Can the Coast Guard cope up North?

Can the Coast Guard cope up North?

The Coast Guard knows Alaska better than anyone, but even it may struggle to adapt to operating at the very top of the world.

Coast Guard leaders have been warning for years that there would come a day when melting Arctic ice meant more commercial and tourist vessels would make their way to waters they could never before reach. That reality is upon us now, and despite a steady stream of requests by the Coast Guard for help with its Arctic rescue and patrol responsibilities, nothing seems to have improved.

No less an outlet than the New York Times reported Sunday about the Coast Guardsmen who are getting set to spend more time operating up north, and the challenges their facing with even basic jobs. Wrote the Times’ Kirk Johnson:

When the United States Coast Guard arrived in this remote corner of the Arctic this month to begin its biggest patrol presence in the waters north of Alaska, only one helicopter hangar was available for rent, and it was not, to put it mildly, the Ritz.

Built by someone apparently more familiar with the tropics than the tundra, the structure had sunk several feet into the permafrost, with the hangar entrance getting lower as the building sank. Squeezing two H-60 helicopters into the tiny space? Think of parallel parking a stretch limousine. And for this — the only game in town, take it or leave it — the owner demanded $60,000 a month, a price that made Coast Guard leaders gasp.

“Not perfect, but you’ve got to learn to do it somehow,” Josh Harris, a Coast Guard aircraft mechanic, said as he stood surveying his first and not entirely straight attempt at towing in an aircraft. In the land of the midnight sun, the Coast Guard’s learning curve is steep indeed.

What’s got to be maddening for the Coast Guard is that no one anywhere should have been surprised by this. Its leaders have been frank and open about its creaking, aging fleet; about the way Arctic temperatures can make airplanes’ fuel start to harden; and their almost Marines-and-Ospreys-style fatalism that the increased traffic up North could mean that a ship sinks or has an accident and the Coast Guard may not be able to get there.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp earlier this year went as far as to warn that he would have to let more drugs enter the United States because he did not have enough ships to patrol for Eastern Pacific and Caribbean smugglers and also cover the North. That fell on Washington like a a feather and did about as much good.

Problem is, all the churn about U.S. capability in the Arctic is no longer just theoretical. As the Times’ Johnson wrote, petro-giant Shell is expanding its presence up there whether the Coast Guard and Washington are ready or not:

Shell Oil, driven by a search for profits, is preparing for its first drilling operations next month in two spots northeast and northwest of Barrow. The environmental group Greenpeace, vehemently opposed to Arctic drilling and its risks, has sent its own ship north for what the group says is a research project. Freight haulers have been streaming through, seeking a shortcut across the top of the world, and passenger cruise ships loaded with tourists have started to stake out new routes.

Shell plans to have a daily Boeing 737 flight between Barrow and Anchorage, Alaska’s largest city, just to ferry personnel. The company will also have its own helicopter service from Barrow — population 4,000 — to the ocean drilling sites. The Coast Guard, in conjunction with the Navy and other agencies, is planning an oil spill cleanup response exercise on the water early next month.

“More traffic up there means more people,” said Cmdr. Kevin Riddle, the captain of the Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley, which was preparing to deploy north this month from its base in Kodiak, Alaska. With cruise ships full of hundreds of passengers potentially needing rescue, tanker ships going adrift in coastal areas or getting stuck in sea ice, and the energy boom itself, Commander Riddle said, once largely empty waters are getting more crowded.

“If we don’t have a presence up there,” he said, “how are we going to respond adequately?”


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I recently spoke with someone in OPNAV Programming concerning the Navy’s current and future concern in the Arctic after having completed a concept design of a USN vessel similar to the new Canadian Arctic Offshore Patrol Vessel (AOPS) and the Norwegian Svalbard class. The conclusion was definitive and firm that Navy money will not be spent up there to increase assets (specifically surface combatants) and is being viewed as strictly a USCG concern. It will take a major disaster to get the American public involved, then Congress involved and finally the Navy to turn its head north. Hopefully the loss of life won’t be great.

As with everything else in this country, things like this boil down to two things; circumstances, and priorities. In terms of circumstances, the upcoming election is the main event that will affect everything else, including America’s presence and activities in the Arctic regions. I think it’s safe to say that President Obama’s statist goals don’t include extending and enhancing the Coast Guard to the Arctic areas; however, a President Romney would, I think, do what needs to be done in that area. At the very least, I don’t see him or his administration dropping this ball — as the Obamans have dropped so many of their own.

In terms of priorities, the Navy and the Coast Guard will eventually be called upon to enact whatever policies the coming Romney administration will decide on. Clearly, resources need to be generated and allocated; the Navy AND the CG both need new ships, and we need more service presence overall in that region … which means a larger budget, which means an Administration that truly sees the strategic and geopolitical/economic values.

We don’t have that now, since we have a man-child and his kids running things at the moment .… but, we will have adults back in the room in January.

The emerging need for a CG presence in the Arctic was identified in the mid-80s, and CG “leaders” have been concerned about it’s ” creaking, aging fleet” for how long!!?? Instead Deepwater came along and zillions spent on a clas of cutter which is being “shopped around” for a mission, and other “toys”. The CG would do well to follow the lead of Edison Choest and others, contract for some of those hulls, and outfit them with simple, compatable and easily supported systems.

Hate to say with budget cuts and sequestration the USCG will have to cope no matter what.

They always do! Problem is that we did so much with so little that the people with the dollars now think we can do everything with nothing.

I like this word “cope”. Just what does that mean with respect to rescue/clean up efforts? I suspect an old box of Kleenex and a cork rescue preserver.

Sadly, budget restrictions largely caused by priorities closer to Politicians needs mean that as in Defense the CG will likley pay for the effort in CG lives placed in jeopardy.

The USA has pitifully few ice-breakers, too (and those are for all intensive purposes unarmed). Hence — arctic patrol is and will for the time being be only that for the USCG.

Can you imagine how the CG could be improved the way it should be if this administration would clamp down on illegals and deadbeats. The cost to taxpayers helping them out is staggering. Billions upon billions. Wake up before it is to late. The Navy doesn’t want these problems so get the monies for them.

It’s why USCG needs to be it’s own dept within the Larger Dod or under the Dept of Navy. If they had the same funding that the US Navy has. The US Coast Guard could conceivably replace their current fleet with brand new cutters, patrol boats and aircraft.

The USCG has been getting the short end of the budget stick for about 20 years. Their not having enough ships to do what they need to do is nothing new, and is hardly the fault of just this administration.

You have a point; I’m just a big Naval guy (whether it’s the regular Navy, or the Coasties), and I wish ANY White House would never forget the fact that this country, from its’ very beginnings, has been a seafaring nation (it’s not as if we’re Hungary!), and having a strong blue water Navy and capable Coast Guard is good for everybody in a LOT of ways.

I do think, however, that liberal administrations seem to have less care and regard for the services in general; and Obama seems to me to have the least regard for the services in particular. I don’t see that in Romney; I think that he realizes what needs to be done, and will try his best to do it. So … maybe sometime next year, after he takes office, we’ll see some work with the national budget to start moving in the opposite direction with our Navy and Coast Guard (and the other services, as well).

Unfortunately if the USCG became a part of the DOD they could loose there the ability to conduct law enforcement due to how the laws were righten when the CG created

I think it would be good if Canada and the United States, could join together and design a class of icebreakers. Our Coast Guards already share Ice Breaking duties on the Great Lakes. Why not the Arctic?

Of course, that is a great idea. Unfortunately, it makes way to much sense.
I actually thought the same thing several weeks ago after doing some reading on Canada’s Arctic Patrol Ship Project and their Polar Class Icebreaker Project

It already is a part of DOD. It is military at all times, and law enforcement at all times. It is the exception. Military functions under the Navy, all else under treasury dept. ( when statutes written.)

If the USCG had the same budget and the same line of credit the US Navy has. The USCG could conceivably buy a totally new fleet and sell the old fleet to countries like the Philippines. We could have replaced our entire 378’s 210’s,270’s and 110’s with the NSC, OPC and FRC and even have enough room to buy those Arctic patrol boats that Royal New Zealand navy and Royal Norwegian Navy is using right now. I think as the US Navy is winding down it’s fleet, that money the US Navy could have gotten, could have gone to USCG, but the problem would be that DHS nuts would raid the money and use it for Law enforcement purpose and not for what’s intended for the USCG to update it’s fleet.



One idea is allowing private donations. Since it is a unique service in terms of organization, chain of command, responsibilities, and equipment, going to the people whose lives it’s saved and asking for contributions makes more sense. Waiting for Congress to get its *** out of its %%% and do its #$%@ job seems to take too long– so far, only about 222 years… And let’s face it, despite the best efforts of the guys whose lives are on the line, the Admirals have basically tried to make the Navy climb Everest instead of running a national naval force.

Donations? Consider 90% of the cost of the F-35, and 60% of the cost of the F-22, to be a donation to Lockheed Martin and charge them income tax. And we won’t even talk about the LCS and the “security” cutter.

The only problem with this is that the next stunt they’ll pull is to reduce the proceeds for Servicemen’s Life Insurance to pay for it. And then there’s all those screaming brat dependents…

Been in that end of the world on the beach, and I know as well as a lot of other people that “Thank you for your service” just don’t cut it. Please watch your a$$, brother.

I have a son that is int he USCG, as was I and his grandfather also..the CG has taken the back seat for way to long, with all they have to do, save lives and vessel, patrol the waters, etc..right now there are a number of Bouy Tenders in Junea, AK..trying to figure out what to do next..come on Congress, get with it..I bet if you were on a cruise ship and it had trouble in the great NW, you would be the first toscream for help..and what if they ( the CG) were too far away to help..then I bet you woudl be on this situation…give all our fighting troups what they need to do their job, this includes the safety of our water wasy and the USCG

do not know what we would do without our USCG to help control and patrol our waterways..they are even over seas doing it..give them what they need..I am proud to be a father of a “coastie” as I was one too and his grandfather before me

It is easy to blame the current administration as (argosy ) has, but the CG has really gone down when the previous administration placed the CG under homeland security. I was stationed in the Florida Keys at that time. We lost most of our budget and equipment immediately. It is even worse now. The CG needs to be back under it’s own umbrella to straighten things out again.

20 years??? The Coast Guard mantra has always been…“We have always done so much, with so little, that we are now qualified to do everything (Congress asks us to do) with nothing”. Had it not been for the unfortunate events of 09/11, the Coast Guard would still be fighting over the fiscal scraps left behind by the “major” military services. I did my 21 years in the Coast Guard and am damn proud of it.

Well all u seagoers, its time for the CG and NAVY to be one, might even add in the Marines while you are at it. The US is OUT of money, the politicians have spent our great great grand childrens money. The bolk of the money that was coming in as revenue was from the baby-boomers who are now on the half-centry part of life, there will not be another generation bigger than ours. so the money will be even less as all of us vets stand to out live our 20 year retirement. we too were greedy in our ways. i see our tricare is going up next month. i am cureous tho does a sngle retired officer pay the same as an enlisted retired. hmmm.….….… they need to do away with married pay on all levels, inclueding disibility dependent pay.

As an ex-Coastie myself, and having spent more time in Barow that than I wanted as resent as of last year, this hit the nail on the head! The oil companies should have to pay “user fees” they are the ones that will require the most services from the Coast Guard. Oh Ya, they provide their own services… You should see the type of employes that they send up to the Slope! I’ ve lived with them. You say the the oil companies higher “contractors to provide services” even worst! We never hear of all the oil filed workers that get hurt or killed up on the slope every week. The oil companies have the money to keep people quiet. Don’t even get me started on the environment !

One less trip by the present first family would have built a new medium service ice breaker.
Gutting the Department of homeland Security would build or refurbish the Polar Star and Polar Sea which are over 40 years old.
Just building ships that can be refurbished without dismanteling them would save millions.
I spent 10 years in the Coast Guard before becoming fed up with the lack of money and suffering from a trip to Antarctica with no means to make fresh water and incurable jock and armpit sores from saltwater showers. We need to vote out Congress and POTUS and start over with a representative government without politics of any kind.

You are so wrong on this. Romney will only be interested in enhancing Shell oil profits. There will be no money spent on the USCG, no surcharges on Shell for the expense of covering their venture. Also the USCG has never gotten adequate funding and is actually better funded than it was when I was active duty USCG in the 70’s.

I complained so much about USCG lack of funding and resources that mil​.com censored my comment about “notational” DOG units in the 80’s and 90’s. Look people, any sequestration shrinkage from DOD has to be allocated to the USCG! How simple is that Congress? Wait, you guys were the ones that wanted sequestration, now it is worrisome to the contractors? I told the USCG that it had to go off reservation on this and the drug interdiction issues, since both are being held back by Congress! The USCG cannot be part of the Navy ever due to law enforcement statutes, unless it is claimed under wartime. NSC’s are fine but we need more than than double the total number of Hamilton class 378’s. Icebreakers , well how about some nuclear class, maybe 5 with 10 smaller conventional all new added to existing drydock count? We also need refurbished older DE subs for drug interdiction and arctic missions. Aircraft, well, doubling the fleet would be a start. Manpower, the size of the USMC. Reserves doubled. That is just the start!

I served in the Coast Guard from 1972–1998 and saw our responsibilities continure to increase while the annual budget continually was decreased. There was a saying we had that sums it up: “We the few, with so little, strive to do so much”. Our resources are stretched way too thin, and the money to bolster or even replace our aging fleet 1 for 1 is anemic. I was stationed on a ship out of Eureka, CA, the USCGC Comanche, WMEC 202. That ship was a former Navy tug at 198 feet long and was refitted for the Coast Guard. We used “hand me downs” from other branches of the service, and like a Swiss watch, “we took a licking, but kept on ticking”. Unfortunately, it will take a major disaster involving loss of human life in the Alaskan area before Congress will listen to reasoning that the Coast Guard is being stretched way to thin with resouces; which includes personnel. Until then, the Coast Guard will strive to “do so much”. Semper Paratus (Always Ready) Retired HSC

The USCGC Mackinaw was decomissioned a few years ago. It is now a “museum”. The Mickinaw is still in good enough condition to be refitted and modernized and could be a great asset to the US Coast Guard in the northern Alaska waters.

Having been stationed on a 378 in Alaska with an arctic patrol just within the last year, I would like to say that yes, just refurbishing a few of the old cutters could help with the job. However, some of these older boats need to be put to rest. It costs more money to continue buying new parts for these boats than it costs to build new, more efficient models. There were days that we could not have water to drink because of such old equipment, which we have to hand-make parts for, fail. The cost of repairing such systems are astronomical.
Unfortunately, the government doesn’t have money to spend on the defense of the country and lives of the citizens.
But the poor oil companies, they must be suffering in this economy as well, let’s continue to let them have tax breaks, while they hire people to cover up the deaths and injuries of their workers.

The Mackinaw is too large to leave the Great Lakes.

No it was not. When first commissioned yes, but not any more. The maximum boat beam for the St. Lawrence Seaway is 78ft. The old USCGC Mackinaw had a beam of 74.3ft.

I’m not surprise the USCG hasn’t completely burned through the reserve or even the AUX side. I think sooner or later, they may come a day where the AUX side of USCG will have to bear the load and may even be forced to pull the same duty as USCG reservist. It may come a day where you may see USCG asking AUX to help crew on Cutters and ships.

due to many reasons, the CG and the Navy can NOT become one. I suggest you research why the CG is not DOD before you make a stupid comment like that. I also suggest a spell check before commenting, it adds to your ignorance.

wow, seriously? The Coast Guard is NOT DOD. It is part of the uniformed services, military yes but NOT Department of Defense. And your comment about treasury department? Wow, you really need to do some research before commenting on something you obviously know NOTHING about.

We could stop “welfare(subsidies) to corporate America and really save a bundle to be spent elsewhere.


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