The Pentagon is finalizing its congressionally mandated Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), an analysis of the strategy, forces, and resources required to make the nation safer over the next four years. Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), recently announced that his committee will produce an alternative assessment, providing the Congress an independent review of defense needs. That is a prudent undertaking. The HASC analysis would be of even greater value if it included an evaluation of the Coast Guard's role in supporting Pentagon missions.
The Coast Guard and the Pentagon
The Coast Guard is an armed service of the United States. Though it is part of the Department of Homeland Security, it also supports defense missions and in times of war can be placed under command of the Pentagon. The U.S. Coast Guard is the world's tenth largest 'navy.' It is a significant force. Since 9/11, Coast Guard ships, planes, and shore personnel have been called on to play an ever expanding role in both securing the nation at home and supporting the U.S. military overseas. During the response to Hurricane Katrina, Coast Guard search and rescue saved over 33,000 lives. At the same time, over 1,200 Coast Guard personnel are on duty in Iraq.
America's National Fleet
The most efficient and effective manner to evaluate what America needs to secure its interests at sea is to envision the Coast Guard and the Navy working together as a "holistic" force. While the Department of Defense holds that "homeland defense" (the job of protecting the U.S. from conventional military invasion) and "homeland security" (the task of protecting against terrorist attacks and responding to disasters) are different missions, the reality is that, for the Coast Guard and the Navy, they create overlapping roles. The Coast Guard and the Navy must work together to accomplish these tasks. Conducting a strategic defense assessment that looks at the Navy alone makes no sense.
Joint Analysis Needed
A joint analysis of Coast Guard and Navy could yield important insights, including:
- Determining the requirements for the Navy's Littoral Ship Program;
- Evaluating the importance of the Coast Guard's Deepwater modernization program to the Pentagon; and
- Prescribing the best mix of assets to dealing with emerging threats and new missions, such as the proliferation security initiative.
The House Armed Services Committee can help answer these questions by including Coast Guard missions, assets, and needs in its defense review.
James Jay Carafano, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow for National Security and Homeland Security in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation. John Melogy contributed to this report.