January 2014 Issue
US Coast Guard: Protecting the Nation
Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
The U.S. Coast Guard protects people on the sea, protects the U.S. against threats delivered from the sea, and protects the sea itself. It is responsible for the safety, security and stewardship of the nation's waters. With a unique blend of legal authorities and multimission capabilities, the Coast Guard has the ability to project U.S. presence far offshore to prevent and respond to an array of threats that could disrupt regional and global security, the economies of partner nations, access to resources and international trade.
A newly opening ocean in the Arctic region is emerging, bringing with it enormous potential, risks and responsibilities. The Coast Guard has established its vision for the region: ensure safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic. To ensure the service is prepared to achieve this vision, I promulgated the U.S. Coast Guard Arctic Strategy in May 2013. This strategy describes the three Coast Guard objectives for the region over the next 10 years: improve awareness, modernize governance and broaden partnerships. Arctic Shield 2013 operations supported these objectives and focused on assessing maritime traffic on Alaska's west coast and the Bering Strait, and on working with state and tribal partners to conduct various exercises.
In 2014, the Coast Guard will continue to recapitalize its surface and air fleets. Of the eight 418-foot national security cutters (NSCs) planned to replace the 40-year-old high-endurance cutters, three are fully operational and serving in the fleet, and three more are in production. The contract for the first installment of long-lead materials for the seventh was recently awarded, and funding for production is contained in President Barack Obama's fiscal year (FY) 2014 budget.
The Coast Guard also took delivery of eight of the 58 planned fast-response cutters and has 16 more under contract. In addition, more than 140 new response boat mediums have been delivered, with the final boat of the expected fleet of 170 to be delivered by late this year. For aircraft, there are now 15 new fixed-wing HC-144A maritime patrol aircraft in service to replace older HU-25 Guardian jets. The C130J fleet will expand in the coming years, as three more airframes are on contract, two being delivered in FY 2016 and the third in FY 2017. Additionally, the entire fleet of MH-65 and MH-60 helicopters have received substantial technical upgrades.
The Coast Guard has upgraded various shore and communication facilities and completed upgrades to mission-critical systems on the 270-foot medium-endurance cutter fleet, with the final cutter due to complete the Mission Effectiveness Project in the summer of 2014. Additionally, recapitalization efforts of the offshore cutter fleet continue as the Coast Guard continues evaluation of proposals for the offshore patrol cutter (OPC), which were received from industry in 2013. Preliminary and contract design are planned to be awarded this spring.
Finally, the Coast Guard completed the reactivation of the heavy polar icebreaker CGC Polar Star, which is making preparations to participate in Operation Deep Freeze 2014 to support National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.
The need to outfit the NSC with an organic, tactical unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is a priority. This capability was designed into the NSC from its inception as a means to increase the cutter's surveillance coverage and enhance its ability to provide effective maritime domain awareness.
Following highly successful small UAS (sUAS) demonstrations, which included supporting a successful drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific, the Coast Guard initiated early acquisition activities of these systems to accommodate the NSCs' surveillance requirements. The sUAS for the NSC project is in the process of developing project plans and analyzing potential candidates. Unlike larger, more complex UAS capabilities, sUAS will support all of the NSC's missions, while requiring minimal support. The Coast Guard's future OPC fleet will also be designed to employ an sUAS to provide a similar degree of remote airborne surveillance.
Another ongoing important fleet upgrade is the improved quality of underway network connectivity on certain major cutter classes to enable more efficient mission execution. Similar enhancements are being deployed on critical small cutters to improve the processing of biometric data during law enforcement operations. This new technology will help to ensure optimal use of personnel and resources.
The Coast Guard has taken significant steps to promote safety in the offshore oil and gas industry, which is experiencing both rapid growth and technological advancement. The Coast Guard advanced safety standards in critical areas by publishing industry guidance on dynamic positioning, novel oil production facilities, firefighting and life saving, and proposing rules for safety and environmental management systems, offshore cranes and explosion prevention. As the offshore oil and gas industry grows and pushes into deeper waters, the Coast Guard will continue to promote its safety.
In 2013, the Coast Guard continued implementation of ballast water discharge standard regulations. These new requirements implemented the same discharge standard that the International Maritime Organization adopted in 2004 to protect the environment from invasive species, while also considering feasibility and economic impact. The new requirements began phasing in last year for new vessels. Also on the environmental front, the Final Rule for Non-Tank Vessel Response Plans will require more vessels to identify the availability of salvage and marine firefighting response resources in the case of a marine accident.
The increasing availability of inexpensive domestic natural gas, along with implementation of new environmental emissions standards, have prompted vessel operators to seek ways to lower operating costs while meeting stricter emissions standards.
Over the past year, passenger ferries, deep draft cargo and offshore supply vessels modified existing arrangements and/or built new vessels to use LNG as a marine fuel. In response to this new demand, the Coast Guard continues to develop standards for the design, construction and operation of LNG-fueled vessels. As industry works to address supply chain hurdles and plan new shoreside and floating infrastructure to service this demand, the Coast Guard is busy working on new standards for bunkering operations, as well as credentialing and training marine personnel.
The Coast Guard will continue to pursue recapitalization efforts, while sustaining frontline operations and providing a robust regulatory framework to meet emerging maritime demands. Doing so will ensure our nation, our economy and our oceans remain secure and prosperous for the long term.