better understand the threats and develop resistance to such attacks.

Elevate knowledge management as a critical capability. I am committed to providing decision-makers with better information, including readiness and risk metrics. We will also systematically incorporate lessons learned throughout the service, beginning with the results of the Coast Guard’s Deepwater Horizon after-action reviews.

Reshape our military personnel system and policies. The current combination of advancement, assignment, rotation, and specialization policies and practices is outdated. It has not kept up with significant changes in our service, most notably in the deployable specialized forces and sectors. I am committed to adjusting tour lengths to meet specialization requirements. As complex and difficult as it will be, we will update our personnel system to include competency and professional development requirements to meet current and future needs.

The Coast Guard’s relevance to our increasingly maritime-dependent nation has never been stronger. We face significant challenges, but we do so with a workforce as talented as any we have ever deployed. Tough decisions may be required to execute my priorities, but we will remain focused on our fundamental purposes: to protect those on the sea, protect America from threats delivered by sea, and to protect the sea itself.


Admiral Papp has been the 24th Commandant of the Coast Guard since May 2010. He previously served as Commander, Atlantic Area; Coast Guard Chief of Staff; and Commander, Ninth Coast Guard District. He has commanded four Coast Guard cutters: Red Beech (WLM-686), Papaw (WLB-308), Forward (WMEC-991), and the training barque Eagle (WIX-327). Admiral Papp is the 13th Gold Ancient Mariner of the Coast Guard.

The Navy and Coast Guard’s Enduring Partnership

By Admiral Robert J. Papp Jr., U.S. Coast Guard

The Coast Guard’s distinct authorities and expertise as a military and law-enforcement service provide unique capabilities that the Department of Defense leverages to support combatant commanders’ priorities. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower provides a strong foundation for this partnership. The Coast Guard’s statutory defense operations mission also provides the Department of Homeland Security with valuable bridges to the international arena. A few examples of recent and current operations include:

• Seven-member Coast Guard law-enforcement detachments have embarked on board Navy combatants, which provide the service with critical capabilities on Navy ships. In May 2010, such a detachment on board the USS McInerney (FFG-8), with the support of the robotic unmanned aerial vehicle MQ-8 Fire Scout, seized 132 pounds of cocaine.

• The Coast Guard provides anti-terrorism/force protection security patrols for many classes of high-value Navy assets in U.S. ports.

• Coast Guard maritime force protection units in King’s Bay, Georgia, and Bangor, Washington, provide dedicated security for ballistic-missile submarines in transit through critical chokepoints with high concentrations of commercial and recreational vessels.

• The Joint Maritime Training Center at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, epitomizes the Marine Corps, Navy, and Coast Guard tri-service partnership. The three jointly conduct specialized maritime training including noncompliant vessel pursuit and riverine combat skills. The units’ collocation allows staff interaction and efficiencies with common-use equipment.

• The CGC Rush (WHEC-723) and Marine Safety and Security Team Honolulu participated in rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercises in 2010.

• Coast Guard patrol boats and other forces continued to support U.S. Central Command mission requirements. As Iraqi naval forces assume greater responsibility for oil platform defense, the six Coast Guard patrol boats originally assigned to that mission are now employed by the naval component commander in larger theater security cooperation efforts.

• After crewmembers from the cutters Tahoma and Mohawk established a makeshift clinic to provide emergency medical support to victims of the Haiti earthquake, their limited supplies and expertise were quickly tapped out. As HS1 Larry J. Berman, independent health services technician on board the Tahoma , wrote on the Coast Guard’s official blog “The Compass”: “To my great joy, the Navy arrived. Two surgeons from the USS Carl Vinson (CVN–70) and three medical corpsmen came to join us. Help has arrived. Tomorrow fresh minds will lead the clinic.”

The Coast Guard and the Navy have been outstanding partners for more than 200 years. Their partnership adds value to the DHS, DOD and the nation, and will continue under my watch.



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