The year 2013 brought increased challenges to the Coast Guard as the service sought to balance a declining budget with increasing operational demand. Sequestration and other budget control actions forced a $295 million cut to the service’s modest $8 billion budget. In his December testimony before the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, Vice Admiral John Currier, the service’s Vice Commandant, talked of the operational impacts of sequestration that forced the Coast Guard to reduce operations, defer depot-level maintenance, and decrease spare parts levels and training. Additionally, sequestration required a 25 percent operational reduction that affected the Coast Guard’s ability to maintain an effective maritime presence to detect, deter, and intercept at-sea threats.
The impacts of these reductions were very real, as the service fell short of its annual performance targets for defense readiness, port security, counterdrugs, migrant interdictions, fisheries enforcement, and marine safety. More distressing are the budget projections that forecast even deeper budget cuts in the years to come. How to address these deepening challenges will fall squarely on the shoulders of the Coast Guard’s next Commandant, Admiral (select) Paul Zukunft, recently nominated by President Barack Obama to replace Admiral Robert Papp, whose four-year tenure comes to a close later this year.
Despite these financial constraints, the Coast Guard continued to recapitalize its aging fleet, with three new 418-foot national security cutters (NSCs) now in service and hulls four and five under construction. The program of record for the NSCs calls for a total of eight hulls costing about $684 million each.
The service also commissioned its seventh 154-foot fast response cutter (FRC), the USCGC Charles David Jr. (WPC-1107) at Sector Key West, Florida, initiating operations at the service’s second FRC homeport (after Miami). The Coast Guard also took possession of the eighth FRC, the USCGC Charles Sexton (WPC-1108), and ordered six additional FRCs (hulls 19–24). The program of record calls for 58 vessels.
The service continued plans for construction of its offshore patrol cutters (OPCs) with initial procurement planned for fiscal year 2017. The OPCs cannot come soon enough, as the medium- endurance cutters they will replace range in age from 30 to well past 40 years. The service awarded three firm-fixed price contracts to three shipyards for preliminary and contract design of the OPC. The OPC acquisition strategy is intended to maximize affordability of this critical replacement for the aging medium-endurance fleet of cutters. These cutters, the soul of the Coast Guard’s fleet, are suffering significant increases in material and mechanical failures. The Coast Guard needs to keep its fingers crossed that these ships will be able to continue to operate at a reasonable increase in maintenance and repair costs until the OPCs can replace them.
The service’s aviation arm also saw change as the contract for its 18th HC-144A was awarded. Currently there is no request to procure more. Additionally, the decision for the Coast Guard to acquire 14 C-27Js from the Air Force came at a good time, helping significantly to close the medium-range maritime-patrol gap that exists as the aircraft are brought into service and will help us avoid more than $500 million in acquisition costs. Finally, as part of this change the Coast Guard will transfer seven C-130Hs to the U.S. Fire Service.
Coast Guard men and women responded to over 17,000 mariners in distress, saving approximately 7,400 lives during 2013. One particular case highlights the joint nature of many rescues. In May, the Canadian sailing vessel Romarin II, on a voyage from the Caribbean to Quebec, Canada, was dismasted and disabled in heavy weather. The Coast Guard’s rescue center in Boston received the Romarin II’s 406 MHz emergency position-indicating radio-beacon alert.Boston rescue verified registration with the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, then launched a Coast Guard HU-25 Falcon jet from Air Station Cape Cod. The Falcon located the distressed vessel, dropped a self-locating datum marker buoy and radio to the crew of the Romarin II. Boston then used the automated mutual assistance- vessel-rescue system to locate the MSC Chicago approximately 30 miles away. The Chicago diverted, arrived on scene, and rescued the four distressed sailors.
While most people are familiar with Coast Guard water rescues, few are aware that the service is also called on to make rescues on ice, a common requirement for Coast Guard District Nine, the “Guardians of the Great Lakes.” To enhance ice-rescue capabilities, a diverse team of subject matter experts from the Ninth District, Coast Guard Headquarters, Coast Guard Forces Command, and the Coast Guard Auxiliary came together to create a formal ice-rescue training program. One hundred students from Ninth District and First District, including ones from the USCGC Healy (WAGB-20), graduated from the first ice-rescuer training courses during the winter of 2012–13. These graduates were provided with the skills, standardization, and materials needed to deliver the course to units and partnering agencies. This program ensures future Coast Guard personnel and their local partners will be properly trained and prepared to work safely and effectively in the harsh ice environment.
Maritime Law Enforcement and Security
At the heart of Coast Guard maritime law enforcement is maritime border security. Whether it is stopping illegal drugs, migrants, fishing, or terrorism, the common denominator is securing U.S. maritime borders and adjacent waters from illicit activities that threaten the security of the nation. The service’s strategy for securing these borders is a layered defense that seeks to intercept threats as far from our shores as possible by employing appropriate law enforcement measures overseas, on the high seas, in the U.S. littorals, and in the ports and inland waters. This multilayer approach increases the probability of detecting and defeating maritime threats far more effectively than focusing on a single maritime layer. Partnerships with federal, state, and local law-enforcement agencies add to the efficiency of these operations.
Speaking before the House Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security, in November 2013, Rear Admiral William “Dean” Lee, the Coast Guard’s deputy for Operations Policy and Capabilities, noted that
One of the most important aspects of the Coast Guard’s layered security approach is to understand the movement of vessels, people, and goods across our maritime borders. By combining security operations with effective governance such as vessel and cargo screening protocols, enforcing notice of arrival requirements, and leveraging intelligence and information resources from across government, the Coast Guard facilitates the secure and efficient flow of commerce through our nation’s waterways.
The Coast Guard screens ships, crews, and passengers for all vessels required to submit a 96-hour advance notice of arrival (ANOA) prior to entering a U.S. port. The service’s Intelligence Coordination Center’s Coastwatch Branch, which is co-located with Customs and Border Protection (CBP) at the National Targeting Center, screen crew and passenger information. In the previous year, Coastwatch screened approximately 118,000 ANOAs and 29.5 million crew/passenger records. In 2013, these screenings led to more than 8,400 security boardings by Coast Guard teams. Coast Guard personnel also inspected over 11,000 vessels, 23,000 containers, and 10,000 waterfront facilities. Additional maritime-security operations included over 21,000 port security patrols and more than 2,000 escorts of high-capacity passenger vessels.
In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing on 15 April 2013, the Coast Guard’s maritime-security operations supported the city’s safety efforts. Following the report of the attack, Coast Guard Station Boston, augmented by Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Teams (MSSTs) from Boston and New York and the 110-foot USCG patrol boat Grand Isle (WPB-338), responded. Their focus was to protect Boston Harbor from any additional attacks and intercept the bombers should they attempt to flee via water routes. According to the First District Public Affairs staff,
Within the first 72 hours, MSST Boston and elements of MSST New York provided Sector Boston with 86 harbor security patrol hours, completed 115 commuter ferry security boardings, screened more than 2,800 passengers, conducted three deep draft vessel boardings, accomplished 10 hours of remote operated vehicle pier sweeps, and examined more than 1,280 bags with a canine explosives detection team.
The Mona Pass, between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, saw a significant rise in illicit human traffic last year. In the previous eight years, only 188 Haitian migrants had migrated through this area. In 2013, at least 2,291 Haitians made the attempt. Across the Caribbean, the Coast Guard conducted 1,975 at-sea interdictions, rescuing 1,357 Cuban, 110 Dominican, and 508 Haitian migrants.
Emphasizing that these individuals were “rescued” highlights the extreme danger the migrants place themselves in. Many set to sea in grossly overloaded and unseaworthy boats or makeshift rafts, while others rely on unscrupulous smugglers using go-fast boats. Two deadly cases in 2013 show just how perilous these situations can be. On 26 November a vessel carrying over 140 Haitian migrants capsized in The Bahamas, and at least 30 died. On 25 December a Haitian vessel overturned near Turks and Caicos Islands, killing at least 17 migrants.
In response to these tragedies and the significant increase in illegal migration in the Mona Pass, the Coast Guard’s Seventh District in Miami initiated a strategic-communications program, Do Not Take to the Sea. The program is part of a campaign seeking to deter and dissuade the flow of illegal Haitian migrants. Do Not Take to the Sea uses public service announcements to the Haitian communities in South Florida, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and The Bahamas. The campaign worked directly with the U.S. embassies in The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, and Haiti as well as the Haitian Consulate in Miami. It prompted the Haitian Prime Minister to form an emergency task force to address the root causes of illegal migration.
The Coast Guard continued to address the emerging law enforcement and security challenges in the Arctic as the ice cap recedes. In 2013, in support of the President’s national strategy for the region, the service released its Arctic Strategy to guide its efforts in the region over the next 10 years. This strategy is based on nearly 150 years of Coast Guard experience in maritime operations in the Arctic region, dating back to the U.S. Revenue Cutter Lincoln’s first arrival in the new U.S. territory of Alaska in 1867.
The U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy focuses on three key objectives: improving awareness, modernizing governance, and broadening partnerships. In support of this strategy, the Coast Guard cutter Naushon was deployed to the Arctic. This marked the first time in Coast Guard history that a 110-foot patrol boat was deployed to the region. The objective was to test the cutter’s capabilities and performance in the Arctic’s harsh environment. The crew successfully conducted law enforcement boardings and fisheries patrols in the Bering Sea, Bering Strait, Kotzebue, and Norton Sound.
Another momentous event occurred in 2013 when the Coast Guard’s 38-year-old Polar Star (WAGB-10), the world’s most powerful non-nuclear heavy icebreaker, returned to active service and departed on the first U.S. maritime operation to the Antarctic in over four years.
Later in his testimony, Admiral Lee noted,
To leverage existing programs, the Coast Guard established formal partnerships to collaborate with CBP on their maritime Predator unmanned aerial system [UAS] program [land based], and with the Navy UAS programs. Incorporating the UAS capability with manned patrolling will improve detection and surveillance activities at a significantly reduced cost when compared to manned aviation. During a recent proof of concept deployment aboard USCGC Bertholf [in the eastern Pacific], the ScanEagle UAS proved to be a superb force multiplier in two separate law enforcement cases, resulting in the removal of 570 kilograms of cocaine and the detention of six suspected smugglers.
In ports such as Puget Sound, San Diego, Charleston, Boston, and Jacksonville, the Coast Guard, CBP, and other federal agencies are sharing workspace and coordinating operational efforts in Interagency Operations Centers to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of maritime-security operations. Regional Coordinating Mechanism (ReCoM) is another example of the evolution of coordinated joint operations among interagency partners. Located within the ports of San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles, the ReCoMs are manned with Coast Guard, CBP, state, and other local law-enforcement agencies. The results speak for themselves. The San Diego and Los Angeles/Long Beach ReCoMs coordinated seamless operations contributing directly to the interdiction of 1,002 illegal migrants and 210,900 pounds of illegal drugs in Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013.
Success with Partner Nations
Additional law-enforcement operations along the Southwest maritime border and Eastern Pacific have benefitted from bilateral agreements with nine partner nations in the region. These agreements, which were enacted 67 times during interdiction operations in 2013, resulted in 22 seizures, including the seizure or disruption of 29 tons of cocaine and the apprehension of 64 suspected smugglers. Of particular note is the North American Maritime Security Initiative (NAMSI), a partnership among the United States, Canada, and Mexico to foster law- enforcement cooperation between the countries. NAMSI was used 14 times in 2013, resulting in the confiscation of more than 24,000 pounds of marijuana and the detention of 42 suspected smugglers.
“The partnerships and relationships we enjoy are a national model,” said Captain Sean Mahoney, Commander Coast Guard Sector San Diego. “Working together on long range plans, coordinating missions on a daily and hourly basis, and conducting joint response operations has strengthened our efforts. Each agency still has its own unique and necessary missions, authorities, and capabilities, but we’ve woven all those abilities together into a very efficient and effective force to counter maritime smuggling.”
Additionally, as the lead federal maritime agency within DHS, the Coast Guard conducts targeted counter-drug surge operations in the Puerto Rico maritime domain. Working in collaboration with CBP and international stakeholders, their shared purpose is to stem the flow of illicit drugs into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a result of these joint efforts nearly 53,000 pounds of cocaine and 9,500 pounds of marijuana were interdicted. Coast Guard wide, the service seized over 125 metric tons of illegal drugs and detained 190 suspected smugglers during 2013.
Also in 2013, Coast Guard districts in the Great Lakes (District Nine) and in the Straits of Juan De Fuca (District Thirteen) joined with their Canadian counterparts in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in bi-lateral agreements for Integrated Cross-border Maritime Law Enforcement Operations, otherwise known as Shiprider. This program allows Coast Guard and Canadian officers to conduct combined vessel patrols on shared waterways. The premise is simple: Any law-enforcement activities in Canadian waters will be led and directed by a RCMP officer and those in U.S. waters will be led and directed by a U.S. Coast Guard officer.
An armed Coast Guard helicopter from the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron (HITRON) embarked with a Coast Guard Law Enforcement Detachment (LEDET) on the British Royal Fleet Auxiliary Wave Knight experienced mission success. The event started with a U.S. Coast Guard HC-144 Ocean Sentry aircraft detecting a 25-foot go-fast boat with four individuals and suspicious packages on board moving at a high rate of speed south of the Dominican Republic. The HITRON asset launched from the Wave Knight arrived on scene and fired warning shots in an attempt to get the vessel to stop. The suspected smugglers refused and were observed jettisoning packages overboard during the pursuit. The helicopter then used disabling fire to stop the vessel. The Wave Knight arrived on scene and the LEDET boarded the vessel, detaining the four suspected smugglers. At the end of the incident, 2,500 pounds of cocaine, worth an estimated $37 million wholesale value, had been interdicted.
This marked the first time a HITRON asset embarked on a foreign-flag vessel employed disabling fire to stop a drug smuggler. “This historic operation is a result of a dedication to improved interoperability and highlights the great success and commitment of our interagency partnerships to stop the illegal flow of narcotics into the United States,” said Rear Admiral Jake Korn, commander of the Coast Guard Seventh District.
The success of such international partnerships continued when a Coast Guard LEDET deployed on board the Royal Dutch Navy ship HNLMS Amsterdam interdicted two go-fast vessels, recovering 19 bales of cocaine from one and 22 packages from the second and detaining three suspected smugglers. In the face of diminishing budgets, the Coast Guard effectively leverages these important partnerships to combat drug smuggling.
Breaking ice to keep domestic waterways open to allow the flow of vital commerce remains a key mission of the Coast Guard, particularly on the Great Lakes. In the winter months more than 30 million tons of goods and almost 8 million barrels of heating oil are transported across the lakes. Recognizing the critical requirement to keep the lakes open, the Coast Guard relocated the icebreaking tug USCGC Morro Bay (WTGB-106) from New London, Connecticut, to Cleveland, Ohio, in June. This gave the Ninth District commander insurance coverage for its aging fleet of six Bay-class icebreaking tugs that are more than 30 years old. These tugs have been experiencing increasing mechanical and structural failures. The addition of the Morro Bay was fortuitous, as the lakes experienced their most severe ice conditions in over 20 years. A much-needed program to extend the service life for this class of cutters by 20 years begins in 2014.
While icebreakers provide a critical capability to keep vital waterways open in the winter months, Coast Guard aids to navigation forces work to keep U.S. waterways safe to transit 365 days a year. Over $1.8 trillion in goods are transported along more than 25,000 miles of our nation’s waterways. To mark safe channels, the Coast Guard maintains over 49,000 aids to navigation. Despite the excessive age of many of the vessels the service uses to maintain these aids, they were able to achieve a 97.9 percent availability rate in 2013. With very limited funds to recapitalize this aging fleet, the Coast Guard will need to find innovative means to continue this vital service to the maritime transportation system.
Pollution response remains an active mission for the Coast Guard. A notable case began on 24 November when the 154-foot towboat Stephen L. Colby, carrying over 100,000 gallons of oil, sank after striking a submerged object in the Mississippi River near Le Clair, Iowa. Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment, Rock Island, Illinois, one of the Eighth District’s smallest units with only 13 active and reserve members, immediately responded. For the next 17 days, working in frigid conditions, the Coast Guard team worked seamlessly with other federal, state, and local partners executing a successful salvage and response operation, preventing what could have been a major pollution event.
While the Colby was moving upriver, the historic direction for the flow of energy products on the Mississippi River, 2013 also saw an increase in the downriver movement of petroleum cargo. This change marks the start of a new era as energy production in the United States is reborn. The expectation is that this downriver flow of energy products will grow considerably in the years ahead, significantly affecting Coast Guard operations on the western rivers.
The Coast Guard continued its defense of the country from substandard, unsafe vessels and crews who participate in illegal activities through its Port State Control Program—a program for boarding and inspecting foreign vessels entering U.S ports to ensure their compliance with international and U.S. safety regulations. One example of the effectiveness of this program was the Maltese-flagged bulk coal freighter Antonis G. Pappadakis. A Coast Guard Sector Hampton Roads inspection team discovered that the vessel’s crew was illegally discharging oily bilge water overboard via a bypass pipe through the vessel’s sewage-treatment plant. Working with the Department of Justice, criminal charges were brought against the ship’s operator and various crew members. As a result, the chief engineer was found to have orchestrated the illegal dumping of oily waste and was convicted in federal court.
Coast Guard defense operations continued in the Persian Gulf where the service deployed 270 personnel and six patrol boats as part of either Coast Guard Patrol Forces Southwest Asia or Coast Guard Redeployment Assistance and Inspection Detachment (RAID). These units conducted operations throughout the region, including Iraq and Afghanistan. One event that received international attention occurred when the USCGC Maui (WPB-1304) rescued the crew of an Iranian dhow. Following the cutter’s rescue of the five Iranians, they were transferred to the Iranian Coast Guard ship Naji 7.
Additionally, the RAID team presently has 21 personnel forward deployed in Afghanistan supporting the Operation Enduring Freedom drawdown. Five additional RAID members staff a small detachment in Kuwait to provide logistical support and operations outside of Afghanistan. The purpose of these teams is to facilitate the safe redeployment of retrograde military cargo, which consists of a variety of hazardous materials (HAZMAT) that can create a disastrous result if not properly organized and packaged for shipment. With the strategic drawdown of coalition forces in 2013 the volume of redeployment cargo increased significantly. In response, RAID members provided HAZMAT training to over 2,600 coalition forces and DOD contractors; completed 10,207 combined operations to support the Convention for Safe Containers serviceability and preload inspections; established unity of effort with theater U.S. Customs officials to conduct joint inspections resulting in the review of 1,246 DOD shipping documents and the correction of 873 HAZMAT documents speeding the movement of these materials; and relocated RAID leadership to Kandahar Airfield to align operations with the 831st Transportation Battalion in support of a vital northern transportation route. These Coast Guard men and women have willingly gone into harm’s way in support of their DOD brothers and sisters.
Other News around the Fleet
In 2013 the City of New London and the National Coast Guard Museum Association unveiled the proposed design and location for a new National Coast Guard Museum. This is long overdue as the service is the only one of the armed forces without a national museum.
As previously noted, the Coast Guard will see a change at the top when the current Commandant, Admiral Papp, retires after his four years as the service’s top officer. Admiral Papp has served the Coast Guard and the nation with distinction and has set in motion several enduring initiatives vital to the service’s future. These include recapitalization of the service’s aging fleet of vessels and aircraft; emphasizing proficiency; cleansing the service of sexual assault; and restoring the honors of the Coast Guard profession.
Though Admiral Papp’s initiatives offer an excellent foundation, his successor, Admiral (select) Zukunft, will be faced with an unenviable set of daunting challenges. All indications are that the volume of maritime shipping and the extraction of maritime resources will increase significantly, and maritime threats will at least remain the same in the years ahead. Over the same period, budget projections indicate a significant decline in the service’s funding. As a result, AdmiralZukunft will be faced with a set of very difficult strategic decisions that will potentially define the Coast Guard for decades to come. Whatever these decisions might be, there is no doubt that the service will continue its outstanding support of the nation as it carries out the Department of Homeland Security’s strategic goals of preventing terrorism and enhancing security, securing and managing U.S. borders, and strengthening national resilience.
Mr. Doane is a Senior Fellow at the Joint Forces Staff College. He is a graduate of the Naval War College and while there was a Stockdale Group scholar.
A Brighter, More Sustainable Future for Hawaii
Often serving as a solitary beacon, shore-based navigation aids have guided ships to safety for centuries. Made up of 137 islands with 75 percent of America’s coral reefs, Hawaii has its share of shore-based aids. Ensuring these aids remain lit falls to the six-member U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation Team (ANT) Honolulu. For them, technology has recently provided a system that illuminates great distances, a requirement for many of their 99 coastal, often lone aids located throughout the islands. The new solar-powered light-emitting diodes, or LED, system reduces the maintenance time required, and eliminates the potential for weather erosion and failures due to Hawaii’s erratic commercial power-grid. LEDs also last 100 times longer than incandescent lamps and use a fraction of the power to emit similar light intensity.
Captain Ed Enos has been bringing ships into port for nearly 20 years with the Hawaii Pilots Association and is familiar with the importance of reliability in regard to navigation. “LED lights are far brighter, far more intense and far more visible,” said Enos. “One small, little, seemingly trivial item [i.e., an extinguished aid] in a grand transportation logistics scheme has a monumental impact on every single person living in this state.” As the Coast Guard continues its improvement initiative for navigational aids, ANT Honolulu will work diligently to ensure their aids continue lighting the islands by installing new LED systems.