Coast Guard to Send National Security Cutter to Arctic This Summer
Noting that petroleum companies will begin exploring the Arctic as the ice breaks up this summer, and that the service has no shore-based infrastructure there, Adm. Robert Papp, commandant of the Coast Guard, said the Bertholf will be dispatched to patrol the region.
Petroleum discoveries, new shipping lanes and increased tourism in the northern seas will mean more traffic in the Arctic, he said in his annual state of the service address, which was delivered Feb. 23 on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, Calif.
The Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal recognizes “the Arctic as a strategic national priority, given increasing presence and interest by other nations, the preponderance of natural resources available in this region, and increasing maritime commercial and recreational activity.”
The expansion of operations in the Arctic comes during “stormy times,” said Papp, referring to the impending budget cuts. The service is facing the loss of 1,000 personnel, he said. It is decommissioning several older ships, and closing some Great Lakes facilities.
“We will not allow our service to become a hollow operational force,” Papp said. He predicted later in the speech that “the Coast Guard will get smaller.”
The Coast Guard's budget would be reduced from $10.5 billion to a little under $10 billion. Several older ships would be decommissioned, but the service would get its wish for fully funding its sixth National Security Cutter. There is no mention in the proposal of cancelling or slowing down procurement of the seventh and eighth ships, which would complete the fleet. Two of the original High Endurance Cutters that the new ships are replacing would be decommissioned under the proposal.
There is also $8 million to begin work on a new polar ice breaker. Updating the service’s Arctic ice breakers has been a longtime goal of Coast Guard leadership. The Coast Guard once had eight ice breakers, but it is now down to one operational ship, Papp noted. There is also $6.1 million in the budget to upgrade facilities in Cold Bay and Sitkinak, Alaska, near the Bering Sea and Aleutian Chain. There are no proposals for permanent bases on the Arctic side of the state, though.
Many of the proposed Coast Guard cuts come at the expense of personnel. Some 222 headquarters positions would be eliminated, resulting in $12.7 million in savings. Almost $10 million would also come out of the recruitment accounts. The service believes it can trim an additional $56 million through management efficiencies.
The Atlantic has dominated Coast Guard operations for the last two centuries, Papp noted. However, the service is well positioned to assist the nation with the strategic shift to the Pacific the Obama administration announced earlier this year, he said. The first three National Security Cutters have been deployed to the West Coast.
“Coast Guardsmen require modern ships,” he said, reiterating what he has stated in recent speeches about the service needing to sustain the gains it has made deploying high-endurance aircraft and ships to patrol large expanses of open waters such as the Pacific and Arctic.