The Coast Guard operates in a domain no less dynamic than any other branch of the military. As an organization, it’s in the midst of recapitalizing itself, and taking on diversity and climate change. For an update, at the SeaAirSpace conference, Federal Drive with Tom Temin caught up with the Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz.
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Karl Schultz: I think first and foremost, we’ve been focused on my watch the past three years on really the readiness of the Coast Guard. And I think we’re making some progress on that. I will continue to put my foot on the gas pedal here to elevate that conversation inside the administration, the new administration, and the ’22 president’s budget sends a sense of that signal’s being heard. We’ll continue to elevate that conversation on the Hill with our appropriations committees. And they’ve been receptive to that. I think the Coast Guard, not I think, I know the Coast Guard’s been at a level that’s unprecedent. The demand for our services here, both in domestic missions and in support of the geographic combatant commanders across the world, has never been higher. Even through COVID, we were as busy as we’ve ever been. So we’re going to continue to push Coast Guard capabilities into those places where I think we offer some unique capabilities on the national security front. And that’s in that, I talked about cooperate, compete and lethality, in that competition phase, I think the Coast Guard brings some real unique here. So I think we’re gonna push capabilities into the conversation.
Tom Temin: And when you say the message on budget is being heard with respect to readiness, what does that translate into, into where the dollars go for readiness?
Karl Schultz: Yeah, so Tom, over the last decade, cecrestration dates back around 2013, the eight years or so, seven, eight years after cecrestration, we lost about 10% of purchasing power, and operations and support. That’s sort of how you’re on the Coast Guard, the people side of things. We made some headway on capital programs, buying ships buying aircraft. But really, to be ready, we got to get some of that O&S funding. And we actually, 4% in ’20, 6% in ’21, ’22 puts us up there six plus, 7%. So I think a positive three to five percent trajectory into the next decade could really get us a ready Coast Guard.
Tom Temin: And review for some of the overseas activities, which people often don’t realize the Coast Guard is so heavily involved in. And during your presentation at SeaAirSpace you mentioned the fact that you’re working with some of the South Asian coast guards that are building up because I guess they’re also worried about China, so…
Karl Schultz: I’ll walk you around the map real briefly. On a persistent everyday basis, I’ve got four plus, generally closer to six or seven cutters off the north coast of Colombia and also in the Caribbean Basin doing counter narcotics work, working for U.S. Southern Command, generally three to five airborne use of-force helicopters that enable those missions. We’ve got 250 Coast Guard men and women on the Arabian Gulf, six patrol boats, two brand new patrol boats that just reported in May. So fast response cutters, will replace the remaining four, two more in the fall, two more in the spring, but they are active, as the CNO talked about, the increasingly aggressive, unpredictable behavior, the Iranians in their fast interceptor craft and stuff, our Coasties are on the pointy end of that spear. We’ve used warning shots to deter bad behavior there, the National Security cover Hamilton just was up in the Black Sea. Sort of as the Russians were mounting forces in that region again, we had a circumnavigation, we partnered with the Georgians, the Ukrainians, we got former Coast Guard assets transferred through the excess defense article program there, so it was great to come out and partner with them, it sort of fortifies their might as they push back on regional bad actors there. In the South Pacific, I just came back Friday night from Central Pacific, Western Pacific trip, we were in Guam, we were in Saipan, we were in Hawaii. And the Coast Guard’s there, we’re out there in Oceania, condition three of those fast response cutters in Guam, we’ve got our national security cutter working for the seventh fleet right now that will be doing some very important work in the coming months.
Tom Temin: And as that type of work increases, does that translate back into the capabilities and design elements that you need in the ships under construction? Oh
Karl Schultz: Oh absolutely. What I didn’t mention was the high latitudes. So we’re building the first heavy icebreakers the nation’s built in almost a half century. Polar security cutters. And we should start cutting steel here in the remainder of this calendar year. And we got a program of record for up to three ships, the first two are funded. So that is a critically important, Coast Guard’s a lead agency in the high latitudes. And we’re going to bridge the gap here until those new polar security comes with the Polar Star, she’s 46 years old, but we’re going to bridge that gap for about another five to seven years. So that’s a place where Coast Guard is critically important.
Tom Temin: And when you think about the Arctic, that gets into the bigger question of resiliency, climate change, and that’s a big effect on the Coast Guard, what’s your thinking on response in the next two to five years?
Karl Schultz: So let me start when you say with the Arctic, so the ice extent is changing. There’s less ice every year over the last 20 plus years. So things are changing up there. That does not diminish the need for icebreakers. Actually, there’s less […] ice, more moving ice. So the demand for icebreakers is higher. So we need to continue to build those ships. We need to look at the other legitimate seven Arctic nations, we need to look at China, who’s a self declared near Arctic nation and what their interests are in the Arctic, and we need to project our sovereign interests and capabilities up there to temper that. Climate change, as we build facilities, we’ve got a lot of old infrastructure where we build new facilities, they need to be informed by sea level rise and those type of things, Tom.
Tom Temin: Got it. And what about air assets?
Karl Schultz: So aviation, we fly fixed and rotary wing aircraft, we’re making real good progress towards a fleet of 22 C-130J’s that the 2022 president’s budget, I think has the 18th C-130J in there, so that program is moving along. We’re missionizing some C-27J’s that we got from the Air Force years back, and that’s going to put some new capabilities, […] our system on their, we’ll have commonality across our fixed wing fleet. The key part on that, Tom, is we got a fleet of 98 aerospace shell dolphin helicopters that have served as well, but Airbus no longer makes those, so we’re struggling with parts availability, so we’re going to take our fleet of 45, 46 Jayhawk Sikorsky Aircraft, we’re going to grow that north, somewhere north of 100. So as we throttle down 98, and grow up to 60 fleet, that’s really the future for Coast Guard Rotary Wing until you get the future vertical lift probably sometime in the 2030 plus timeframe.
Tom Temin: So when you do that, then you have greater uniformity across that fleet…
Karl Schultz: We will have one rotary wing fleet, it’s just at some point to a future vertical lift, that makes efficiencies, there’s many customers for the 60 across the globe. So there should be plenty sufficiency of parts and things like that.
Tom Temin: And one of the priorities of closer to home that you have outlined a couple of times, is the progress on diversity and inclusion. And how does that all fit in? What’s the progress report there? And how do you […] readiness and fighting spirit, and yet, meet those objectives?
Karl Schultz: Well, I’ll tell you, Tom, we are striving to be a Coast Guard that’s more representative of a nation we serve. And the Coast Guard is not quite as well known as the other services, we don’t have the big recruiting budgets and advertising budgets. So we got to get out in different places. Where you win in recruiting is retention. So when we bring somebody in the service, let’s say it’s a black woman, a black man, they need to see the same opportunities to rise up through the ranks, they need to see all their shipmates kind of push them to the next rung in the ladder just like their white male counterparts. So we are keenly focused here. I think we got some success stories. We did a holistic woman’s retention study in 2019 that gave us a lot of results. We made many changes. We’re seeing, flash the bang, inside of 12 to 18 months, we’re seeing some indicators that those changes are helping us. We had about a 5% delta over the course of women’s careers compared to their male counterparts, that is closing. We’re going to take another RAND study here in about the next two weeks that looks at underrepresented groups. Same kind of study, holistic study, and we’re going to get after that. We created this personal radius taskforce early on my watch, we kept it around. And that’s so a study is not shelfware. It is action, where we’re going to do the same thing we did with the women’s study with the URM study.
Tom Temin: And closer to home, Wednesday is the Coast Guard’s birthday. So how do you celebrate that, by the way?
Karl Schultz: So we’re 231 years old. I think we look remarkably vibrant for 231. Yeah, it’s a, you go back, the founding fathers, Alexander Hamilton was the first secretary of treasury who petitioned George Washington for this thing called the revenue marine service to go collect some tariffs to pay for the Revolutionary War bills. And here we are today where the Coast Guard still enables economic prosperity. So we will be up in Grand Haven for the Coast Guard Festival. They’re back this year. That’s a celebratory…it’s the first Coast Guard city, there’s subsequently many Coast Guard cities. We’ll have a picnic down here, a little bit down the road, not on actual the fourth, but I think a subsequent week, maybe on the 14th or so. And we’ll celebrate with our Washington NCR crowd to celebrate the Coast Guard’s birthday. It’s just a day to kind of reflect back on what 231 years, we’re an evolving organization. But we’ll pause and we’ll celebrate all the goodness about being part of the United States Coast Guard team.
Tom Temin: Admiral Karl Schultz is commandant of the Coast Guard. I spoke with him at this week’s SeaAirSpace conference hosted by the Navy League.