Home » Budget Industry » Zukunft: Cutter Acquisition On Track, But Coast Guard Still Lacks Capacity To Meet Demand Signal

Zukunft: Cutter Acquisition On Track, But Coast Guard Still Lacks Capacity To Meet Demand Signal

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft delivers the 2017 State of the Coast Guard address on March 16, 2017. US Coast Guard photo.

The commandant is looking to increase the Coast Guard active-duty force by 5,000 over the next five years, restore 1,100 billets in its reserves that were cut by sequestration, and modernize its “geriatric class of cutters” working inland waterways.

Delivering his State of the Coast Guard address Thursday in Washington, Adm. Paul Zukunft said, using boxing analogies several times, “we no longer live in a world of flyweights” and need to be funded at a higher level – the flyweight class being the lowest of the 16 in boxing.

Among other investments for the future, he mentioned buying more unmanned aerial vehicles to improve surveillance and interdiction, tackling the backlog of $1.6 billion in needed facilities repairs, and bringing the service’s information systems up to date.

Zukunft said that, unlike the other four armed services, which are expecting a $54-billion increase in spending under the Trump Administration’s budget outline released Thursday, the Coast Guard falls into a category of “non-defense discretionary spending” because it is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

“Our funding is classified incorrectly; yes, we are in the national security business,” he said.

In mentioning the need to replace the inland waterways cutters, Zukunft stressed, “our funding needs to reflect the power of [the Coast Guard’s] punch” as a middleweight.

Zukunft said acquisition and deployment of the nine National Security Cutters is on schedule. The fifth, USCGC James (WMSL-754), is beginning its first deployment. This class of cutters “more than pays for itself in a hundred days” in drug interdiction and maritime security operations, he added.

That class, plus the Offshore Patrol Cutter and Fast Response Cutter classes, “have proven to be game-changers for the 21st century” and are entering service on schedule and budget.

On the first heavy-duty icebreaker, “we are well on the way to accelerating the delivery” by 2023, pending available funding. Zukunft said plans still call for three heavy-duty icebreakers and three medium icebreakers. The Coast Guard opened an integrated program office with the Navy to draw on its shipbuilding experience, he added.

Among the Coast Guard’s accomplishments in the past year were the seizure of 201 metric tons of cocaine, arresting and convicting more than 580 transnational criminals, the Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron’s 500th seizure earlier this month, stopping more than 5,000 Cubans from entering the United States, and the creation of a cyber protection team.

Zukunft said aiding in drug and human trafficking interdiction efforts are the 60 bilateral agreements the United States has with other nations. Using Colombia as an example, he said the two governments work closely together on trying to control the flow of cocaine from its number-one source to its number-one consumer. The Colombian government “realizes the shared threat to regional stability” of the trafficking. Zukunft said the impact is felt in Central America, where drugs are unloaded for further movement northward – the rise of violence there as gangs fight over control of the illegal trade then spurs a flow of migrants seeking safety by heading to the United States.

Despite a growing signal from partner countries and combatant commanders that they want more U.S. Coast Guard presence, “there were 580 events that got a free pass” last year. The intelligence was there to investigate, Zukunft said, but there was an “issue of capacity” in available Coast Guard aircraft and ships.

  • The Lynx

    The NAVY was practically decimated during the Obama administration and is still negative about Trump’s efforts for rebuilding and revitalization. Institutional Stockholm Syndrome?

    • old guy

      No just Navy immobile thinking, Ignore a rapidly changing scenario in preference to “We have always done it that way.”

  • Curtis Conway

    Every Hamilton Class High Endurance Cutter should be replaced one-per-one with a Legend Class High Endurance Cutter. A good argument could be made for actually growing that force given the increased demands placed upon the US Coast Guard to protect all three coast, and the expanding mission in the Arctic.

    The Icebreaker fleet yet to be built would best be multi-mission ships with expanded aviation facility, a well deck and amphibious support capable of taking on tasking on the ice, and provide command and control for the region.

    • PolicyWonk


      However, I’d prefer to see all of the remaining NSC’s upgraded with ice-hardened hulls. And given the increased responsibilities of the USCG, I think an additional 4-6 (ice-hardened) NSC’s should probably be added to the mix, to account for the ever-expanding Arctic missions.

      The USCG’s responsibilities have increased considerably since 9/11 – and simply replacing the HEC’s isn’t adequate anymore. The USCG is perhaps the most visible national security service our nation has, that as you know is also tasked with ensuring the safety of our harbors and ensuring navigational aids are accurate and well maintained (among many other vital tasks).

      This is a uniformed and armed service branch that has always gotten the the budgetary shaft because its either been buried under the Dept. of Transportation, or now the DHS, as opposed to being granted parity with the other branches currently under the DoD umbrella. Hence – its never been given its due.

    • old guy

      I must disagree with you for the following reasons:
      1. Icebreakers are the most specialized designs of all ships, except submarines. A hardened bow does not do it. A look at the Finn-built nuclear powered breakers gives you an idea of a good design. Additionally, reinforced, ice skirted LCAC (ala Canadiens) would be a good addition.
      2. The new HEC might be a real use for the useless____LCS.
      3. The well deck is obsolete, since future ship-to-shore calls for a through loading LCAC/ hovercraft support ship.
      4. It is long since overdue that the CG be integrated into the NAVY.
      Please don’t shoot.

      • PolicyWonk

        I don’t think anyone is suggesting that ice-hardened ships are in any way going to replace a real icebreaker. But what they can do, is provide better protection for assets that skirt the polar region(s) while conducting their missions.

        • old guy

          Agreed, but with the northern passage opening, I think that we need better.

          • Secundius

            “Double Acting Ship” Icebreakers?/! Instead of Plowing Through It, “Emulsify” It…

          • PolicyWonk


            I’d think at least 6 heavy and 6 medium icebreakers. And while they should be set up as coasties, they should also be easy to arm if it ever became necessary.

            I’d think we’d want to consider maybe licensing a design from our arctic allies to grease the wheels a trifle.

      • Curtis Conway

        Good ideas. I hope the new Icebreakers are nuclear vessels and are dual reactor ships. I also hope the expanded aviation capability is also available for VSTOL/STOVL aircraft.

        Concerning the LCS becoming an HEC . . . the US Coast Guard has already run the numbers and it is way too expensive to operate. Unlike the HC-27J Spartans that they inherited from the US Air Force, the LCS, even given to them brand new and working (which they propably would not be) are too expensive to operate. The National Security Cutters have been underway for some time, operate well and reliably, and are much more capable than an LCS. More room for new systems, and excess tonnage for growth to the extreme. The LCS has not even demonstrated a reliable nature, range, and more importantly, be able to defend itself from any modern threat. In fact the average TBM or ASCM will probably to the platform in when under a determined attack with TOT. The US Navy is on a River in Egypt and hanging with that loosing proposition to save money, provide jobs to two companies (for what ever reason), and is sticking to the fiction that ‘Speed is LIfe’ in a 2D environment.

  • omegatalon

    Less money for the US Coast Guard means less capability as someone should explain the duties of the Coast Guard to Trump as they’re the last line of defense on the war on illegal drugs and terrorists.

    • old guy

      With due respect, the SES-200, on loan to the Coast Guard proved that it was much better at stopping drugs. The CG rejected them, and gave them back with the most mumbo-jumbo reasons that you could imagine. The reward for the Captain of the SES-200 for capturing a 7,000 ton loaded drug smuggler was to kick him out of the service. Check it out.
      Also, pejorative cracks at the Prez do not improve your argument.

      • Secundius

        NOT USCG, But US Senate in 22 September 1983! Maintenance Budget for USCG in 1983 was ~$200-Million and the WSES’s ate a Sizable Part of that Maintenance Budget. So US Senate Took away the Problems, WSES-1 Dorado, WSES-2 Sea Hawk, WSES-3 Sheerwater and WSES-4 Petrel…

        • old guy

          Good take. You can ALWAYS be counted on for authoritative info.