Coast Guard faces comm hurdles

SAN DIEGO — Despite large advances in defense communications technologies during the past several years, the Coast Guard must still overcome large communications barriers with the Defense Department's services, said Vice Adm. Terry Cross, commander of the Coast Guard's Pacific Fleet.

Speaking at the West 2004 conference, sponsored by AFCEA and the U.S. Naval Institute, Cross said the maritime communications technology afforded to the Coast Guard must advance at a pace comparable to its DOD counterparts.

"We can't always communicate with all of our partners," Cross said. "There are specifically serious gaps in the secure communications."

Cross lamented the aged state of several Coast Guard cutters, including one in Alaska, which he said is "eligible for Social Security," and another which soon will be.

"Of the 42 navies and coast guards in the world, only two [have older ships] than your coast guard," he said.

Coast Guard officials also face the unique challenge of dealing with both the .gov space used by the Homeland Security Department and the .mil domain of DOD.

"We need to communicate across both of those, and we don't do that very well right now," he said.

Cross said that on Sept. 11, 2001, only the largest tactical units of the Coast Guard had access to the Secure Internet Protocol Routing Network, the secure DOD communications network. But a great deal of money spent over the last few years has brought the Coast Guard in closer alignment with DOD.

"The real challenge is in [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance]." Cross said. "C4ISR must be jointly capable as the Coast Guard, Navy and Marine Corps train together. You can have the best people in the world, but they won't be able to do their jobs unless we give them to tools to complete it."

"We need complimentary but nonredundant capabilities," he said.

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