Coast Guard wants a ‘tech revolution’ to dig itself out of IT from the ’90s

Adm. Karl M. Shultz, the commandant of the Coast Guard, speaks to attendees at the 2019 State of the Coast Guard address held at Coast Guard Base Los Angeles-Long Beach in San Pedro, California, March 21, 2019. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Benjamin Berkow)

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The U.S. Coast Guard is inciting a “tech revolution” with goals of doubling bandwidth on its cutters off the U.S. shoreline and boosting internet speeds 50 times over.

“The Coast Guard of tomorrow must operate beyond brick and mortar,” said Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Shultz during a “State of the Coast Guard” speech Thursday in South Carolina. “Years of investment tradeoffs have brought our information technology to the brink of catastrophic failure.”

Last year 95 of the Coast Guard’s “vital systems” were taken offline by a single server malfunction. It’s the outcome of having an IT portfolio largely developed in the ‘90s, Shultz said. The answer: a whole-of-service revolution that will modernize outdated technology on the rallying cry of “reliable, mobile, and integrated.”

The goals are ambitious for a service beset with decades-old legacy software and hardware. Beyond the 50-times internet speed boost and increasing bandwidth on cutters, the service wants to transition to Microsoft Office 365 for email services and upgrade to 4G connectivity. Later in the year, the service aims to begin migrating IT systems to the cloud and implementing the use of electronic health records.

After the basics are taken care of — or at least started to be taken care of — cyber readiness and defenses will need to be boosted, according to a roadmap released Thursday with Shultz’s speech. He also said that the Coast Guard will need to close a $300 million IT spending shortfall in its budget.

Preparing for the future, Shultz recognized that a major failure in the Coast Guard’s technology was putting off needed maintenance. The commandant said in his speech the guard will move to an “industry standard” replacement cycle. Consistent replacement of outdated tech will help avoid the same pitfalls the Coast Guard has found itself in now, Shultz said.

Partnerships for the future

The guard will also partner with Defense Department groups to keep its gaze long-term. While the Coast Guard is organized under the Department of Homeland Security, it will send members to partner with the Defense Innovation Unit to work on speeding up acquisition of technology for the service.

Trying to kick-start its own innovation center, the guard also opened the Blue Technology Center of Expertise, which partners with academia and private sector companies on technology that will advance its mission. The center is located in the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California San Diego.

“The Blue Technology Center of Expertise will better connect the Coast Guard with the tremendous government, academic and industry innovation ecosystem in the San Diego area,” Deputy Commandant for Mission Support Vice Adm. Michael McAllister said during the center’s opening. “It will create a unique pipeline for the rapid identification and implementation of new maritime technologies into critical Coast Guard operations around the globe.”

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Adm. Karl Schultz, DIU (formerly DIUx), IT Modernization, U.S. Coast Guard
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