Editor's Page

The U.S. Coast Guard has a proud tradition and lineage dating back to its founding as the Revenue Cutter Service 225 years ago. The service’s missions have expanded from those early days to include combatting international drug trafficking, fighting overseas when called on, and after 9/11, being a key player in providing homeland security.

The Coast Guard’s platforms have changed a great deal as well since the age of sail. Today the service boasts a varied fleet of cutters, patrol boats, and aircraft for rescuing mariners in distress, conducting law-enforcement operations, and monitoring our waterways and ports. But the backbone of the Coast Guard has always been its cutters, and the classic image of the service in the public’s mind is that of the cutterman facing down adversaries and enduring the elements in protection of our shores. But how healthy is the cutter force today?

It could be better, according to Lieutenant Commander Brian Smicklas. The cutterman’s career path increasingly has become a rocky one, he asserts. Shoreside service, offering multiple avenues of advancement and a life less spartan and demanding than lengthy cutter deployments, is attracting more and more junior officers and making cutter service look less and less optimal. If the trend continues, the author warns, a crisis in command could be looming, with fewer top-tier leaders down the road having served at sea.

Meanwhile, the vessels themselves also need tending, particularly the medium endurance cutters (WMECs), some of which are half a century old and have been the workhorses of the Coast Guard fleet since the Cold War. As Commander Jay Caputo notes, “The WMECs served their purpose, and while they prepared for a third world war, they continued to live up to their revenue-cutter heritage, protecting the public every day.” Fortunately, for the Coast Guard and the nation, these venerable ships will finally get some respite, as a new class of offshore patrol cutter (OPC) is being developed. Like the WMECs, the OPCs will offer capabilities between the national security cutters and the fast response cutters. Out with the old workhorses, and in with the new.

The Coast Guard has played a vital role in the Arctic since the purchase of Alaska in 1867. But with greater areas of the Arctic now ice-free for longer periods of time, the service finds itself challenged to maintain the presence needed there given its current force structure. Aside from a heavy and medium icebreaker, a Great Lakes icebreaker, and some buoy tenders and tugs, the Coast Guard lacks surface assets capable of operating effectively in even first-year ice. Dr. Scott Truver presents what he terms an “85 percent solution”: an ice-strengthened national security cutter. Reinforced NSCs, while not a replacement for medium or heavy icebreakers, would serve as “gap-fillers” to meet the Coast Guard’s expanding Arctic operations and would be, as the authors says, “good enough” to provide the necessary multi-mission capabilities in the region.

Paul Merzlak , Editor-in-Chief



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