January 2017 Issue
Countering Threats with
21st Century Technology
Commandant, U.S. Coast Guard
The United States has always placed great emphasis on being a maritime nation. The surrounding oceans and inland waterways provide tremendous economic advantages and buffer existential threats. Alexander Hamilton understood this in 1790 when he penned Federalist Paper No. 12 forging what would become the U.S. Coast Guard. He knew the nation’s future success would hinge upon an innovation—the Coast Guard—that could protect our maritime borders and preserve our economic prosperity.
The world continues to evolve, but the criticality of the nation’s maritime roots has remained constant. Today, the Coast Guard is combating criminal networks and illegal, unregulated fisheries. It is preserving sovereignty and freedom of navigation on the high seas. It is adapting to emerging technologies and innovating to meet new threats in an interdependent world. The 21st century Coast Guard is a unique instrument of national security enabled by its broad authorities and expansive partnerships manifested in modernized platforms and a highly talented force of uniformed and civilian personnel.
U.S. Coast Guard Authorities
We are a U.S. Armed Force; a law enforcement, humanitarian, disaster response and regulatory agency and member of the national intelligence community—empowered by broad authorities to serve the nation. The combination of these authorities protects the national maritime interests wherever needed.
In the eastern Pacific and Caribbean Sea, these authorities are vigorously exercised to combat transnational organized crime. In the past two years, nearly 100,000 unaccompanied minors crossed the border because of violence in Central America that has weakened governments, stymied legitimate economic activity and victimized peaceful citizens. This year, the number of women and children crossing the border surged past 2015’s numbers. Without question, transnational organized crime is threatening the rule of law. It is the trade of illegal narcotics that provides the cash flow for these nefarious organizations to proliferate. The Coast Guard’s operational intelligence and at sea presence are game-changers. We leveraged our 40 counter-drug bilateral agreements with partner nations, a network of the willing, to drive the removal of a record 189 mt of cocaine and extradite smugglers for prosecution in the U.S.
The maritime transportation system is the life-blood of the U.S.’s economic prosperity and security, supporting $4.5 trillion of activity and connecting to the global economy. This economic engine is a potential target for cyberattacks just like every domain across the globe. Network breaches, data thefts and denial-of-service barrages are a concern and could be a precursor to larger and more menacing attacks. Our service has conducted cyber vulnerability assessments on vessels and facilities in several ports. These assessments were a starting point for all stakeholders to understand the cyber threat landscape and identify cyber best practices. Defending our cyberspace and enabling operations are critical to national security. So we treat cyberspace just as any other operational domain and we support private sector stakeholders in defending against threats.
Moving to the far reaches of the planet, America’s Coast Guard preserves U.S. interests in the polar regions. With ice receding and human activity on the rise, the U.S.’s sustained presence in the Arctic and Antarctic is more important than ever. In August 2016, I joined international partners in Greenland to witness the impacts of increased human activity in this Arctic region. Assured access, including transits into ice-covered latitudes whenever necessary with heavy icebreakers, is essential for U.S. sovereignty and maritime safety in these regions. In August 2016, alongside U.S. Northern Command, the Coast Guard conducted a joint, live field exercise to test the ability to respond to a large, mass rescue event in the Arctic. This was a successful undertaking that highlighted the challenges of operating in one of the most inhospitable climates in the region. In the past year, the Coast Guard established an Arctic Coast Guard Forum comprised of the eight member nations of the Arctic Council—Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S. These countries look to the U.S. to increase its presence and further maritime governance in the Arctic Region.
21st Century Platforms
The Coast Guard is undergoing the most aggressive and technologically advanced recapitalization seen in my near 40 years of service. We are building an impressive fleet of national security cutters, fast response cutters, and C-27J Medium Range Surveillance Aircraft providing offshore and littoral presence. This new, network-centric fleet has dramatically improved multimission performance. In September 2016 the USCG took a tremendous step forward in modernizing our surface fleet with the award of a contract for the final design of the offshore patrol cutter. This acquisition will replace the Coast Guard’s aging fleet of medium endurance cutters, some now in excess of 50 years of service. Over the past year, the Obama Administration and Congress have supported recapitalizing the heavy icebreakers. In the future, our nation will need three heavy icebreakers and three medium icebreakers to preserve our sovereign interests in the Arctic and Antarctic regions.
In the spirit of continuous innovation and learning, we are harnessing the creativity and knowledge of our workforce. We are using their expertise to re-engineer internal business processes, optimize our assets and find efficient solutions to our most persistent challenges. Our workforce has provided solutions for user-centered improvements for major acquisitions such as the mid-life rebuild of our motor lifeboats, and executing top-level policy rewrites such as modernizing our annual contracting officer’s representative program. We are embracing technological solutions to some of our most crucial challenges. Partnerships with the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of Science and Technology, NASA and Department of Defense research centers help advance technical solutions to include unmanned systems across our 11 statutory missions.
As we continue to build upon our successes in 2016, we remain focused on global issues that confront and unite us all. In October 2016, I spoke at the International Seapower Symposium, a gathering of coast guards and navies from around the world. The theme of the week was “Stronger Maritime Partners.” We discussed the rapid modernization of criminal drug trafficking, illegal fishing and threats to the cyber domain among other maritime challenges. These are threats that our forefathers could have never imagined. Alexander Hamilton, with the creation of the Revenue Cutter Service, embraced innovation to face the threats of the 18th century. It will take an innovative U.S. Coast Guard, working with partners, to counter the threats of the 21st century.