Maritime Defense Undergoes All-Hands Evolution

November 2003
By Maryann Lawlor
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U.S. Coast Guard forms natural bridge between law enforcement and armed forces.

Effectively standing watch over 3.5 million square miles of ocean area and 98,000 miles of coastline calls for careful planning, and the U.S. Coast Guard is taking a layered approach to carrying out this mission. Ever-expanding homeland security demands have prompted the sentinel of the seas to create maritime domain awareness plans that extend from international to local borders and from industry to the federal government. Assessing, addressing and reducing risk is at the core of the strategy.

As the lead federal agency for maritime homeland security, the Coast Guard’s responsibilities include preventing terrorist attacks, reducing vulnerabilities and responding to conflict in the maritime domain. To perform these duties better, the Coast Guard has developed plans that focus on identifying and intercepting threats before they reach U.S. shores. Although terrorist activities remain a top priority, the Coast Guard must continue to meet its obligations in other areas such as preventing illegal immigration, thwarting drug smuggling and impeding international organized crime.

As a law enforcement agency and an armed force, the Coast Guard is in the unique position of being part of both homeland security and homeland defense efforts. In the former role, it operates with civilian authorities. In the latter, it has been working with the U.S. Defense Department for many years, including during exercises and training and even in support of operations in the Middle East.

According to Capt. Anthony Regalbuto, USCG (Ret.), chief, Office of Policy and Planning, Port Security Directorate, the Coast Guard has been transforming its organization’s approach from one of primarily responding to crises to what he describes as policing. “Having that ‘policeman on the beat’ is very important to be able to discern if there are any suspicious activities happening in the ports,” he says.

The finite amount of resources precludes the Coast Guard from monitoring all locations all the time, so the Coast Guard has always used a risk-based approach, determining the most imminent threats and where an attack would have the greatest impact. It also will employ this methodology in its homeland security efforts, the captain says.

Among the transformational initiatives the Coast Guard has introduced this year are a family of assessments and a family of security plans. Port security assessments are scheduled to be conducted in 55 military and economically strategic ports that handle 90 to 95 percent of U.S. international trade by waterways. By late summer, 13 of the assessments were complete.

On the local level, the captain of port will use a security risk assessment tool that identifies critical infrastructure in the port. This will help determine how resources would best be used in a crisis. It examines vulnerabilities as well as the severity of consequences. Individual vessel and facility owners are required to conduct self-assessments to determine their own vulnerabilities.

In addition to these assessments, the family of plans will include a national thrust that currently is under development. It will be in line with the National Strategy for Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration’s transportation security plan. The Coast Guard is designing the maritime element of these strategies. The captains of ports, through their area committees, will be writing the security plan to address their specific zones. Individual vessel and facility owners will have to design methods that fit into these plans.

This strategy lays out the division of labor, identifying who will do what to secure the maritime domain, Capt. Regalbuto notes. Owners and operators of vessels and facilities have primary responsibility for protecting their individual entities, and the local, state and federal agencies will augment that work. “What we want to do is protect the crown jewels of the United States, those critical infrastructures. That’s where we want to put our precious resources,” the captain says.

To accomplish this task, the Coast Guard uses the colored threat advisory system developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. When the threat level is green, blue or yellow, the Coast Guard is at maritime security level one. If the threat level moves to orange, the Coast Guard moves to security level two, and the change to red puts the Coast Guard at level three, which indicates impending or prevailing attack.

Last July, the Coast Guard created a list of protective measures for ports and industry that corresponds to the threat levels. As the threat level changes, the Coast Guard notifies the captains of ports, companies and approximately 50 maritime organizations such as the American Waterways Operators and requests that the appropriate security measures be put into place. The recommendations become regulations on July 1, 2004.

Capt. Kevin Quigley, USCG, chief, Office of Defense Operations, Port Security Directorate, explains that the Coast Guard’s security activities also are tied to the threat levels. Although he cannot share the details, Capt. Quigley allows that boat and air patrols as well as boarding of vessels increase to focus on an identified danger.

“It ends up being a joint effort at the end of the day,” the captain says. The U.S. Coast Guard Maritime Strategy for Homeland Security, published last December, calls for a robust but flexible command and control system to ensure operational and tactical control in situations that involve a number of agencies. In some instances, such as marine safety, the Coast Guard works with federal agencies and coordinates response. In the homeland defense scenario, Capt. Quigley shares, the Defense Department is the lead agency, but the Coast Guard provides assets, such as cutters, aircraft sensors and law enforcement boarding teams, as well as expertise. “Right after 9/11, the [U.S.] Navy shifted tactical control of 13 of its 170-foot patrol craft to the Coast Guard. We still have tactical control of several of those craft today,” he says.

In addition to supporting the Defense Department’s defense efforts at home, the Coast Guard has played a significant role in the war against terrorism abroad, Capt. Quigley relates. “We have patrol boats that are working for the Defense Department in the Persian Gulf. We’ve had 200-plus years of working with the Navy, and frankly it’s in the interest of homeland security that we attack these problems at the source.

“We earn our skills and our interoperability with these folks when we’re fighting alongside them in an overseas arena,” he adds. At the height of the war, the Coast Guard had two 378-foot, high-endurance cutters supporting the Navy, one with a battle group in the Mediterranean Sea and the other in the Persian Gulf. Maritime interception operations focused on identifying and preventing weapons or oil from being smuggled out of Iraq as well as a related piece—leadership interception operations—aimed at detecting people trying to leave Afghanistan and Iraq. In addition, eight 110-foot patrol boats were involved in operations such as escorts and boarding. As of this fall, the Coast Guard still had four patrol boats and two port security patrol units in the region that were operating in support of the Navy, Capt. Quigley relates.

Closer to home, the Coast Guard is fostering interservice cooperation through the creation of Joint Harbor Operations Centers. Prototype centers are being set up in Hampton Roads, Virginia, and Charleston, South Carolina. These facilities will help the Coast Guard and Navy create a common operational picture (COP) of the people, vessels and cargo entering ports. Although maritime domain awareness is the commonly used term to describe the Coast Guard’s efforts, the goal is total domain awareness to include information about activities on and under the water as well as in the air. Getting a fairly robust COP is a high priority for both the Defense Department and the Coast Guard, Capt. Quigley says. This information will be shared using the most current network technologies, he adds.

Intelligence gathering and distribution has been part of the Coast Guard’s mission for many years. However, as part of its increased homeland security and defense efforts, maritime intelligence fusion centers are being set up on the east and west coasts to facilitate multiagency intelligence sharing.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, some procedures regarding information gathering have changed. For example, in the past, a passenger manifest was provided to the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and the U.S. Bureau of Customs and Border Protection gathered cargo contents data. Today, the Coast Guard gathers information about passengers so it can match names against the terrorist watch list, and border protection agencies match cargo and passenger names looking for anomalies. The Coast Guard also is looking for information from the international community that it can put into its risk management equation, such as the names and number of ports a vessel visits.

Although measuring the effectiveness of risk management is not easy, the Coast Guard’s port security risk assessment tool will help facilities managers determine the cost of reducing specific risks when they follow the current security recommendations. This tool may be extended to some of the Coast Guard’s internal activities.

Several initiatives have been introduced that address specific maritime security needs. For external threats outside a ship, Maritime Safety and Security Teams can be moved into a port where a higher level of threat exists to enhance security. These teams feature more robust weapons and training than a standard Coast Guard law enforcement team and are developing underwater detection and vertical insertion capabilities. Six teams have been commissioned to date. To counter internal threats aboard a ship, sea marshals are being placed on ships to ensure that they get into port safely and are not used as a weapon in a port or against another ship.

The Coast Guard worked through the United Nations’ International Maritime Organization to develop new safety-of-life-at-sea security regulations and an international ship and port facility security code. These rules, which mirror the U.S. maritime transportation regulations, were also finalized last December and become effective in July 2004. “This is very important. We didn’t want ships to exercise their security plans only coming into the United States. As the ships are in the foreign ports, we wanted to ensure that the port facilities and the ship had good security around it so that the ships were not going to be contaminated as they were trying to come to the United States and other places,” Capt. Regalbuto explains. Part of the Coast Guard program involves boarding ships past the sea buoy to ensure that the ship is enforcing the security plans, he adds.

Capt. Quigley says industry understands the Coast Guard’s technology needs as they relate to maritime domain awareness and the Deepwater program (SIGNAL, December 2002, page 39). Capt. Regalbuto shares that some of the most crucial technology areas that need to be explored are biometrics in terms of credential verification and face recognition. The Coast Guard also is interested in lethal and nonlethal weapon systems that would be particularly useful in locations such as ports where collateral damage is a concern. In addition, underwater technologies and protective clothing are of interest.

Additional information on U.S. Coast Guard homeland security efforts is available on the World Wide Web at

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