The Coast Guard's 11 missions keep the service up to its neck in operations. Things are under control, the service's top officer said Thursday, but there are a few key areas where they're stretched thin.
"We're a small service, but as always, we do punch above our weight class," Zukunft said In his Thursday speech before the annual Surface Navy Association symposium in Arlington, Virginia.
Stopping the flow of drugs from South America is one of the Coast Guard's top priorities, but as it stands, there aren't enough cutters to do the job.
Intelligence teams have eyes on 80 percent of the drugs coming into the country by sea, Zukunft said, but only enough platforms to stop 20 percent.
"So 60 percent get a free ride," he said. "It's a $750 billion enterprise and I've got a $10 billion slingshot."
The Coast Guard has a squadron of patrol boats in Bahrain to do capacity building among allies and provide offshore presence, and he'd like to see that system expand to stem the flow of narcotics into the U.S.
"That same model would be very beneficial in Central America, as well," he said.
"Just over the Christmas holiday, there was a misunderstanding in Cuba that on Jan. 15, our [immigration] policy was going to change," Zukunft said.
Another country on the radar is Haiti, whose frequent regime changes prompt periodic mass migrations, and the situation doesn't seem to be getting better.
Thirteen percent of the world's untapped oil and 30 percent of its natural gas are in the Arctic, Zukunft said, and that's going to draw a crowd sooner or later.
That's the one thing he loses sleep over, he said.
"As the Coast Guard cutter Polar Star [a heavy icebreaker] breaks into [Antarctic research station] McMurdo, if they have a main console failure, if they have a crankcase explosion and now they're beset in ice, I don't have a buddy system," Zukunft said.
"The Coast Guard has no self-rescue for its Arctic mission, for its Antarctic mission," he said.
Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.