The Coast Guard’s current information technology (IT) capabilities aren’t on par with what the service needs and it is studying what its future needs are, Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said on Thursday.
The ongoing recapitalization of the Coast Guard’s surface and air assets has provided boats, ships and aircraft that “are true game changers for our service, improving real-time communications [and] mission execution.” He highlighted the capabilities of one high-endurance National Security Cutter, which can deploy with a small unmanned aircraft system, a use-of-force helicopter, three over-the-horizon boats, and a secure intelligence facility.
But the supporting infrastructure needs fixed, he said.
“However, we’ve got an antiquated IT system that is not meeting the needs of our front line operators,” Schultz said at a speech at the National Press Club. “We’re in the process of studying the problem and I truly expect C4IT, the IT domain, to be an area for investment in the coming years.
In the Coast Guard’s new five-year strategic plan, which was released on Thursday, one of the primary objectives includes strengthening the reliability and resilience of the command and control, communications, computers, cyber and intelligence enterprise systems.
Schultz’s top priority, which he outlined in June when he began his four-year term a commandant, is to maximize readiness. This will be a “focus area” throughout the term, he said.
The elements of the Coast Guard’s readiness efforts are outlined in the new strategic plan and include investing in the workforce, and modernizing assets, infrastructure and mission platforms.
The second strategic priority is addressing maritime challenges through governance and situational awareness, and improved cooperation and collaboration within the Department of Homeland Security and with the Defense Department and other stakeholders.
The final priority outlined in the plan is to continue to improve the service’s capability to rapidly shift between mission demands “anytime, anywhere.” This includes the need for “innovative, interoperable, and mobile solutions for rapid integration of information and resources across the broad spectrum of responders,” the need for asset tracking and common operating pictures, getting the most out of social media for disaster response, and “reinforce a culture of continuous innovation.”
Schultz said he agrees with his predecessor, retired Adm. Paul Zukunft, on the need for at least $2 billion annually to fund Coast Guard acquisition programs and 5 percent annual increases in the operational support accounts. He said he remains “guardedly optimistic” that Congress will provide funding in fiscal year 2019 for the service’s first new heavy polar icebreaker, the Polar Security Cutter.
The Senate provided $750 million for the proposed new icebreaker but the House eliminated the funding and put it toward a proposed increase in spending for a new border security wall. DHS and several other departments and agencies are operating under a continuing resolution that expires Dec. 21.
Schultz also said the “testimonials” from crew evaluations of the ScanEagle small unmanned aircraft system (UAS) aboard a National Security Cutter (NSC) is that they never want to sail without an unmanned system again. Earlier this year, the Coast Guard awarded Boeing’s [BA] Insitu unit a contract to deploy and operate ScanEagle systems aboard its fleet of National Security Cutters.
Congress has funded 11 NSCs and may fund one more.
Schultz also said he wants the small UAS aboard its planned fleet of 25 medium-endurance Offshore Patrol Cutters.