Counting Ships

The dust-up between Governor Romney and President Obama about the size of the Navy has lit off a flurry of debates. If you want to take a peak, here are some of the discussions, I’ve looked in on.

The general consensus seems to be that while comparing gross numbers to the fleet of 1916 may not be a good measure, the fleet may need more ships. Today’s fleet is enormously powerful, much more so than any of its competitors, but there simply may not be enough ships to be in all the places where they are needed for many of the relatively mundane tasks that are part of exercising command of the sea.

What does all this have to do with the Coast Guard?

  • We may be loosing some of our Navy support for drug interdiction, and
  • There may be increased reliance on the Coast Guard for low level naval tasks.

The FFGs which have been the platform of choice for drug interdiction operations are disappearing rapidly. They may be replaced by Littoral Combat ships, but LCS are being built more slowly that the FFGs are disappearing, and they are relatively short legged ships. There is the possibility of using the numerous MSC manned ships, including the new Joint High Speed Vessels, for drug interdiction, but it would require a change of policy.

The Coast Guard is an element of American Sea Power. Under Secretary of the Navy Bob Work never fails to mention the Coast Guard when he talks about American Sea Power. The Coast Guard is the US Navy’s closest ally and their most immediately available reserve. In terms of personnel, the CG is larger than the Royal Navy, but the size of our fleet has also been going down too. Additionally, because of their age, many of the ships we do have are sketchy for distant deployment.

In many situations, including maritime interdiction operations (MIO) like Market Time or the Cuban Missile Crisis Quarantine quantity can be more important than quality. As EagleSpeak notes there are, or will soon be, only 108 surface combatants (cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and Littoral Combat Ships) in the USN. In addition there are only 11 Cyclone class patrol craft (PC). If you subtract all the units that are out of area, in maintenance or workup, or required for other on-going tasks, the number of ships that might be available to undertake a new operation is pretty small and the 38 large patrol ships and the over 130 WPBs and WPCs in the Coast Guard start to look significant. (Beside, putting a $2B DDG in the vicinity of an apparently innocent but potentially hostile vessel, may not be the best use of a precious resource when a single torpedo could take it out for months, if not sink it.)

Does the Coast Guard get any visibility, or more importantly funding, for this role? Not so much. “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower” talks about a “National Fleet,” but whenever fleet size is discussed, only the Navy ships are included. Why is this? Does the Navy want to avoid the possibility of Congress seeing the Coast Guard as an alternative to the Navy? Certainly there are institutional and structural impediments to thinking in those terms. Are our ships too insignificant to count? They are not aircraft carriers, but in terms of cost and capability they are in the same league as LCS, Mine Warfare, and Auxiliary ships that are included.

Within the Coast Guard itself, there is also a reluctance on the part of many to claim a wartime role and even consider it as a basis for funding either directly or through the Navy Department, even though wartime missions might justify platforms that are more capable for peacetime roles as well. Frankly, I find it galling to see how richly the Navy is endowed against imagined eventualities while the Coast Guard goes begging to fill actual everyday needs.
The Coast Guard needs to work on getting its wartime roles recognized, in the Navy Department, the DHS, and the Congress. Maritime Interdiction Operations is an obvious fit but there may be other niches the Coast Guard could fill in wartime that perhaps should be incorporated in procurement decisions.

31 thoughts on “Counting Ships

  1. Chuck-
    I just wanted to thank you for your efforts on this blog. It seems that the invisable hand put a stop to many of the CG blogs maintained by actively serving folks.
    I am certain it’s a lot of work and mostly thankless. But your outside (the beltway) analysis is really valuable, insightful and encouraging…..despite its sometimes dire tone. Hopefully those on the inside are paying attention. Regardless, it’s good stuff. I look forward to new posts.

    • The “actively serving folks” dug their own grave with their embarrasing rants and deserved what they got.

      While someone on the outside who wishes he was on the inside like Mr. Hill is free to post his opinions about what we do as a service, in reality it amounts to nothing more than the equivant of fans and groupees whining about the actions of their favorite sports team.

      • I would disagree with your statement. I suspect Chuck is quite comfortable to be an outside observer, but obviously still cares about and is concerned about the future of the service. He’s in encumbered by political forces that constrain others thinking

    • @BMC, Thanks for the encouragement. Being on the outside it is rather freeing. I can put down my own opinions without having to please others, and without endless rewrites experienced when doing staff work.

      • Take the E7’s suck up comments with a grain of salt Chuck. He is one of those post 9/11 reservists we brought in from civilian life who is still naive enough to think he is doing something relevant to “take the fight to the terrorists”. You yourself being twice passed over O5 and forced to retire would have had a better shot at commanding something than he does.

    • Chuck, there are always going to be people like Patrick2 who attack the messenger instead of the message. I’ll throw my thanks to you for keeping this blog up as well.

      One thing the Coast Guard lacks as an organization is a healthy ability to accept self-criticism both from within and outside. When you look at the Naval Institute Proceedings and the Marine Corps Gazette, you see a healthy dialog on service direction, with both active duty and retired members participating is a respectful discussion. Sadly, our service doesn’t have that culture. Active Duty members who comment in the Proceedings have to offer positive or neutral articles, or suffer the consequences. For a short time, CAPT Bill Earle promoted a Proceedings-like culture in the Academy Alumni Bulletin, but with his passing, that is gone – the Bulletin is nowadays boring beyond belief. And offensive, for that matter. When an alumnus writes to take issue with anything, the editorial staff responds with an often-patronizing and usually dismissive “you no longer are relevant” response.

      This is one of the few places I’ve found where we can all participate in discussions that matter. thanks for shouldering the burden.

      • Would be interesting to see who from Headquarters got the other ones shut down. Coast Guard Report got shut down by its own operator after he was outed on his own blog as being a GS at Elizabeth City.

  2. Historically, the Navy Department always looks to the cutter fleet when its own assets are short. This has been the cause of at least a half dozen attempts to take over the USRCS/USCG. However, when fat the Navy Department wants little to do with the Coast Guard. For example, following WWII the Navy had massive fleets world wide. Most were relatively new ships and well manned. During 1947, the Coast Guard suggested to the CNO that joint war planning begin for future conflicts. The CNOs office wrote back with a thanks but no thanks. This office suggested the Coast Guard just continue its normal peace time missions, however, if it had ships and officer it could give the Navy, the Navy would take them off their hands.

    This snub is why the Coast Guard had no real active role in Korea. Nevertheless, in 1964 the Navy found itself in the pure “blue water” mode and unprepared to engage in the tedious patrol work in the brown water close to shore. Following a late-1964 study, the Navy found no other small craft met the requirements better than the 82-foot WPB except in speed. Even here the Navy did not want the crews. This is where the Coast Guard put its foot down and negotiated if the boats went, so did the Coast Guard crews. The post-WWII snub had not been forgotten and it should not now.

    There are an up, and down sides, to the Coast Guard’s association with the Navy over history. The Service did gain better vessels in the short term and realized some creditability as a naval service. One down side from the Vietnam association was cultural and an odd idea that being associated with the Navy was a negative experience; especially for those not serving with the Navy. This negative outlook, combined with the drive for humanitarian work in the Transportation Department, caused, just as it did in the post-WWI era, a lack of and organizational vision about the future. For the dozens, perhaps hundreds, of Coast Guard officers attending the various war and staff colleges since 1894, there has been little vision added to the Coast Guard as a perpetual entity in warfare even if in a support capacity. The association has been, as it is today, more ad hoc or on an “as needed” basis.

    The largest issue is not in the number of ships available, but in the Service’s culture. That must change first.

    • I think many see the military side as a distraction from our peacetime duties, that if we do more of it we necessarily must do less SAR, fisheries, drug enforcement, etc. This assumes we have fixed resources, and if that is the case, it is true.

      I see the military missions as a way to get more resources. If you follow the “Willie Sutton rule” and go where the money is, it is clearly the biggest pot of “discretionary” funds in the Federal Government, and ultimately better platforms, sensors, and communications that are required for military missions can make us better at our peacetime missions.

      But if the people in the Coast Guard don’t know what we will do in wartime, how can we make a convincing case for additional funding for that purpose. Without a consensus, it is also difficult to make good decisions about procurement and how cutters should be designed and armed.

      I talked about it here.

      To put it simply, I think our likely wartime missions are (and should be):

      1. Maritime Interdiction Operations, basically similar to drug enforcement, but the adversaries might have much larger ships and be more determined to resist capture.

      2. Combat SAR, both on the high seas and in amphibious objective areas, again a familiar task, but people may be shooting at us while we do it.

      3. Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS). While it is not an out growth of a familiar peacetime mission, and it is not a mission we can do now, missions one and two suggest that having a weapon that can do NSFS might be a good idea, both because we have to be able to stop a recalcitrant merchant ship, and because we may want to do counter-battery fire to defend ourselves in an amphibious objective area. Accepting that, there is also a severe deficit in NSFS in the USN and if there is a major conflict, those USN cruisers and destroyers that can do it, are most likely going to be required for other jobs that demand their very sophisticated ABMD, AAW, and ASW capabilities.

      I’ve addressed how I think the OPC should be designed and armed here.

  3. Here’s another outsider’s suggestion: maybe the USCG should reconsider how it plays the “Joint Services” game. Acting as an on-call resource pool for the USN seems like a recipe for irrelevance.

    So,,, no more playing Mr. Nice Guy in the shadows. No more quietly making up for the USN’s deficiencies. No more LEDETS on DDGs. No more cutters “chopped” to USN ESGs (in peacetime, at least).

    Instead, how about some high visibility moves? How about a permanent cutter deployment to the horn of Africa? How about taking command of CTF151 for 6 months? How about telling State that the USCG can throw in a few LEDETs to train the the Seychelles & Somali coast guards?

    Stepping it up into a GLOBAL leadership role would be more than just be good PR… it’d be real added value, and most importantly NOT in the USN’s shadows.

    (Note: all the above refers to peacetime missions. Wartime is a different story, where it makes 100% sense to take a junior role and help the USN “bulk up” in combat capabilities)

    • If think the joint world wants the Coast Guard in anything less than a support role, you clearly have no clue. A CG Officer commanding a CTF? Ha! The last thing a bunch of warriors are going to stand for is an REMF telling them what to do.

    • H_K – your suggestion above that the CG take a more robust role in the HOA is a good one. In fact, such a proposal was presented by the relevant HQ staff elements to a now retired flag officer a few years ago. It was rejected, among other reasons, because “someone might get hurt.”

      As Bill Wells notes above, the Service culture needs to change in order to increase the Coast Guard’s relevance as a national defense asset.

      • Most, especially in the officer corps, are happy to take military benefits; just don’t ask any of these baby savers or marine environmentalists to be put in a situation where they might actually get shot at.

        I suspect the all show and no go enthusiasm from the water-nazi crowd who have been hell bent on turning the CG into a SWAT organization the past several years will dry up too the minute someone on their so-called “teams” actually gets shot or is outgunned in their first firefight. In 1861 at the hight of their hubris, The (untested) Grand Army of the Republic thought of themselves being able to march right on to Richmond, then reality hit them at the First Manassas and half of them dropped their rifles and fled on the road back to Washington…

  4. Back in the day, CG cutters were made so that if needed, extra weapon platforms could be installed. For example. that was seen when Treasury class cutters were fitted with several gun emplacements, including anti-submarine warfare during WWII. Do we have any ASW capabilities now? For many, that’s a rhetorical question.

    H_K is right, we need to make a large step in the leadership role not only here, but overseas. Getting good PR is huge, because it turns people’s attention toward the USCG, which is always a good thing. When Katrina hit, the Coast Guard showed just what they were capable of when it came down to brass tax. Not only did they receive the presidential unit citation, but a couple double takes as well. Taking leadership by the horns is something that we need to do, and its not going to happen by standing around and not speaking out at congressional meetings, naval conferences and the like. UNITAS naval exercise was a good example of showing our South American allies that we are a capable multi-mission force that will go above and beyond what we are called to do.

    Our boarding teams are highly trained and very capable, so lets help train other coast guards and navy’s around the world. Almost all Navy ships have CG LEDETS on them, yet almost the entire population thinks that every time the Navy boards and captures a Somali pirate ship, its done by the Navy. LEDETS performed approximately 65 percent of boardings during desert shield and desert storm, and its the same case with the Somali pirates.

  5. Question,
    why can’t the US Coast Guard use the FFG-7’s as an interim between the future OPC and the 210’s and 270’s. I know you said in the post

    “The FFGs which have been the platform of choice for drug interdiction operations are disappearing rapidly. They may be replaced by Littoral Combat ships, but LCS are being built more slowly that the FFGs are disappearing, and they are relatively short legged ships.”

    So I am wondering, why hasn’t the USCG taken the FFG-7’s as an Interim OPC if ya are saying the FFG-7’s are the platform of choice for drug interdiction. Wouldn’t the FFG-7’s be a perfect platform for Ant-piracy operations in Somalia as well. Considering you don’t need a high end ship like a DDG or CG to do anti Piracy ops. All you need is a multi-role Frigate, OPV and a LPD as a command ship for anti piracy ops.

    • FFGs were quite adequate for both drug ops and counter-piracy, but they are in poor material condition (expensive to repair), require large (expensive) crews, and a have very poor fuel economy (expensive to run).

      We will have better luck keeping the 210s and 270s running until the OPCs are built because they are simpler, and have diesel engines.

      • If we did what Turkey, Spain, Taiwan and Australia did for their Perry class FFG’s, we would still have viable FFG’s in the fleet today and not have the LCS crap. The Perry class FFG design were very good, even if you modernize them to today’s standards, they would still be very capable. I think it’s a shame that the US Navy is not even modernizing them and even updating them. If they did that, the Perry’s would have been perfect for Anti Piracy ops and counter drug ops.

      • Nicky-
        You’ve made this point numerous times and Chuck has presented a convincing case why it’s not a viable option~ crew requirements, fuel economy, current conditio
        n, cost of retrofitting, etc. Lets move on.

      • I am just wondering because like ya said, an FFG-7 is a platform of choice for Counter drug ops and Anti Piracy ops. Ya have said that the FFG-7 has the sea legs that the LCS doesn’t have. If ya were saying that an FFG-7 is a platform of choice, then why isn’t the US Coast Guard is doing anything to save them or use them as an interim until the future OPC comes online. Didn’t we do the same thing with the Cyclone class patrol boats that the US Navy owned. I am wondering because if we have allies that use the FFG-7, who upgraded them and modernize them. Why are we not doing the same. Why aren’t we saving the remaining FFG-7’s like they do in Turkey, Australia, Taiwan and Spain.

  6. Turkey, Australia, Taiwan and Spain are all interested in fielding warships. Their costs to man and repair are different from those in the US. Even so the Australian program proved extraordinarily expensive.

    There is only one FFG less than 25 years old. The choice for the CG would be to try to continue to operate existing fleet of 210s and 270s or to operate old FFGs. For the CG this is a simple choice. Because the Coast Guard is not attempting to maintain a capability for ASW and sophisticated AAW as the allies you mentioned are, and the FFGs are not significantly better patrol ships for drug enforcement, the choice comes down to money. The FFGs are simply much more expensive to operate and maintain.

    • Chuck,
      Doesn’t the FFG-7’s have the capability to detect submersible Dug subs and Radar to detect Aircraft. Wouldn’t the FFG-7 have the sea legs to keep up and maintain a pursuit of Drug boats. Like you said the FFG-7 is a platform of choice for Counter drug and Anti Piracy. Now the question here, wouldn’t the Future OPC and to the larger extent the NSC be capable of performing Counter drug and Anti Piracy.

      • Chuck,
        Didn’t you say in your post and I quote;

        “The FFGs which have been the platform of choice for drug interdiction operations are disappearing rapidly. They may be replaced by Littoral Combat ships, but LCS are being built more slowly that the FFGs are disappearing, and they are relatively short legged ships. There is the possibility of using the numerous MSC manned ships, including the new Joint High Speed Vessels, for drug interdiction, but it would require a change of policy.”

        So here’s my question, if the FFG’s are the platform of choice, but are disappearing, why is it that the USCG is not doing anything to save them or use them until they run out. Even though they know the LCS has issues. Why hasn’t the USCG take a version of the LCS and use them to replace the 210’s & 270’s.

      • Nicky – it’s been said over and over again – the FFGs are in miserable material condition, and are fuel hogs. It would make more sense to keep the 270s and 210s running, as they cost less to operate.

      • Ok, Just wondering, are going to save the systems that are on the FFG-7’s such as the AN/SPS-49,AN/SPS-55 & Mark 36 SRBOC for the possible use on the Future OPC or the NSC

  7. Here’s a Link, showing DCNS’s OPV and the Gowind Combat

    Here’s the Gowind Combat that the Royal Malaysian Navy is getting, that is similar to what they are pushing to the US Coast Guard

  8. Pingback: Rewrite of Seapower 21 Coming–Opportunity for More Clarity? | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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