Papp calls for resilience in annual Coast Guard address

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The Coast Guard has commissioned its fourth Fast Response Cutter, will christen its fourth National Security Cutter in October and will soon announce three finalists for the Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp said Feb. 27 during his annual state of the service address.

The Coast Guard is in its second decade of an ongoing fleet recapitalization effort; some of the ships the NRCs will replace will turn 50 starting next year, Papp noted during his address (.pdf).

In addition, an overhaul of the heavy icebreaker USCGC Polar Star is complete; in a commandant's situation report (.pdf), Papp says the icebreaker will undertake its first mission to Antarctica since 2006.

In March, the Coast Guard will release its first Arctic strategy, Papp said; it will focus on three priorities, he added--"improving Arctic awareness, modernizing governance, and broadening partnerships."

Growing responsibilities in the Arctic are one reason to complete the NSC program of record of eight ships, Papp said. During summer 2012, the service conducted an unprecedented deployment to the Arctic, a region bereft of onshore infrastructure. The NSC USCGC Bertholf, which took part in the deployment, "provided us with an 'off-shore infrastructure,'" Papp said.

"These cutters carry the supplies needed to provide a sustained presence--they can carry and launch small boats and helicopters to conduct the full range of Coast Guard missions--and they provide a robust suite of communications capabilities," he added.

The service also placed its 116th new Response Boat-Medium into operation in February, Papp noted. A 2-year Coast Guard reauthorization (P.L.112-213) signed by President Obama into law Dec. 14 requires the Coast Guard to procure 180 of the boats, but a senior Coast Guard official told a House panel the day before Papp's address that it may buy fewer.

"We're discovering that it has even greater capability than we had planned to receive. So that may allow us to change the program of record," Vice Adm. Peter Neffenger, deputy commandant for operations, told the House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Coast Guard and maritime transportation.

Regarding sequestration, Neffenger acknowledged that it will likely require, among other things, the Coast Guard to reduce its drug interception mission presence in the Caribbean Sea. The service hopes to avoid furloughs of the civilian workforce, Neffenger also said.

Papp, during his address--delivered shortly before the March 1 deadline for avoiding sequestration's onset passed without action, but during a time when it was considered a high likelihood--said the across-the-board cuts are beyond the Coast Guard's control. "All we can do is prepare and adapt, and keep moving forward," he said.

For more:
- download the text of Papp's 2013 state of the Coast Guard address (.pdf)
- download the commandant's 2013 SITREP (.pdf)
- go to the hearing webpage (prepared testimony and webcast available)

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