On Sept. 27, the House Armed Services Committee held hearings with the Joint Chiefs of Staff to ascertain the state of military readiness. Absent from the hearings was a representative of the Coast Guard. Even though the service is part of the Transportation Department rather than the Defense Department, the Coast Guard is a key part of our national security, a point highlighted by Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) in a statement on the floor of the House.
“Whether it is interdicting drugs and illegal immigrants along our nation’s shore or serving with our naval forces in the Balkans and the [Persian] Gulf, the Coast Guard is a vital part of our overall national-security policy,” Jones said.
But although the Coast Guard is the world’s seventh largest navy, it is ranked nearly last in the relative age of its vessels. Of the world’s 41 recognized navies, only Mexico and the Philippines have older fleets. Years of underfunding — and ever-increasing numbers of missions — have resulted in a Coast Guard with outdated equipment and a chronic shortage of spare parts, both in the air and at sea. These shortages have occurred even as the nation’s enemies, particularly drug smugglers, invest huge sums of money in the latest equipment designed to counter the Coast Guard.
The disconnect between missions and money — the service recently was unable to buy enough fuel to sustain its equipment — forced the Coast Guard to cut back its operations by 10% in all but lifesaving missions. The scaled-back operations, such as environmental enforcement, drug seizures, migrant interdiction and “cooperative engagement” missions overseas, are as much a part of national security as the activities of the other services. For that reason, the Coast Guard deserves to be part of the nation’s military readiness debate.
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