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Interview With U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif.

Chairman, Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Subcommittee

 

 

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter represents California’s 50th Congressional District consisting of East and North County San Diego. In 2008, Hunter was elected to his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives, succeeding his father, Duncan L. Hunter, who retired after serving 14 consecutive terms in Congress.

Coast Guard Outlook: Some are saying that this could be a maritime century for the United States based on increasing exports of oil products and agriculture. Taken along with increased law enforcement tasking, the antiterrorism mission, and protecting natural resources from increased illegal fishing, do you see the Coast Guard facing increasing demand in the future?

U.S. Rep. Duncan D. Hunter: I do see it. And you didn’t mention the Arctic, especially as technology becomes more advanced and we’re able to go after resources in more areas of the ocean, and as you expand throughout the ocean and find new things, frankly, yeah. Especially [with] the war on terror and post 9/11, I think the Coast Guard’s mission expanded exponentially. You’ve always had illegal immigration and drugs coming in, especially from South and Central America, and now you’re going to have terrorists who exploit those same networks and pathways into the United States. They’re going to follow the drugs. If you want to smuggle in people or weapons into the U.S., you’ll follow the same networks and pathways that the drug cartels use, No. 1.

It’s a cliché, but they say no matter how advanced the ship is, it can only be in one place at one time. You can’t have one ship in two places.

No. 2, probably the most vulnerable large infrastructure besides our electric grid are our ports. If you get just [one] nuclear device at a port in a cargo container, you’re in trouble. You have to have a zero tolerance. You can’t let one in because it just takes one, and that’s something we really need to work on, making sure that we check more containers than we’re checking right now, because we’re not checking that many. The Coast Guard uses game theory, which is pretty dangerous. You don’t want to mess up once.

If you had to name the other biggest challenges for the Coast Guard today after port security, what would you say they would be?

Probably simply drug interdiction and terrorist interdiction. Not a lot of terrorists get caught by the Coast Guard. I’ve asked [for] their numbers. People from countries where terrorism is massive actually don’t catch a lot. But like I said, it only takes one or two, so just making sure that we’re able to cover what we need to cover. It’s really hard for them to find semi-submersibles bringing in drugs. And again, if you can bring in 3,000 pounds of cocaine in a semi-submersible, you can bring in 3,000 pounds of anything into the U.S. in a semi-submersible, so it’s not a matter of drugs anymore. I mean, it still is, but more importantly simply being able to catch people who want to sneak into the U.S. through those drug routes and making sure that we check ships coming in – and especially from countries that are not friendly to the U.S, you’ve got to make sure that we check them especially for nuclear activity, because again, you can only mess up one time and that’s all it takes.

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Rep. Duncan D. Hunter, R-Calif. Official U.S. House of Representatives photo

Some time ago we interviewed then-U.S. Southern Command Commander Gen. John F. Kelly, and he told us he had intelligence on the drugs that were coming in, but he didn’t have the resources to be able to stop them.

Yep, exactly right. And when we did the pivot to the Pacific, you lost a lot. Our Navy backing that the Coast Guard had left the Caribbean and went to the Pacific and left the Coast Guard short there. What Kelly was saying too is he would have been happy with a platform like an oil rig that sat out there, or a big tanker that you could launch helicopters off of for interdiction, because we know what’s coming in. We just don’t have the ability to hit it and to intercept it.

Along those lines, you sponsored HR 4188, which authorizes funds for fiscal years 2016 and 2017. How does that authorization covering two years rather than the typical one benefit the Coast Guard?

It allows them to be smarter in their acquisitions, because if you can look out two years that gives some consistency. It gives them some stability where they know what the next budget is going to be so they can plan for it. That’s all anybody wants, really, is that stability and to be able to look out a year or two and be able to say, “We know what’s coming so we can plan accordingly.” And if you do that, you’re more effective and you’re more efficient. We’re also trying to give them the same procurement rules and the acquisition ability that the Navy has and the other services have. In a multiyear procurement blocked by authority, that’s how you save money. Because they’re [Coast Guard] under DHS [Department of Homeland Security], they don’t get the same acquisition authorities that the other services do. But the Coast Guard buys and builds ships. They buy and build airplanes and helicopters. So why not put them in the same bucket as the other services when it comes to acquisition? I think that’s something that the Coast Guard needs. And that’s something that we’re working towards.

But it’s a fight, because DHS is pretty nascent in their acquisition ability and their knowledge on it compared to the Department of Defense [DOD]. And unfortunately the Coast Guard has been kind of caught in that when no one else in the Department of Homeland Security acquires what the Coast Guard acquires. I mean, the new national security cutter [NSC] could be used in the Navy. It’s got guns on it. It launches UAS [unmanned aircraft system]. So why not follow the same acquisition and take all the positives that the Navy gets for building ships and put those towards the Coast Guard? It would save a lot of money.

The Coast Guard awarded a Phase II contract for the offshore patrol cutter. Right now 25 are planned to replace what were once more than 30 medium endurance cutters. You had the Famous class and the Reliance class, and then a handful of even older cutters. And likewise, nine national security cutters are replacing 12 high endurance cutters. Do you think the increased capability of the new ships totally offsets the decrease in numbers?

No. It’s a cliché, but they say no matter how advanced the ship is, it can only be in one place at one time. You can’t have one ship in two places. So I think numbers matter. And I think the same goes with the Navy. If you look at the same conditions that the Navy has and the same kind of world environment where they have to be in a lot of different places, especially because of terrorism, now you have to be in more places than you used to. You can’t just focus on Russia and China. You’ve got to be everywhere. And the threat is so diverse now, where you’re not just dealing with peer competitors, you’re dealing with small boats all the way up to the Russians and some of their nuclear subs and warships, to Syria. So, no, I think you have to have more ships. But as the bureaucracy gets more complex, things get more expensive. I mean, that’s part of the big problem. Building ships has gone up in price exponentially. The cost of building ships has gone up massively. And you would think that as companies get more efficient and effective at building ships, and even though they’re high tech that’s mostly software, you still have big steel-hulled ships that float in the water. So things haven’t changed that much. But it’s like when we talk about the icebreaker; they estimate it’s going to cost a billion dollars to build one.

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