Appearing before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security today, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft testified on funding investments in Coast Guard men and women, the recapitalization of an aging fleet and the sustainment of front-line operations.
At the heart of his testimony was the issue of capacity, as the Commandant shared the Coast Guard’s current effort to counter extreme violence in Central America stemming from transnational organized crime networks.
“We have visibility on approximately 90 percent of known maritime drug movements,” the Commandant testified. “However, we are only able to target, detect and disrupt 20 percent of those illicit shipments with our limited arsenal of aircraft and ships.”
In speaking about the forward-based presence required of the Coast Guard to combat destabilizing criminal networks in the Western Hemisphere, the Commandant highlighted the Coast Guard’s unique authorities. The Coast Guard leverages more than 60 bilateral agreements and arrangements to counter threats in international waters that, and in many cases, extend jurisdictional reach into territorial waters of signatory nations. This persistent presence is key to targeting and attacking illicit networks at sea, where they are most vulnerable.
“This is one of the reasons why the Offshore Patrol Cutter is my number one recapitalization priority,” said the Commandant. “The Offshore Patrol Cutter will provide affordable and persistent offshore presence needed to meet national objectives well into the 21st century.”
Another region where capacity plays out is in the Arctic, where activity is increasing. Currently, the U.S. fleet of ocean-going icebreakers is comprised of only one heavy icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Polar Star, and one medium icebreaker, Coast Guard Cutter Healy. The Commandant gave an update on Polar Star’s most recent mission in Antarctica: Operation Deep Freeze. Polar Star’s mission consisted of breaking out a channel and escorting petroleum and break bulk carriers to resupply the U.S. base of operations in McMurdo Sound, a significant mission not only for the Coast Guard, but also for the Nation as a whole.
“That vital mission has enabled the U.S. to conduct scientific research and to implement the Antarctic treaty – a strategic necessity for our Nation,” the Commandant stated in his written testimony. “Polar Star is the only heavy ice breaker in the United States fleet capable of conducting this mission and providing assured access. In 2016, we continue the pre-acquisition work for procurement of a new polar icebreaker including development of a request for proposal.”
The Commandant ended his testimony be spotlighting the stewardship the 88,000 men and women of the U.S. Coast Guard will provide for every operational dollar.
“We have proved to be responsible stewards of our financial resources and capital plant – operating and maintaining platforms well beyond their service life and on the backs of our people who deploy and maintain these platforms,” said the Commandant. “Going forward, the key to our future operational success is stable and predictable funding.”