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Friday, September 30, 2022

Commandant: State of the Coast Guard ‘Stronger Than Ever’ Amid ‘Blistering Pace’ of Challenges and Change

Schultz announced the name of the first Polar Security Cutter, which is currently in the design stage: Polar Sentinel.

The Coast Guard “is strong, maybe stronger than ever before” as it is “adapting to new challenges and opportunities presented by a rapidly changing maritime domain,” Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said Thursday in his annual State of the Coast Guard address at Air Station Clearwater.

The worldwide “blistering pace” of change in the maritime domain has included escalating cyber threats to vessels and critical port infrastructure, newly navigable waters in the Arctic, increasing extreme-weather events, and long-distance illegal fishing operations.

“While we adjust course to best address enduring and emerging challenges, one constant remains: the need to deliver the assets, resilient infrastructure, and capabilities necessary to accomplish the mission,” Schultz said, noting that USCG “is amidst the largest shipbuilding effort since the Second World War,” with the 10th National Security Cutter Charles Calhoun due to be christened in June.

The commandant announced the name of the first Polar Security Cutter, which is currently in the design stage: Polar Sentinel. “When our fleet of Polar Security Cutters becomes operational, the work of these uniquely capable assets will be essential to protecting our economic, environmental, and national security interests in the polar or high-latitude regions,” he said.

The first Offshore Patrol Cutter, Argus, is more than 60 percent complete with work on the second, Chase, “well on its way.”

“This spring, we anticipate awarding the largest acquisition contract in the history of our service for the next 11 Offshore Patrol Cutter hulls in stage two of the OPC program,” Schultz continued. “The OPC program of record is 25 cutters, and delivery of this full fleet is critical to recapitalizing the capability and capacity provided by our 28 Medium Endurance Cutters — many of which are 50-plus years old. This legacy fleet loses nearly 500 patrol days annually due to unplanned maintenance and repairs.”

“If these lost patrol days were dedicated exclusively to counter-narcotics operations, and if these days were just ‘average’ in terms of mission productivity, another 20 metric tons or 44,000 pounds of illicit drugs could have been interdicted at sea and prevented from reaching our shores. Replacing this legacy fleet at best speed is vital for the Coast Guard to effectively carry our evolving missions forward.”

The Coast Guard is also “making progress” on the acquisition of 30 Waterways Commerce Cutters to maintain inland aids to navigation; for the first time, the entire inland fleet will be able to accommodate mixed-gender crews.

The commandant said that greater mission support is on deck for cutter crews, who have largely shouldered the responsibility of in-port maintenance. “We are making substantial moves to ease the in-port workload and improve work-life balance for those assigned cutters,” he said. “Forty new cutter support billets will be added upon enactment of our current-year budget, including port engineers, machinery and weapons technicians, and quality-assurance personnel.”

“And much change is afoot in our aviation community where we are recapitalizing and changing the composition of our fleet, delivering new and upgraded fixed-wing platforms, and strategically relocating assets,” Schultz said. The Aviation Logistics Center, which  “continuously adapts and continues to amaze,” enables USCG crews to fly more than 47,000 sorties every year.

On the tech front, Schultz said USCG has started replacing all 48,000 standard computer workstations with modern mobile hardware. “Twenty-thousand laptop units are scheduled for delivery this year, which will enable both faster and more powerful computing and provide additional mobility for our workforce,” he said. “Mobility is a key enabler that enhances the innovation of our personnel.”

“Modern computing will soon be informed by ‘Surveyor,’ a big-data platform under development. ‘Surveyor’ will integrate data across the Coast Guard enterprise from systems we are all familiar with — Direct Access, ALMIS, MISLE, and others — to not only reduce the burden of manual data entry by Coast Guard personnel, but to also empower our workforce to make data-driven decisions that allocate finite resources judiciously towards the highest risks and threats to our marine environment and our maritime security,” he said. “Even our most remote operators will be able to access this data as the C5I community continues to improve their support to our globally deployed assets.”

While there is “still a long way to go” before improved, next-generation connectivity is available across the entire fleet, “we are moving swiftly in the right direction.”

The Coast Guard intends to grow its waterways workforce in the coming years to meet new demands, Schultz said, citing port safety and the risk of cyber-attacks to maritime critical infrastructure and maritime organizations that “threatens the resilience of our nation’s Marine Transportation System.” The service’s previously announced plan to build a more robust cyber workforce now includes a new Cyber Mission Specialist rating with its own Chief Warrant Officer specialty.

Citing the counter-narcotics success of interagency training and collaboration, the commandant suggested that “perhaps a joint-interagency framework to counter Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated fishing could yield similar successes — the United States Coast Guard looks forward to contributing a leadership role toward such ends.”

“Our efforts to help counter IUU Fishing behaviors have created new avenues to collaborate and share best practices of Coast Guard work,” he added.

Schultz lauded the progress of initiatives, including women’s retention and under-represented minority studies, that work toward “a service where every member of our team can experience a strong sense of belonging.”

“While there is still much work to do, I ask you to celebrate our work in progress, and recommit to marching the ball even further down the proverbial inclusion playing field,” he said.

On workforce support, including improvements in parental leave, telehealth and mental health access, tuition assistance, and childcare subsidies, Schultz noted the importance of “geographic centers of gravity, creating more Coast Guard hubs like Portsmouth and Alameda — these new or improved operating hubs will be in Charleston, Seattle, Pensacola, Los Angeles, and Newport, Rhode Island. These operating hubs will allow us to better support our operational assets, and to further support the geographic stability of our workforce.”

“And while there’s always room for improvement, I’m pleased to report that our collective efforts to retain our workforce are working,” he said. “Today more women are remaining in our service longer. Today we have 375 more women in the service at the critically important E6/E7 and O-4 mid-grade leadership ranks than we had five years ago in 2017: that’s a 28 percent increase of women at these mid-career pay grades, and a trend that outpaces their male counterparts. The ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ aphorism applies here as today we’re retaining 60 percent of our active-duty workforce at the 15-year time-in-service benchmark — that’s impressive!”

“The state of the Coast Guard is indeed strong at a time when the demands for our services and capabilities have never been higher, and the challenges on you and your families uniquely difficult,” the commandant concluded. “You are the most talented, tenacious, and inclusive team of shipmates and Coast Guard families that I’ve been blessed to serve with over the past four decades.”

Bridget Johnson
Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a terrorism analyst and security consultant with a specialty in online open-source extremist propaganda, incitement, recruitment, and training. She hosts and presents in Homeland Security Today law enforcement training webinars studying a range of counterterrorism topics including conspiracy theory extremism, complex coordinated attacks, critical infrastructure attacks, arson terrorism, drone and venue threats, antisemitism and white supremacists, anti-government extremism, and WMD threats. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15 and a private investigator. Bridget is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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