Teleworking by thousands of Coast Guard employees amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is demonstrating the service’s need for a modernized information technology (IT) infrastructure, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said on Monday.
Changes to how the Coast Guard’s workforce does their job during the crisis has meant spending funds to make the necessary accommodations “but this is really exacerbating or showing just how critical this C5I, computers, communications, all the modernization stuff, how important it is for an organization like the Coast Guard, a first response organization, to really lean in on that,” Schultz said during the virtual edition of the Navy’s League’s Sea-Air-Space event.
“We need this tech revolution and this really is sort of fuel for the fire and talk about just how urgent it is for the future of the Coast Guard,” he said.
In February Schultz said the Coast Guard has initiated a technology revolution to modernize its IT systems and to expand its outreach to the technology community. Simultaneously, the service also released a Tech Revolution Roadmap outlining its plans for digital modernization.
Schultz said on Monday that the Coast Guard has been focused on recapitalizing its aircraft and ships, and on readiness, and has put off updating its IT capabilities.
“And you get to a point when you can’t kick that can anymore,” he said. “I need to be fielding mobility for a bright young workforce because they expect that. That’s a competitive disadvantage to not be doing that.”
Schultz also said that as part of its technology revolution the Coast Guard is “looking at greater connectivity for our cutters.” While the COVID-19 crisis isn’t putting demands on the service’s fleet of heavy cutters, in a different type of crisis that demand might be there, in which case “the lack of cutter connectivity is an issue. It’s the mobility.”
Schultz didn’t specify exactly what is lacking in terms of mobile connectivity with the service’s cutter fleet. The Coast Guard’s newer cutters, the National Security (NSCs) and Fast Response Cutters (FRCs), include more capable C4ISR capabilities than their predecessor vessels.
A Coast Guard spokesman later told Defense Daily that “Uninterrupted and reliable connectivity is a mission requirement for the cutter fleet” and that over the next three years the service will double the connectivity of its major cutters.
For example, the Coast Guard’s coastal patrol boats, including the FRCs, and some of its medium-endurance cutters will have their bandwidth increased between two and four times by the end of April. By June, NSCs and the rest of the medium-endurance cutters will have their bandwidth increased between three and six times, the spokesman said.
In addition, under the technology revolution plan, the service’s large cutters will eventually have double the geographic coverage for high-speed service, and beginning in fiscal year 2021 plans call for a four-year effort to standardize and modernize the service and hardware solutions on cutters and aircraft, he said.
The Coast Guard’s inland waterways fleet that is on cellular network is being upgraded from 3G to 4G wireless communications, the spokesman said.
In the near term, the Coast Guard wants more mobile IT solutions for its workforce, Schultz said. He added that the service also needs to “move to the cloud,” which it has already started to do with some applications. There is also the potential for the service to leverage Defense Department investments in its planned cloud infrastructure, which is called JEDI, he said.
Getting a modernized IT infrastructure will take money and the Coast Guard needs to have a business case for the executive branch, Congress and other “external audiences” to receive support for its vision here, Schultz said.