Hunter Statement from Hearing on Coast Guard Arctic Capabilities
Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation
Hearing on “Coast Guard Arctic Implementation Capabilities”
July 11, 2016
(Remarks as Prepared)
The Subcommittee is meeting today to discuss the Coast Guard’s Arctic capabilities. The Coast Guard talks about its assets through descriptions such as an asset’s “capacity” or “capability.” The term “capacity” as I understand, is a quantitative term, which refers to how much – to what scale or volume – a mission can be performed by the asset, and the term “capability” refers to the kinds of missions an asset can perform.
At our June hearing on Coast Guard mission needs and resource allocation, the Government Accountability Office reported that Coast Guard assets – new and old – are not performing to capacity, creating mission gaps. In addition, GAO noted the Coast Guard allocates resource hours at levels that are higher than actual asset usage hours, also creating mission gaps, but potentially a more artificial mission gap, depending on whether you believe the allocated resource hours are based on reality.
The reason I make that statement is for us, Congress, to understand the needs of the Service, we need to understand the current abilities of Coast Guard assets. Not the projected ability of an asset to meet mission needs, but its actual ability to perform a mission and the kind of missions it can support.
The Coast Guard has testified that its heavy ice breaker, the Polar Star, has the capability of accessing any ice-covered region 24/7, 365 days of the year. It may have the capability, but by all accounts it does not have the capacity due to its age and maintenance needs.
The High Latitude Region Mission Analysis revealed the following Coast Guard missions – defense readiness, ice operations, marine environmental protection, and ports, waterways and coastal security – in the Arctic were significantly impacted by the gap in mission performance. It is these gaps and the knowledge that when the Polar Star reaches the end of its extended service life we may have a period where the Coast Guard does not have a heavy ice breaker.
Progress is being made on the acquisition front, with one billion dollars in the Senate defense bill for the first ship in the Polar Icebreaker Recapitalization Project. It has a ways to go, but it is positive progress. I have supported this acquisition and annual funding for it in House appropriations bills, as have many of my colleagues.
I want to reiterate again, that the Coast Guard and this committee are in lockstep on the need for a heavy icebreaker. But as we work towards the acquisition of our Nation’s first heavy icebreaker since 1978, all of us have the inherent duty to have a discussion on what we’ll do now – and continue to do – until we deploy the appropriate number of icebreakers over the next several decades.
My concerns continue to lie with current mission gaps in the Arctic, particularly defense readiness, due to the inability of assets to support year-round missions in the region. And I believe this is the responsibility the Coast Guard and Navy should share. So again, what is the plan, in the short-term, to fill this hole? We heard at the June hearing the material assessment for the Polar Sea will be sent to the Committee on July 24th. Just shy of three years after the deadline mandated in statute for making a determination of whether it is cost-effective to reactivate the Polar Sea, and six years since the vessel has operated, the Coast Guard will provide the Committee a report on the condition of the vessel. But don’t anyone worry that the Service is moving too swiftly or without deliberate care. We have been assured the material assessment will contain no recommendations for action. This is the start of the process to see if she can be reactivated. Further information will not come until the Alternative Analysis is sent to Congress at the end of the calendar year.
Time is ticking away and the vessels in the Coast Guard ice breaker fleet are either inoperable, aging and in need of extended time in dry dock, or incapable of working in ice covered areas. Not a good situation to be in, but here we are.
I look forward to hearing from the witnesses today and discussing this important topic with them.
Click here for additional information from today’s hearing, including testimony, video, and background information.
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