by John Konrad
In his annual State Of The Coast Guard Address today USCG Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft focused on topics that are priorities to the Trump administration and Congress including the Coast Guard’s role in border protection, law enforcement and infrastructure.
Zukunft also reiterated the role of the Coast Guard in national security and, as a branch of the Armed Services, in national defense.
“The Coast Guard is an armed service.” said Zukunft. “Yet we are not postured to benefit from vital national security investments because our funding is classified incorrectly.”The commandant’s speech comes less than a week after the Office of Management and Budget announced a proposed 14 percent cut to the Coast Guard’s diminutive $9.1 billion budget. Zukunft did not address this news directly but did acknowledge a history of fiscal challenges that need to be rectified in order to improve the nation’s military readiness.
But the Commandant’s tone remained positive stating that “the Trump Administration and Congress – get it”. Zukunft called for the Coast Guard to build six new icebreakers, add 5,000 active duty billets in the next five years and replace the Coast Guard’s inland cutters.
The speech also prioritized other Trump initiatives including working directly with the head of Russia’s Coast Guard, improving border security and the use of technology to increase the surveillance and military capabilities of the Coast Guard. “We lack enough ‘eyes in the sky.’” said Zukunft. “The Coast Guard must acquire land-based, unmanned or remotely piloted systems (drones) in a meaningful way.”
The Commandant made scant mention of anything related to the maritime or offshore industries with the exception of the role short sea shipping could play to alleviate the problems with America’s infrastructure, another Trump priority. “Our waterways are a critical part of our infrastructure. They provide resiliency while they relieve other modes of transportation.” said Zukunft. “Just one tank barge takes the equivalent of 144 trucks off our already congested highways…. Overall, I’m talking about millions of trucks removed from our roads.
Missing from the address was any mention of the U.S. Merchant Marine or the American mariners sailing with Coast Guard licenses or shipyard workers building merchant ships flagged by the Coast Guard. The Commandant also failed to mention anything about the topic of highest priority to most gCaptain readers… the Coast Guard’s role in the search and rescue of mariners in distress.