Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan announced additional investments in the service’s cyber mission, data analytics, and workforce recruitment and retention in her inaugural State of the Coast Guard address.
“Around the world, our blue uniforms and iconic red racing stripe are symbols of professionalism and good maritime governance,” Fagan said Tuesday at the Reserve Organization of America in Washington, D.C. “However, the world is changing, and the pace of that change is accelerating. Rapid advances in technology, changes in the global economy, great power competition, and the impacts of climate change are all converging on the maritime environment and impacting Coast Guard missions. The Coast Guard’s unique capability and culture posture us well to respond to these changes.”
The address was Fagan’s first since being appointed the first woman to lead the U.S. Coast Guard, and fittingly was delivered during Women’s History Month.
Fagan said she is “excited about the new Waterways Commerce Cutter, which will give our crews reliable platforms to do their economically vital work on the rivers,” and is “fully committed to fielding critical Great Lakes icebreaking capability to keep that traffic moving.”
To defend the “complex network of infrastructure, vessels, sensors, and data” that comprise the Marine Transportation System, the Coast Guard now has two fully operational Cyber Protection Teams working with government and industry partners — and the commandant announced that a new Cyber Protection Team will soon stand up on the West Coast.
“To staff our growing Cyber Protection capability, this year we will assign the first members of the new Cyber Mission Specialist rating in our enlisted workforce,” she said. “These professionals will enhance the Coast Guard’s capacity to protect the maritime industry in cyberspace.”
USCG also launched a new Office of Data and Analytics, which is accelerating implementation of a new platform called SURVEYOR that will integrate enterprise-level data and workforce analytics to enable better decision making.
Fagan noted that the Caribbean security mission is led by Medium Endurance Cutters; some are more than 50 years old and maintenance is getting more expensive. The first of the highly anticipated Offshore Patrol Cutters, which will replace the aging fleet, is expected to go into the water this year.
“The Coast Guard will keep pace with changes impacting the Marine Transportation System as we conduct our missions on our coastlines, rivers, lakes, and maritime borders,” Fagan said. “But we are aware of looming threats that could challenge our ability to succeed in the future. We must apply foresight and take action today to be ready for tomorrow.”
This includes challenges to the Coast Guard mission posed by climate change — including a changing Arctic, severe weather, threats to coastal infrastructure, and migrating fish stocks — that prompted the recent release of the U.S. Coast Guard Climate Framework, which lays out a response readiness action plan that includes embracing clean-energy innovation, ensuring personnel can best respond to extreme events, and better coordinating with agencies and industry on understanding, preparing for, and responding to changes brought about by the shifting climate.
The National Strategy for the Arctic Region called for growing USCG’s icebreaker fleet beyond the current two ships: the heavy icebreaker Polar Star and the medium icebreaker Healy. Fagan noted that the three upcoming Polar Security Cutters “will enable a shift from episodic presence to year-round Coast Guard presence in the high latitudes.”
“Voyages to the high latitudes, like every Coast Guard mission, begin and end at a shore facility. Maintenance and recapitalization of our buildings, piers, and runways are essential to mission success,” she said. “Today we have units operating from shore infrastructure that is over 100 years old, like Station Rockland, Maine, which was built in 1881. Maintaining this aging shore infrastructure is a demanding task. It requires consistent funding that our current budgetary topline does not allow. We must invest in new construction, particularly in critical locations such as Seattle and Charleston, as we build out homeports for new cutters.”
“The condition of our shore infrastructure challenges both readiness and resilience. Investment in new construction and strong funding for maintenance will secure the shore facilities we need to complete our missions at sea and in the air.”
The commandant also emphasized the importance of investing in personnel with a transformed talent management system, new investments in recruiting infrastructure, better access to healthcare and childcare, and policies that provide greater flexibility in service. She announced the creation of a Talent Management Transformation Task Force to “build the agile and integrated human resources structure we need to manage our workforce more creatively.”
“Like the other branches of the Armed Forces, and much of private sector, the Coast Guard is experiencing a workforce shortage. We are struggling to recruit the people we need to hire into our ranks,” Fagan said. “Our recruiting shortfall threatens our readiness and ability to serve the American people. I have a sense of urgency to address this challenge. We must ensure that every American, from coast to coast and throughout the inland states, knows who we are and what we do.”
Seven new USCG recruiting offices will open along with four new Junior ROTC units this year. Fagan also announced the launch of a new marketing campaign to build awareness and “do a better job telling the Coast Guard story.”
“When we make the talent management, family services, and recruiting transformations we need, we will be prepared to meet the demands of the future,” she said. “I am fully confident of the Coast Guard’s ability to succeed in this work.”
Fagan highlighted the importance of the Coast Guard’s international work, saying that “there is no better example of the Coast Guard’s full potential than our work in the Indo-Pacific.”
“The Coast Guard’s long-held global reputation as a trusted partner opens new doors and builds new coalitions in a region critical to great power competition,” the commandant continued. “We help smaller nations protect their own sovereignty by countering illegal, unreported, and unregulated (or IUU) fishing. IUU fishing has replaced piracy as the leading maritime threat to the rules-based order. The U.S. Coast Guard is a global leader in IUU fisheries enforcement.”
“This is true around the world, in places like West Africa, South America, and the Arabian Gulf. We are a global Coast Guard. This is our value to the nation. We may be small, but we are incredibly capable. Everywhere the United States has maritime interests, we protect, we defend, we save. We are the United States Coast Guard.”