As the Coast Guard wrestles with aging IT, cloud is a long-term conversation

U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz has his eyes on JEDI, but says his service is years away from true cloud adoption.

By Zarnell Photography shutterstock photo ID: 658921729

The U.S. Coast Guard likely won’t be moving to enterprise cloud infrastructure any time soon, but its new commandant is closely watching the Defense Department’s Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) acquisition for guidance.

“What I’ve challenged our team to do is have that conversation,” U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz said during a Center for Strategic and International Studies event on maritime security Aug. 1. “I’m watching and reading about where DOD is with the cloud, and that’s a big movement. … [W]hat is that next big technological advancement that changes and allows you to find efficiencies. So we’re watching closely with JEDI and what DOD is doing there.”

True cloud implementation for the Coast Guard is likely years away, Schultz said.

“We missed some opportunities, so potentially we’ll be having that conversation about cloud in the next four years,” he said. “But until then, I’m challenging my team to tell us where they think the next big step will be that can really make a difference.”

The Coast Guard, which sits under the Department of Homeland Security but has a component under U.S. Cyber Command, has struggled with IT modernization. But Schultz, who took USCG command June 1, said the service is learning to take a holistic view to address problems.

“We recently transitioned to Windows 10, which was a pretty stringent requirement to stay on top of,” said Schultz, adding that the migration wrapped in March. “As we looked at our systems holistically through that transition, we realized that we have patchwork of applications and things.”

For example, Schultz said USCG’s aging ships suffer from connectivity issues that can’t be fixed with “more bandwidth.”

“Those 50-year-old, 210-foot ships, the 30-year-old, 270-foot ships, we have issues with connectivity, ” he said. “And initially we thought we could just buy more bandwidth and push it out there as a bandwidth problem but it’s more complicated than that. It’s the applications we have on there.”

Overall, the Coast Guard is taking a more targeted approach to enterprise IT by “treating our CG-6 [Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Information Technology], our tech, our computers, more like other programs,” Schultz said -- defining requirements and improving staffing and governance.

On the cyber end, he said his plan to add five lead officers to Coast Guard Cyber Command this summer will be delayed about six months, but stressed he is not deterred.

“It’s a lot out there and I challenge my new team of leaders to tell me where we may want to take some risks and take that big step that may be game-changing for us,” Schultz said.