Tag Archives: US Coast Guard

Gapped Billet Squall on the Horizon: The USCG Officer Corps Could be in Trouble

By Joseph O’Connell

The Coast Guard is facing a looming afloat officer shortage with no good options on the table. With roughly 3.5%* of all CG officer billets currently gapped, and a particular shortfall impacting mid-grade (O3/O4) officers the Coast Guard needs to explore creative solutions to address the pending crisis. At the conclusion of assignment year 2021 (AY 21) the Coast Guard reported being 213 officers short, with a whopping 166 of those being O3 or O4’s, a growing shortfall of experience that cannot be easily resolved.1 While this might seem a rounding error to larger armed services, this represents a significant percentage of the Coast Guard officer corps. To put in context, if the U.S. Navy were facing a similar shortage, they would have gapped approximately 1,960 officer billets, a dearth that would undoubtedly impact operational readiness. This shortage grows more acute when considering the critical billets O3 and O4 officers fill aboard Coast Guard cutters: Operations Officers, Engineer Officers, Executive Officers, and Commanding Officers, depending on the cutter class.

Figure 1: Total Gapped Billets by Assignment Year. (Author graphic)

Utilizing the last 18 years of officer assignment data, a picture of a rapidly declining officers corps forms, with current trends indicating that implemented officer retention tools are failing1. Figure 1 shows the rapid increase in missing officers over time, highlighting the unique nature and acuteness of this particular crisis.1,2 As shown in Figure 2, the officer shortage is extremely concerning for the afloat community and was correctly predicted in 2015’s The Demise of the Cutterman2. Of note, AY21 was the highest number of afloat billets gapped, verifying the more pessimistic predictions made by CDR Smicklas. As the Coast Guard continues to bring new hulls online while operating legacy assets the demand for afloat officers will far outstrip the limited and dwindling supply, with projections anticipating a 25% increase in cutter billets from current levels.3

Figure 2: Gapped Afloat Billets by Assignment Year. Author graphic.

Armed with this knowledge, there are several options left to decision-makers. The readily apparent options, from least to most intrusive are: letting the crisis play out, ameliorating critical shipboard habitability shortfalls, prioritizing afloat officers, and major force restructuring.

Wait and See

The least intrusive option the Coast Guard could pursue is a “wait and see” strategy, wherein program managers would assess the impacts of current retention policies impacts on officer retention and the afloat billet gap. In its current form, this exclusively entails the recent afloat bonus program.5 It is possible that the afloat billet gap will shrink as more officers elect to return afloat in pursuit of bonus money or career path incentives (arguably not the right reasons to go afloat).

There is a historical argument in favor of waiting as well, traditionally during economic boom cycles the service has difficulty retaining officers, while during economic downturns the officer corps is closer to full strength, this can be seen in the years following the great financial crisis when the officer billet gap was greatly reduced, only to steadily rise as the economy rebounded in the mid-2010s.9 Just as a prudent mariner would not hazard their vessel based on scanty radar information, Coast Guard programmers and planners cannot place bets on the future of the service based on unknowable economic outlooks. This strategy runs the risk of inaction and a deepening crisis while maintaining current priorities in hopes that new assets will alleviate habitability issues and that afloat bonuses will deepen the afloat talent pool. 8 If an economic crisis fails to materialize, or the officer corps reacts differently than during a financial crisis there is a chance that this strategy fails catastrophically and the afloat gap grows, adversely impacting operations.

Prioritize “Sea Service Attractiveness”


The next actionable item the Coast Guard can pursue to mitigate the exodus of afloat officers is prioritizing sea service attractiveness. By and large, this falls into two buckets: 1) addressing egregious shipboard habitability issues and 2) “nice to have” incentives such as Wi-Fi, preserving port calls, and reduced work days. On the latter measure, the Coast Guard has made significant investments in UW connectivity and bandwidth.

These creature comforts do not, unfortunately, extend to legacy Coast Guard assets, namely the Famous and Reliance class, medium endurance cutters, which suffer from debilitating habitability issues. These issues range from the whimsical– water intrusion flooding staterooms every time it rains to such an extent that it was re-christened “the waterfall suite,”—to the downright dangerous 2 ft. diameter holes hidden by appliances such as laundry machines or controllable pitch propeller systems that rely on emergency relief valves to regulate system pressures. Furthermore, it is not uncommon in the medium endurance cutter fleet to hear sea stories of tools falling into the bilge and puncturing the hull.

Compounded, these unappetizing work environments significantly diminish the already austere nature of serving aboard ship. These unfortunate conditions are the result of years of policy decisions de-emphasizing legacy asset sustainment in favor of other priorities, with newer hulls promising to resolve habitability issues once online. Building new cutters has taken longer than anticipated and legacy medium endurance cutters, the bulk of the Coast Guard Atlantic Area’s forward operating assets, are now expected to operate for another 5-15 years4. Given this timeline, one “down payment” the Coast Guard can make for the health of its future afloat officer corps, is addressing the dire habitability issues aboard its medium endurance cutters. Paired with the “nice to have” initiatives, such as shipboard Wi-Fi, money spent on increasing the attractiveness of sea duty could pay significant dividends in the years to come. 

The Coast Guard should increase habitability and work-life balance, through major investments throughout the fleet, particularly in the Medium Endurance Cutter (MEC) fleet. Some easy actions to take would be increasing cutter maintenance budgets to repair long overdue crew comfort issues, earmarking funds to upgrade or install rec/morale equipment that can be used underway, increasing maintenance periods to promote work-life balance, and decreasing the amount of homeport maintenance work completed by the crew. While none of these are ‘free’ and come with associated costs (funds being taken from other priorities, reduced operational time, more workload for shoreside maintenance units, etc.), they are worthwhile to explore in order to avert a major afloat staffing issue.


If sea duty attractiveness is increased, then an organic shift in officer billet preferences may occur and naturally fill the afloat gap. Increasing sea duty attractiveness is complex and difficult, and a myriad of solutions are currently being explored by the Coast Guard, namely afloat department head and XO bonuses5. Given that these bonuses may not prove to be effective the Coast Guard should be investigating additional incentives, starting with the least desirable afloat units. While monetary incentives through bonuses are very cogent, additional incentives could also be explored, such as offering geographically stable follow-on tours, weighing sea time when considering candidates for post-graduate studies, or more drastically increasing promotability for afloat officers. While none of these is a panacea for increasing sea duty desirability, these among other proposals should be explored.

Select and Direct

The proverbial easy button is to simply fill all afloat billets at the expense of the other communities, forcing sector officers, aviators, and support officers to be chronically understaffed while mandating that all afloat billets be filled. While this solution is theoretically easy to implement from a policy perspective, it may backfire as other operational and support communities suffer more acutely under staffing shortages, degrading joint mission capabilities and depleting the CG ‘brand’. More concerning is forcing officers into billets they have no interest (or expertise) in, leading to dissatisfaction at work, poor performance, and incompetence, all of which can congeal into toxic workplace environments aboard cutters, exacerbating the cutterman shortage through a vicious cycle. However, if afloat billets are prioritized while taking concrete steps to promote afloat habitability and work-life balance, there could be a natural shift in billet preference among the officer corps.

Prioritizing afloat billets at the expense of other communities puts ‘butts in seats’, averting the critical crisis of a rapidly dwindling afloat officer corps, but is not a sustainable long-term solution. It is worth noting, a solution that quickly closes the afloat officer gap while incentivizing officers to return afloat still proves elusive, as the Coast Guard started utilizing monetary incentives over the past 2 assignment years without tangibly reducing either the pending staffing shortage or reducing the number of ‘afloat’ billets gapped.1

Major Overhaul

Finally, if the Coast Guard is unable or unwilling to fill billets and can still meet its statutory mission objectives, it could pursue more extreme options involving a major force restructure of officer billets. This restructuring could take multiple forms, including heavier reliance upon automation technology, reducing afloat officer billets, replacing officers with senior enlisted, reducing shoreside support billets, and mandating additional rotations into the cutter fleet. Each of these solutions harbors unique pitfalls.

A forward-looking solution is to reduce officer manning on future platforms such as the OPC, while simultaneously reducing officer billets on existing high-technology platforms, such as the WMSLs and HEALY. Given that industry vessels operate with manning in the teens for similarly sized vessels, it is entirely feasible to sail Coast Guard cutters with a fraction of the existing billet structure. These vessels rely heavily upon automation technology such as machinery control software (MCS) and utilize a different maintenance philosophy that emphasizes heavy depot periods and limited organization (crew) level maintenance6. However, by doing this the Coast Guard would accept significantly increased operating risks (by reducing organic crew casualty response capabilities), reduced operational effectiveness (fewer personnel to staff operational missions, such as law enforcement teams, migrant watchstanders, or defense missions) a reduced talent pool, among other serious consequences. Over-reliance on technology to reduce manning has proven troublesome in the recent past (see LCS and original WMSL manning concepts), and current automatic control systems do not replace a trained technician. 7

Another major restructuring action would be to fill O3 and O4 billets with more junior (to the billet) officers or senior enlisted personnel. While pursuing either action would serve as a temporary salve, both options harbor risk, officers junior to the traditional grade may lack the appropriate experience to serve as an Operations Officer or Executive Officer for example. Meanwhile, filling junior officer billets with qualified warrant officers or senior enlisted personnel stymies the training pipeline for future commanding officers.

A final drastic option would be to reduce current staff, support, and other non-afloat billets for critical pay grades and enforce an afloat tour requirement at those grades. While a guaranteed way to fill vital afloat jobs, this could have cascading effects on the afloat community, and the officer corps writ large. Reducing the number of support billets could degrade the quality of cutter support and sea duty attractiveness may suffer. This move could lead to an exodus of officers who joined the Coast Guard for different reasons than pursuing a career afloat.

Similar to ‘prioritizing the cutterman’, this would reduce the afloat officer gap, but may end up damaging the officer corps more than it helps. On the surface, alternative solutions are capable of solving the afloat officer gap, but a quick analysis reveals that they would have significant costs that may outweigh their benefits.

Shoal Water on Port and Starboard

On paper there are a variety of straightforward solutions to reduce the U.S. Coast Guard’s afloat and overall officer shortage, including leaning into automation/optimization technology, replacing current afloat officer billets with senior enlisted or more junior officers, restructuring the support officer billets and forcing pay grades to go afloat. Unfortunately, all of these solutions have deleterious consequences that increase the risks of operational units, (while decreasing effectiveness), and potentially damage the long-term health of the Coast Guard officer corps.

To avoid the worst of these consequences, the “least bad” option for the Coast Guard is to prioritize cuttermen and fill afloat billets at the expense of other officer specialties, while simultaneously increasing sea duty attractiveness to mitigate the consequences of selecting and directing. These measures are contingent upon increasing cutter habitability and sea duty attractiveness. Here, the Coast Guard must look to the least habitable cutters —the medium endurance cutter fleet— and work to make these units more desirable by increasing crew comfort underway and maximizing homeport downtime.

Lieutenant Joseph O’Connell is a port engineer for the medium-endurance cutter product line, tasked with planning and managing depot maintenance on five Famous-class cutters. He previously served in USCGC Healy (WAGB-20) as a student engineer and USCGC Kimball (WSML-756) as the assistant engineer officer. He graduated from the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in 2015 with a degree in mechanical engineering and from MIT in 2021 with a double master’s of science in naval architecture and mechanical engineering.

These views are presented in a personal capacity and do not necessarily represent the official views of any U.S. government department or agency.

Note: due to the opaque nature of available billet vacancies, vacant afloat billets may not be true shipboard assignments, afloat training organization (ATO), select CG-7 jobs and others may be coded as “afloat,” obfuscating the true shortage.

*3.5% was calculated in the following manner: (Total # of officers-total gapped billets)/(total # of officers). This formula assumes there are no over-billeted positions, which is not entirely accurate, but serves as a decent proxy. 


1. Assignment Year Data from Coast Guard Messages: ALCGOFF 142/04, 062/05, 048/06, 048/07, 082/08, 072/09, 064/10, 038/11, 030/12, 029/13, 025/14, 025/15, 043/16, 057/17, 032/18, 061/19, 068/20, 048/21, 023/22

2. Demise of the Cutterman, CDR Smicklas, https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2015/august/demise-cutterman

3. State of the CG 2021, https://www.mycg.uscg.mil/News/Article/2533882/sotcg-get-all-the-details-on-the-commandants-announcements/

4. Report to Congress on CG Procurement, April 2022, https://news.usni.org/2022/04/05/report-to-congress-on-coast-guard-cutter-procurement-15

5. All Coast Notice: 105/20 Officer Afloat Intervention

6. CFR 46 Part 15: https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/CFR-2017-title46-vol1/xml/CFR-2017-title46-vol1-part15.xml

7. Unplanned costs of unmanned fleet, Jonathan Panter, Jonathan Falcone, https://warontherocks.com/2021/12/the-unplanned-costs-of-an-unmanned-fleet/

8. Federal Reserve, Financial and Macroeconomic Indicators of Recession Risk, June 2022;

9. https://www.federalreserve.gov/econres/notes/feds-notes/financial-and-macroeconomic-indicators-of-recession-risk-20220621.htm

10. https://www.npr.org/2011/07/29/138594702/a-weak-economy-is-good-for-military-recruiting

Featured Image: A member of Maritime Security Response Team West watches as a Sector San Diego MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter approaches the flight deck of the Coast Guard Cutter Waesche (WMSL 751) cutter off the coast of San Diego, March 29, 2023. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Taylor Bacon)

Seabed Mining: The Coast Guard’s Deep Future

By Kyle Cregge

What if the final frontier is much closer to home? From SpaceX to Space Force, many groups are seeking to dominate space in an era of Great Power Competition and commercialization. Yet for all the time humans have looked up, a far murkier domain below remains largely unexplored. The deep-sea and seabed remain less understood than our near abroad in space and yet contain myriad natural resources which have yet to be tapped. Beyond the familiar reserves of hydrocarbons, there are metallic nodules and crusts spread across the seabed, resting beneath national exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and claimed continental shelves, as well as below the high seas.

China, meanwhile, maintains a near-monopoly on the rare-earth metals that sustain the modern global economy and regularly leverages these key resources through coercive bilateral sanctions. Amidst these challenges, the private sector and public investment of many other nations will likely turn to the seabed to diversify their supply chains.  Environmental risks, scientific opportunities, and assent to untested international law remain open questions in these extractive ventures, but seabed mining is coming regardless. The US Coast Guard’s similar and enduring missions around maritime resource extraction make it well-suited to enforce domestic and international law in this expanding industry. The service should prepare for seabed mining by engaging with allies and partners and by supporting scientific research and environmental protection.

The Opportunity of Seabed Mining

Deep seabed mining is generally defined as extracting resources below a depth of 200 meters, such as the deep-sea polymetallic nodules first recorded by the HMS Challenger Expedition of 1872-1876.1 Private citizens and companies have intermittently attempted to capitalize on the potato-sized concretions over the past 150 years. These ambitions even served as the elaborate cover story between Howard Hughes and the CIA for the ship Glomar Explorer and the plan to recover the sunken Soviet submarine K-129 off the coast of Hawaii in 1974.2 More recently, the multinational firm Nautilus Minerals went bankrupt in 2019 following a decade’s worth of planning and investment to drill off the coast of Papua New Guinea for copper, gold, silver, and zinc contained within seafloor massive sulfide (SMS) deposits.3 Despite the legal and financial trouble Nautilus Minerals encountered, the bounty from mining the seabed will continue to encourage innovation and investment. While estimates vary, proposals have put the potential annual contributions of the deep-sea mining industry to the US economy at up to $1 trillion, and the value of all gold deposits alone worth up to $150 trillion.4 Compared to the value of US commercial fisheries – $5.6 billion in 2018 – seabed mining could be orders of magnitude more profitable.5

As part of its coercive economic diplomacy, China has selectively complicated foreign supply chains through export restrictions on rare earth metals.Long a recognized strength for China, former leader Deng Xiaoping stated in 1992, “The Middle East has oil. China has rare earths,” and his assessment has only continued to bear out to today. The communist nation currently supplies 95% of the global rare earths output and has used its virtual monopoly as a thinly-veiled economic weapon during diplomatic disputes with Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines in the last decade.7  The US imports up to 80% of its rare earths from China. Those resources feed into critical defense systems like guided missiles, lasers, and fighters like the F-35 Lightning II, which requires up to 920 pounds of rare earths during the production of each aircraft.8 The F-35 is currently in use or on order by fifteen countries that are currently European or Indo-Pacific partners or allies of the United States.9 Expanding beyond the single aircraft system, deliberately reduced rare earth exports could threaten each of these nation’s military modernizations. Whether for profit or supply chain preservation, America and its allies will likely look to the seabed to help meet these demands.

Why the Coast Guard?

Seabed mining requires a coordinated surface support infrastructure akin to hydrocarbon exploration and extraction, which is an oversight role the Coast Guard knows well. Robot tractors, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs), and other seafloor collectors will mine from seamounts or collect nodules deep below,10 feeding those resources up through a flexible riser pipe for refinement and processing, while a return pipe feeds the non-desired sediment and waste back to the seafloor.11 Barges and bulk carriers will then receive the collected seabed resources from the production support vessel and transfer them back to a port of call for further use. Additional remotely-operated vehicles (ROVs) will be launched from commercial ships on the surface to provide seabed surveillance, conduct scientific research, and monitor environmental impacts as part of the broader operation.

Just like the Coast Guard’s presence missions for domestic fisheries, cutters will represent US mining interests within and beyond the nation’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), though some national rights to seabed resources reach out to the extended continental shelf (ECS).  As the Vision to Combat Illegal, Unregulated, or Unlawful (IUU) Fishing states:

The U.S. Coast Guard has been the lead agency in the United States for at-sea enforcement of living marine resource laws for more than 150 years. As the only agency with the infrastructure and authority to project a law enforcement presence throughout the 3.36 million square mile U.S. EEZ and in key areas of the high seas, the U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to combat IUU fishing and uphold the rule of law at sea.12

While seabed resources are not living, domestic and international law similarly govern their extraction – and mining will require the same sort of maritime regulation. American domestic justification follows from the 1980 Deep Seabed Hard Mineral Resource Act (DSHMRA), which claimed the right of the US to mine the seabed in international waters, and specifically identifies the Coast Guard as responsible for enforcement.13

International Law and Engagement

Internationally, the Coast Guard will face the same problem the US Navy does with its freedom of navigation operations in places like the South China Sea. Through the presence of its surface vessels, the services seek to reinforce the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) as reflecting customary international law, while the US is not itself a party to the treaty. The US Senate has thus far avoided treaty ratification to avoid potentially surrendering sovereignty around seabed mining regulation to the International Seabed Authority (ISA), based in Kingston, Jamaica.14, 15

Formed in 1994, the organization retains responsibility under the United Nations for administering “The Area,” of the seabed beyond any nation’s EEZ.16  Because the US is a non-party state to UNCLOS and an observer, vice member, of the ISA, US companies must either pursue mining operations through another sponsor state under the ISA regime or operate outside the ISA’s purview based on US domestic law interpreted within the framework of UNCLOS. These complications are not the Coast Guard’s fault, nor is the service responsible to necessarily fix them. But given the intersection of maritime law enforcement, commercial resource extraction, and the desire for non-military engagement, the Coast Guard is far better suited than the US Navy in a “seabed maritime presence” role.   

The seabed is likely the next domain for competition over a “free and open Indo-Pacific,” and a “rules-based international order.” Among the most challenging in a future seabed competition would be China and Russia, states that have already used lawfare in the South China Sea and Arctic regions respectively to pursue their territorial gains. The two great powers may use the same playbook in the deep sea both in practice and through the ISA. The ISA has authorized 30 total contracts for exploration in The Area, and 16 are within the Clarion-Clipperton Zone (CCZ). The CCZ is a vast plain spanning over 3,000 miles of the central Pacific Ocean southeast of Hawaii which contains a vast supply of polymetallic nodules. Two separate Chinese and Russian companies have each received 15-year contracts from the ISA for 75,000 square kilometer areas for future exploration, in addition to areas on the Southwest Indian Ridge and Western Pacific for China specifically.17  No nation has yet indicated a serious move to begin commercial exploitation in The Area, but as the technology matures, China may seek to extend its rare earths monopoly and start mining throughout the Indo-Pacific.

While the US has claimed four tracks within the CCZ under its domestic law, it too has not yet begun commercial exploration.18 Yet there are numerous opportunities for theater engagement and for ensuring seabed mining practices are in accordance with international regulations. The Coast Guard’s enduring support to allies and partners for fisheries enforcement should naturally be mirrored to the seabed – particularly for Pacific nations. Many of the same island nations and territories working on IUU fishing are evaluating deep-sea mining ventures to stimulate their economies within their EEZs and out into the CCZ. 

The Pacific island nations Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and the Cook Islands all have active seabed licenses to explore within their EEZs. For US allies and partners, six of the top nine largest national EEZs are western or democratic nations, with a total area larger than the continent of Asia.19 This presents a vast potential bounty for seabed mining.  With its long history working with international coastal forces, the Coast Guard remains the most capable service to demonstrate American commitment to a rules-based international order across various future seabed mining ventures.

Preserving the Seabed Environment

The Coast Guard’s responsibility to support and enforce proper seabed mining will also be a natural outgrowth of its other enduring missions to support scientific research and environmental protection. As it has done with polar icebreaker missions, the Coast Guard routinely explores new domains with scientists and experts on board.20 The seabed requires further study, as a mere 20% of the global ocean has been mapped at better than a kilometer grid resolution, and the previous administration specifically directed the White House’s Ocean Policy Committee to develop a strategy to map the remaining 60% of unmapped American EEZ.21, 22 From what has been mapped, the seabed’s biodiversity is immense. Of the estimated 0.01% of the explored area of the CCZ, scientists have collected more than 1,000 animal species, of which 90% are believed to be new or undescribed. This tally does not account for over 100,000 potential microbe species.23 The Coast Guard can both support this research from its cutters and support its enduring statutory mission of Environmental Protection as well.24

Early studies have proposed immense risks to seabed environments from mining. Habitat loss, sediment smothering of seabed animals following resource processing, and issues of light, noise, or other vibrations are all significant concerns for unique resources and animals which have evolved over millions of years. If calls for an international moratorium on mining are ultimately ignored, the US should not leave China or Russia to shape the best practices for seabed mining.25 The US Coast Guard can be present and use its cutters or even onboard UUVs to monitor that mining practices are in accord with any standing international agreements to best preserve the environment.

A Deep Future for the Coast Guard

The Coast Guard has time to critically analyze its role in future seabed mining ventures but must consider the development of new service capabilities and build inter-agency bridges. Force structure assessments could partner with the Navy on multiple capability areas. UUVs operating at various depths could serve ongoing submarine force objectives while supporting Coast Guard mining monitoring requirements. If the Coast Guard determined it needed a larger platform for sustained presence and multi-helo or UUV deployment at a mining site, the Expeditionary Staging Base (ESB) could serve as a cheaper, known option from which to iterate. Regardless of platform, operations in the CCZ or broader Pacific would present a taxing operational requirement, given its distance from Hawaii and the necessary logistics train, compared to the service’s more common littoral missions.

To meet this demand signal, civilian policymakers must ensure that any profits associated with domestic commercial seabed mining would be taxed with a sufficient funding line to support the shipbuilding, logistics, command and control, and research and development in support of the Coast Guard seabed presence mission.

The Coast Guard must also strive to build its inter-agency relationships around seabed mining. The service is already a member of the State Department’s Extended Continental Shelf (ECS) Task Force, an inter-agency government body that already focuses on seabed issues.26 But the ECS Task Force is primarily focused on identifying the limits of the US Continental Shelf through geological survey and legal analysis; projections of national seabed mining objectives must go further. Beyond the interagency and joint force, the Coast Guard should liaise with academia, non-governmental and international organizations, and the private sector to contextualize the service’s future role. Each will have their initiatives and interests, but collectively they will better prepare the Coast Guard to engage with the seabed.

The Coast Guard has yet to be tasked to support presence, international maritime law enforcement, scientific research, or environmental protection with respect to seabed mining. Yet it has done those same types of missions on the surface for hundreds of years. While the commercial industry is developing its technologies and processes, the Coast Guard should project its role into the deep domain given its historic missions and requirements. Challenges abound, from international economic drivers to future science and environmental research. Working collaboratively, the Coast Guard can lead a network of partners to strengthen economic and maritime security around seabed mining, thereby promoting the rules-based international order and a free and open Indo-Pacific. Looking forward, the Coast Guard must look deeper to win on the seabed and in the future.

Lieutenant Kyle Cregge is a surface warfare officer. He served on a destroyer, cruiser, and aircraft carrier as an air defense liaison officer. He was selected by Carrier Strike Group 9 for the 2019 Junior Officer Award for Excellence in Tactics. He currently is a master’s degree candidate at the University of California San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy.


1. Scarminach, Shaine. 2019. “Diving Into The History Of Seabed Mining – Edge Effects”. Edge Effects. https://edgeeffects.net/seabed-mining/.

2. “The Secret On The Ocean Floor”. 2021. Bbc.Co.Uk. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/deep_sea_mining.

3. “Nautilus Minerals Officially Sinks, Shares Still Trading”. 2019. MINING.COM. https://www.mining.com/nautilus-minerals-officially-sinks-shares-still-trading/.

4. “Deep-Sea Mining Could Provide Access To A Wealth Of Valuable Minerals”. 2021. Theneweconomy.Com. https://www.theneweconomy.com/energy/deep-sea-mining-could-provide-access-to-a-wealth-of-valuable-minerals.

5. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (2020, February 21) Fisheries of the United States, 2018. Retrieved
from NOAA Fisheries: www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/fisheries-united-states-2018

6. Vekasi, Kristin. 2021. “Will China Weaponise Its Rare Earth Edge? | East Asia Forum”. East Asia Forum. https://www.eastasiaforum.org/2021/03/25/will-china-weaponise-its-rare-earth-edge/.

7. Tiezzi, Shannon. 2021. “Is China Ready To Take Its Economic Coercion Into The Open?”. Thediplomat.Com. https://thediplomat.com/2019/05/is-china-ready-to-take-its-economic-coercion-into-the-open/.

8. Narayan, Pratish and Deaux, Joe. ” U.S. Fighter Jets and Missiles Are in China’s Rare-Earth Firing Line”. 2021. Bloomberg.Com. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-05-29/u-s-fighter-jets-and-missiles-in-china-s-rare-earth-firing-line.

9. Pawlyk, Oriana. 2021. “Switzerland Becomes Latest Nation To Choose F-35 For Its Next Fighter Jet”. Military.Com. https://www.military.com/daily-news/2021/06/30/switzerland-becomes-latest-nation-choose-f-35-its-next-fighter-jet.html.

10. “Deep-Sea Mining”. 2018. IUCN. https://www.iucn.org/resources/issues-briefs/deep-sea-mining.

11. Ibid.

12. Admiral Karl L. Schultz. “The United States Coast Guard’s Vision to Combat IUU Fishing”. September 2020. https://www.uscg.mil/Portals/0/Images/iuu/IUU_Strategic_Outlook_2020_FINAL.pdf

13. “30 U.S. Code Chapter 26 – DEEP SEABED HARD MINERAL RESOURCES”. 2021. LII / Legal Information Institute. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/30/chapter-26.

14. Ibid.

15. Verma, Aditya Singh. “A Case For The United States’ Ratification Of UNCLOS”. 2020. Diplomatist. https://diplomatist.com/2020/05/02/a-case-for-the-united-states-ratification-of-unclos/.

16. “About ISA | International Seabed Authority”. 2021. Isa.Org.Jm. https://www.isa.org.jm/about-isa.

17. “Minerals: Polymetallic Nodules | International Seabed Authority”. 2021. Isa.Org.Jm. https://www.isa.org.jm/exploration-contracts/polymetallic-nodules.

18. Groves, Steven. “The U.S. Can Mine The Deep Seabed Without Joining The U.N. Convention On The Law Of The Sea”. 2021. The Heritage Foundation. https://www.heritage.org/report/the-us-can-mine-the-deep-seabed-without-joining-the-un-convention-the-law-the-sea.

19. Migiro, Geoffrey, World Facts, Countries Zones, All Continents, North America, Central America, and South America et al. 2018. “Countries With The Largest Exclusive Economic Zones”. Worldatlas. https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-largest-exclusive-economic-zones.html.

20. Ensign Evan Twarog and Lieutenant (J.G.) Cody Williamson, “Polar Security Cutters Will Face An Evolving Arctic”. 2021. U.S. Naval Institute. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2021/january/polar-security-cutters-will-face-evolving-arctic.

21. Amos, Jonathan. “One-Fifth Of Earth’s Ocean Floor Is Now Mapped”. 2020. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-53119686.

22. Cornwall, Warren. “Trump Plan To Push Seafloor Mapping Wins Warm Reception”. 2019. Science | AAAS. https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/11/trump-plan-push-seafloor-mapping-wins-warm-reception.

23. Heffernan, Olive. “Seabed Mining Is Coming — Bringing Mineral Riches And Fears Of Epic Extinctions”. Nature.Com. https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-019-02242-y.

24. Commander Sharon Russell and Lieutenant James Stevens. “The Coast Guard Can Take On DoD Environmental Response Duties”. 2020. U.S. Naval Institute. https://www.usni.org/magazines/proceedings/2020/february/coast-guard-can-take-dod-environmental-response-duties.

25. Rosane, Olivia. “Major Companies Join Call for Deep-Sea Mining Moratorium”. 2021. https://www.ecowatch.com/deep-sea-mining-moratorium-corporations-2651368554.html

26. “About The U.S. Extended Continental Shelf Project – United States Department Of State”. 2021. United States Department Of State. https://www.state.gov/about-the-u-s-extended-continental-shelf-project/.

Featured Image: ROV Deep Discoverer investigates a diverse deep sea coral habitat on Retriever Seamount. (NOAA photo)

Coast Guard Budget Battles Revisited

Post by Chuck Hill

Why does the Coast Guard seem to be losing the budget battle within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)? While funding for the Department has grown, the Coast Guard budget has in fact declined in real terms. I suspect it has a lot to do with perceptions of a miss-match between DHS missions and Coast Guard missions.

Congress attempted to address this perceived mismatch in the Homeland Security Act of 2002 by requiring an annual report of resources allocated to DHS missions and non-DHS missions, to ensure non-DHS missions are not ignored. I will refer to this “Annual Review of  the  United States Coast  Guard’s  Mission  Performance” (pdf) as the Performance Report.

It is an interesting report, but it does have significant weaknesses, largely stemming from the use of undifferentiated and undefined “resource hours” as a measure of effort. I reviewed a report back in 2010 and offered my criticisms, which have not changed herehere, and here.

Unfortunately, I think this report may be part of the problem, in that it defines several Coast Guard missions as “non-DHS,” and it gives the impression, erroneously I believe, that roughly half of the Coast Guard’s budget goes for things outside the DHS charter.

Of the eleven Coast Guard missions, six were regarded as Non-Homeland Security missions: SAR, AtoN, Living Marine Resources, Marine Environmental Protection, Marine Safety, and Ice Operations.

The five Homeland Security missions are Ports, waterways, and coastal security, Drug Interdiction, Undocumented Migrant Interdiction, Defense Readiness, and Other Law Enforcement (primarily Foreign Fisheries Enforcement).

But these distinctions are fallacious.

The Department views its own missions as:

  1. Preventing Terrorism and Enhancing Security
  2. Securing and managing our borders
  3. Enforcing and administering our Immigration laws
  4. Safeguarding and securing cyberspace
  5. Ensuring resilience to Disaster

NON-DHS MISSIONS: All these missions, at least in some respects, support DHS missions.

SAR: A robust SAR organization is clearly a necessary foundation for “Ensuring resilience to Disaster.” What were Katrina and Sandy but huge SAR cases? SAR command posts and communications are the skeletal structure upon which Disaster Response is based. After all, every SAR case is really a response to a disaster of some dimension. If the 3,000 plus people the CG saves every year had died in a single incident, it would have been a disaster on the order of 9/11.

AtoN: Most of the population lives near the coast or inland waterways. Most depend heavily on marine transportation and in many cases fishing. When there is a disaster, restoring safe navigation is a high priority both for bringing in assistance and for recovery.

Marine Environmental Protection (MEP):  The Deepwater Horizon was a disaster. MEP regulation attempts head off disasters and mitigate its effects, that is “ensuring resilience to disaster” plus offshore and port-side energy infrastructure are potential terrorists targets.

Marine Safety: Marine Safety is designed to prevent marine disasters. A sunken cruise ship could be a disaster on the order of 9/11. Marine Safety standards tends to mitigate the effects of a terrorist attack on marine targets

Living Marine Resources: Destruction of valuable marine resources can actually be as disaster for the economy of some communities.

Ice Operations: Domestic icebreakers can prevent flooding. We recently had a case where a community in Alaska would have been left without fuel, if an icebreaker had not opened a path for delivery.


Safeguarding and securing cyberspace: It is not one of the Coast Guard’s eleven statutory missions, but this is in fact one of the Commandant’s key priorities. Still it is not addressed in the Coast Guard’s annual Performance Report.

THE NON-DHS DHS MISSIONS: Two missions listed as DHS missions in fact are of little interest to the department, and performance goals (which are themselves perhaps inadequate) in these two areas are not being met.

Defense Readiness: Apparently the Coast Guard is doing more for Defense Readiness now than it was before 9/11, but really little has been done in terms of adapting resources for wartime roles. Additionally, a potentially major Coast Guard contribution to defense readiness, the major cutters, are being replaced at such a slow rate, the fleet continues to age, making it less reliable.

Other Law Enforcement (primarily foreign fisheries): DHS probably has little interest in this. This mission also suffers from the aging of the cutter fleet, and additionally the very large US EEZ in the Western Pacific has been largely ignored.

Problems in DHS: I do think the Departments placement of priority on counter-terrorism over more general disaster response is misplaced,  and this is another source of problems.


I will quote my closing paragraph from my 2010 post,

When it comes time to decide the Coast Guard budget, I would suggest Congress take a different approach. Consider return on investment. If you like the return you are getting from the Coast Guard now, invest more.  Don’t say, “Agency ‘X’ isn’t working, we need to put more money into that.” “The Coast Guard, is doing a good job with their current budget so we don’t need to give them any more.” I don’t quote scripture very often. I’m not religious, but there is some wisdom there. Check out the story of the “good and faithful servant” Matthew 25:14-30.


This article can be found in its original form on Chuck Hill’s CG blog.  Chuck retired from the Coast Guard after 22 years service. Assignments included four ships, Rescue Coordination Center New Orleans, CG HQ, Fleet Training Group San Diego, Naval War College, and Maritime Defense Zone Pacific/Pacific Area Ops/Readiness/Plans. Along the way he became the first Coast Guard officer to complete the Tactical Action Officer (TAO) course and also completed the Naval Control of Shipping course. He has had a life-long interest in naval ships and history.

Sea Control 6: USCG Adventures


USCG Mobile Training Branch member, James Daffer, has traveled the world. We talk with him about what he’s seen in the world of capacity building for maritime security abroad, soft power and relationship building, cultural challenges when working amongst different peoples, and stories about his travels. SC Episode 6 – USCG Adventures (Download)

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