Home » Budget Industry » Opinion: Coast Guard Budget Reductions Puts U.S. at Risk


Opinion: Coast Guard Budget Reductions Puts U.S. at Risk

A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America on July 19, 2015. US Coast Guard Photo

A Coast Guard Cutter Stratton boarding team investigates a self-propelled semi-submersible interdicted in international waters off the coast of Central America on July 19, 2015. US Coast Guard Photo

In his 2015 State of the Coast Guard Address, Commandant Paul Zukunft said, “Since 9-11, 450,000 Americans have died from drug use and drug violence . . . we have actionable intelligence on approximately 90 percent of known maritime drug movement . . . however, with too few surface and air assets to patrol the vast expanses of the transit zone, they can only attempt to target, detect and disrupt 20 percent of that known flow. You can do the math—this is an issue of capacity.”

So what happens when you reduce that capacity?

Of our maritime forces, the U.S. Coast Guard has faced the largest budget cuts in recent years. Just in the past five years the Coast Guard has been forced to reduce its operating budget by 25 percent. The high endurance cutter fleet, which provides surveillance and security for our 200-nautical-mile Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ), is being cut from twelve ships to eight. One Coast Guard admiral compared the challenges they face with a “police cruiser in Cleveland responding to a call in Atlanta.”

With the proper resources however, the Coast Guard has been successful in stemming the flow of drugs to our cities and streets. In June of this year, the Legend-class cutter USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752) apprehended a semi-submersible carrying 5,500 lbs. of cocaine; a month later it stopped another semi-submersible, that one carrying 16,000 lbs. of cocaine. The semi-submersible seized in July was more than 200 miles off the coast of Mexico, resulting in the most lucrative drug seizure involving this type of transport in the Coast Guard’s history.

According to the Coast Guard’s 2014 Western Hemisphere Strategy, “The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Bank have identified drug trafficking by illicit networks as the primary driving factor of violent crime. The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico is susceptible to this regional trend, where homicide rates hit a record high of 26.5 per 100,000 in 2012.” I believe the commandant is right; the math is easy—less capacity equals fewer interdictions and more violence in the heartland.

A U.S. Coast Guard tie down team prepares to attach a hoist cable to an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter during a vertical replenishment drill aboard the national security cutter USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750) in the Arctic Ocean on Sept. 14, 2012. US Coast Guard Photo

A U.S. Coast Guard tie down team prepares to attach a hoist cable to an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter during a vertical replenishment drill aboard the national security cutter USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750) in the Arctic Ocean on Sept. 14, 2012. US Coast Guard Photo

But the drug war is not the only business occupying the Coast Guard fleet. With the opening of the Arctic for trade and commerce, the Coast Guard is now sending limited resources to support and protect our national interests in that region. “The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search and rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” a recent White House statement said. The Coast Guard currently dedicates a national security cutter to the Arctic region during the ice-free summer months, effectively removing it from serving elsewhere, in missions for which it was designed.

The emergent mission in the Arctic region was not envisioned for the NSCs and was not included in the several fleet-size analyses performed to determine sufficient numbers in the class. Stretching the fleet even further, the U.S. Navy has now decommissioned all of its Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, which have been workhorse platforms in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific for the last decade of their service. Those frigates, empowered by their embarked U.S.C.G. Law Enforcement Detachments have been critical in the stemming of the flow of illegal drugs to the United States. And now they are gone, without U.S. Navy backfill. That diminished resource now demands even more CG asset presence in that counterdrug theater, but there are only so many to go around. To make up for the missing assets, the Coast Guard is forced to reduce operations in other mission areas.

Diverting to support the emerging Arctic missions, robbing Peter to pay Paul in the counterdrug arena (just to maintain a 20 percent interception rate) and replacing the outgoing high endurance cutters with a smaller fleet is not what we should be providing to and expecting from our Coast Guard. If the fleet size continues to be depleted through attrition, is stretched too thin to be effective or is built in insufficient numbers to properly meet its mission requirements, our ability to protect this country’s safety will be at risk. Can we afford to build more high endurance cutters? Can we afford not to? You do the math.

  • Curtis Conway

    One would wonder if there is something nefarious going on here. Legalization of drug use is on the rise in several states with the commensurate increase in fatalities in our communities and on our roadways, and the money to be made via the drug trade is attracting all kinds of business with everything that goes along with that activity. Drug enforcement is on the decline only because the enforcement mechanism is being reduced, and that is not the only thing that takes place along our coasts. The Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ) requires enforcement activity of fisheries via poaching by foreign fishing fleets, and safety inspections, search and seizure activity of illicit cargoes did not go away which was emphasized byt he 911 Report Recommendations.

    Those who rail against the maintenance of the size of the ‘enforcement mechanism’ must surely be associated with all the money to be made by a lack thereof with the actual tasking growing not shrinking. What gives? Is the administration looking out for the health, safety and welfare of the nation and protecting its navigable waterways? No, but they sure want to own the water under your land via EPA regulations. Put the Arctic emphasis on top of that, and we have a real calamity on our hands in the future, and one can see it plainly.

    • bucherm

      “Legalization of drug use is on the rise in several states with the
      commensurate increase in fatalities in our communities and on our
      roadways”

      I’ll take “lies and misleading statements” for $500 Alex.

      • Curtis Conway

        Miss information. Look at the stats both state and fed . . . and they are growing on the negative side, and will only get worse. They can ONLY get worse. Once THC is in the system it affects perception of time, space and affects reactions for long periods of time (for days in some heavy users), unlike alcohol that can be absorbed and processed by the body in about 24 hours. It human physiology pure and simple. Anything else someone is putting out is bunk.

  • disqus_zommBwspv9

    The coast guard needs more people more ships, aircraft and more icebreakers 6 at least. The budget for the military and the Coast Guard needs to be off limits to cuts and sequester stupidity.

    • Secundius

      @ Sailboater.

      And that’s not even half the problem. NOW, Congress want’s to Reduce the Deficit from a 25-Year Plan to a 10-Year Plan. And there going after the People and Families, that Fight and Serve THIS Nation of OUR’s. The Ultimate STUPIDITY. Who’s going to Fight Them???

  • Secundius

    What it’s not enough that Congress want to Strip the Military “Cabinet” BARE, Know they want to go after the “Varnish” as well…

  • Jim Valle

    Subjecting the Coast Guard to Sequestration budgeting is about the dumbest idea that ever came down the long dusty road that leads to a shrinking government. They are hurting for high and medium endurance cutters just at a time when several OHP class frigates sit in mothballs at the Philadelphia Navy Yard. If these ships are good enough to be sold foreign why aren’t they good enough to be modernized and turned over to the Coast Guard? What else are they being hoarded for? A few of our commentators have alluded to conspiracy theories. BS! The only real conspiracy is one of total and utter stupidity which is the most dangerous one of all because it’s real.

  • PolicyWonk

    Once again the USCG is getting the short end of the stick – and this to the detriment of the USA and its national security – let alone its foreign policy.

    The USCG protects our shorelines, our mariners, US interests, and maintains our navigational aides. By maintaining a professional (yet still armed) presence, our sea lanes stay safe. Now, we need to be showing our presence in the Arctic, and we’re down to two active and one semi-active ice breaker – when we need probably 12.

    We should be building more Legend-class National Security Cutters (and get the funds from what should be a cancelled purchase of the so-called “Littoral Combat Ship” – killing both classes). They’re a far more capable ship, have room for growth, and long legs. Maybe buy some with reinforced sea-frames so they can operate in icier waters.

    We must demonstrate our interests by patrolling the seas and retaining a visible presence – and doing so tends to keep things calm. We are a maritime nation – our sea lanes, routes, fishing grounds, and harbors are the life of this country and its trading partners. This represents one of the best, and one of the most visible assets we can invest in.