Coast Guard Faces Increasing Security Challenges
By Sgt. 1st Class Doug Sample, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 5, 2004 Like every governmental agency and military service, the Coast Guard had to do some re-evaluation after the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and is working hard to close gaps in the nation's waterway security.
Vice Adm. Terry Cross, commander of the Coast Guard's Pacific Area, addressed the West 2004 Conference in San Diego Feb. 3.
Cross said that while the Coast Guard was not necessarily any better prepared to meet the terrorist challenge than any of the other services or agencies from a force structure or capabilities perspective, the service did have two big advantages after the attacks.
"Early on, we were able to generate a rapid response by simply diverting boats, ships, aircraft and people from other missions, because we already knew what to do," the admiral said. "Secondly, our unique set of authorities, relationships, and capabilities was a good match with those needed to accomplish the maritime homeland security mission."
Still, Cross told the group, the Coast Guard was not well prepared in all ways, and that gaps in the service's capabilities became apparent.
Those gaps led to the Coast Guard publish the Maritime Strategy for Homeland Security in December 2002. The strategy set four goals for the service: to increase awareness, improve prevention, and provide better protection, and improved response, Cross said.
In the meantime, Congress also passed the Maritime Transportation Security Act, which significantly improved the security of ships using U.S. ports and waterside facilities. The act requires all critical port facilities and ships to develop plans to adequately address security for their operation.
The Coast Guard also worked with the International Maritime Organization, the admiral said, to forge agreements for similar security requirements overseas.
Although these improvements in strategies and authorities have helped close one crack in maritime security, the admiral said the service still is "not where it needs to be." He said the Coast Guard also faces gaps in equipment and technology.
The admiral cited the Coast Guard's aging fleets of cutters and aircraft, using an example of two cutters in Alaska that he said are "eligible for Social Security." Some Coast Guard units are still using 1960s technology and obsolete coastal VHF-FM radio systems.
"We can't always communicate by radio with all the partners we rely on so heavily," Cross said. "We still have serious gaps in our secure communications that can prevent us from rapidly disseminating important intelligence information."
Awareness is the most important of the four goals, he said. "If we had perfect awareness or information about all the bad guys, then prevention would be a piece of cake. We would know with certainty what infrastructure needed protection, who was going to attack and when."
He said the Coast Guard is working to develop a "maritime domain awareness" capability, a concept that will allow the service to effectively understand objects and activities near the U.S. coast that could affect security, safety, economy, or environment, he said.
"In real terms," the admiral explained, it means our ability to detect and track vessels around the globe and to access information about who and what, is on board, where it's from, and where it's going."
The Coast Guard is taking part in two major projects aimed at securing the nation's shoreline: the Integrated Deepwater System program and Rescue 21.
The Rescue 21 project aims to improve Coast Guard interoperability with citizens and state and local organizations, including 911 operators. The project involves the replacement of an obsolete VHF-FM communications network.
"When the project is complete, we will also have far better geographic coverage," Cross said. "We will be able to simultaneously work up to six separate frequencies, (instead of) just one. We will have the ability to record and play back all communications, we will have an accurate direction-finding capability, and we will have covered voice communications."
Meanwhile, the Integrated Deepwater System Program, a $17 billion, 20-year acquisition project, will replace and modernize the Coast Guard's major cutters and aircraft along with their communications, sensors and logistics infrastructure.
"These new assets will provide the Coast Guard with a significantly improved ability to detect, identify and respond appropriately to all activities in the maritime arena," he said, "as well as the improved ability to intercept and engage those activities that pose a direct challenge to U.S. sovereignty and security."
The admiral said recent involvement in Operation Iraqi Freedom clearly demonstrated the service's capability to be an integral part of the Pentagon's joint-operations concept.
He said during Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Coast Guard helped to provide coalition forces with enhanced inshore and coastal security in what the 5th Fleet commander called the "first line of defense" -- the water.