The U.S. Coast Guard faces a stark and troubled future. If our nation's fifth and smallest military service was a cutter it would be listing severely, crippled by decades of undercapitalization, a lack of political support, an overwhelming workload, and the five words most feared by any Guardian: "the curse of can-do." In the face of an impending budget meltdown, the Coast Guard must confront severe challenges that threaten its performance and long-term viability, as it comports with the realities of the post-9/11 environment. Will it remain the world's best Coast Guard or will it proceed down the path of Britain's Royal Navy, becoming a shadow of its former self?
Just A Mirage
When viewed through the lens of the pre-9/11 era, the Coast Guard appears strong. It has grown to its largest size since World War II, embarked on a sweeping recapitalization of its cutters and aircraft, landed a central role in a newly created department, and undertaken a massive realignment of its command-and-control architecture. By any measure the Coast Guard is a far more robust, capable, technologically advanced, and nimble service than it was at the end of the 1990s.