Ten months into his tenure as service chief, Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft has made some major strides, securing funding for the eighth national security cutter, awarding design contracts for the offshore patrol cutter, and extending tour lengths for hundreds of billets.
Zukunft discussed his next priorities during a wide-ranging March 11 interview with Navy Timesthat touched on the Coast Guard's role in a wide-ranging interview far-reaching discussion about in drug interdiction and the Arctic, personnel decisions affecting his service and more. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity.
Q. Your budget for this year was approved after a showdown, and sequestration is again on the table. How does the uncertainty affect your service?
A. You heard from the other service chiefs and their budget hearings as well when the issue of sequestration came up, and what the impact of that is on readiness, and not just readiness, but their ability to carry out other operations. Now that we have an appropriation, my FY15 appropriation actually takes me a level below what our budget was post-sequestration in 2013. A big chunk of that comes out of our acquisition portfolio and not in our ability to do frontline operations.
But it does stymie our ability to recapitalize at a rate that's more cost effective. and especially at a point in time — The next major acquisition for the Coast Guard will be our offshore patrol cutter to replace what today are 50-year-old ships that are still doing frontline operations. So the acquisition side of our appropriation and our budgets going forward is an area of concern, which is why we've identified areas of emphasis where our authorities are resident and why you need these platforms in the 21st century.
Male Interviewer: Speaking of just about that, we understand there was about a 40 percent drop in the acquisitions budget for this year or for, I'm sorry, fiscal '16. How are you balancing that with the need to recapitalize the force?
Admiral Zukunft: Where that's coming from is it goes from a high water that we had several years ago of 1.5 billion to a level that puts up just over a billion dollars in our major acquisition portfolio. It comes at the same time where we'll finish building out our eighth national security cutter. And so now that we have a full appropriation for 2015 we can now let the contract for the final national security cutter. So it completes that program of record so it buys us a little bit of trade space. It allows me to continue to build six fast response cutters per year. The main piece that isn't in that budget right now is my ability to go forward fully funded for the offshore patrol cutter. And that's an area that we need to rectify.
Male Interviewer: Is there any interest in, you said, the final national security cutter. That's obviously the top of the line in your cutter fleet. Would you be open to producing more in the future?
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. We went through a very extensive mission needs statement. And I'm having our staff revalidate that once again. But each iteration that we've done, at the end of the day, our national requirements come out with eight national security cutters, 25 offshore patrol cutters, and then 58 fast response cutters. So if we start deviating from what is very well researched and third party validated numbers then it invalidates the entire process. So eight is the right number. And I look at the total lifecycle cost is of a national security cutter versus what I call the middleware. This is the offshore patrol cutter and the life cycle cost of that ship will be much less than what a national security cutter is. So I'm looking at this as a 40 – 50 year investment and how do I keep that affordable.
Q. What are the chances of getting another polar icebreaker, to back up Polar Star?
A. There's lots of talk taking place. What I need is top line relief in my acquisition budget to bring on a recapitalization or even a reactivation of our other heavy icebreaker, the Coast Guard cutter Polar Sea. ... WA concern of mine this year when we sent the Polar Star, a nearly 40-year-old ship, down into Antarctica, on the way out we had to deviate her and she had to rescue a vessel, [Antarctic Chieftain],Atlantic Challenger with 26 fishermean on board. They were 150 miles into the ice. Some of this ice was 15 to 18 feet thick, which only a heavy icebreaker can get into. If by chance, the Polar Star had suffered a major engineering casualty, which isn't inconceivable given the age of the ship, who's going to rescues the Polar Star? And the answer is nobody. So I have no buddy system, if you will, for self-rescue within the United States Coast Guard. So we really need to move that dialogue to an appropriation whether we activate an older ship — and we're doing an assessment on that right now — or recapitalize. But eventually, we will have to recapitalize that particular fleet.
Male Interviewer: The buddy system in the Arctic, of course, is not just a national system it's an international system. So it's quite frequent that whenever anybody gets in trouble it's not the same flagship that shows up to assist. The Russians have been fairly helpful in a number of occasions in the past years. Obviously, they have a much larger ice breaking fleet than anybody else. Right now, political relationships can come and go. But on the water, navies and coast guards tend to have more professional relationships. Right now, what do you think, how would you assess your relationship with the Russians at sea and in particular in the polar regions?
Admiral Zukunft: It's healthy. It's healthy when I look at the Bering Sea. We have a maritime boundary line between the United States and Russia. And when we see an encroachment coming from the Russian side, and it may not even be a Russian fishing vessel. It may be a Korean. It may be Chinese or another flag vessel. We have interactions whenever we see that type of activity take place with the Russian border guard in Petropavalovsk. So that dialogue takes place. We will chair, the United States will chair the Arctic Console for the next two years. My predecessor Admiral Papp will be the head of delegation for that as well. In two weeks, I am hosting an Arctic Coast Guard forum coincident with our chairing of the Arctic Council in our Coast Guard headquarters. I will have Russia at the table as we look at the equities at stake in the polar regions right now to deemphasize militarizing the Arctic and emphasize safety of life at sea, environmental, and also the indigenous tribes that live up in the Arctic region as well to reset that dialogue so we don't place an emphasis on trying to militarize the Arctic. That there really are more Coast Guard equities.
Male Interviewer: And the Chinese will be there as well…
Admiral Zukunft: We will have—this will not be a senior level delegation but it will be a delegation from Russia. But this is really comprised of operators.
Male Interviewer: On the icebreakers, I remember Thad Allen talking about the icebreakers. And I was a Coast Guard reporter a while ago. And Admiral Papp talked about it a lot. And now you're talking about it and we're still talking about it. And I'm wondering, over these years why has there been no acquisition strategy to either recapitalize? That's all go ahead.
Admiral Zukunft: So you've heard from Allen now to Zukunft. So you've heard Arctic from A to Z and I'm going to continue to build on that dialogue. There is keen interest in the Arctic. Senator Murkowski has expressed keen interest, Senator Cantwell and others. And then we have multiple stakeholders. It's not just the Coast Guard, but the National Science Foundation, Arctic Research Council, Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, Department of Defense, Department of State. So you've got multiple stakeholders. We've written a preliminary operation requirement document of what do you need an icebreaker in the 21st century to do. That work is ongoing. What we need is a set aside for an appropriation.
So right now, we're going to do a full material assessment on the Coast Guard cutter Polar Sea. It's been laid for four years with an appropriation. I now have the wherewithal to take it out of the water, put it at a dry dock, not to do intensive repairs but just do an assessment on the condition of the ship itself. Next year we will complete that study and then do an assessment of what would it take to reactivate and provide a threshold value. And then depending on what that threshold value is, is the preferred business case to reinvest and acquire a new icebreaker or to reactivate another one. So it puts us on a timeline but we have got to make a decision within the next two years to either reactivate or recapitalize in that fleet. Today, we have the Coast Guard cutter Polar Star, which is in service. It wasn't on Admiral Allen's watch. But what we have bought is ten years, roughly ten years of service life. But we've already consumed about two years of that service life. So the clock is running against us right now in that regard.
Q. How do you see the Coast Guard's role in the Arctic playing out?
A. Well, Shell has already expressed an interest, an intent, to drill in the Arctic this year whether they've got the permits or not. But with just the oil and gas that are in the Arctic — 13 percent of the world's oil, 30 percent of the world's gas — and roughly a trillion dollars-worth of minerals on the seabed, e. Eventually there will be a point in time where industry will have a significant presence up there. There's very little shore infrastructure in the Arctic. And quite honestly, do you want to invest in shore infrastructure and on permafrost not knowing what the climate might be 30 to 40 years from now? So any activity up there, you really need to direct from at sea and less so from on shore. So you need an icebreaker.
Obviously, first it needs to break ice. It needs to be able to support scientific research. It needs to be able to be a floating command and control platform. It also needs to be an instrument of our sovereignty. Other nations may be interested or maybe non-state actors. If we have investments up there they may want to compromise those. So we also need to be an instrument of security as well. And the Coast Guard has the authorities in that regard. And the final piece is there will be stringent environmental standards over time to operate in the Arctic domain. And if we're going to be enforcing those standards we better replicate those standards as well with the ships that we operate, everything from stack emissions to gray water and any discharges coming off that ship.
Male Interviewer: You spoke about command control on an icebreaker. Could the Healy do that mission or are we talking about something more of a heavy icebreaker?
Admiral Zukunft: We're very limited. And one of the limiting factors right now is bandwidth in the Arctic, geospatial satellite capability, and especially if you're trying to push out broadband packages. That's a limiting factor for us right now. Then it comes down to manning capacity. The Healy typically sails with a full contingent of scientists. It's really designed for scientific support. That's only one-dimension but you need to also be able to accommodate subject matter experts if you're responding to an oil spill or a mass rescue, and then the ability to surge those people onto that ship. The Healy could do that in a very limited way. A concern of mine next year is a cruise ship is scheduled to transit through the northwest passage from west to east and it'll have over a thousand passengers on it. Not all the Arctic is charted to modern day standards. And what if that cruise ship should run aground. There's a lot of rock. And what's our ability to rescue a thousand passengers plus that crew in a timely manner? It's very limited. And I hope I don't see that happen but I know today we're still flying the international ice patrol, a 103 years later after the sinking of the Titanic. So I do not want to see a catalytic event like the sinking of a cruise ship for the United States to say okay, I guess we better get an icebreaker.
Male Interviewer: I mean those are Canadian waters up there. They're not international. They're Canadian.
Admiral Zukunft: Right.
Male Interviewer: That's not really your problem. It's really Canada's problem.
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah, part Canadian, part US… So as they transit across the North Slope they're in US waters. If we have US citizens, and I would expect there would be an expectation that the United States brings everything that it can to bear for the safety of life at sea.
Q. Have you run any Arctic rescue exercises?
A.Admiral Zukunft: We're going to run one this fall out of [the Arctic]Antarctica. This will be a tabletop exercise building up to a full-scale exercise hopefully the following year.
Male Interviewer: In the Antarctic…
Admiral Zukunft: In the Arctic…
Male Interviewer: Arctic…
Admiral Zukunft: In the Arctic… Yeah. We have not done a large-scale search and rescue exercise in the Antarctic.
Male Interviewer: And tabletops are a lot different in the cold when you get out there.
Admiral Zukunft: Right.
Male Interviewer: Before we leave Arctic land, on the other end of the scale you have a very busy, small number of craft but a very busy group, the WTGB guys ______ [00:18:13]. And wherever they are active they're actually pretty key to the region wherever they are. Those are pretty old as well. I know they get a lot of maintenance, but is it time. Is there any replacement program in the works down the road, 20/20?
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah, a 140-foot inland icebreakers, we're bringing those to our Coast Guard yard in Curtis Bay. So those are being cycled through. We're doing a service life extension on those. The hauls themselves are in pretty good shape but we're doing a service life extension. And this is a constraint again of our ACNI budget but I can extend the service life at much less cost right now than recapitalizing that entire fleet. So right now we are doing a service life extension.
Male Interviewer: But there's no replacement. You don't have a 20/20 WTGBR out there.
Admiral Zukunft: No.
Male Interviewer: Okay.
Male Interviewer: If I could remain on the investment track but maybe switch gears from fleet to other investments, you have mentioned your top priority is investments and assets in workforce. So what are some of your other top priority investments in the area of networks, business systems, and other IT infrastructure? And then if you could discuss a little bit more investments in the workforce.
Admiral Zukunft: Sure. I'll start first of all; you know I mentioned the offshore patrol cutter. So that is going to turn out to be the largest acquisition project in Coast Guard history. And we got that right. We have three competitors. Going beyond that, when you have ships then you need ISR aircraft. And so we were able to acquire 14 C27J aircraft. And so we're missionizing those as I speak. And we'll soon have a squadron of four on the West Coast this time next year. So we're building that process up. We're the only service that can say in back-to-back years we have a clean financial audit opinion. This is literally an all hands on deck effort for us to be able to do that. It's very labor intensive. And so I need to recapitalize my core accounting system. and so that's a major acquisition that we're moving into as well. So I have total asset visibility and real time awareness of what is in the checkbook today. And it takes too long for me to do that. And do I have the inventory? So that's another key piece for us as well.
We're finishing out our rescue 21-acquisition program that takes a lot of the search out of rescue. and the last two fronts that we're looking at right now are up in Alaska. And obviously the challenges up there are terrain and then remoteness and then weather. And then the other areas are within the western rivers themselves, which is very difficult with topography, bends in the river. But those are the two final areas that we're looking at with our rescue 21 program. And we're about complete with our response boat medium project. We'll build out just over a 170 of those that turn out to be very, very capable platforms. Just two days ago we had—and these boats are typically run by mid grade petty officers. We had a case out of San Diego just a couple of days ago where again it's an E5 in the Coast Guard. And one of these boats, they're water jet propelled pursing a panga a hundred miles away, and then using warning shots, disabling fire, and then doing the arresting. But these have been great platforms. So from boats to ships to aircraft, a fairly comprehensive program but obviously we're doing it in small bites with the acquisition budget that we have.
Q. What are your focuses for workforce management?
A. We're looking at more specialization within the workforce. So I have directed our personnel department to literally overhaul the way we assign people, the way we train them to make sure that we recoup that training investment upfront. And I look at our aviation model, if you will, which I call a closed loop community. If you send a flight mech off to an 'A' school, to a 'C' school. We're not going to send them to a small boat station. And he's going to be working at air stations for their entire Coast Guard career. Well, we don't do that with some of our other specialties. We're in cyber right now. I can't have somebody in cyber for three or four years, pull them out to do something completely different and think they can come back into that program where they left off. It's no different with intel, acquisition or marine safety. And then when it comes to driving ships some of these very complex systems compared with the ones that they've replaced. And so within some of those specialities we will have to formalize a ship to shore rotation for some of those specialties within the Coast Guard. We have not done that in the past.
Male Interviewer: And among your budget priorities you included maximizing investment with efficient business practices. Can you discuss some of your initiatives in that area?
Admiral Zukunft: Well, I look at our Coast Guard headquarters today and we have lease property within the national capital region to the tune of seven – eight million dollars that we're paying a lease for. So I am terminating those leases and I'm moving those Coast Guard personnel into our headquarters today. We've looked at where we have excess housing or housing that doesn't meet habitability standards. And so we divesting of those housing units as well. So squeezing every drop of efficiency where we can find it. At the same time when you identify efficiencies I'm holding onto force structure. I cannot draw down the size of the force that we are today. Our active duty Coast Guard today is quite comparable to the same active duty Coast Guard we were just prior to 9/11. And oftentimes when you have a budget whoa you start looking at your human resource capital of cashing that out. I can't surge leadership. I can't surge experience. and I can't hire it off the street. So that's one area that I'm holding pretty fast to.
Male Interviewer: Of course, you're in the middle of testimony season. You're the Coast Guard's top ambassador. You talk to a lot of people. The Coast Guard has all these different missions. It's really—it's an amazing little service. It is. Do you think people understand the breadth and depth of the Coast Guard's responsibilities? Is that a continuing effort for you to get that across? And are there any of those missions maybe that it's time to look at transferring those to some other entity?
Admiral Zukunft: I'm in the marketing and sales business. I've spent probably 34 of my 38 years in the Coast Guard as an operator. Now the advantage of being an operator all those years, if you're in marketing and sales you can speak firsthand, not based on a report that you read about but something that you experienced firsthand in getting that story out. I've spent about 70 percent of my time, as I was say out of the Coast Guard doing marketing and sale to tell that story our appropriators, to our authorizers, congressional delegations, and our outreach across the Department of Homeland Security within the Department of Defense. And so it's time well spent. And then also trying to get our word out using social media, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, number of followers to connect people to our Coast Guard. And many time people don't realize I didn't know the Coast Guard does that.
So it's a very simple story when I tell people if you look out at a port and the last buoy that you see out there, once you go seaward of that buoy it gets very lonely. And people say, well, what do you mean by that. I say well, there's only one entity in the world that has authorities, very broad authorities that go right into the territorial seas of other nations beyond that sea buoy. We have over 60 bilateral agreements. I had ships this past week using disabling fire in the territorial seas of other nations confiscating drugs, arresting the bad guys who are going to be extradited to the United States far, far from our shores but their product was destined for the United States. We've got all these authorities and it gets very lonely outside the sea buoy.
A hundred years ago the first commandant of the Coast Guard, Ellsworth Bertholf, there was an efficiency and economic review of what was just created as a Coast Guard. And I thought we could maybe just disband this. And then we can piecemeal these functions to other entities within the federal government. And when they started looking at it you'd had agencies within federal government that don't do maritime. Or, if they do it, it would come at a great investment. And they realize it would cost about 50 percent more for another agency to take on what we do. And an example I would use is a Coast Guard buoy tender especially our seagoing buoy tenders that maintains aids to navigation. It does search and rescue. It does law enforcement. It cleans up oil spills. And it even went into ______ [00:27:39] during the very early start of the Iraqi freedom phase of that operation.
So it is a bit of a Swiss army knife that that can service multiple functions including a mass migration evolution as well. So if you divest of it I lose the money. It comes out of my appropriation. Someone else takes it on. But will they be able to do it as effectively and as efficiently as an all volunteer Coast Guard and armed service that's not constrained by a 40 hour work week. And I would argue the answer is no.
Male Interviewer: Really, I mean if you look across the international spectrum the trend is actually opposite. While there's certainly been a growing number of Coast Guards there are an awful lot of nations that maintain a Coast Guard, a life saving entity have separate environmental response organizations, do separate fishery patrol, still have customs ships. and they're not all the same service they get to concentrate on those missions. So you think you're better off. Is it better for the Coast Guard or is it better for the country that they don't have to support these things elsewhere?
Admiral Zukunft: It's certainly better for the country, if it really comes down the taxpayers' burden that this is the best application of taxpayers' burden. When you look at our mission performance. When you look at the fact that I can account for what I spend as well, the fact that I can maintain ships 50-years-old. I have the commandant of Japan Coast Guard asking me how do you keep ships running more than 20 years? Because our people take ownership of them, they maintain them. They're proficient at what they do. So we have a lot of other Coast Guard scratch their head of how can we be more like the United States Coast Guard? And the when you look at our broad authorities, just recently China took four of the five dragons, merged them into a China Coast Guard as they tried to replicate the United States Coast Guard.
Male Interviewer: It's the same color scheme too, right.
Admiral Zukunft: The same color scheme and I don't have trade rights on the racing stripe but I wish I did. But at the last international sea power symposium we had a lot of nations stepping up. first and foremost, they can't afford a US Navy. And then they look at what are the most emergent threats within their territorial sea and their economic exclusive zone? It's usually more criminal activity, humanitarian, resonates more with what the Coast Guard does. But we do it as a military service as well, which is unique from the other Coast Guards.
Male Interviewer: It almost sounds like you're being a good soldier and you're going to roger up. But some of these things happen and there's a oil spill and everybody says where's the Coast Guard out here and how come the Coast Guard doesn't have all this equipment. And where is the Coast Guard with all these booms? And where's that equipment that the Coast Guard is going to deploy?
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. that's probably a misunderstanding. The Coast Guard, we oversee the spill. And I was the federal on-scene coordinator for seven months during the Deep Water Horizon spill. And at the end of the day we did an assessment and said we're going to need enough boom or the equivalent to run across the entire continental United States. BP you better buy the boom and here's where it needs to go. And so on a daily basis I'm overseeing about a hundred million-dollar daily burn rate. But all of that is funded by the responsible party. So if BP balks and says we're not going to make that investment we have an oil spill liability trust fund where then we do the acquiring of the installing but then we recoup those expenses. So throughout that phase of the spill BP was writing checks, again, sometimes to the tune of about a 100 million dollars per day. But we own the oversight piece of that.
Male Interviewer: So that worked okay during the Deep Water Horizon.
Admiral Zukunft: In my reflection it did. It was complex. It was long. Everyday you had the equivalent of another Exxon Valdez oil spill. So no matter how much oil you recover you got the same amount spilling for 67 consecutive days during hurricane season, during midterm elections, during a 24-hour news cycle. But that's the new normal. Those are the types of contingencies as we look in the 21st century that need to be prepared to operate in.
Q. Will the Coast Guard play a larger role in 4th Fleet, now that the Navy is decommissioning its frigates?
A.Yeah, weekly between our staff and last night I had dinner with Admiral Greenert. I mean we speak daily. But those ships are coming out of service. The Coast Guard does not do intercontinental missile defense. And so when I look at the Kim Jong Un's, when I look at what's happening with Russia, there's a little bit of déjà vu playing out. And so As the Navy rebalances and the Perry-class frigates come out of service, I'm doing everything within my means to close some of those gaps. And not just within the Coast Guard. We have today a number of law enforcement teams, probably about seven, on allied ships. Canada, Royal Navy, and the Netherlands in particular are part of this coalition, if you will, but we use Coast Guard law enforcement teams just as we did from the frigates to carry out law enforcement activities.
Four or five days ago when I added how much cocaine we've seized in the last two weeks, and usually you measure it by how many bails of cocaine on the flight decks of our ships, it was in the neighborhood of—it was well in excess of 20 thousand pounds. It's not the volume. It's I am depriving organized crime of that revenue source. I'm depriving organized crime from infiltrating the Western Hemisphere. When we looked at unaccompanied minors last year, 68 thousand came across the border. And that was the crisis. But what was the cause? It was violent crime. The most crime-ridden nation in the world today is Honduras. It's not Iraq. It's not Afghanistan. It's not Yemen. It's Honduras.
One of my other jobs as commandant of the Coast Guard, I'm also the chairman of the interdiction committee within the Office of National Drug Control Policy. So I took a senior team down to visit with the president of Honduras and Panama with the governor of Puerto Rico, and Columbia as well. And the governor and each of the presidents say organized crime is killing us. It's undermining rule of law. Columbia is looking quite optimistic. Honduras has a very bleak picture. You've got 40 percent unemployment, 50 percent poverty. One out of nine boys will probably be murdered before the age of 21. And so not a very optimistic picture. And when you ask how did it get that way is when the drugs come ashore violent crime has set in within their country.
The good news is we've focused on that area. We've had some success. The violent crime rate has dropped about 23 percent as a result of some of the successes that we've had at sea. But a challenge for me gets back to capacity or intelligence is at the point where on any given day we have awareness of about 80 percent if not more of the flow in the Pacific and in the Caribbean, which is ultimately destined for the United States. I can divert enough ships and enough aircraft to act on about 20 percent. So 60 percent we consciously give a free pass too because we only have enough resources to go after about 20 percent. So eight out of ten of the most violent nations in world are in this hemisphere, our hemisphere, the western hemisphere.
And so these are numbers that I've tried to use that wake people up to what's happening the world around us. 450 thousand Americas killed in the United States due to drug overdose, drug violence since 9/11. As horrific as 9/11 is we lost 450 thousand and that number is not improving. 750 billion dollars, that is the net worth annualized of organized crime. And I'm trying to take it out with a 10 billion dollar slingshot. I can't do it alone. So I've had a number of these discussions in my 70 percent sales of what's happening and why I am so focused on western hemisphere in this particular case. But the frigates, God bless them. They have served their purpose. And as bad as the situation may be, I only shutter to think where would we be without the Navy at our side.
Q. Are you in talks with the Navy to put Coast Guardsman or leads on the littoral combat ship?
A. Those [ships] right now, they're being repositioned. Singapore is one location. As those are fielded, it will probably free up some other resources, perhaps the PCs. And certainly, I would welcome the PCs, the patrol craft, 170s into this world and we could put law enforcement teams on there. So it may free up other assets as the LCS program is built out.
Q. Would you be open to transferring coastal patrol boats from the Navy, or putting teams on the Navy's PCs?
A: I'd probably look at the latter. As we're building out our fast response cutters, in 58 of those each one has a crew of 24. I need to keep fielding those at the rate of six a year. And so to try to bring on another program, the hardest part is now you're bringing another system online that you have to maintain, different school systems. So certainly Navy owned and operated, and then Coast Guard supported depending on what the mission is. But it also gives the Navy the flexibility. If there's a littoral event elsewhere, if they need to reposition those PCs just as they have at NAVCENT where many of them are operating right now it leave the Navy that flexibility as well.
Male Interviewer: Now just to be clear, the Navy is standing up LCS RON2 right now in May Port. Right now as it stands there's no talks between you and the Navy about getting Coast Guardsman on the LCSs.
Admiral Zukunft: No, there's not.
Q. Speaking of the Pacific, what's your strategy and presence there?
A. Yeah. Well, there's a couple of areas. One is capacity building. And so we've Panama and Honduras, Costa Rica, a number of these countries — first of all, they need domain awareness, situational awareness. Where are the threats? And then they need something to do the interdiction phase. So we're doing—we do a lot of training [with U.S.] Southern Command. And I work very closely with [Marine] General John Kelly to compliment the work that he's doing and not repeat it and not be redundant. But our emphasis is on maritime. I also work very closely with the national security staff. We rolled out a western hemisphere strategy. Our Department of Homeland Security has a campaign for southern border and approaches but we now have a national strategy for Central America. What hasn't been fleshed out in the national strategy are what the lines of operation and then what do we implement? And more important is what do we fund? But I've certainly offered up some opportunities where the Coast Guard could leverage its authorities to do both capacity building but also to do combined operations as well following a concept not unlike that which we have in Bahrain. We've had six patrol boats over there now for over 12 years. But I need six patrol boats supporting such a concept in Central America. I wouldn't be fixated on a number, whether it's six or two. But right now it's zero. But I would look at perhaps an approach where we would have forward-based Coast Guard in this part of the world.
Male Interviewer: Is that Bahrain mission going to continue right now?
Admiral Zukunft: There's keen interest by the CENTCOM commander and we continue to receive overseas contingency operations funding to do that. And so as long as I'm funded to do that I can support it. But the ships go through a very extensive dry dock availability at a pretty high frequency. And so that is sustainable for the near term as long as there's OCO funding to support it.
Male Interviewer: Now you've spoken about the importance of surveillance for many of your missions. And your priorities include persistent offshore surveillance. What surveillance methods are you using and what are you looking at? What are areas where you're looking to grow for change?
Admiral Zukunft: I have to be careful where I go with this. We are a member of the National Intel Community. So we work very closely with all stakeholders so looking at all sources of information. HUMINT is a big part of this. The reason we've had such great success is that when we do an interdiction many times those folks are extradited to the United States. And so the pocket litter that comes out of that feeds the sole intelligence cycle. So it begins all over again to detect, monitor, interdict, prosecute. But as you gain more information through human intelligence what other sources of information then can you bring to bear? We work very closely with our international partners. We've seen great success by Columbia, and apprehending self-propelled semi-submersibles that are being built under triple canopy and seizing those before they're loaded and they take to the sea because quite honestly those are very difficult to detect and find when they're out in the open ocean. So we've seen some success but it really is through our ability to remotely surveil this entire area of operations. It's through that remote surveillance then you divert aircraft. And then you divert ships. And then you do the interdiction prosecution phase of the operation.
Male Interviewer: And for that mission are there Coast Guard assets that you're control or are you getting feeds from other intelligence agencies?
Admiral Zukunft: The Coast Guard is fully integrated and at the same time we have cryptological units that are fully Coast Guard manned that are looking at this threat.
Male Interviewer: So you had mentioned in your opening about cyber. We'd love to hear, what is your cyber focus and who are the personnel both civilian and military who are uniformed who are going to do it?
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. So we've created a cyber command within the Coast Guard relatively small. We work very closely with cyber command and Admiral Rogers. Our cyber strategy has three lines of effort. The first is we need to be able to protect our cyber equities. And at the same time if you're protecting them you need to be aware of who's trying to penetrate your system. And if they are you better resiliency. And even something as fundamental as I said earlier. If you're launching a boat, launching a helicopter, whatever what is the cyber environment that you find yourself entering? Did you just replace a module on one of your key components? And do you have assurance that that's not infected with the virus and kind of go back to fun drives over a number of years ago. So that's one line of effort.
The other is to be able to sustain operations in a cyber threat environment. But as you gain awareness, then who do you share that information with? We have a component within the Department of Homeland Security. How do you assign attribution to a cyber event that's taking place? And then, what are the counter measures, if you will, that were to take place? Another line of effort is protecting infrastructure. And this really builds upon a broad suite of authorities that the Coast Guard has under the maritime transportation security act of 2002. It allows us to enforce internationally renowned security standards on facilities. We got about 36 hundred of those that do international trade in the United States, and also ships that call on those facilities as well. Initially those standards were you need fencing, you need lighting, cameras, credentials to access the facility. Well, now it's really what are you doing about cyber.
And if you have a cyber event taking place we have what's called area maritime security committees in all of our ports. And so if a facility operator says for whatever reason the ______ [00:44:59] is not working today. About 95 percent of it is automated. It can't find that container. And then another facility operators says, well, I've got the same thing going on. Well, we can push this up to a national level. And perhaps we push it over to cyber com and say is this privately or is this state sponsored activity that we're seeing taking place right now before us. So it's a whole new domain, there's rules of engagement. It's really when you think cyber think it's electronic warfare. But it's not against competing militaries. Every private sector, public sector, military, everything is fair game when it comes to cyber. So that's the role of the Coast Guard because we operate in the dot gov, dot com and dot mil domains when it comes to protecting infrastructure. We're working, cross-walking the strategy right now with a number of stakeholders. And again, I hope to have this signed out in about another month or so.
Male Interviewer: I'd imagine inside the area of your jurisdiction you've got quite a number of vulnerabilities and you also have a dependence on a lot of civilian entities and corporations that are running shipping lines and are using the navigation marks. And they're also navigating using quite a bit of electronic infrastructure that could all be disputed. When you talk about building your strategy, how does it impact or factor in those civilian entities?
Admiral Zukunft: Again, it comes with outreach with our stakeholders. So let's take a shipping firm for example. A number of folks are not aware; the engines on those ships are typically monitored from ashore. So a ship could be thousands of miles away and they're looking at fuel consumption rates and so forth. And so you can remotely control the settings on that main control console from afar. Now is that gateway kept completely open? So that means someone else might be able to manipulate that and ultimately shut down that console and prevent it from getting underway? The challenge right now is you've got some shipping companies that are fully invested in cyber and others perhaps a little it complacent. And say, well, why would anyone want to shut us down. Well, I look at it from the standpoint of 90 percent of our commerce moves by city. And if it's a state sponsored activity or it might be terrorist related and if they really want to put a crimp on our economy look for no further than the maritime sector.
Just look what happened when we had a work slowdown on the West Coast. A number of ships that were cued up and ingestion time inventory economy, the delays that that caused. But the very same scenario could play out if it was a cyber event as well. So it's one that we, Semper paratus, is already ready. It's a whole new frontier for us, cyber, and it's one I'll make sure that we're ready to operate in as well.
Q. If the military reworks its retirement program to get rid of the 20-year cliff, how would that affect your force?
A. The good part about with the commission and being a permanent member not a signed in member but I attend all the tank sessions. So The service chiefs have all looked at this report in great detail. ... We have provided our feedback to the secretary of defense. That report is still going forward. But we look at that as it will cause potential confusion, misunderstanding, and what I don't want is a distraction among our workforce. Over the last four years we've enjoyed over a 90 percent retention rate in our enlisted workforce. But I don't know how our workforce would react if this is perceived as a breach of their contract when they joined the military. [Current service members would not be affected]. There are provisions within that. ... But first and foremost, [my concern is] any unintended consequences, whether it deals with healthcare, whether it deals with retirements. ... , and so just giving it either a yes or no — I'm of the firm belief that further study needs to be done before we move too fast and forward on that.
Female Interviewer: So many service members look at 20 as, oh, if I can just make it to 20 it'll all be worth it. If there's some compensation at 12 years, at 18 years, do you think that that would disincentivize them from staying in longer?
Admiral Zukunft: I can't answer that but what I do know is that for the Coast Guard within our listed workforce many of our systems run based on from the E5 to E7 level in the Coast Guard. And many of them fall within that 12 to 18-year window. And so I can't take the risk of losing that piece of my workforce. We are seeing growth in other sectors in our economy right now. I can't rest on my laurels that we've had this great retention rate. We did that back in the mid 90s and then with the dot com explosion we saw very high attrition rates. Well, now that explosion is coming in the energy sector right now, very high paying jobs, and some that many of our Coast Guard men and women are more than qualified to fill those positions as well. So I'm very mindful unintended consequences and especially for my service where I need that E5 to E7 level in that same window of time, I can't surge that experience by accelerating advancements of junior people that don't have the competencies to fill those jobs.
Male Interviewer: Admiral, you said you were in the Pentagon discussions about those far reaching reforms. The Pentagon will obviously make a decision. Will the Coast Guard make an independent decision or…
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. As an armed service, our equities are fully represented and reflected in the report that will be released by the secretary of defense. I'm very satisfied with the process that the chairman has put into place going forward to
gather the input of all the service chiefs. and again, the Coast Guard is a welcome member at the table in those discussions.
Q. And so this issue of who will be grandfathered into the new retirement system — the Coast Guard would follow suit with the other services, right?
A. As we always have with military pay raises, we have always mirror imaged. And typically what's in the National Defense Authorization Act when it comes to pay anding compensation is directly reflected on Coast Guard as well as a member of the armed services.
Male Interviewer: So we've been tracking this for a number of years. Now we understand that you have decided or the Coast Guard leadership has decided to nix a physical fitness test. What was the test and why the decision not to go forward with it
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. The test was shuttle runs, pull-ups, and so forth. We have a number of specialities in the Coast Guard where you have to demonstrate some of the highest levels of physical fitness. At the same time we're a widely distributed service. A number of our units don't have the wherewithal to even implement these measures. So to make this a condition of employment where I don't have the infrastructure in place to allow people to take advantage of that but at the same time at the end of the day what I want people to do is live a balanced lifestyle. By all hands, I typically challenge anybody to say do you workout on a daily basis? And there's those that say I just don't have the time. And I say, well, I'm the commandant of the Coast Guard. I work out six days a week. Last year I cycled 75 hundred miles. I think you can find the time. Just, how do you utilize your time? So it really needs to be personalized. But what I want people to do is embrace a wellness lifestyle but not one that is forced upon them, which may have the complete opposite effect. And then for our rescue swimmers, our specialized forces within the Coast Guard, yeah, they live to be gym rats. That is a condition of their employment. But do I need that for every individual within the Coast Guard? No. Do I want and expect them to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Yes. Am I going to lead by that example? Absolutely!
Male Interviewer: And you look at sort of heightened weight standards, cannot be more than such and such.
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. and we have those standards in place. So every six months folks step on a scale and if they're in compliance they stay on. If they're not, then they're given a probation period. and if that probation expires and they don't meet our weight standards then they are discharged. I pay close attention to that as well.
Female Interviewer: How often does that happen? Do you have a problem with people being legitimately overweight or is it just you know?
Admiral Zukunft: It's a small percentage. Yeah, the area that concerns me is alcohol and people being discharged it's pretty much one strike and you're out in the Coast Guard. If you have an alcohol incident, a DUI, this policy was instituted by my predecessor but with my full support he put it into place just before I took over as commandant. But when I look where we've had breeches of discipline, alcohol is the common denominator in about 80 percent of those. And it's usually binge drinking. And so this is a deterrent to encourage people to have a better relationship with alcohol.
Female Interviewer: Going back to the fitness test you said that some of your facilities, some small stations, might not be able to facilitate a fitness test. The Navy, for example, always does theirs. You'll do it on a ship when you're deployed. What are some of the obstacles? Is it nowhere to run, too cold outside, that sort of thing?
Admiral Zukunft: Yeah. We have 87 foot patrol boats. I don't know how many laps you'd have to run but actually you don't have to run many. Another term for them is called vomit comets. They're not very friendly riding to begin with. But if you're deployed for a period of days on those or smaller patrol boats, yeah, we just don't have the wherewithal to accommodate fitness while underway. It's much easier to do on a larger platform. And the we have people operating in very remote cold environments where again we're constrained in the facilities to be able to pursue that. The good news is many of our people do embrace this healthy lifestyle. We give them time during the workday to do that. We give them three hours a week minimum. And I don't know of anyone, myself included, or a more junior individual, now you're spending too much time at the gym.
Male Interviewer: You're speaking about the new reenlistment rules sir. Give us a sense. How often are reenlistments being denied and maybe as a proportion of the total?
Admiral Zukunft: I can't give you a number but what I will say is I write a letter to all of our commanding officers. I'll prepare to write another one. And my three imperatives are know your ship or your air station, your unit, know your people. And that isn't just, okay, know who's on the watch quarter station bill but know everything there is about them in terms of do they have special needs at home, how are they progressing service-wise or whatever, and then the third is knowing when to say no. And that's just good risk management. Maybe you don't launch the helicopter. Maybe you don't get underway because things are broken. But the part of knowing your people, don't just rubber stamp somebody's recommendation for advancement. There's a block there but put some conscious thought in that. But don't make it independently. Involve the chief's mess and say is this someone who is ready to rise to the level of E5 or E6 knowing that the responsibilities that come with it. it's not just about a pay raise but are they ready to make that next step in a leadership continuum? And if they're not, make that bold decision and say no. And then tell that individual the tools they need to acquire in order to be able to perform at that level. So what I call it is intrusive leadership. Not just checking a box, but providing career counseling to people and being fully transparent with what they need to do advance in our service. Not to run through a gauntlet but it's not an automatic check in the box anymore. There are standards that you need to attain and if you do then you will advance.
Male Interviewer: It's 2:00 right now.
Male Interviewer: Okay. We'll wrap up.
Q. In early March, the Coast Guard relived the officer in charge of a patrol boat after a grounding. How many officers have been relieved this year and what are some of the reasons?
A. I can't give you an exact number although when you do we're fully transparent and they're in the Navy Times. As a flag officer, I've relieved a number of commanding officers. And this event is still under investigation but what led up to it was a grounding. That will be investigated. But usually it's not groundings as much as it is command climate. And by command climates, it's abusive behavior. There's a difference between holding people accountable and being abusive. And there's a clear distinction between the two of those. And I don't want any commanding officer to second guess whether [they]it should hold somebody accountable or not. That's their responsibility but you don't chastise people. You don't belittle people. You don't use profanity when you counsel people. I mean just treat people with dignity and respect. And so that's usually—the command climate is one area and then the other is not upholding our core values on our respect and devotion to duty. So it's more on the behavioral side than it is on the performance, navigation standards, airmanship and the like where we do relieve our commanding officers.