What Might Coast Guard Cutters do in Wartime? Part 2, Coast Guard Roles


This is the second of two parts. The first part focusing on what I believe are the current shortfalls in the US Navy force structure is here.

Since part one, additional cuts to the Navy’s plans have been announce. Attack submarines which have an important ASW role are now expected to decline from a current 55 to 40 in 2030 and all SSGNs will be removed from service. Additionally the Navy will prematurely retire seven cruisers and two amphibious warfare ships. The planned five year building program is going from 57 ships to 41.

Now we will look more closely at what Coast Guard Cutters may be called upon to do in future conflicts, what changes to our existing force might be prudent, and desirable characteristics for future cutters.

Normally Coast Guard cutters only go to war for two reasons:

  • Either they have capabilities the US Navy cannot supply in sufficient quantity,
  • or the scope of the conflict is so large, every effort has to be thrown into the struggle.

As noted in part one, in a major war the Navy is likely to have problems with these missions:

  • Base Security
  • Inshore
  • Sea Control
  • Mine Counter Measures (MCM)
  • Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW)
  • Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS)

The range of potential conflicts is virtually infinite, but I will suggest where each of these potential difficulties start to emerge considering five levels of potential conflict.

  • War on Terror
  • Assisting an ally deal with insurgency
  • An extended conflict with a hostile nation with limited naval and airpower, possibly in support of an ally, e.g. S. Korea vs. N. Korea, Colombia vs. Venezuela
  • Conflict with a near peer
  • A multi-nation, multi-theater, non-nuclear conflict

Base Security: Base (and Homeland) Security may be an issue at every level of conflict. Even now the Coast Guard is providing a level of base security for the Navy. Four 87 foot patrol boats (WPBs) were paid for by the Navy (Sea Dragon, Sea Dog, Sea Fox and Sea Devil). Unlike the other vessels of their class, they are armed with a remote controlled stabilized heavy machine gun. They are stationed at Bangor, WA and Kings Bay, GA. These and other boats are part of Maritime Force Protection Units that escort Ballistic Missile Submarines (SSBNs) during their transits between their bases and deep water.

Other Coast Guard units also regularly escort other high value/high risk units, both civilian and military (CVNs, LHAs, LHDs, passenger ships, and certain dangerous cargoes), during transit to and from open sea. The escorts currently provided seem appropriate for preventing a “USS Cole style” attack by small boats, but are inadequate if the enemy employs a medium to large size vessel for making an attack.

As the level of conflict escalates the danger also increases. As you move toward conflict with a near peer, using highly trained special force, unconventional attacks become more probable, and in the case of nations that control substantial merchant marine and fishing fleets, the early days of a war are likely to be very complex. Their ships will likely be in or near our ports. Are they innocent, or are they carrying agents, explosives, mines, or even cruise missiles?


The inshore problem is a special, local case of sea control. The Navy needed assistance even in the case of Iraq’s limited coast line, so if the coastal zone is large they are likely to need substantial assistance.

Coast Guard forces were called upon to assist an ally during the Vietnam War by boarding and inspecting coastal traffic, even though the US Navy still had a large force that could be used for maintaining patrols close to shore. (On June 30, 1968 the USN had 35 cruisers, 219 destroyers, 50 destroyer escorts/frigates, 84 mine warfare vessels, and 6 patrol vessels, a total of 394 vessels compared with a current total of approximately 136 similar types)  The Coast Guard had unique capabilities in the form of 82′ patrol boats. 26 of these boats were assigned to Operation Market Time and in the first year they boarded approximately 35,000 junks. The Coast Guard still has far more capability for this type of operation than the Navy.

The patrol line off South Vietnam’s coast was over 800 nautical miles long. To interdict covert enemy operations, in addition to the 26 patrol boats, the Coast Guard added a squadron of five to seven larger cutters to the already large fleet of USN and South Vietnamese vessels. These ships provided Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) in addition to surface interdiction.

Coast line lengths of about 1,000 miles are not unusual. A patrol line for Colombia’s coast would be about 850 nautical miles. Yemen’s coast almost 900 nautical miles. Somalia’s over 1500 miles.

Having enough boarding teams to inspect coastal traffic, where we need them, while meeting other Navy commitments, that will not disappear because we are engaged in a limited war, will almost certainly demand more ships that the Navy will have at the time. Coast Guard cutters, both large and small, may be in demand for this capability in the future.

The primary mission requirement is again stopping and boarding. Again cutters are well prepared to contend with smaller vessels, but the ability to stop larger vessels is currently in doubt. It would also be desirable if the CG vessels could provide Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) as they did during the Vietnam War.

As the level of conflict escalates, cutters are likely to be called upon to similarly control access, protecting allies and enforcing blockades. At the higher thresholds, engaging a openly hostile nation, submarine and air threats become more probable, as do overt threats from the land. This suggest, once the conflict involves more than supporting an ally with an insurgency, more self defense capabilities may be required.

Sea Control:  The Coast Guard has recognized the need for sea control off our coast as part of the “War on Terror.” This is facilitated by the SOLAS requirements for Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) and there are plans for using long duration, persistent, unmanned aerial systems to maintain a picture of traffic off our coasts. There is the potential for the Navy to substantially help the Coast Guard with offshore surveillance. Various forms of offshore surveillance such as the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance (BAMS) system, woven into a maritime domain awareness system, combined with data base information on expected traffic, might provide a degree of assurance that ships cannot approach the US coast undetected. Still the ability to react effectively is questionable. In wartime, these systems are likely to go away and there will certainly be non-participants in AIS.

Sea Control outside of our own and our allies’ shores would take two forms,

  • making it safe for transit of our own and friendly shipping
  • and denying access to hostile shipping.

Sea Control, in the boarder sense, will become an issue as the level of conflict approaches a near peer, particularly as in the case of a nation like China that controls huge numbers of vessels, including many not under her own flag, on all the world’s oceans.

The first days and weeks of a major conflict will include efforts to seize or force the internment of all hostile shipping and fishing vessels. This alone will be a massive undertaking.

In the case of a major conflict involving China, we are likely to see an attempt to blockade them. Because the near shore area will be dangerous, the blockade is likely to be distant, exploiting the limited number of approaches defined by the first island chain (stretching from the Kuriles, through Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Borneo, and on to the Malay Peninsula). This distant blockade could not simply sink any shipping that attempted to cross the line, since much of the shipping would go to allies and neutrals. Just as the British Navy did in blockading Germany in WWI, the US would need to determine the destination and cargo for shipping and let through those bound for allied ports and sufficient shipping to neutrals to allow their economies to survive while cutting off any excess that might be funneled to our enemies. This will again demand ships with boarding teams.

In terms of facilitating our own shipping, even if our cutter are not conducting ASW, they will likely be needed for open ocean SAR, so we might see a form of ocean station make a comeback.

Except in very rare cases, I don’t expect to see closely bunched convoys with ships only a few hundred yards apart, both for tactical reasons, and simply because we no longer have the escorts. But high value, priority shipping is likely to transit in loose groups watched over by maritime patrol aircraft and perhaps with an SSN sweeping known danger areas ahead. Even using a ten mile spacing between ships, a hundred ships could be assembled in a 100×100 nautical mile area. If that happens, a cutter might be assigned to provide SAR coverage and also could act as a communications center for the group, referred to as “administrative escort,” particularly if equipped with sensitive compartmented Information Facilities (SCIF) as the National Security cutters are. This would allow the group to be routed away from danger areas identified by intelligence.

Mine Countermeasures: There is the potential for mine warfare to develop as a terrorist tactic and the Navy minesweepers are not well placed to respond the this threat at most American Ports. The Navy has 14 Avenger class mine countermeasures ships, four in Sasebo, four in Bahrain, and six in San Diego. There are none on the Atlantic or Gulf Coast. Assuming the Navy develops their MCM systems for the LCS, and assuming they are air transportable, being able to transport them directly to the scene without waiting for an LCS to arrive could save the substantial cost (and embarrassment) of having a port shut down for several days. The air assets (helicopters with mine sweeping equipment) might operate from land, while the unmanned vehicles (either surface or sub-surface) might be deployed from cutters including buoy tenders.

In the case of war with a near peer or a more general conflict the need for MCM will likely increase, including the possibility of submarine laid mines. Whether cutters have the flexibility to help with this problem may depend on decisions made in the near future.

Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW): That non-state actors will employ submarines is unlikely, but not impossible, given that drug smuggling organizations have developed the capability. Still there are many less demanding ways of attacking the US. Even so, having ASW sensors might be useful in countering self propelled semi-submersibles and true submarines used for drug smuggling.

Submarines are not likely to be a significant threat unless engaging a near peer. But in that case or in the case of a more general war, almost any force level is likely to be inadequate to prevent major problems.

China already has the largest submarine fleet in the Pacific. Individually, they are not yet up to American standards, but they are likely to improve rapidly. US forces are most likely to have long supply lines that will need to be protected. Additionally our allies shipping may need protection.

While I don’t necessarily believe it will happen, the Russians are saying they will be building six submarines a year, which could ultimately give them a submarine fleet of up to 180. Russian ballistic missile submarines are also expected to start patrolling again soon. Trailing them will reduce the availability of American SSNs for other forms of ASW. Clearly they intend to have a formidable fleet of submarines.

Should there develop an alliance between China and Russia, if we ever have to fight them both, the ASW problem will be acute.

Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS): Opportunities for Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) start to surface in any form of foreign conflict. It was used during the Vietnam War, the Gulf Wars, and most recently during the Libyan revolution. Even in minor conflicts it meets a need. But it becomes essential when conducting amphibious operations against a near peer, not just because the requirements will be large, but also because many of the assets that might otherwise be used, are in demand for other tasks, leaving few available for NSFS. Under those circumstances there will never be enough systems available to answer all the requests for fire support.

Based on the importance being attached to Exercise Bold Alligator, there should be little doubt the Navy and Marine Corps still believe in amphibious warfare. In a major conflict, if there is an amphibious assault, where will the cutters be? There is a good chance they will be doing SAR in the Amphibious Objective Area, rescuing Marines from sunken landing craft. If so, they would be closer to the beach than any of the other potential NSFS providers. If they are, having a NSFS weapon would make a lot of sense.

Guns are not the only possible form of NSFS, but right now there is no identified substitute. Putting 5″ guns on the Offshore Patrol Cutters might be worthwhile. The LCS’s ASuW module was to have included an NSFS capable element, the NLOS missile. That may yet be replaced and the resulting system may be appropriate for fitting on cutters, including some of the smaller ones.

Coast Guard vessels are unlikely to ever be NSFS superstars, but if properly equipped they could provide a useful service, by taking targets within their range and allowing the more capable NSFS ships, like the Zumwalts, to conserve their limited magazine space for more difficult or longer range targets.

Minimum Requirement, The ability to stop and board a ship

In virtually every scenario, over the entire spectrum of conflict, it is likely that Cutters will need to stop and board vessels. Boats and boarding team are inherent in day to day operations, but if these vessels refuse to stop, cutters need the capability to compel compliance.

The Coast Guard needs the ability to quickly and reliably, forcibly stop a merchant ship of any size, not only in its largest cutters, but with some of its assets in every major port. Some may think that we have that capability now in the form of 57 and 76 mm guns, but I don’t think so. At any rate these systems may not be available when need. The capability needs to be more widely available, extending at least to the new Fast Response Cutters and possibly to the patrol boats.

Weapons needed to compel compliance don’t need great maximum range, although it is certainly desirable that the system out-range simple to add weapons like machine guns, recoilless rifles,  and anti-tank missile systems, which suggest a maximum range of at least 4,000 yards.

Perhaps more important is a short minimum range, because the capability is most likely to be needed while attempting a boarding. That suggest a minimum range of 500 yards or less.

Another important consideration is that the weapons may be used near population centers, perhaps even inside US ports, so minimizing the possibility of ammunition going astray is an important consideration.

The medium caliber guns on large cutters may not be up to the task, risk significant collateral damage, and are not available on any but the largest cutters. Missiles might be an alternative, but whatever system is chosen, it will not be enough to simply penetrate the hull. They will have to be capable of either selectively disabling the rudder or propeller(s) or penetrating the engine block, in some cases two engine blocks, of massive diesel engines after passing through the ships side.

Light weight torpedoes modified to be used against surface ships seem to meet these requirements, they are certainly not going to hit anyone ashore, but as of now these weapons don’t exist. Whatever system might be selected, it should be thoroughly tested.

Add-ons that would also enhance Homeland Security missions:

Several systems might serve peacetime as well as wartime needs. These include communications, sensors, and weapons.

Communications: Even in peacetime Coast Guard cutters and aircraft would benefit from a common encrypted communications and tactical picture that is compatible with other services. Link16 could provide this.

Towed Array: Since drug cartels have started using self propelled semi-submersibles and even true submarines, a towed array provides a means for long range detection of these craft in addition to being useful in wartime ASW scenarios.

Weapons: An NSFS weapon, such as a 5″ gun or the Navy’s replacement for the planned LCS ASuW missile, might be a means of also meeting the need to quickly and effectively stop terrorists in control of a medium to large vessel.

Keeping Options open:

The perception that the Coast Guard cutters are law enforcement and search and rescue assets rather than military units, make them welcome in many places where Navy ships are not. Arming them to the teeth might limit their usefulness in many circumstances. Additionally heavy armament in peacetime would increase both acquisition and operating cost.

But that does not mean the ships should not have margins that would allow them to be fitted with additional systems if needed. When the 327s were built, they were lightly armed versions of the Navy’s much more heavily armed gunboats the Erie and Charleston, each of which was armed with four 6″/47s and 16 1.1″ (28 mm) machine guns. They had the margins to carry this additional armament. When war came, we needed ASW ships rather than gunboats, but because they had generous margins, they could carry more depth charges than any destroyer. That helped them become United States’ most successful class of ASW ships, sinking U-175, U-606 (shared credit), and U-626, and probably sank the U-529.

The modular approach the Navy is using on the Littoral Combat Ships offers a way to keep our options open and permit rapid upgrades of combat capability.The inherent flexibility also offers advantages for non-combat operations. The Navy is currently developing mission MCM, ASW, and Anti-Surface modules for the LCS, but they are also developing modules that are appropriate for humanitarian and disaster relief-types of missions. Other potential modules might include medical, teaching, holding cells, or scientific support.


Compared to the Navy’s fleet of approximately 136 vessels that might be available to do “Sea Control” (CGs,DDGs, MCMs, LCSs, and PCs), the Coast Guard has 75 87′ Coastal Patrol Boats, and is expects to build 58 154′ Fast Response Cutters, 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters, and eight National Security cutters, a total of 166 vessels. While certainly not as individually capable as most of the Navy vessels, when numbers count, the Coast Guard is a sizable force. Its wartime roles need to be considered and planned for. If we can afford to build a navy essentially only for its wartime roles, we certainly should also put a little thought and money into the Coast Guard’s preparation.

47 thoughts on “What Might Coast Guard Cutters do in Wartime? Part 2, Coast Guard Roles

  1. well thought out.
    unfortunatly my former squid bretheren rarely think of us as a fighting force, unless of course they needed something yesterday that doesn’t cost much.

  2. This is why I think Littoral Warfare should be the Domain of the US Coast Guard. Who else knows how to operate in the littoral environment better than the US Coast Guard. That’s why I believe that the NSC should be armed up to Frigate standards. Even the OPC should be up armed to Light frigate standards and be ready on the fly to up arm them in the event we go to an all out war and the US Navy calls up everything including the US Coast Guard. If we ever have another World War two type again, the NSC and OPC should have all the weapons and systems of a frigate and should be readily available In case we ever need it.

  3. I want to start by saying I’ve enjoyed reading both of these articles. I’m probably going to take some heat from surface fleet readers but here goes, I’m at AET A school and was wondering what your thoughts are on how our aviation missions/capabilities would factor into the equation in such a scenario.

    • I’ve thought about that a bit. They would probably have plenty of SAR, logistics and surface surveillance to do. I believe CG C-130s even did some logistics flights for Desert Storm.

      If a conflict with a near peer went on for more than a year, some CG aviation would probably adapt to doing ASW. Transitioning helicopter crews and possibly airframes to something like the MH-60R would probably be the easiest.

      If you look at what happened during WWII, the CG did end up flying ASW patrols including squadrons of PBY Catalinas. The one sub that had been credited to a CG aircraft was actually sunk by a Navy subchaser.

      Short of conflict with a near peer, you would expect to be able to get air support from the Air Force, Navy, Marines, or Army, but I have my doubts if the necessary agreements and authorities are in place to respond.

      If the CG determined that a maritime terrorist attack was in progress, how long would it take to get approval for a response, get a crew ready and briefed and the aircraft armed, and then get there, coordinating with CG forces on scene? Think about how slow off the mark the Air Force was on 9/11 and air intercepts was a mission they were supposed to be ready for. They are now ready to shoot down airplanes, but are they ready to sink a ship?

      When I entered the service, “air borne use of force” was unthinkable, so things do change.

  4. Talking about supplying maritime security to high value units we have this:

    “In addition to protecting Iraq’s oil platforms, the Coast Guard’s mission includes escorting large Navy ships in the Persian Gulf to keep small boats away, boarding and investigating foreign ships based on intelligence or suspicious activity and routinely conducting ‘interaction patrols’ to build bridges with local fishermen.”

    Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/02/13/as-tensions-with-iran-rise-us-coast-guard-makes-waves-in-persian-gulf/#ixzz1mNfpmPZD

  5. That’s why if all out War Breaks out and the US Navy starts pulling US Coast Guard Assets into the US Navy Fleet. We need to upgrade our current NSC to a Combat Frigate Standard and if we build the OPC, we need to make sure they are capable of being upgraded to Combat Corvette standards if need be. This is why the current Coast Guard Fleet needs to have full combat capability in case if all out war breaks out and for those asymmetric threats that exist out their as well.

    • Nope, the Navy should have enough blue water aka Battle Force Combatants. Let them dump their big SCN budget into high end warshhips.

      HOWEVER, the USN seems to have given up on all smaller warships and good warboats. That is the domain where the USCG excels and should be the focus of peacetime expeditionary misions and wartime roles. How about using existing or new cutter to be the “true” Cyclone PC replacement? Remember those are for patrolling and for naval raids (needing more sailors and boats). The USCG should be talking to NECC about warboats (they already train RivRons at SMTC). Those are good connections to be improved IMHO.

      • See, were not facing a Cold war enemies like the Soviet Union anymore. Were facing Navies today that are in size and composition to the US Coast Guard around the world. That’s why The US Coast Guard needs to up their game and even bring their current NSC and future OPC to Frigate & Corvette Standards. Were now in an asymmetric warfare climate, where you can face down navies who are no bigger than the US Coast Guard. Also why would you want to send a Burke centered SAG against a Navy who is no bigger than the US Coast Guard? A Burke would be a overkill and I would instead send a NSC that is armed to Frigate standards and have the Burke play the Quarterback role and the NSC play the Offense & Defense Lineman role and the OPC as full safety.

        However, since the US Navy gave up the frigate role and system. This is now a good time for the US Coast Guard to pick up the Frigate Role and start using Frigate weapons and systems. That’s where like you said, the USCG excels in that role and missions. It’s time for the US Coast Guard to start doing their Frigate role. One role the US Coast Guard excels at and can do with a Patrol Frigate is to Show the Flag around the world and be on station in places like Latin America, Africa, The Pacific and even in the Med. Now my idea is that we upgrade the current NSC’s to Patrol Frigate standards and start putting off the shelf ready to go infantry based weapons and systems such as AMOS 120 mortar system, a Box full of Stingers, Box full of Hellfire missiles, box full of Harpoons, lightweight torpedoes and towed array sonar. Also, the Patrol Frigate has to have room for platoon of Marine, DOG teams, spec ops teams and MSST teams

        IMO, Now is a good time for the US Coast Guard to pick up the Frigate role and system because if the US Navy is not going to do it, then It’s up to the US Coast Guard to. We all know the US Coast Guard excels in the Frigate Role. Around the world, we all know it’s easy for the US Coast Guard to get into places where the US Navy might not be welcomed and most countries see us more like a law enforcement role than a dual role. Even politically, it would be much more easy to send the US Coast Guard with a NSC frigate than a Burke Armed US navy.

      • We don’t need to replace the Navy in fighting small navies, They will handle that. The CG doesn’t need to start doing Frigate like things until the excrement really hits the fan. To turn our ships into full fledged frigates before it is necessary is both expensive and in some ways counter productive. We do, however, need to keep our options open and avoid building ships that have little or no margins to take on changing missions.

      • Chuck,
        Here’s the thing, The US Navy forgo their Frigate role when the sank into the LCS pipe dream. At least the US Coast Guard can pick up the Frigate role and make up for the US Navy’s lack of Frigate. At least we may have to until crap starts hitting the fan or until the US Navy starts asking us to do Frigate missions. I wouldn’t turn them now, I would have them just in case and if we ever deploy to places like the Persian Gulf. We do however need to keep our options open unless we get pulled into an all out war.

      • Chuck has it right. And Bob Work has already said he has enough surface combatants to fight the big wars (his opinion not mine). So this country needs a source to procure and operate smaller warships for the mission listed above.

        Let the Navy buy their version of larger warships, and their hosed up version of littoral warships – USCG should stay away from what does NOT work and complement the Navy in ways that it can.

        Buying small warships and boats is right up the Coast Guards’ alley.

      • The problem is that the US Coast Guard is obligated on the books to the US Navy in times of War and Conflict. At any time the US Navy can ask and task the US Coast Guard for a specific role and mission. Such as in the Persian Gulf, where we have Coast Guard Cutters such as the 110 Patrol boats protecting the oil in Iraq. Since the US Navy gave up the frigate role and missions for the LCS crap, I believe it’s a good time for the US Coast Guard to pick up the Frigate Role and mission.

        What if the US Navy ask the US Coast Guard to send a NSC as part or the Amphibious Ready Group or as part of a Carrier Battle Group. Even send a OPC as part of an Anti Piracy group in the Middle East Region or in Africa. We need to make sure at least the NSC and OPC has combat capabilities and even self defense capabilities as well, when the US Navy ask for a NSC or OPC to deploy as part of the battle group. That’s why I am all for weapons and systems that you can mount on the fly and in case we get sent overseas with the US Navy.

        If you look at our current 378’s, NSC, 210’s, 270’s, 110’s and FRC’s. What do you think our cutters are comparable to around the world. What country around the world would have a fleet similar to ours, if we had to face them in a war. If were gona be part of the diplomatic power projection, wouldn’t we want a fleet that is combat ready, combat capable and that is capable of going overseas. Ask yourself this, which would you want to send overseas to develop diplomatic relations with, a US Navy Burke destroyer with a perception of wanting to take you out or a US Coast Guard NSC cutter with a perception of humanitarian, Law enforcement and saving lives.

    • He is right in saying the CG is a component of American Seapower. If the CG did not exist, the Navy would have to replicate a lot of it. Still there does not seem to be much Navy input in the formation of the requirements for Coast Guard Cutters and there is little apparent support from the Navy for their construction. (The Navy did pay for many of the 110 ft WPBs, the icebreaker Healy, and the four 87 footers I mentioned, but I don’t think the Navy had input in the design of any of these).

  6. Not much has been mentioned of domestic mine laying in many years, but I seem to recall on of the buoy tenders practicing this. It would be a good back fill job and let the navy’s mine units work the other areas.

  7. Chuck – with regard to your conclusion – “While certainly not as individually capable as most of the Navy vessels, when numbers count, the Coast Guard is a sizable force. Its wartime roles need to be considered and planned for. If we can afford to build a navy essential only for its wartime roles, we certainly should also put a little thought and money into the Coast Guard’s preparation,” I couldn’t agree more.

    Unfortunately, there is little thought and preparation being put into the Coast Guard’s budget, as evidenced by the news that the White House plans to reduce DHS spending by a little over 1 Billion, and will take one-third of this from the Coast Guard. If this comes to pass, you can say goodbye to reaching 8 NSC’s, and a lesser amount of OPCs. Instead of properly funding the Coast Guard, we’re spending money on all sorts of other useless DHS pipe dreams.

    This is the result of once again putting the Coast Guard into a department where it doesn’t really belong, supervised by people who don’t really understand Coast Guard missions and responsibilities.

  8. “This is the result of once again putting the Coast Guard into a department where it doesn’t really belong, supervised by people who don’t really understand Coast Guard missions and responsibilities.”

    The Coast Guard has some hand in the lack of understanding which is not new. This has been a problem since the first takeover attempts in the 1840s. Heck, in 1794 the RCS officers saw the handwriting on the bulkhead and requested the service to be transfer to the Navy. It may have worked had it been for the small detail there was no navy to transfer to.

    The issues of relevance to the nation is as old as the service. There does not appear to be any mechanism in place to push that relevance onto the national stage. I mean if Kevin Costner could not do it, then who could?

    In 1965, then Captain Capron wrote his version of Coast Guard history, repeating much that had been published before, but he did explore the question of, Why is Coast Guard? and how did it evolve. I could add that has it evolved at all? Perhaps it is the same junkyard it always has been with collections of old things but there only connection is a muddy ground underneath it all.

    It is time for some of that nearly impossible objectivity that professional historians claim they have, or don’t have in other cases.

    I believe it is time for another ten-year (not tenure) commandant. The only times in history when the Coast Guard or RCS advanced with any significance was during those times when the sitting commandant actually had time to get things started and see most of then through. Four years is far too short to do anything.

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  12. Very interesting articles, indeed.

    Here’s my question, and I understand that it is fraught with any number of variables that make it difficult to answer but, here goes: In wartime, what are the real ship vs ship capabilities of the USCG’s National Defense Cutters versus other navies (not other countries Coast Guards) ships? Example: if we got into a shooting war with Iran, or China, or North Korea, could the National Defense Cutters – whether planned or not – engage a similarly sized surface ship from one of these opposing navies and win, or at least survive? All they have to project power is the 57MM Bofors, so what kind of weapon would this be against an opposing Naval vessel?

    Some scenarios, along the lines of what I have described above would be most appreciated.

    • Putting one nation’s ships up against another nation’s ships is a popular way to compare, but for cutters it is also a very unlikely scenario and it is likely to lead to poor decisions about how to equip our ships.

      The USN does not really seem to anticipate surface ship vs surface ship engagements. They expect to sink the enemies surface warships with aircraft and submarines. There is evidence of this attitude in the fact that they have not yet developed a follow on to the Harpoon since its initial development over 35 years ago (they are now beginning to look at developing a successor). The USN does not even use the latest Block II version of the Harpoon. Anti-ship versions of the Tomahawk were withdrawn from service and converted for land attack. Most Navy surface combatants including all the LCSs, FFGs, and many of their destroyers are not armed with an anti-ship cruise missile. The missiles they are looking at to arm the LCSs are for use against small craft and targets ashore not surface combatants of similar size.

      Missions like those discussed in the post above are much more likely.

      One thing we do need, that is never obvious in the descriptions of ships available to the public are magazines to store weapons for helicopters that may operate from the ships in wartime. Since our ships may be supporting MH-60R/S these include torpedoes and missiles.

      • With all due respect, the scenario I described may be unlikely but considering the Coast Guard’s occasional proximity to a hostile nations’ navy, they could be “jumped” for lack of a better term, prior to our Navy coming to the rescue. Accidents, misunderstandings, AND intentional ship sinkings (think North Korea’s sinking of the South Korean naval vessel) happen. Call it remote, call it whatever you care to, but the possibility of a National Defense Cutter having to defend itself from a hostile navy IS indeed possible. That having been said, would you take another stab at assessing our Coast Guard National Defense Cutter’s real world ability to defend itself from a one-on-one engagement with a naval ship of similar size, from, say, Iran or North Korea? Your forbearance is most appreciated.

      • OK, we’ll talk about the possibility.

        When might it happen? Of the nations the US shares maritime borders with, only the Russian Federation could be considered remotely hostile. Even their Coast Guard ships are extremely well armed.

        We also go into other peoples’ EEZ in search of drug traffickers. In that area the navies of Venezuela, Ecuador, and Peru all have warships equipped with missiles and guns that would over-match any existing or planned cutter.

        I do think the NSC and probably the OPC would survive one, possibly even two Harpoon size ASCMs strikes, but they would be severely incapacitated.

        I put some emphasis on cruise missiles, because that is the way surface ships are expected to fight now, engaging beyond the range of guns, but in a situation you describe, it may be that the opposing ship is close alongside and opens up without warning. In that case the cutter is likely to be incapacitated quickly, because the opposing ship may be able to target specific critical areas or equipment, the bridge, gun, firecontrol system, the engines, or steering, while the cutter may not even be at GQ.

        If a surprise attack is initiated with cruise missiles, the cutter is unlikely to have CIWS activated and weapons manned, so it is likely the ship would be overwhelmed before it could respond.

        None of this means we should run out and equip cutters with cruise missiles. In the case of surprise attack, they would likely not be used, and they might be a danger to the cutter in that they are a likely secondary explosion hazard.

        Rather than address an unlikely eventuality, I would prefer we consider our most demanding peacetime mission that might require weapons, that of stopping a terrorist controlled medium to large merchant ship. That is likely to happen when they offer resistance in the course of a boarding. The long range of missiles is unlikely to be required. In all probability the cutter will be inside 10,000 yards, probably much closer. As noted mounting cruise missiles on the cutter might actually be dangerous to the cutter, if the terrorists targeted them. Right now we simply don’t have a weapon that is likely to successfully, expeditiously stop that kind of target. If we did, it might also allow us to successfully engage an opposing ship opening a surprise attack at close range in peacetime.

      • Now that was good stuff. Thank you! But one last question….exactly what kind of engagements (lightest and heaviest) is the Bofors 57MM designed for? Can you cite a worst case scenario.

      • Thinking over this question, unlikely scenarios do happen. At the Battle of Samar, Destroyers escorts and Jeep Carriers should not have been fighting Battleships and Heavy cruisers, but sh*t happens.

        Still I can’t make an argument for more weapons based on them. Cutters are low end warships. You can always postulate no win situations. Why limit consideration to attacks by a single ship, it could be aircraft, submarines, or multiple ships.

        What really bothers me is that the Coast Guard has a peacetime mission that is recognized and acknowledged, a mission we expect to spend some money on in the form of enhanced maritime domain awareness, Yet the service is not properly equipped to insure a reasonable probability of success if we determine an attack is in progress.

      • In answer to Pat H., “….exactly what kind of engagements (lightest and heaviest) is the Bofors 57MM designed for? Can you cite a worst case scenario.”

        The 57mm is the third generation of a Swedish system originally primarily intended as an antiaircraft weapon, from the same weapons manufacturer who gave us the 40mm that was used by the allies during WWII. Earlier versions were used as a secondary mounts on Swedish light cruisers and destroyers. They were used on Swedish torpedo and missile boats smaller than the FRCs and on their mine warfare ships. They have had some export success, but were never as successful as the Oto Melara 76, which has a similar footprint and a wider variety of ammunition. In WWII a 57mm which fires a six pound projectile would have never been considered an antisurface weapon except against small craft, but the current 57mm does fire effectively further than the old 5″/38s with the Mk56 GFCS that originally equipped the 378s (They were limited to about 12,000 yards by the fire control system), and can put a similar amount of steel down range in spite of being much lighter, and requiring far fewer people and less maintenance, but the size of potential targets has likely increased, so they have become more difficult to deal with. See my thoughts here: https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2012/11/19/case-for-the-five-inch-gun/

      • Another way to think about this is the 57mm is roughly equal to a 5″/38 (although I question the lethality of the six pound projectiles against large ships). World War II destroyers were much smaller than the National Security Cutter, some as little as half the size. They were close to the projected displacement of the Offshore Patrol Cutters and they had four to eight 5″/38s, usually five, but 5 inchers were not even their primary Anti-Surface weapon. For ASuW their primary weapons were five to 16 heavy weight 21″ torpedoes (most commonly 10).

  13. you only go to war with the assets you have available. I think these cutters should have been armed with VLS and think that the OPC should have VLS. Even though our Aegis destroyers don’t have harpoon missiles on them they are fitted for them. and I think the cutters need to be like that to. Gives them more flexibility for the MSO(maritime security operation) regardless of it being peace or war time. In war time the coast guards job would be to protect the whales(merchant fleet and gator navy) and high number of low end assets would be better then a couple of high end. What we really need is more joint cooperation with the navy. make all HC-130 and HC-144 SC-130/144 and give the asw portion of that mission to the naval reserve. And make some of those buoy tenders into mine killers, at the same time keeping their buoy tender capability just like the 1980’s study since the first two non combat ships we send into an area are the buoy tender and the mine hunters and sweepers. Of course its 2am and I’m rambalin.

    But seriously, has any body ever thought what the revenue cutter service would think if they saw the coast guard today. they were always pleading for more ships and more and bigger guns. almost complete opposite of todays coast guard. And had anybody ever thought that merging with the life saving service was accually a bad idea. Picture Felix and Oscar of the odd couple.

    and if NSC#8 isn’t name Frank H. Newcomb I’m going to be pissed

  14. Pingback: Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), the other LCS - CIMSECCenter for International Maritime Security

  15. Pingback: Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), the Other LCS | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  16. Lockheed Martin proposed a Sea Hercules maritime patrol aircraft with roll off capability of the ASW asset. Perhaps the Coast Guard should invest in this platform, since they use the C130 J. My opinion is that we need aerial patrolling off our coasts.

  17. Pingback: Rebuttal to Economic Case Against OPVs | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  18. Pingback: Thanks for a Successful 2015 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  19. Pingback: Thoughts on State of the CG, 2016 | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  20. Pingback: "A Design for Maintaining Maritime Superiority"--A Coastie's View

  21. Pingback: Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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