07/11/05 — Our Coast Guard: An expanded role, aging equipment

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Our Coast Guard: An expanded role, aging equipment

Those who have had the opportunity to see up close all of our uniformed services in action over the years must rank the United States Coast Guard as unsurpassed in efficiency.

Part of this can be attributed to the fact that it is small compared to the Army, Air Force and the Marine Corps.

And part, perhaps, because it does not have near as large a cadre of lobbyists and other supporters in Washington. It has had to get the biggest bang for every buck it is allotted.

Over the years, in peace and in war, the Coast Guard has been vital to protecting our people and the best interests of our country — at home and abroad.

Since 9/11, the Coast Guard has been assigned immensely greater responsibilities.

In addition to its longtime important regular duties, the Coast Guard now has the primary responsibility of protecting our ports, waterways and coastlines from terrorism.

That translates into providing scrutiny of activities at 361 ports and 95,000 miles of coastline and boarding thousands upon thousands of ships and recreational vessels entering or plying our waterways.

It is having to do it with the same number of personnel and virtually the same inventory of vessels and aircraft it has been using for years.

And the latter should be of special concern to all Americans.

Some of the Coast Guard’s cutters are half a century old, far beyond their projected years of service. Its aircraft also are aged. And despite Herculean maintenance and repair efforts, ships and aircraft alike are failing at what Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Thomas Collins calls “unacceptable rates.”

Last year, the Coast Guard HH-65 helicopters experienced power losses at a rate of 329 per 1,000 hours. The FAA’s standard is one failure per 100,000 hours.

Friends of the Coast Guard in Congress want to see an acceleration of the replacement of its fleet, aircraft and equipment. Disturbingly, the White House says the updating should be spread over the next quarter of a century.

That would appear to run counter to the significantly greater and tremendously vital responsibilities the Coast Guard has in the nation’s war on terrorism.

The Coast Guard’s mission and the well-being of the nation should not be compromised by obsolete and unreliable equipment.

Published in Editorials on July 11, 2005 11:39 AM