Adm. Paul Zukunft, commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, delivered the State of the Coast Guard Address for his last time today. Zukunft, set to retire June 1, echoed President Trump’s November 2017 praise for the Coast Guard following this year’s hurricanes in Texas, Louisiana and Puerto Rico, saying, “The Coast Guard brand is up – way up!”
He thanked the president and Congress for fulfilling his faith a year ago that the Coast Guard’s budget could reflect the fact that the service “punches above its weight class.”
“Quite honestly, we had a flyweight-class budget so there was only one way to punch – but up!” he said. So, he said, “I directed my senior leaders to abandon a do-or-die suicide squeeze bunt stance when it comes to building our budget and approach the plate by swinging for the fences. Seize the initiative. Today, I am here to report that, thanks to this Congress and this administration, we have hit our stride.”
“When I take a look back, not long ago, our piers were chock-full of tired and aging cutters,” Zukunft said. “Today, you’ll smell fresh paint and see new National Security Cutters, Fast Response Cutters; on the way are Offshore Patrol cutters. We’re closer than we’ve ever been to new icebreakers and we’re working to field new Waterway Commerce Cutters that will replace our oldest fleet on the water today – some of which are over 70 years old. And we are investing in remotely piloted aircraft, and the human capital that comes with all of it.”
The National Security Cutter (NSC) is the largest and most technologically advanced of the Coast Guard’s newest classes of cutters. The NSCs replace aging 378-foot high-endurance cutters, which have been in service since the 1960s. The Coast Guard accepted delivery of the 27th fast response cutter (FRC), Richard Snyder, in Key West, Fla., on Feb. 8. The FRCs replace a fleet of 110-foot patrol boats, providing a 40 percent increase in operational hours. The Coast Guard has ordered 44 of the 58 FRCs planned. Twenty-five are in service: 12 in Florida, six in Puerto Rico, two in Alaska, two in New Jersey, one in Mississippi and two in Hawaii.
The first Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is scheduled for delivery in fiscal year 2021. The ships will replace the service’s 25-year-old 270-foot and 210-foot medium endurance cutters. The OPC is designed to complement the long range and sophisticated command, control, and sensor systems of the NSC and the FRC’s nearer-to-shore profile.
The Coast Guard has determined that it needs three new heavy icebreakers to ensure year-round access to the polar regions and provide self-rescue capability. It now is evaluating acquisition approaches, after having published requirements in an industry data package and held an industry day. On Feb. 21, the icebreaker program office received Homeland Security Department approval to advance to the next phase of the acquisition life cycle. The service intends to begin production activities in 2020 under an accelerated acquisition timeline.
“I am pleased to announce that, very soon, we will release a request for proposal, with the support of both the administration and Congress, to acquire the first heavy icebreaker,” Zukunft said, calling it “the first installment that will recapitalize our nation’s fleet of icebreakers.”
The service also is investigating the feasibility, costs and benefits of using land-based long-range and ultra-long endurance unmanned aircraft systems. Congress has appropriated $18 million for the Coast Guard to study these capabilities in collaboration with the DHS Science and Technology Directorate and Customs and Border Protection. The Coast Guard has an active program to procure small UAS capability for its national security cutters.
“In fiscal years 2018 and 2019, we are on the cusp of making a major dent in our infrastructure backlog – a list that had swollen to over $1.6 billion dollars worth of necessary projects, a sum that would have taken well over a decade to buy down based on past funding levels,” Zukunft said
The Coast Guard surged some 3,000 first responders and more than 200 helicopters, cutters, small boats, and fixed-wing aircraft to save nearly 12,000 people during the past year’s devastating hurricane season, he noted. And some of the rescuers were themselves also victims of the storms — 700 Coast Guard families lost their homes and had to be relocated, Zukunft said.
He listed a set of other accomplishments, including:
- “Our campaign to protect the U.S. border far out at sea netted $7.2 billion worth of cocaine.”
- “We referred 606 smugglers to the Department of Justice right here in the United States, for prosecution.”
- “We now have a Cyber Security Program of Record, we have constituted cyber protection teams on budget, and, in 2019, we will launch a cyber major at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut.”
- “We opened our ledgers and attained our 5th consecutive clean financial audit this year.”
Finally, Zukunft set the stage for his successor by reminding the White House and legislators the Coast Guard will need more resource infusions to continue rebuilding. “We are building out the Coast Guard of tomorrow and will need 5 percent annualized growth in the operations and maintenance account and a $2 billion floor for acquisitions to continue to do so,” he said. “It is a small ask for the smallest armed service whose full appropriation is less than one line item on the appropriations of the other four.”