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.
- Eaglespeak: Neither “Horses or Bayonets” Why the Size of the Fleet Matters
- Informationdissemination: Revisiting Fleet Size
- Tom Colton’s Maritime Memos: Horses or Bayonets (Three parts. This will only be visible on the site for a limited time)
- The Naval Diplomat: A Cold War State of Mind?
- From my perspective the best: US Naval Institute Blog: Guest Post by LCDR Benjamin “BJ” Armstrong : More than a Battle Force? WWATMD?
- Think Defense: Get Back in Your Box Mitt
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.