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Papp: Coast Guard must recapitalize fleet

Dec. 6, 2012 - 10:53AM   |   Last Updated: Dec. 6, 2012 - 10:53AM  |  
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp addressed the service's recapitalization needs at a Navy League Special Topics breakfast Dec. 6 in Arlington, Va.
Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp addressed the service's recapitalization needs at a Navy League Special Topics breakfast Dec. 6 in Arlington, Va. (PO1 Timothy Tamargo / Coast Guard)
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Despite a tight budget, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Bob Papp emphasized the need to continue with the service's recapitalization plan.

"I know it's tough budget times, but we're not asking for a lot," Papp said during a speech at a Navy League Special Topics breakfast Thursday in Arlington, Va.

Papp said the Coast Guard's plan to build eight national security cutters, 58 fast response cutters and 160 medium response boats remains unchanged. The commandant would not address specific questions about possible sequestration cuts and the affect that may have on acquisition plans, saying he had not received any guidance from the Office of Management and Budget.

"I'm a sailor; I'm a ship captain. You don't wait until the last minute; you prepare in advance," Papp said. "Obviously, I would not be doing my duties if we weren't looking at various scenarios under various projections about what it might be. I'm just not at liberty right now to talk about what that could be because I really haven't made any decisions, and I can't make any decisions until I get guidance on it."

Papp did stress the importance of maintaining a strong support staff even if governmentwide spending cuts go into effect Jan. 2. Failing to do so, he said, would repeat a mistake made during budget reductions in the 1990s, when many acquisition professionals and comptrollers were forced out, he said.

"I put as much emphasis into the mission-support side as I have the mission-execution side, because you don't execute the missions unless you can support the missions, too," Papp said. "If we have a drawdown, if we get into sequestration, all these other things going on, there has to be a balanced approach."

While the budget shrinks, the Coast Guard faces expanded duties in the Arctic. The service only has one oceangoing icebreaker, the Healy, which cannot cut through the thickest ice. The 30-year-old heavy icebreaker Polar Star will be refurbished and back in service next year, but Papp said the service is still "woefully inadequate in terms of icebreakers."

The Coast Guard has requested $8 million in its fiscal 2013 budget request to begin procurement and development of a Polar-class icebreaker, which could cost up to $1 billion.

The national security cutters are also important for Arctic operations, Papp said, where they can serve as floating operation centers in the absence of land-based communications, boat launches and aircraft hangars. Each NSC can hold two MH-65D helicopters and three deployable small boats with boarding teams.

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