Superior operational service is our core purpose, and we have long been recognized as the world's best Coast Guard. America expects that we will bring the same level of professionalism and maritime leadership to the war on terrorism that we have traditionally brought to all our other missions.
-Admiral Thomas H. Collins,
U.S. Coast Guard
Commandant's Direction 2003
It takes only a few minutes listening to Admiral Collins describe his sense of where the Coast Guard is and where he sees it headed to appreciate the immense challenges being addressed at the same time his "troops" are performing so superbly. he recalls a captain in Haiti who, on the Sunday President Jean-Bertrand Aristide fled, commandeered two helicopters, loaded them with 20-30 Haitian Coast Guardsmen, and took them to the grounds of the presidential palace, which they guarded to prevent looting and sacking by mobs.
The Commandant justifiably is proud of a Coast Guard able to meet its performance measures in ice breaking, migrant and drug interdiction, fisheries protection, aids to navigation, marine safety, and environmental protection while responding to the vastly increased requirements of port, waterway, and coastal security.
The Coast Guard's move from the Transportation Department to the Department of Homeland security appears to have been seamless. Being a military service with multimission capability allows emphasis to shift quickly to meet emerging needs of our nation; having broad law enforcement and regulatory authority in the maritime arena allows an efficiency of effort unique in the federal government.
When the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks occurred, the need for improved port security became the Coast Guard's number-one priority. Port security units (PSUs), manned almost entirely by Coast Guard reservists, for many years had deployed in training exercises to provide security in overseas ports as part of a Navy Harbor Defense Command. Some PSUs were ordered immediately to several of our largest ports. In the months since, airborne surveillance, particularly with helicopters, has received more attention. The Coast Guard already had armed helicopters (MH-68A Stingrays) authorized for airborne use of force in counterdrug operations on the high seas.
Recently, those helos were incorporated into the homeland defense force for major ports. When the alert level was raised to orange and intelligence analysis indicated the port of Valdez, Alaska, was a high-risk target, a Coast Guard C-130 airplane transported one of the Stingrays from its Jacksonville, Florida, base to Valdez in less than two days. In that first domestic use, tankers entering and leaving Prince William Sound were escorted by an armed helo.
The Coast Guard has authority for airborne use of force in the national interest-the only federal agency granted that authority, other than the Federal Bureau of Investigation. In recognition of the need for near instant response to a terrorist act, Coast Guard aircrews may fire their weapons without first firing warning shots if circumstances dictate. Air Station Cape Cod has a trial project for installation of weapons in the service's 35 HH-60 helos. This capability would provide a quantum improvement in maintenance of moving security zones around high-interest vessels as they approach our shores and enter the waterways, enforcing naval vessel protection zones and other restricted waterfront areas and designated danger zones, and other missions relating to homeland security and homeland defense. An anomaly in the broad law enforcement authority, whereby Coast Guard personnel lack express authority to arrest a person who commits a federal offense on shore and are not permitted to carry firearms ashore in the performance of their law enforcement duties, soon should be corrected by Congress.
The Maritime Transportation security Act of 2002 (MTSA) called for the establishment of "maritime safety and security teams [MSSTs] ... to safeguard the public and protect vessels, harbors, ports, facilities, and cargo." Four MSSTs are operational, four more will be before the end of fiscal year (FY) 2004, and five more should be funded next year. They are transportable on Coast Guard C-13Os to "rapidly deploy to supplement U.S. armed forces domestically or overseas." An MSST currently is deployed to Portau-Prince, Haiti.
The act calls for a family of security plans that must be approved by the Coast Guard, beginning with individual ships and facilities and extending to ports, harbors, and maritime areas. all plans, including those of foreign-flag vessels arriving in U.S. ports, become effective and will be enforced starting 1 july. The requirements are closely aligned with those specified by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and are the direct result of skillful negotiations by the U.S. representative to IMO, the Coast Guard.
Defense Operations and Intelligence
During Operation Iraqi Freedom and continuing today, Coast Guard units deployed and took other measures in response to heightened military activity, such as providing portside and waterside security during outloading of military supplies at major ports. At the peak of the war, two high-endurance cutters, one buoy tender, eight patrol boats, two law enforcement detachments (LEDets), and four PSUs (each with six 25-foot boats) were engaged in maritime interception operations, port security, and the traditional missions of search and rescue and ensuring the safe navigation of channels and harbor approaches. The 225-foot buoy tender USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) had been deployed primarily for her on-board oil recovery system; she performed admirably in her more usual role of marking and setting navigation aids-this time using new Iraqi buoys discovered in an abandoned warehouse to mark the 41-mile channel leading from the Arabian Gulf to Umm Qasr, Iraq's only deep-water port, for humanitarian and commercial shipping. Four Island-class patrol boats remain in the area, continuing their patrols to intercept ships carrying illegal cargo or suspected terrorists, and escorting vessels transiting the waterway. One PSU remains in Kuwaiti waters, performing antiterrorist patrols and providing escort for supply ships entering and leaving the area.
The synergistic relationship between the Navy and Coast Guard is a two-way street. Navy ships routinely embark Coast Guard LEDets and patrol international waters, interdicting drug smugglers. Eleven 170-foot Navy patrol craft are now operating under the tactical control of a Coast Guard command, and five are destined to be transferred from the Navy to the Coast Guard next year.
The Coast Guard was designated a formal member of the National Foreign Intelligence Program at the close of 2001. The Coast Guard Investigative Service was moved into the organization early on; agents are now fully integrated, with intelligence gathering as one of their primary missions, alongside their law enforcement duties. The Intelligence Coordination Center, as part of the National Maritime Intelligence Center, supports U.S. Northern Command and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Area Command staffs have been augmented, and Intelligence Fusion Centers at both Atlantic and Pacific headquarters, with area and district intelligence staffs and field intelligence support teams at major ports, have resulted in a quantum leap in intelligencerelated information. The final element in the intelligence ladder soon will be in place: a collateral-duty command intelligence officer at every Coast Guard unit.
In FY 2003, more than 5,300 illegal migrants were interdicted by Coast Guard cutters and boats; during the first half of FY 2004, more than that already had been intercepted at sea. There was a surge in illegal migrants attempting to cross the Mona Pass, from the Dominican Republic to Puerto Rico. Crowded in small wooden motorboats called yolas hardly capable of making the 70-mile journey, even in moderate seas, the number of persons interdicted in January was nearly ten times the number stopped in the month prior-1,500 versus 180-and nearly matched the total stopped during the entire previous year.
When rebels won control of parts of Haiti and advanced toward the capital of Port-au-Prince, thousands of Haitians began preparations to flee the country. To counter a mass exodus, President George W. Bush ordered the positioning of sufficient forces to stop those who ventured out to sea and return them to Haiti, thus discouraging others who might be planning to try. Commencing Operation Able Sentry, the Coast Guard immediately ordered cutters and aircraft to proceed and augment the cutter Valiant (WMEC-621), already conducting scheduled operations north of the Windward Pass, between Cuba and Haiti. The Dallas (WHEC-716), a 378-foot cutter conducting training with the U.S. Navy at Fleet Training Group Mayport, Florida, received orders to proceed toward Haiti without delay, as did cutters from other ports as far away as Boston and Galveston, Texas. (Twelve months before this assignment, the DaIlas was on watch in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea as part of U.S. forces positioned for Operation Iraqi Freedom.)
On 25 February, the 210-foot cutters Valiant and Vigilant (WMEC-617) interdicted more than 500 Haitians crammed into two small sailboats. The next day, the 210-foot cutter Diligence (WMEC-616) and 270-foot cutter Spencer (WMEC-905) picked up another 300 from two small sailboats. Although positioned to interdict illegal migrants and return them to Haiti, the Coast Guard also was fulfilling its humanitarian responsibility to prevent the loss of life at sea; the majority of migrant vessels were dangerously overloaded, unseaworthy, or otherwise unsafe. The U.S. Coast Guard has provided training and logistic aid to its Haitian counterpart for at least a decade. The Haitian Coast Guard was the only functioning agency of that government during the upheaval, working alongside the U.S. Coast Guard to help ensure the safe repatriation of more than 900 of their countrymen to Port-au-Prince in an uncertain, hostile environment.
At the height of the interdiction force augmentation, there were nine large cutters and six 110-foot patrol boats on scene, along with airplanes and helicopters. As of 22 March, more than 3,200 Haitians had been interdicted at sea and returned to their homeland, more than double the number for all of FY 2003. The effective action by the Coast Guard sent the message that President Bush had intended, and any thought of mass exodus was stopped. In the following weeks, no more interdictions were necessary.
Despite increased emphasis on other aspects of homeland security, seizing drug-laden ships and boats continues to be an important Coast Guard mission. With improved intelligence gathering and ever-increasing efficiency in resource deployment, a near-record amount of cocaine-nearly 137,000 pounds-was prevented from entering the United States from the sea. The service seized 75% of the total in the waters of the eastern Pacific Ocean off northern South America, Central America, and Mexico.
Coast Guard LEDets that are embarked on board Netherlands, United Kingdom, Belgian, and U.S. Navy vessels provide expertise and law enforcement authority in drug interdiction operations on the high seas. Working in joint operations or operating independently, the net result is impressive; nearly 80,000 pounds of cocaine seized in FY 2003-58% of that year's total.
Four years ago, the Coast Guard tested arming helicopters and deploying them on cutters (smuggler "go fast" boats were carrying a ton or more of cocaine at speeds too great to stop with surface vessels). The trial was 100% successful: five interceptions of suspected smugglers' boats-and rifle fire disabling the engines of those who refused to stop. Eight MH68A Stingrays, aimed with M240 machine guns and .50-caliber sniper rifles with laser sights, operating with fast interceptor boats from cutters, continue their 100% success rate. In FY 2003, the teams accounted for almost 35% of the total cocaine seized.
Two separate projects comprise the vast majority of Coast Guard recapital i/al ion funding: Integrated Deepwater System and Rescue 21.
Deepwater is the Coast Guard's multiyear program to build a modern "system of systems" to replace its aging and obsolescent fleets of ships, patrol boals, and aircraft. Maintenance and modernization costs for legacy assets, as well as the cost of building and outfitting the replacements for them, are paid from the Deepwater account. The contract was awarded in june 2002, originally estimated at $17 billion over a projected two-decade program. However, the increased operational tempo of all vessels and aircraft because of homeland security tasks is taking a toll not anticipated when the contract was signed. Early funding fell short, and the $678 million included in the FY 2005 budget is expected to reduce the recapitalization period from 27 to 22 years, during which legacy assets still must be maintained and modernized.
The 12 ships in the Hamilton (WHEC-715) class of 378-foot cutters, the Coast Guard's largest and most capable, are experiencing high "not mission capable" rates. Ten of the 12 ships are located on the West Coast and Hawaii; they deploy primarily on law enforcement missions in the Bering Sea and Eastern Pacific waters, which require long range, high endurance, and good seakeeping characteristics. Unscheduled maintenance resulted in 676 operating days lost last year-a 41 % increase over the previous year and the equivalent of not having four cutters.
The fleet of 94 short-range recovery helicopters, the HH-65 Dolphins, began exhibiting a major engine system problem more than a year ago. Sudden power loss or a reduction in power, not commanded and not recoverable by the pilots, constituted a safety-of-flight hazard that could be mitigated only by imposing restrictions on fuel carried, negatively affecting many missions. The Commandant recently approved replacement of the engine and associated system components at an anticipated cost of $2.5-$3 million per helicopter, which will allow the Dolphin to remain in service until its planned retirement in 2013.
The 110-foot cutter Matagorda (WPB-1303) was the first of the 49 Island-class cutters to complete a modernization package that replaced the superstructure, lengthened the cutter by 13 feet to allow stern launching of a new fast-pursuit boat, improved the living spaces to accommodate a mixed-gender crew, and upgraded the communications suite. It was estimated originally that 15% of the hull plating would require replacement on most 110-foot cutters, considering their history of hull breaches necessitating emergency repairs. Inspection during the modernization determined the Matagorda would need more than one-third of her hull plating replaced, adding four months to the work schedule. The specter of subsequent 110s needing similar repairs-keeping them out of service much longer than planned-triggered the decision to accelerate development and production of the 110s' replacement, the fast-response cutter.
Admiral Collins described the Deepwater situation as in a "steep negative downward spiral" of increased maintenance costs that are draining funds for recapitalization. In March 2003, a congressionally mandated report that analyzed the impact of shortening the Deepwater project to ten years, ending in 2013, concluded that acquisition cost savings of $4 billion and nearly a million mission hours "on top of a more efficient system" could be attained, but would require an increase of $4.7 billion during FY 2005-2011.
Rescue 21, the second most significant project, is aimed at meeting networkcentric Coast Guard requirements in shortrange communications and data transmission. The existing antiquated system of radios and direction-finding equipment is marginal for receiving and responding to calls for help, as well as handling the heavy traffic of routine communications between Coast Guard units. State-of-the-art equipment and software, compatible with Deepwater command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems and interoperable with federal and state agency communications networks, are expected to be in place in time for system implementation in 2006. The project will play a major role in improving maritime domain awareness.
The Coast Guard's involvement with foreign countries continues to expand. The Caribbean support tender, the former 180foot Coast Guard buoy tender Gentian (WIX-290), is manned by a combined crew of U.S. Coast Guardsmen and personnel from many Caribbean nations. During four patrols each year, crews observe the operations of previously donated excess defense articles and provide spare parts and technical assistance on maintenance issues.
The Coast Guard advisor to Yemen has been helping that country develop its coast guard over the past year. In February, eight excess U.S. Coast Guard 44-foot motor life boats were transferred to Yemen under the U.S. State Department Excess Defense Articles Program and will form the backbone of the Yemeni Coast Guard.
A Coast Guard commander is director of training for the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force, whose mission will include protection of Iraqi waterways and fighting piracy, smuggling, and trafficking in illegal weapons.
Despite an ever-increasing workload, in 2001 the number of Coast Guard men and women on active duty totaled 35,000-the same as in 1967. During FY 2004, nearly 2,000 billets will be added to the active-duty force, contributing to the 10% growth during the past three years. This has been possible because of record retention of active-duty officers and enlisted plus exceptionally successful recruiting.
The situation for Coast Guard Selected Reserves (SelRes), both officer and enlisted, is more complicated. The retention rate of 80% is lower than normal; but more than one-third of the losses resulted from SelRes members being called or requesting to serve on extended active duty or special work contracts. The reserve strength is expected to be 8,100 by the end of FY 2004, well below the authorized 9,000. More than 1,400 SelRes personnel currently are mobilized, and more than 60% of all SelRes have been mobilized since the 11 September 2001 attacks.
Recruiters achieved record highs in attracting minorities and women. In FY 2003, 25% of active-duty recruits were minorities; 14% of recruits were women. Quality remains very high; for the past five years, more than three-quarters of recruits scored in the top half of the standard test used by all military services. Slightly more than 20% have had some college experience and more than 5% have associate's or bachelor's degrees.
No report on personnel would be complete without an update on a most unique organization, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. By the end of the year, the Auxiliary's all-volunteer membership is expected to reach the 40,000 mark set by National Commodore Bill Edgerton, and there is more than enough work for each auxiliarist. The Auxiliary's prime mission has been increasing the safety of recreational boating through extensive education programs and courtesy safety examinations of boats and equipment carried on them. Always ready to aid boaters in distress and respond to urgent calls for help, auxiliarists save hundreds of lives every year and essentially support all functions and missions of the Coast Guard with the exception of combat operations and law enforcement.
The Commandant's Vision
Admiral Collins is pleased with the support given the Coast Guard by his boss, Secretary Tom Ridge, and by the administration and Congress. he notes that the Coast Guard's workforce will have grown by more than 10% and the operating budget increased by one-half in the four years ending in FY 2005. Those increases primarily are because of the increased tasking under the aegis of homeland security, new legislation, and the two major acquisition projects, Deepwater and Rescue 21.
Growth in personnel poses the challenge of training a younger-than-normal force while providing incentives, such as advanced training and tuition assistance, to retain more experienced members. The Commandant often hears during field unit visits the need for an official program to promote a healthier lifestyle among all Coast Guardsmen.
The huge workload associated with the Maritime Transportation Security Act-more than 9,000 vessel security plans and 3,200 facility plans to approve-was added to existing tasking. The first help is expected as a result of the 2005 budget: some $100 million and additional billets. There are significant improvements in hardware: the largest procurement of small boats in Coast Guard history is under way; the last of the replacement buoy tender fleet has been launched; 11 new coastal patrol boats are being delivered; the first MSSTs were established very quickly and more are moving toward commissioning on schedule; the Great Lakes replacement icebreaker is under construction; and six C-13OJ aircraft have been delivered. At the same time, however, maintenance and modernization of the physical infrastructure (the "shore plant") have long been underfunded, and the cost to arrest the problem and correct long-standing deficiencies continues to grow.
Admiral Collins is particularly satisfied with the "better than ever" relationship, both personal and organizational, between the Coast Guard and Navy. He and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Vern Clark signed an updated agreement that pledges full cooperation and coordination between the services in planning and doctrine development for the "national fleet" of new ships and systems, ensuring the Deepwater and Rescue 21 capabilities will be complementary and interoperable with the Navy's initiatives. The Coast Guard has responded to requests from the Navy for defense operations, and the Navy has done the same for the Coast Guard in the latter's lead role in maritime homeland security. Interoperability has been evident in counterdrug operations, in Iraq, and most recently in Haiti.
The Commandant acknowledges having a few more patrol boat resource hours available, but emphasizes that the day-in-day-out, enthusiastic, professional performance of every Coast Guard man and woman, greatly improved intelligence, international bilateral agreements, and the use of technology all contribute to improved efficiency and effectiveness. That is what makes the Coast Guard Semper Paratus.
Before retiring in 1991, Admiral Thorsen was Commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area, and Commander, U.S. Maritime Defense Zone Atlantic. He is a consultant, serves on the boards of several businesses and nonprofit organizations, and is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Naval Analyses.