Zukunft Focuses on Maximizing ROI with Enhanced Coast Guard Budget
By DANIELLE LUCEY, Editor-in-Chief
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The Coast Guard’s latest budget has moved it from featherweight to middleweight status, according to the Sea-Air-Space Exposition April 10 luncheon keynote speaker, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft, but the service is still focused on how it can drive maximum return on investment (ROI) with its increased funding.
After a challenging year battling a busy Atlantic hurricane season, a 50-year flood in New Orleans and a hurricane-related 100-year flood event in Houston, Congress funded the Coast Guard 15 percent above presidential budget guidance so it could respond to a rapidly changing environment.
With a portion of that funding, Zukunft said the Coast Guard will work to add an icebreaker to its assets.
“We can write the check for it, but we need a fleet of six,” he said, instead of the one they are planning. “We need to make investment in the military industrial complex, built in the U.S. with U.S. steel and U.S. workers.”
The United States has to create a larger footprint in the Arctic, he said, compared to Russia’s 40 icebreakers.
“We are trying to exert sovereignty with reports and paper, but that doesn’t work with someone that doesn’t play by the rules — you have to have presence,” he said.
The Coast Guard is leveraging newer technologies to expand the return on investment it gets from its fleet. For instance, it is using unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) and added intelligence aboard its cutters to help interdict drug traffic. Officers can use a UAS to monitor a suspicious vessel until its crew takes a break to eat or sleep. Once on board, the Coast Guard crew members leverage information on the ship’s electronics and take biometrics, with no shots fired to interdict.
“Gone are the days where we sweep the ocean like mowing the lawn. … We vector these ships where we know the activity is at,” he said. “This enables a single cutter to bring in $1 billion of cocaine on a patrol,” he said.
He wants to see improvements on U.S. offense related to cybersecurity and quantum computing as well, instead of repeating scenario akin to Sputnik where the United States is “late to the game.” He encouraged industry to work with the Coast Guard, challenging the service with civilians’ “radical candor” to help them stay ahead on these issues.
“The game is never over. It is an infinite game,” he said.
The speech was one of the last for Zukunft as commandant, since he is retiring next month.
Navy League National President Alan Kaplan said that Zukunft’s “vision for the Coast Guard will persist for a long time to come.”