The U.S. Coast Guard has a wide range of national responsibilities, from interdicting cocaine shipments and conducting search and rescue on the high seas, to enabling commerce and securing America’s ports. It protects and defends over 100,000 miles of U.S. coastline and inland waterways, and safeguards the largest Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) in the world. It is an asset for both national security and economic prosperity, serving as a law enforcement agency, military service and member of the Intelligence Community at all times.
It does this with over 56,000 members, a fleet of 243 Cutters, 201 fixed and rotary-wing aircraft, and over 1,600 boats. However, the fleet is aging rapidly, with many vessels years past their intended service lives and requiring extensive maintenance to remain operational. The recapitalization of the Coast Guard’s fleet is critical to ensuring it can effectively meet the demands of the nation. For example, the President’s fiscal year 2019 budget request includes $750 million for the icebreaker program; essential funds for a currently struggling program.
The urgent need for a more modern and larger Coast Guard Fleet is only increasing due to the rapidly evolving maritime security environment, which places an escalating strain on the Coast Guard’s limited resources. Melting Arctic ice has provided increased access in the region for energy exploration and potential shipping lanes, resulting rapidly increasing foreign activity in U.S. territorial waters. Organized crime in the Western Hemisphere creates instability and immigration that harm American security and economic interests. In addition, the recent return to great power competition increases the Coast Guard’s support of U.S. missions around the globe. Admiral Zukunft will discuss how the Coast Guard plans to protect America’s security and prosperity in the coming years, even as the world becomes progressively more dangerous.