DHS Developments Part II: Coast Guard – Modernization Programs and Service Priorities

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National security cutter Bertholf, EADS HC-144, and H-65 helicopter

The US Coast Guard (USCG) received $10 billion for fiscal year (FY) 2015, $435.9 million above the Obama Administration’s FY 2015 budget request. The FY 2015 budget, in conjunction with the newly released Navy maritime strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, provides insight towards future USCG priorities, procurement programs, and sought after capabilities and technologies. 

The new maritime strategy outlined broad Navy priorities since the release of the earlier 2007 edition. At the Department of the Navy level, the new maritime strategy indicates that the service will place a greater emphasis on all domain access, the ability to operate in contested environments on the surface, undersea, space, cyber, electromagnetic spectrum, etc. The Navy’s decision to prioritize all domain access, so that it is nearly equivalent to the Navy’s nuclear deterrence mission, is a response to anti-access area denial threats from China and Russia (Freedberg, 2015). The document also emphasizes the role of electronic warfare, cyber warfare, working with US allies, and increasing the Navy’s forward presence in the Indo-Asia-Pacific and the Middle East.  

At the USCG level, the document indicated the Coast Guard would prioritize the development of the service’s cyber defense capabilities, and allocate additional resources towards the Western Hemisphere as well as the Arctic and the Antarctic. The USCG will release its first cyber security strategy next month, which will underscore the importance of protecting the nation’s heavily automated ports, establish situational awareness to cyber events, and protect USCG assets (Watkins, 2015). Rear Admiral Peter Brown, Assistant Commandant for Response Policy recently underscored the need for the USCG to embrace its new cyber security role: 

“So many aspects of maritime transportation are now reliant on computer controls — not only the more traditional navigation and communications technology but also the physical responses of facilities and vessels such as unmanned systems that unload and scan cargo containers…We have to make sure from a Coast Guard perspective that the supply chain is secure from a cyber-perspective. The Coast Guard needs to be aware of what threats and challenges are out there to the global maritime transportation system through cyber access” 

In terms of geographic priorities, commandant Zukunft explained the shift of resources to the Western Hemisphere is in response to the rising level of violence in Central and South America (Grady, 2015). Zukunft explained the influx of unaccompanied children from Latin America to the US border in the summer of 2014, in addition to the ongoing demand for counter narcotic missions, had an impact on the service’s decision to base more resources in the Western Hemisphere.  Zukunft justified the increased resources dedicated to both the Arctic and Antarctic as a result of rising international maritime activity in both areas. The Artic in particular is likely to receive more resources as a result of significantly increased Russian activity in the region, following the seizure of Crimea and the ongoing territorial disputes between Russia, Canada, and Denmark. In order to facilitate the increased demand for the USCG in both the Western Hemisphere and the Artic, the FY 2015 budget provides billions for new systems and platforms. 

ScanEagle unmanned aerial system (UAS) launching from the USCG cutter Bertholf

The FY 2015 budget would also fund the purchase of additional frigate-sized national security cutters, HC-130J maritime surveillance and transport aircraft, H-60 helicopters, and continue the development of both the polar icebreaker and icebreaker tugs. The USCG is also experimenting in deploying UAS from its fleet of cutters and icebreakers. The Boeing Insitu ScanEagle shown above is expected to be procured in the Coast Guard’s FY 2016 budget, with deployments beginning in FY 2017 following successful ship based tests and sea trials (Rico, 2013). The USCG also tested the AeroVironment RQ-20 Puma in August 2014; the RQ-20 flew from the USCGC Healy icebreaker operating in the Arctic (Smith, 2014). The deployment of UAS from both cutters and icebreakers would greatly enhance the USCG’s maritime surveillance and intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities. 

The USCG is in the midst of a transformational process to prioritize the Western Hemisphere, the Arctic, and significantly augment its cyber defense capabilities. Procurement priorities over the next few years will focus on the modernization of its fleet of national security cutters, gaining extended maritime surveillance capabilities via UAS, and developing new icebreakers to maintain the United States’ presence in the Arctic. However, the continuation of sequestration into FY 2016 will constrain the USCG’s ability to field a more modern fleet of cutters, as well as other comparatively expensive platforms such as icebreakers. 


  1. Coast Guard cyber plan to focus on ports, shipping, Steve Watkins, 2015.
  2. Committee Releases Fiscal Year 2015 Homeland Security Appropriations Bill, 2015. 
  3. Winning The War Of Electrons: Inside The New Maritime Strategy, Sydney J. Freedberg, Jr., 2015. 
  4. Boats, Biometrics and Other Items in the Homeland Security Funding Bill, Eric Katz, 2015. 
  5. House OKs Controversial DHS Funding Measure, John T. Bennett, 2015. 
  6. UAV a success for Coast Guard in major drug bust, Antonieta Rico, 2013.  
  7. Coast Guard Icebreaker Launches, Lands First Arctic Drone, Matthew F. Smith, 2014. 
  8. Maritime Security: Sneak Preview of the Coast Guard’s Cybersecurity Strategy, Lt. Jodie Knox, 2015. 
  9. Coast Guard Information Technology, Sensor Needs Go Unfilled, Stew Magnuson, 2014.
  10.  Coast Guard Closer to Acquiring Ship-Based Drones, Stew Magnuson, 2014.
  11. Cyber and Electronic Warfare Stand Out in Navys Maritime Strategy, Kris Osborn, 2015. 

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