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In the words of its Commandant, Admiral Karl Schultz, the US Coast Guard ‘serves across the globe to advance American security and prosperity … [as] an indispensable arm of the United States Armed Forces, and a vital component of the Department of Homeland Security’.
Contraband interdictions made by cutter crews help to combat global instability and drug cartels actively trafficking drugs, weapons, and people. The Coast Guard is also a world leader in combatting Illegal, Unreported, Unregulated Fishing.
The Coast Guard operates the country’s only icebreaker fleet, which Schultz singled out as vital for ‘countering malign influence as our Nation’s most persistent surface military presence at the Polar Regions’. The Admiral went on to point out that the current icebreaker fleet of just two cutters, one heavy and one medium ice-breaker is ‘woefully unacceptable’ in an area where ‘presence equals influence’.
To address the 11 statutory Coast Guard missions, the service needs ships, and those ships need to be reliable, capable, and state-of-the-art to meet contemporary threats, and those of the future. In 2012, a Government Accountability Office report said the service’s ability to conduct its missions was impacted by the generally poor physical condition and declining operational capacity of the Coast Guard’s older high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and 110-foot patrol craft. Thus, the current effort to recapitalise the aging fleet with new cutters with better endurance, capability and efficiency is highly important.
The fleet can be classified by function. The ‘white hull’ ships conduct patrol operations. The ‘black hull’ ships are buoy tenders and work boats. Finally, ‘red hulls’ are icebreakers.
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