The U.S. Coast Guard in an Era of Great Power Competition with ADM Linda L. Fagan
This transcript is from a CSIS event hosted on October 17, 2023. Watch the full video here.
Seth G. Jones: Welcome to the Maritime Security Dialogue. And good afternoon. I’m Seth Jones, senior vice president and director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. On behalf of CSIS and the U.S. Naval Institute, it’s my pleasure to welcome all of you to this next event of the Maritime Security Dialogue Series. The series is made possible through the generous support of our partner, HII. It’s been a long and outstanding relationship. So thank you very much.
It has been a busy year for the U.S. Coast Guard, from leading the search for the submersible Titan and rescuing survivors in the Maui wildfires to supporting freedom of navigation operations in the Indo-Pacific. To discuss these issues and more, it’s my pleasure to welcome the 27th the commandant of the Coast Guard, Admiral Linda Fagan. The admiral assumed duties as the 27th commandant on June 1st, 2022. She oversees all global Coast Guard operations and 42,000 active duty, 7,000 Reserve, 8,700 civilian personnel, as well as the support of 21,000 Coast Guard auxiliary volunteers. She previously served as the 32nd vice commandant. And just wanted to note that Admiral Fagan has served on all seven continents, from the snows of Ross Island, Antarctica, where I have not been but it’s on my bucket list – (laughter) – to the heart of Africa, from Tokyo to Geneva, and in many ports along the way.
Thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate having you. And I will hand this over to Vice Admiral Pete Daly. Admiral Daly is the chief executive officer and publisher of the U.S. Naval Institute. Our strong partner over the last several years, with HII. Vice Admiral Daly served as deputy commander and chief of staff, U.S. Fleet Forces Command. His naval career spanned more than 30 years. He’s also a native of Chicago, where I spent several years in graduate school. He’s a graduate of the College of Holy Cross and holds a master’s degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.
One last comment before handing this off to Admiral Daly. For those of you that would like to ask questions in the room, please scan – use your phone to scan the QR code. And please identify yourself and Admiral Daly as he is moving through the discussion, will ask questions. So, again, please scan the phone and the QR code, and then put in your questions that way. So, Pete, I will hand it over to you.
Vice Admiral Peter H. Daly (Ret.): Thank you, Seth. Appreciate it.
Well, good afternoon, again, Admiral, and thanks for taking the time to do this Maritime Security Dialogue. So just as that overview question at the beginning here, you know, the National Security Strategy, very strong in citing the PRC as the pacing threat. And increasingly, the Coast Guard is under demand to do more, as if that didn’t happen before, because people are always asking you to do more. But more deployments out in the western Pacific, I think more realization that the South China Sea, the environment there, not to mention the other island nations out there, there’s a lot of matching with the Coast Guard’s capabilities.
So Munro just on its way back, almost back to Alameda. The patrol for Southwest Asia 30 years. Awesome. So what needs to happen now to set you up for the future, for what looks and appears to be a very long mission?
Admiral Linda L. Fagan: Yeah. So thank you. And thanks, Pete, to and CSIS for hosting this great forum and dialogue. And I want to start – and this may be a statement of the obvious to some of you but it’s worth just reflecting on what the United States Coast Guard is and, you know, help provide context for why the demand – the global demand for the Coast Guard is what it is.
So, you know, we are a maritime service. We’re a first response agency, a law enforcement agency, but we’re a military force and that confuses people at times – a military force that is not part of the Department of Defense, and so we are one of the key operating agencies within the Department of Homeland Security.
You know, as you look at threats and risk, risk to the nation, to us as a maritime nation, these are maritime governance issues, maritime sovereignty issues, and as we look at the economic prosperity that we derive from being a maritime nation Coast Guard plays a key role in increasing, you know, both maritime governance, domain awareness, security, and sovereignty.
So you specifically mentioned the Indo-Pacific and, you know, as you say we’ve got a cutter coming back and we’ve been with some regularity, not as persistently as some would like to see us, have been operating cutters in the Western Pacific as a demonstration of, you know, the rule of law, governance, how professional maritime organizations conduct themselves consistent with the global order and accepted national order.
So as we engage then with island nations, many of them small, throughout the region the demand for us it is partnership, it’s capacity building, it’s creating opportunity, and one of the things we’re very good at organizationally is we will come – we will meet you where you are.
If you’re a small nation and you’ve got a nascent coast guard and you’ve just got a couple of small boats and maybe a small patrol boat we’ll help you with outboard engine repair. We’ll help teach how to do law enforcement boardings, fisheries enforcement. Pick an area where you may find yourself threatened or impinged upon by another nation with regard to sovereignty. And so, you know, helping create capacity, certainly in the Indo-Pacific, for nations to enforce and ensure their own national sovereignty.
Each nation has a right to that sovereignty and creating that capacity as it pertains to the maritime realm is a key part of what we do as we operate in the Indo-Pacific.
Vice Adm. Daly: Thank you. I noticed a report recently that you’re going to put a cutter out there, kind of a dedicated engagement vehicle, with the Harriet Lane. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. No, I’d be happy to talk about the Harriet Lane.
So the Harriet Lane is a 270-foot medium endurance cutter that’s currently home ported on the East Coast of the United States and, you know, we have budget support to rehome port Harriet Lane into Honolulu as a Pacific support tender.
So one of the exciting things about a Pacific support tender, you know, forward into Honolulu – and she’ll be there for three-plus years as we look at what other opportunity there might be for home porting in the region but for now we’re focused on Honolulu and getting that ship out and operating so we can learn – you know, learn as we go as that ship operates in the Pacific.
What I’m excited about with regard to the Pacific support tender is we used to operate a Caribbean support tender, the Gentian. We know how to do this. It is a proven operating model that we’ve had success with in other regions that we’re now taking into the Indo-Pacific and with the intent of helping create a little more persistent presence of Coast Guard – you know, Coast Guard forces.
And so I know that team is really excited and that crew can’t wait to get the ship into Honolulu and then begin operating with partners and allies in the region.
Vice Adm. Daly: Thank you.
Just a final question on this global Coast Guard issue. You know, I alluded to it as you did that people are asking you to do more, and do you feel as you look to the future that there’s a realistic expectation for scaling these things? I mean, one thing to send a cutter out and make the deployment. Setting up the Harriet Lane is another step. But do you feel like for this new mantle, if you will, of doing more further away, like, I noticed the other day that they set up a parts support and a special logistics support for the West Pac cutters. Are you – are you feeling like you’re getting the resources that come with the mission?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. So, you know, a lot of interest, obviously, in the Indo-Pacific, and a lot of conversation within, you know, senior, senior levels within the government. And you know, the approach that we are taking to this is, is there – is there opportunity for the Coast Guard? Yes. Is there return on investment, you know, for nominal investments? What does the nation get in return for increased capacity of the Coast Guard in the region, particularly in the Pacific?
And so, as we have these conversations, though, this is an in-addition-to, not an in-lieu-of conversation. And so, you know, we’ve put together a scalable plan, what might be in the art of the possible to increase Coast Guard capacity in the region. But until there’s budget support, we’ve got – we have mission in the homeland. We play a critical role in homeland security. And there are many other regions in the world, as well, where we’re in demand. And so there – for any organization, there’s always a tension point between the resources and capacity you actually have, where that demand is, and then how are you meeting the expectations and the needs of, in this case, the American public and the – and the nation.
Vice Adm. Daly: So one of those things that predates this let’s go further west is IUU, illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing. I’m doing that for our audience because everybody uses IUU like they know what it is. But it’s a complex challenge, and it’s aggressive in the Pacific but all over the world it’s an issue. How do you cover that mission?
And do you – I’d like to connect it with another thing. Do you see things like unmanned, AI, and other intel means helping you with this?
Adm. Fagan: OK. So IUU fishing is a global problem. There is no spot on the globe that is immune from the theft of natural resource, and that’s what this is. It’s stealing another nation’s natural resources or on the high seas, again, fishing in ways that are not sustainable and are inconsistent with agreed international law, like things like the high seas driftnet convention.
We published an IUU strategy – it was probably two, three years ago now – as an organization to help bring alignment and understanding around the problem of illegal fishing, why it is a global problem, and why it is a maritime governance and a sovereignty challenge. So as we approach that problem, you know, it can look and feel a little bit different depending on what region you are talking about around the world. But so bringing clarity to the challenge and then seeking opportunities through partnerships, bilateral agreements, MOUs either bilaterally, and multilaterally, or minilaterally is really the way ahead through some of the – to counter some of the challenge of IUU fishing.
And as I talked about some of the work that we’re going to do in the Pacific, partnering with nations to help them create their own capacity, to ensure their own sovereignty, their own professionalism and skill to enforce their own nation laws around fishing and fishing enforcement. So we have had great success with shiprider agreements and bilateral agreements. And we started using, particularly the bilateral agreements in the counternarcotics fight, you know, focused in South and Central America.
Some of those are – were currently sort of written and negotiated broadly enough that they can be viewed to include fish. In other cases, we’re working to up update those IUUS, or enter into them. When I have engagements with my peers internationally, almost invariably somebody will raise a hand and say, hey, that bilateral or that shiprider agreement, how can I get one of those? Like they can’t get to them quick enough. So bringing focus and kind of unity of effort has been a primary focus area.
You specifically raised then in the second part of the question around unmanned systems technology, right? There is absolutely a role to play in this particular problem set of technology. Frankly, there’s actually quite a bit of information just open source that, you know, needs to be brought together, aligned, analyzed, illuminating the patterns of behavior that demonstrate there’s illegal fishing going on, or fish transshipment at sea.
So that when you are able to generate a ship with the people and the authorities and the expertise, that that ship goes right out to the point where the act – the illegal activity is occurring, so that you can utilize your most precious resources in the most effective way. And so there is work going on there, but there’s still work –working ground to be gained with regard to how technology helps illuminate the illegal activity, and then allows better efficacy with regard to enforcement and follow through.
Vice Adm. Daly: Thank you. I know that was a long question.
Just like to go now –you just touched on South America and narcotics slightly. But let’s go, if we would – if we can, to the border and border enforcement. So we’re seeing the news reports, the massive wave of people coming across on the land border. And then you’ve got the recent events with Israel and Hamas and people saying, what could possibly go wrong? And you’ve got special interest aliens based on their travel patterns, their country of origin. And you’ve also got an increased number of people who are showing up on the terror watch list. The Coast Guard’s mission is to take the maritime side of this. And could you fill us in on how that’s going? Because we hear a lot less about it.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. So we – you know, we are fully engaged in the maritime border of the United States. Customs and Border Patrol as well. To your point that you don’t hear so much about it, because the numbers aren’t as great. You know, you can talk thousands and thousands a day at the land border. And then, you know, it’s tens and twenties, and maybe a hundred. There’s an order of magnitude difference between the land border and the sea border.
The criticality in the maritime border approach is, you know, really about life saving. As people attempt these incredibly dangerous journeys by sea, you know, it feels like everything’s fine, and then it’s not. And the chances of people losing their lives in these really dangerous crossings are much, much higher on the maritime side than they – than they are on the land border side.
So, you know, last year, as we came into the beginning of this year, you know, back in January, there was a lot of news that was showcasing, you know, the flows in the maritime side. There was definitely some attention. You saw migrants landing in some of the keys in the Florida Keys. And so we shifted assets in priority into, you know, the Florida straits in the Caribbean to ensure that we’re not allowing the loss of life if people attempt those arduous journeys. And it is work that we’re engaged in, you know, basically every day – 365, 24/7. And, you know, remain committed to, you know, the humanitarian work of preventing that loss of life at sea.
You know, it is always challenging work for our crews, you know, who are seeing firsthand the – you know, the humanitarian crisis, just the desperation of people that we are encountering at sea as they seek to gain access to the United States. We, beginning about that same time period, began fielding of biometric tools onto our cutters so that we can ensure that as we encounter someone at sea, that we know who it is, so that, you know, you don’t – that you’ve got clear identity. But then also, should you encounter them again, that there’s consequence and understanding that this is somebody that’s attempted a second – you know, a second attempt.
But it is definitely – it is challenging work. It’s work that we do, you know, in support of the other operating agencies within DHS. And we remain committed to, you know, really preventing or minimizing the chance of loss of life at sea.
Vice Adm. Daly: Thank you. Just to turn to acquisition for a minute. As a Navy guy, I’ve looked with admiration on the delivery of the NSCs and – the national security cutters and FRC, fleet response cutters. And it’s so impressive to see those ships out there now in the numbers they are. And so I think, obviously, they didn’t all go perfect from the beginning, but they seem to be going pretty darn well now. But could you talk about the acquisition of the polar security cutter and the offshore patrol cutter, and how those are going? Because they’ve had some rough beginnings. And maybe you could fill us in on those acquisitions.
Adm. Fagan: OK. We’ll start with the really good news, and you highlighted it, the national security cutters and the – and the fast-response cutters. So the – you know, the national security cutter is a program of record, originally of eight, and we will – we’ve just taken delivery of the 10th and we’ll end up with 11. They have been exceptional ships, game-changing ships in many regards; you know, give us capabilities, requirements, and readiness that leave us on part with our Navy peers, and particularly the frigates. Just incredible ships.
The fast-response cutters, same; 154-foot ship, fundamentally different than the patrol boats that they’ve replaced. Far more capable, technologically more sophisticated. The at-sea reach, these are not – and these are not medium-endurance cutters. We’ve had one of the cutters in Guam go from Guam to Kwajalein Atoll and back. It’s, like, 7,000 at-sea miles round trip. I mean, a big ship is challenged to do the same work. Incredible ships, and we’re really excited to be operating them on behalf of the nation.
The offshore patrol cutter is the phase one of the offshore patrol cutter acquisition. It was awarded successfully to Eastern Shipbuilding. And many of you know that Eastern, shortly after their award, experienced a hurricane that dramatically impacted the yard physically and the workforce. It was a devastating hurricane. And so there were just a number of efforts through extraordinary relief to ensure that that yard was able to construct and begin to build. And we’re – you know, we’re – in fact, I’m really excited Argus, which is OPC1, will be launched next week. And so this is just an incredible milestone for the yard, and ships two, three and four are in various stages of construction.
The design of the ship is incredible. We’re really looking forward to seeing what those – what those ships can do. But it has been – it has been a long, long journey with a lot of – a lot of effort in getting us to where we’re going to be next week, and I’m excited about that.
We competed phase two – we re-competed a phase two on OPC, and that award was to Austal in Mobile, and excited to see that yard begin to construct ships as well.
Polar security cutter, the award on – so, you know, you talked about – I have been on all seven continents, right? So my first tour as an ensign was on the Polar Star, so, you know, had – my first opportunity in Antarctica was on an icebreaker. And Polar Star was built in 1976. And so when I was on her in the mid-’80s, she was actually having some sort of midlife struggles. Icebreaking is really demanding work. It’s challenging work on the – on the part of, you know, the ship and keeping the ship operating. Polar Star has just left the shipyard – Mare Island Shipyard in San Francisco. Got to go back to Seattle, and here in a few weeks will sail south to do the breakout of McMurdo for the resupply of those science operations both at McMurdo and the South Pole station.
So polar security cutter was awarded to Halter. And Halter, the parent company was in – was in Singapore, and so we began – they began making the capital investments, began detailed design around the ship and the ship design. The yard was sold about a year ago – I don’t remember the exact date – and was bought by Bollinger, and is now Bollinger Mississippi. Bollinger has been working hard to accelerate the design maturity. In shipbuilding, if you begin to build the ship too soon, before you have design maturity, it may feel like the right thing to do upfront, but it ends up costing you both monetarily and schedule-wise on the back end of a – of a complex ship construction.
So we’re still – we’re working hard, leaned in on beginning to get that ship built. There have been some test coupons, you know, kind of sections of hull put together. It’s an incredibly complicated ship from a hull-structure standpoint. So we talked about OPC. OPC is 17 or 18 units that will kind of get put together and then come together to form the full ship. The polar security cutter will be 85, and so just a very dense ship. So the capital investments are in place. We’re working hard with the yard to get the detailed design where it needs to be so we can begin accelerating to build and construct that ship.
The polar – and this is a joint program office between the Coast Guard and the Navy. It is important to sort of reflect and remind us that in addition to being a maritime nation we’re an Arctic nation and so a polar security cutter for our own national sovereignty and security as it pertains to our exclusive economic zone, you know, off the coast of Alaska this is – you know, there’s a national security imperative here.
We’re excited that we’ll be operating the ship on behalf of the nation and, you know, remain committed to seeing this to success. But we’ve got ground to cover still with that ship.
Vice Adm. Daly: Certainly do. It’s hard to just go back and build not just a complex design but as I understand it’s a German design. The basic design has been modified for us and it’s been a long time since we’ve built an icebreaker.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. Yeah. I have steel coupons on my desk. They’re, like, about like this. That isn’t even that thickest steel that will go into a hull. And so preheat requirements, post-heat requirements, the proximity of the scantlings – like, so literally the welders who will begin putting the ship together will need to be in a cooling suit because the steel that they will be on needs to be 200 degree(s). It’s going to be a complex ship to build. But it – the design – we’re definitely accelerating into where we need to be with it and excited to see it come to life.
Vice Adm. Daly: Well, I wish you luck with that. It’s an important program, obviously.
If I could shift now to workforce for a minute. In remarks at Harvard’s National Preparedness Leadership Initiative last week you highlighted the need to take decisive action even in ambiguous situations and you went on to say that the principles of crisis leadership that enable success like hurricanes or oil spills response are equally important during slower moving crises like your ongoing workforce shortage.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah.
Vice Adm. Daly: Can you talk about that challenge and your vision as the commandant for the workforce?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. So, you know, when I came in, you know, it’s typical to publish a commandant’s, you know, signal priorities for your four-year tenure. And I knew 16 months ago that people in workforce needed to be, you know, sort of front, center, cornerstone, however you want to talk about where and how that workforce aligns with regard to our priorities.
If we don’t address the people aspects of the organization it does become existential, right? All – I’m talking about these great new cutters, you know, boats, assets, using technology to enforce illegal fishing. That doesn’t happen if you don’t have the human being, the intellectual capital, the literally heartbeats that allow you to operate that equipment and create – in fact, reach over the rail of a small boat and, you know, pull somebody from harm’s way in the water. We have to have people. They truly are our most valuable asset.
Going back three, four, or five years ago, COVID has definitely had an impact to some of our recruiting challenge because you can – you see the recruiting numbers are starting to rebound in some pretty significant and positive ways right now. But we definitely – and not just the Coast Guard. The other military services – and, frankly, and all of you represent different employers – just employers in general there is a race for talent to bring into your workforce.
So I need people with a propensity to serve that are drawn to the missions of the Coast Guard. One of the things that we’ve done is we’ve reinvested in recruiter capacity. We’ve been hiring recruiters. We’re opening recruiting offices. We’re better leveraging technologies.
We’re using our precious marketing money to be more targeted. So, for example, we used – there was a time where we had – we sponsored a NASCAR. There was another time where, you know, we might have done a big splashy ad as part of the Super Bowl.
Now we’re going to – this group’s probably old enough – Twitch. It’s an online collaborative gaming site, right. Going to where young people are to help excite them and entice them to join us.
I can say one of the things that leaves me really heartened and I’m not losing sleep over and that is the quality of the talent that we’re bringing into the workforce. I go to Cape May, I see the young people that are going through there, and they are really exceptional and excited. I just don’t have enough of them. So that has been a primary focus area.
The other thing, though, that we’ve got going on internal to the organization is around talent management, and how – once we’ve – once we’ve brought you in to serve, how – what the conditions of employment are. Like and you came up through, you know, the Navy military system. We run an up or an out system. You come in at the bottom, and you step your way forward. And it’s there’s some rigidity in it that not all of the workforce is willing to continue to accept as a condition of employment.
So we’re doing things like, you know, you can opt out of a promotion, you can hold in place. We’re lateraling people into the into the service who maybe come with chef credentials, or emergency medical credentials. The system we had been operating forces you to start at the bottom, doesn’t accept any of your actual life experience, as where now we’re going to – oh, no, you’ve got that credential. We’re going to speed you through your A school and get you out into the fleet quicker. So the challenge I’ve made to the team is we need to question every assumption that we’ve got in place as to whether it’s serving us well or not. What we won’t change is the fundamental nature of who we are as a military service.
We will remain a maritime, military, first response, law enforcement agency, you know, in uniform and all the identity that goes with that. But there’s – we’ve got a lot of – we’ve got a lot of space to make some of those changes. And so that the challenge is, right, this is the sort of the pace. This isn’t a hurricane. It’s taken us years to get here. And it’s going to take sustained effort to continue to move us forward and get out of some of the traditional assumptions that had served us well but no longer will, as we move forward with a modern workforce.
Vice Adm. Daly: You talked about the rigidity of the system and people want more flexibility. And I remember thinking when I was serving that it was very much like being an indentured servant. The company really owned you. And I could see where people today would rail against those kinds of constraints.
So you talked about recruiting a little bit and the expectation. How about the flexibility and finding that flexibility in service at sea? It seems so demanding. And yet – and you’ve got all these different areas that you can serve and contribute in the Coast Guard. How about the cutterman piece, the service at sea?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. And so obviously, you know, we are a maritime service, and service at sea is a critical component – operational component of the – of the service, and how we create effect for the American public. And so what we hear consistently from our ships crews is the work at sea – they love being at sea. The work is rewarding. We’ve done two things that make it that much easier. Starlink, right, in increasing people’s capacity to be able to stay in touch with their families and not be so disconnected while they’re at sea. That has contributed significantly to morale and just, you know, feeling connected when we’ve got a ship on a major deployment.
What the crews tell us is it’s not the work at sea that is, you know, causing sort of the stress and fatigue. It’s what happens when the ship comes back. It’s the maintenance cycle shoreside. It’s the inability to actually get some downtime and reset time. And so some of the work that we’re doing on the mission support side of the house is designed to help support some of that so that we – it is viewed as, you know, attractive to go to sea, that it’s sustainable to go to sea, and that we continue to draw people into that mission.
And then we create opportunities so it’s not, you know, every tour is at sea. That you’ve got – you’ve got an opportunity to cycle ashore and either do, you know, policy and program work at headquarters or, you know, we’re doing some innovative work with the way we’re managing our cooks, right? The cook grade is probably – you can’t – you can’t send a ship to sea if you don’t have cooks, right? And you need engineers, and a few other people. But, like, the cooks really become the heart of the ship.
And so, for example, in Alameda, California, we’ve got a number of national security cutters out there. We’ve just – that galley had been a contract galley. We’ve just changed it back to being a Coast Guard run, so by our culinary specialists, with enough capacity that is one of the national support cutters needs to get underway and might be short a cook. We can cycle them so that they’re assigned ashore, but have an opportunity to rotate at sea. And that we’re getting some really great feedback and dividends from that. So it’s a different approach for how you create manning and opportunity.
And then, frankly, we talked about the Harriet Lane. You know, providing access to interesting port calls is still – you know, sailors for centuries have loved having the opportunity to see the world. And so it’s great to be able to provide that opportunity as well.
Vice Adm. Daly: You mentioned – we were talking earlier about the competition, not just for talent but also for parts, and engineering, and just companies in general needing people. I heard recently that the Coast Guard is trying to up its throughput of helicopter pilots and it’s having trouble getting the Navy to produce them. And is even looking perhaps at having the Army – using the Army for that. Have you –
Adm. Fagan: Yeah, so it’s interesting. It’s funny, you know, you asked that specific question. We were talking about this exact thing right before I came over here. And, you know, we’re looking at different ways to create a helicopter pilot. So the system right now, we use Whiting Field and the Navy. It takes about 24 months to build a helicopter pilot. We are currently piloting a process where, through a commercial contractor, we’re going to provide – you know, the pilot at the other end of it will have the same amount of time in air in an aircraft. It will be more focused in the rotary-wing as opposed to 80 hours in a small, single-engine fixed-wing aircraft. You can drop the time down to 14 months to create the same pilot.
And so we’ve just – we’ve got a couple of pilots going through it right now. I’ll let you know how it goes. Other services have done similar with regard to, you know, sort of speeding that that throughput. Because, yeah, you know, I talked about the ships, you asked about the ships. But the – you know, the fixed-wing and rotary-wing capacity in the service are equally as critical to how we create mission impact. And making sure that we’ve got – and that we don’t short the training and experience, particularly – I mean, it’s critical across the mission – but particularly in aviation.
Vice Adm. Daly: For our audience, I’m going to ask one more question and then use the QR code to submit questions. Already got a couple here. But I’ll ask the admiral just one more on my part. And it’s on the Operation Fouled Anchor issue. Of course, this summer there was a couple critical – reports that were critical of the Coast Guard. In July, you initiated a 90-day accountability and transparency review, to assess it. Are there any early insights you could share? And I’m sure there’s some actions that have been taken, maybe over years, that address this?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. Yeah. So Operation Fouled Anchor, it refers to an investigatory body of work that looked at legacy mishandling of sexual assault reports at the Coast Guard Academy from the mid-’80s into the mid-2000s. It was an extensive and exhaustive investigatory effort. Identified several people who may have committed the crime of sexual assault, as well as a number of victims. And a lot of, you know, time and attention around victim support and looking to see if we could create accountability, at least where we still had oversight or jurisdiction of the individuals. So the CNN articles talk about that body of work and, you know, what – again, it was legacy mishandling of sexual assault reports.
When that – so that closed in 2020. And then we’re – and the CNN article is correct. We failed to report to Congress. That, it was a failure. We did not provide the opportunity for appropriate oversight with our overseers. I announced at that point, as I became aware of the full extent of what was Fouled Anchor, I announced an accountability and transparency review. Ninety-days sprint to understand where are we really as a service. And that report – or, the report literally landed on my desk this morning, right? So the preliminary report, as we’ve just concluded the 90 days.
As I reflected on kind of where we were, what some of Fouled Anchor tells us, it became apparent to me that this wasn’t really about the Coast Guard Academy. This is about service and service culture, and how we are meeting our commitment to each other from a core value standpoint, how we are creating a service culture of honor and respect and devotion to duty, and that while there is much to celebrate in the organization, we have pockets where we are not achieving that ideal. And so we need to get after that work.
We have been on a journey, as have the other military services, for the better part – you can go back 15 years, really in the last eight to 10 years, investing in our investigatory process, the reporting process, victim support. You’d see the changes to the military justice system around court martials and special prosecuting attorneys. We have made all those investments. And I look at that piece of how we negotiate sexual assault, sexual harassment, and there is –there is much that has been accomplished and is positive.
The pivot now is towards investing in prevention and improving our transparency and accountability so that when somebody does commit a crime, in the case of sexual assault or sexual harassment, or a lesser harassing or bullying behavior, that we’ve reestablished trust in the reporting system, that we’ve given the workforce the tools, the language, the understanding to know that, hey, that behavior is not consistent with the culture that we strive for. And that that there is accountability for that, and then transparency.
And so we are not where we need to be. I, as I just really briefly skimmed through the accountability and transparency review, there is a lot in there. And we’re going to – we’re going to get after this. This isn’t a, oh, let’s just put this paper on the shelf. Because if we don’t achieve our cultural ideal, we fail to meet our requirements to the American public. Because when a unit has a member who experiences assault, or harassment, or bullying, or hazing, it shatters the unit.
It shatters readiness. You can’t continue to do hard things, like the Titan, if you’ve got a member who has been, you know, been a victim. And, you know, as we focus on victim support, and we will continue to do that, the pivot will be towards a towards prevention and talking much more directly about what we need to do to eliminate it.
Vice Adm. Daly: Thank you. I’ve got a question here from a gentleman named Mike Diamond, who said he’s an independent. I don’t know what he’s independent from. (Laughter.) But how do you foresee the Coast Guard best working with the Canadian Coast Guard and the RCN in the Arctic?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. So, you know, the Canadians, both the Royal Canadian Navy, Canadian Coast Guard, they are, you know, just incredible partners and allies. And whether it’s either the area commanders or the districts that we have that border Canada, those interactions happen daily. They’re aligned daily. I meet with my counterparts from both of those organizations regularly. There could not be better alignment.
Again, right before coming in, we were talking about – so our work with the Canadians around illegal fishing as it pertains to the North Pacific and North Pacific Guard, which is a summer enforcement activity that focused on illegal fishing. And working – the Canadians did not have a military ship that they were – that they were able to assign. But in – you know, in discussion amongst those entities, they were – they were able to lease a ship, contract a ship, and then we brought Coast Guard members, Canadian Navy – and were able to conduct those enforcement activities.
And so, you know, that’s a very specific tactical example. Healy, as she completes her circumnavigation through the northwest passage, we have Canadians on board, Danes on board. There could not be better partnership and alignment between the U.S. and Canada, and then broadly, certainly in the Arctic, with all the other Arctic nations.
Vice Adm. Daly: That was impressive, to see what Healy just did, to come from Alaska across the northern Russian route to Tromsø. Pretty impressive.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah, and then she’ll come through the canal and back to Seattle. It’s been a great trip for that crew.
Vice Adm. Daly: Wow. This one’s from a gentleman named Keith Blevins, U.S. Coast Guard, who’s assigned in OPNAV N2/N6. This may be a cry for help, I don’t know. (Laughter.)
Adm. Fagan: Save me! (Laughs.)
Vice Adm. Daly: But he says – he talks about unmanned, but I think we got that. But another part of his question is: As the FRC product line nears its end, is there interest in expanding and making kind of an unmanned FRC patrol vessel That would be a battle buddy to the manned, you know, counterparts?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. So, you know, we’ve got a – we’ve got an unmanned strategy that we have – we’ve published. And we’ve obviously fielded some unmanned systems. So specifically Scan Eagle, contractor owned, contractor operated unmanned system that’s fielded on the national security cutters. You know, we’ve got a partner program with CBP with regard to, you know, MQ-9 operations. The question of unmanned technology comes up. It’s here in wheelhouse now. What the technology is, how do we field it, and sort of, you know, what is the right way to enable that onto the ships on a mission is still very – you know, very much sort of a lively – a lively conversation. And when/if/do we get to a point where you’ve got small unmanned ships on the water or drones, right, all part of the work that’s still in front of us.
You know, we – so we’re 233 years old as an organization and much – you know, much of that time with very limited access to technology. And so, you know, on the one – we are not necessarily an early adapter of technology. The good news with that is, though, that kinks get worked out of the technology so that by the time it is time to ingest it onto ships for direct effect generally the risk profile goes down.
But we’re watching and following closely some of the work that the Navy’s got going on and, you know, now as they look at some of that unmanned technology, you know, going into SOUTHCOM and some of the – some of the efforts there. But we’re looking to learn all those lessons as we move forward.
Vice Adm. Daly: You also have a ringside seat there in the Arabian Gulf, Persian Gulf, whatever we’re calling it today, with all your FRCs out there and that Task Force 59 and Fifth Fleet’s efforts.
Adm. Fagan: Right.
Vice Adm. Daly: It’s just like a gigantic industry day out there for unmanned.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. No, absolutely, and we’re, obviously, very involved and engaged with Task Force 59 and, again, look forward to find those opportunities, moving forward.
Vice Adm. Daly: This question is from Heather Mongilio at USNI News. She said, you spoke about recruitment but can you give more details on how recruiting went in terms specifically of meeting your ’23 goal.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah.
Vice Adm. Daly: And what are some of the things you’re trying to introduce to increase it. I think you’ve touched on –
Adm. Fagan: Yeah.
Vice Adm. Daly: – you know, meeting them where they are in terms of their generational issues. But maybe you could give a little more on that.
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. So, you know, meeting them where they are, one. But, two, reinvesting in just fundamental capacity recruiter – people capacity, recruiting offices has been a big area of emphasis. We for the last several weeks have been filling the buses into Cape May. That had not been true for the previous two-plus years, and a lot of – again, the COVID impact.
We’re managing right now. The shortfall is about 3,500 people, junior non-rates. And so as we go into our next assignment season it by necessity is requiring us to identify billets where you would normally have a person that we will not fill because we don’t have a person to put into them – into that billet.
And so what that does then is creates conversation and opportunity around, well, how do you continue to meet your, you know, search and rescue timelines and standards, how do we continue to put ships into the maritime migration realm, how do we continue our counternarcotics mission with the workforce that I actually have – not the workforce I want but the workforce that I have.
And so it’s driving some different conversations around how we create operational effect. Perfect sort of fairly easy to understand example would be we’ve got in places in Boston and, you know, a couple – a couple of areas up in the Great Lakes we have these small 65-foot ice-capable harbor tugs.
Well, in the Coast Guard if you are bigger than 64’11” you’re a cutter and if you’re 64’11” you’re a boat. And so boats get assigned to stations and, you know, you just cycle whoever your ready crew is. They sign the keys out to the boat. They get the boat ready. They get it underway.
If you’re a cutter you’re permanently assigned to the cutter as a crew and so one of the things we’ve talked about is running the 65-foot tugboats like boats so that you don’t have 10 or 12 people permanently assigned but that they’re part of a ready crew that rotates to create capacity.
The effects that you need from the 65s is when you have ice in a heavy, heavy ice season. They don’t provide – you know, they provide some return on investment, but it’s not substantial in summers. So that’s an example of the kind of still creating the effect that you need – the capacity – but doing it in a way that’s different and starts to free up and, again, just, you know, really prioritize the capacity that we are able to generate and create with the force that we have on hand. Speeding people through training – I mean, there’s a whole number of aspects to it that we’re working through.
Vice Adm. Daly: Thank you.
This question is from Ben Honey, Australian Border Force. He said: Where do you see the greatest cooperative effort should be focused on with respect to international coast guards? Where do you have the best payoff – I’m putting my words on that one – and what’s the best bet for you to work with? Who’s the highest – yeah.
Adm. Fagan: (Laughs.) Pick a favorite. Pick a favorite.
You know, I’ve had the opportunity over the last 16 months to – you know, a fair number of bilateral engagements internationally and a fair number of multilateral engagements so whether it was the Maritime Security Symposium that was hosted by the U.S. Navy in Cabo Verde with 25 Gulf of Guinea nations, a similar maritime security conference hosted by the Australians in Fiji, or more recently, you know, just in the last two, three weeks International Seapower Symposium, again, hosted by the U.S. Navy in Newport.
And our competitive advantage as allies and partners is our ability to partner and create that opportunity. And so I don’t look at it from a perspective, oh, you know, it’s this person, not that person. It’s creating space and capacity to share ideas, create – you know, whether it’s opportunity to interoperate alongside each other at sea or it’s a junior officer exchange, or I was recently in Colombia and they’ve got a new ice-capable cutter and I asked the crew, you know, do you have any ice experience and the CO said, well, in the simulator, to which I responded to, you know, the head of the Navy, I’m, like, hey, I can help you with that. I don’t know how much winter we’re going to have in the U.S. but if I got winter in the Hudson send your junior officer.
Those are the types of opportunities that create the competitive advantage and space and then, you know, finding like-minded partners just to continue to engage with and then making sure we’re doing it in a way that’s synchronized. I mean, you know, and the question comes from an Australian, right.
It is a part of the world where there’s a lot of attention by a lot of allies and partners and so also making sure that our efforts are synchronized so that it’s not 10 countries all focused on one nation and there’s nine other nations that didn’t have any opportunity, and those kinds of synchronizing efforts are going on as well.
Vice Adm. Daly: I’ve got a couple here but we only got time, really, for one more because it’s getting towards the end.
So I thought I’d just ask you as a wrap and get off the stage, now that you’ve been commandant in command about a year or so, a little over maybe, is – what’s something that you didn’t expect? And I know you’re going to say, perhaps, hey, I’ve been in the Coast Guard a long time and I – you know, I’ve seen a lot.
But sometimes when you get to the top something hits you as a surprise or something unexpected. Do you have one of those?
Adm. Fagan: Yeah. You know, it’s funny as you reflect. So I – you know, I had been – so as a senior captain I was the executive assistant to Thad Allen when he was commandant and then I was serving as the vice commandant before coming into the commandant job and so, you know, I kind of stepped into this thinking, oh, I’ve got a front-row seat. You know, for a couple of – like, how much – how much different is it going to be? And then I – you know, when you walk off the other side of the stage with all the trappings that come with the office it’s, like, oh, all right, that’s a lot different.
And so, one, an observation that there are – there are items or blind spots in the organization. All of our organizations have them. But from this position, from the office of the commandant position, only I see the aggregation and I’ve been surprised a couple times, like, why didn’t somebody else in the organization see this?
And so, one, that there are – and you have to – you’ve got to pause and say, no, this needs to be addressed. This may look like it was an innocuous – you know, something that a lieutenant or a lieutenant commander could have answered. But when you really look at it in the context of organizational risk and reputational risk it’s substantial and often, you know, only, you know, from this office can you see it.
I’ve had some of my predecessors reflect – and there’s a lot of truth to this, right – you step into the job that you think you’re taking over but then you get the job that comes and so, you know, if you – if you had asked me six months ago if I would, you know, need to be spending, you know, as much time, attention, and energy around organizational culture and respect and eliminating sexual assault I would not have predicted – I would not have predicted that.
If you’d asked me: Hey, you know, the Coast Guard, you guys are great. You know, you’re the best in the world at search and rescue. We’re going to, you know, have this passenger sub with five people go missing a thousand miles offshore in nearly three miles of water. Do you guys think you can find it? You know, I would have questioned that. But yet, here we are leading now the international effort around the investigation. You saw there were more – another piece of the sub was recovered last week. And it – you know, things that I would not have predicted.
And so, you know, as I reflect it’s a privilege and every day it is a privilege to get to lead the workforce and the thing that leaves me – even, you know, in the really hard times and the hard issues what leaves me energized at the end of every day is the workforce because I’m advocating for them, getting the resourcing and policy and support that they need to succeed and it’s really – you know, it’s not – it’s not about, you know, me. It is about where is the organization going and how do we continue to create success and opportunity as the organization moves forward.
And sometimes the walk is long and hard and other times it’s just really uplifting. But it – yeah, again, it’s just – it is a privilege to be able to advocate and represent the workforce, the men and women of the Coast Guard.
Vice Adm. Daly: Well, thank you, Admiral. It’s our privilege that you gave us this time. It’s the most precious thing I think is that – your scarce time and all the other duties and things that pull at you.
So we thank you for giving us this time, and on behalf of the Center for Strategic International Studies and the Naval Institute we thank you. We also thank our sponsor HII for helping make this possible.
But let’s give Admiral Fagan a big hand.
Adm. Fagan: Thank you. Thanks. (Applause.)