September 01, 2009

Live Blog: DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen

The following is a live blog feed of the “DoDLive Bloggers Roundtable” with Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen. Admiral Allen – who blogs and tweets himself – will discuss the recent Interagency Arctic Awareness Trip with the interagency Ocean Policy Task Force and his conclusions on how the opening Arctic will affect U.S. policy.

3:01 p.m. ADM Allen: The Coast Guard just concluded an Ocean Policy Task Force (OPTF) trip to the Arctic. The Interagency Arctic Awareness Trip included Nancy Sutley, director of White House Council on Environmental Quality, Jane Lubchenco, NOAA Administrator and Heath Zichal, deputy assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. OPTF was sent to assess the impacts of climate change on the Arctic and the implications for local communities and the operating environment.

3:03 p.m. There was no Navy representative with the Ocean Policy Task Force. Why not?

ADM Allen: The Coast Guard has a surface presence. There’s no requirement for naval submarines or warships. Coast Guard is tasked for environmental enforcement and search and rescue. To be sure, Coast Guard briefs Navy and Joint Chiefs of Staff, so the services are well-connected.

3:10 p.m. Do you have any idea of what you’ll be asking for in terms of dollars to prepare for icebreaking and search and rescue missions in the Arctic?

ADM Allen: The Coast Guard has not quantified its needs yet. We are preparing for a High Latitude study that will assess costs for operating in the Arctic, current inventory of equipment and the gaps that exists. Infrastructure will be an issue (no boat ramps in Barrow, Alaska to deploy equipment). Also, helicopters like the HH-65 Dolphin that are used on Coast Guard Cutters have no deicing capability, so they’re limited in what they can do.

3:13 p.m. Is there any effort underway to match up the Coast Guard with local and state responders to shore up national capability?

ADM Allen: There’s no robust local response capability. There's definitely a need for the Coast Guard to help build local capacity to address new challenges.

3:14 p.m. The U.S. Coast Guard has been pretty forward leaning on climate change and the threats of a thawing Arctic. How has the U.S. Coast Guard convinced other services of the operational and strategic challenges up there?

ADM Allen: It's not a hard sell to the people who’ve been up there. It's obvious that things are changing. There’s no real national defense mission up there. Most issues are sovereignty related. All are in agreement that the impacts of climate change will be severe for local communities and that communities may have to move. But that's more of a concern for local law enforcement and search and rescue capability. There's no overwhelming military force up there – but no real need at this time. There is however an overwhelming need for a whole of government approach, that’s why we have been working with White House CEQ, NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce and Climate Energy Office on the Arctic.

3:15 p.m. What is the Coast Guard's relationship with the State Department vis-a-vis the Arctic?

ADM Allen: The biggest issue that we are in agreement with is the ratification of the Law of the Seas Treaty. We still haven't ratified it and both the U.S. Coast Guard and State Department are in agreement that we need to find a way to ratify it.

3:17 p.m. What permanent facilities and personnel does the U.S. Coast Guard have on the North Slope?

There are no permanent Coast Guard facilities up there. We've been staging C-130s up there that operate out of Point Barrow. But we have no permanent footprint up there and that's one of the things we'll need to consider in our High Latitude study - if we need a permanent presence.

3:23 p.m. With Congress legislating that DoD look at the implications of climate change on its current and future missions in all of its future strategic documents, beginning with the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), how has the Coast Guard contributed to this process?

ADM Allen: The Coast Guard has been participating in two strategic assessments: the QDR and the inaugural Quadrennial Homeland Security Review. What we've tried to do is populate the different working groups with subject matter experts so that when the Arctic comes up a Coast Guard rep can speak to the relevant issues.

It's still unclear about how climate change is going to be incorporated into the strategic thinking; we're still a few months away from those documents being released.

3:29 p.m. ADM Allen: In closing, priorities for the Arctic right now are to stabilize icebreaking capability, refine and set a requirement for forward deployment, inventory current equipment and find out what we’ll need if current deployment doesn’t work. We will continue to deploy to the North Slope during the summer. We will also continue to provide veterinary, dental and medical services like we’ve done through Operation Arctic Crossroads and help locals by providing life-saving equipment (life jackets, etc.).

3:30 p.m. END