The Coast Guard renews its plea: More ships!

The commandant of the Coast Guard is pounding the pavement, making his pitch.

In the finest tradition of his service, Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Robert Papp is begging anyone who’ll listen to help him with his aging fleet.

Just as with the Navy, it wasn’t supposed to be this way. The Coast Guard once envisioned a gleaming new fleet that relied on a “system of systems” — this was before it had to be a “family” — and three new large classes of cutters to replace its Nixon-era ships. Slowly, ever slowly, that vision is becoming reality, but as we’ve seen, Papp seems fearful it could fall short.

He planned to use his state of the Coast Guard address Thursday to repeat the call for help we heard at the Surface Navy Association — that Coast Guardsmen can’t maintain their trusty but worn-out old cutters for much longer. Expect another renewal of the service’s yearly cavalcade of woe, when it details the rust holes, main engine fires and lost propellers plaguing its existing ships.

Still, its new fleet is slowly growing. In fact, Papp planned to use his three new national security cutters as a backdrop for his speech on Coast Guard Island in San Francisco Bay on Thursday, wrote the AP’s Paul Elias:

The Coast Guard’s commandant said in an interview Wednesday with The Associated Press that he wants many more new ships and he wants them as soon as possible.

“We have grown the Coast Guard since Sept. 11, 2001,” noting that the service has added 6,000 military personnel in the last decade.

As he speaks Thursday on Coast Guard Island in Alameda, Calif., the service’s three newest ships will serve as a $2 billion backdrop. His aide, commander Glynn Smith, said the presence of the Bertholf, Stratton and Waesche is not coincidental.

Papp said he will fight to maintain the Coast Guard’s annual budget of a little more than $10 billion.

“We have taken on a lot more responsibility since Sept. 11,” he said.

“You have this vast middle area of the oceans where you have to keep a persistent presence,” Papp said. “The problem is that most of the ships we have doing this now are more than 40 years old.”

Papp said the U.S. Navy generally mothballs its ships after 25 years.

“You cannot patrol without having substantial ships,” Papp said. “We need new ships.”

Papp is out there — talking to the trade shows, talking to the wires, giving the speeches. The question is whether anyone in Congress is listening.