The Continuing ATON Mission
As the response in the Gulf continued beyond projected timelines, senior Coast Guard leaders were concerned that the absence of the buoy tenders would negatively impact the overall aids to navigation (ATON) infrastructure.
In the end, however, the nationwide aid availability rate remained nearly constant throughout the deployment, which poses the question: How can this be?
Through a series of strategic initiatives and efficiency improvements over the last decade, the ATON program has dramatically improved hardware reliability and reduced the cutter resource hours needed to maintain the system.
Improvements in Efficiency and Technology
In the past, nearly 60 percent of their operational hours were devoted to performing ATON. In fiscal year 2009, however, these vessels spent only 39 percent of their operating hours on these duties, with the remaining 61 percent dispersed across other mission areas.
The coastal buoy tenders have experienced similar effects in mission employment, and expanded shore-based aids to navigation teams have also greatly improved overall mission response. Additionally, though the buoys and beacons along the U.S. coast look much the same as they did 30 years ago, there has also been a systematic transformation of aids to navigation equipment and hardware and efficiency improvements including:
- differential GPS positioning,
- increased use of solar power,
- transition from incandescent lighting systems to light-emitting diodes,
- use of self-contained systems,
- new buoy coating systems.
The Coast Guard employs a multi-tiered management philosophy to maintain ATON infrastructure so that each aid and waterway can be serviced by several types of Coast Guard assets.
DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano observes aids to navigation operations aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Anvil.
Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/spring2011/.
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