Skip to Main Content

Coast Guard is Using the Workforce and Partnerships to Modernize

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan weighs how the service is building its workforce and capabilities of the future.

5m read
Written by:
Linda Fagan participates in a panel discussion alongside each military branch's service chief on May 13 in Washington, D.C.
Linda Fagan participates in a panel discussion alongside each military branch's service chief on May 13 in Washington, D.C. Photo Credit: Petty Officer 2nd Class Erik Villa Rodriguez/Coast Guard

Autonomous vehicles, artificial intelligence and machine learning all have important roles in the U.S. Coast Guard’s operations. Commandant Adm. Linda Fagan, the first woman in American history to lead a military service, said the service is expanding its modernization efforts in the workforce, communications systems and other technologies. In a conversation with GovCIO Media & Research, she discussed her vision of a modern Coast Guard and where technology fits in.

What do you envision as the Coast Guard workforce of the future?

Adm. Linda Fagan: Workforce is top of mind and recruiting is job one. We’ve made a lot of investments in our recruiting capacity, in particular, doing innovative things to go find those digital natives where they are. It’s not big advertising campaigns — it’s things like Twitch, the online gaming site, and other avenues that help illuminate who we are as a service to the young people that we’re so interested in bringing in.

It starts with just little advertising hooks and little videos and vignettes. We’ve seen the imagery of our swimmers jumping out of helicopters, the small boats on the water at the Baltimore Bay Bay Bridge recovery site. Ships and boats in the surf; it starts with this imagery. And then you can begin educating, exploring and sharing what the opportunities are.

Once we showcase the Coast Guard to a young person, they’re excited, they’re motivated, and they have a sense of purpose that really leaves me enthused about the future of the Coast Guard.

How do you see artificial intelligence impacting the Coast Guard?

Fagan: AI and machine learning, those are technologies that are here with us now. Job one right now is getting our data warehoused and catalogued in a way that allows us then to apply some of those technologies. We’ve got a data transformation group working on data warehousing and the governance and the other unfun stuff around data, so that you can use data analytics, predictive analytics, machine learning and AI to begin to create opportunity.

My intent is to continue to bring the organization from the legacy that we were as an organization into the current state and enable the kind of future work that we will need. That includes unmanned systems — for example, sail drones.

We have a contract for sail drones and fully autonomous vessels. We’ve got them deployed in the migration of vectors down in the Caribbean to help create domain awareness for us so that we’re better enabled to actually affect interdictions. We’re not out there wondering where people are, we now know and can go out and do those interdictions.

How are you considering acquisition approaches for these capabilities and technologies?

Fagan: We’re in the midst of our largest acquisitions since World War II. We’re fielding brand new state-of-the-art ships. The Legend-class national security cutter, which I still think of as new — the first one was put into the commission 15 years ago. That refresh in ensuring that that ship remains relevant in the mission space is very much in the forefront now.

When any ship comes into midlife and refresh, the questions then really become “ready for what? What is that next technology it will need to be ready for?” You need to create capacity because you can’t predict what the next technology is going to be. You’ve got to have the ship with the nimbleness and flexibility to be positioned to take advantage of whatever the next technology is.

We’re thinking differently about technology, too, because we’re not going to just lock this technology in for 20 or 30 years. We all know the pace of technological change is quickening. It used to be that you needed more space for data and data storage. All that has shrunk down and enables some of that more creative thinking capacity around what is next.

How do you future-proof?

Fagan: As we continue to look at fielding technology and innovating as an organization, we lean heavily on learning what the other military services have done and look for commercial off-the-shelf availability. Some of that failure risk has already been been wrung out of some of some of those technologies for us. We’ve got a research and development center that helps us think through and field some of that technology specific to our missions.

What are some of the lessons learned dealing with other services and industry?

Fagan: Let’s talk about ships: partnerships and allyships. They’re really critical. As you know, we look at Coast Guard operations around the world that continue to partner with industry and allies. Ally engagement is front and center, creating opportunity to exchange officers, between ships to share information, share technology, wherever it’s possible. Certainly, the complexity of the world and the risk of the world continues to accelerate, creating those shared opportunities with our allies and industry partners has become critical in this speed and the trust. Those conversations are essential, as we look to mitigate risk as the world changes around us.

Related Content
Woman typing at computer

Stay in the Know

Subscribe now to receive our newsletters.