The proliferation and potential use of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) is considered by U.S. policy leaders to be one of the greatest threats to U.S. security in the future, whether delivered from abroad – via missiles, for example – or fabricated within U.S. borders.
WMD attacks are perhaps the most frightening scenario, but they are only one of several “asymmetric” threats facing the United States today. Advanced technology makes it possible for a wide variety of attackers to take on the United States with missiles, computers and relatively cheap chemical and biological weapons. Because of the potential for destruction from such an attack, and the degree of difficulty in detecting the strike before it happens, it is in the United States’ interest to engage these threats as far from its borders as possible.
This need has generated within the Coast Guard a novel strategic concept called “Pressing Out Our Borders,” essentially a twist on the axiom that the best defense is a good offense. It calls for a coordinated effort with the U.S. Navy to provide a layered defense of surveillance, detection, identification, and interception to stop terrorists, computer hackers, pirates and drug smugglers either at their sources, before they cross the ocean to the United States, or on the high seas.
But to accomplish this, the Coast Guard has to get there first, and that may be harder than it sounds. The Coast Guard will be hard-pressed to work efficiently on its own, much less with the Navy, given its current inability to fully integrate with Navy ships and aircraft. Its cutters and aircraft are rapidly becoming obsolete and worn out from constant use. Without serious efforts to refit the Coast Guard, the service will be forced to react rather than take the initiative, which plays into the hands of those who attack America by asymmetric means.
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