The Coast Guard is on its way to recapitalizing aging assets but doesn’t have the manpower to always be ready for the myriad manmade and natural disasters occurring in the world, the service’s top officer said on Tuesday.

“As I take inventory of our Coast Guard, including all 41,000 active duty, 7,000 reserve, 8,500 civilian servants, and nearly 30,000 auxiliary, we are very well equipped, but undermanned to be Semper Paratus in a world that is anything but tranquil or secure from manmade and natural disasters,” Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft said in his annual State of the Coast Guard Address.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft. Photo: Coast Guard.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft. Photo: Coast Guard.

Playing off a famous line from the 1970’s movie classic Jaws when Amity Island Police Chief Martin Brody tells shark hunter Capt. Quint that “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” after he witnesses the killer Great White shark up close, Zukunft said, “Looking at the challenges that we’re facing in the world today, ladies and gentlemen, you’re going to need a bigger Coast Guard.”

Zukunft said the Coast Guard has been fortunate in the last decade when major events like Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill “were not compounded” by other major crises such as a terrorist attack or mass migration. He also warned of rising sea levels at a time when more citizens are migrating the coasts and more wealth “is concentrated there as well and so we must be Semper Paratus when the next major events occur as the American public fully expects.”

Zukunft highlighted  the Coast Guard’s new 10-year Human Capital Strategy, which was released in January, and a new authorization bill, as helping the service’s commitment to its people and its human resource needs ahead.

“Part of my commitment under ‘Duty to People’ is ensuring we have an appropriately sized and trained force,” Zukunft said.

“For all the investments we are making in our capital plant, if they are not matched with a commensurate investment in our people, those aircraft, cutters, rescue boats and the skill sets required to operate them will become hollow,” Zukunft said. “Which is why our Human Capital Strategy and retaining our most vital asset, our people, is the bedrock of the State of the Coast Guard.”

As required by the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2015, which was signed into law by President Obama this month, Zukunft said he is initiating a manpower requirements plan for the service “to formally establish a force size informed by strategy, analysis, and risk management.”

Going forward there will new alignments of talent in mission, service, and individuals to better meet the “demands of the 21st century,” Zukunft said. “At the mission level we will employ a cyber task force that will take our cyber strategy and turn it into an operational arm of the Coast Guard.”

The Coast Guard’s cyber operations force doesn’t represent a new mission but cuts across all mission areas, Zukunft said.

He also said the Coast Guard will become more specialized in its prevention, response, support, intelligence and cyber communities.