The Center for International Maritime Security is running a series they have titled the “Maritime Futures Project” or MEP. They sent out a list of nine questions and asked for comment. I was one of those poled. They are posting the answers to each of the questions separately. Here are the first three:
All my answers are below:
1. If your Navy/Coast Guard (please specify) is facing fiscal hard times, what areas of the budget should be targeted first? What should be targeted last? Why?
The funding structure of the Coast Guard needs an overhaul. It has never been a good fit in any of the Departments it has been assigned to. A multi-purpose agency does not seem to integrate well in a government that seems able to deal with only one objective at a time. The Coast Guard is overseen by too many Congressional committees with divergent interest, most of whom see only small parts of the Coast Guard. Most significantly, as an armed force, it is part of the nations maritime security apparatus, but because it is not funded under DOD, relatively little attention is given to its wartime role or funding it.
The Coast Guard is already fallen on hard times. Congress is attempting to cut spending at a time when, because of the cyclical nature of its ship building, Coast Guard funding needs to be increased rather than cut. Many ships will be over 50 years old before they are replaced. Unfortunately It appears the Coast Guard needs to cut current operations to fund investment in future capabillities.
2. What should your Navy/Coast Guard invest in more that it is not investing enough in today?
The Coast Guard needs to cut its manpower requirement because that is where most of the money is spent. It needs to look for opportunities to replace manpower with technology.
3. If you are a current Sailor or member of the Coast Guard (I know, I could call them Coasties, but wasn’t sure if you’d take that in the derogatory sense), what are some of the biggest impediments to getting your job done? What promised development or technology would most aid you in the accomplishment of your assignment?
The US has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone in the world. Its area exceeds that of the total land area of the US and most of it is in the Pacific. Most of the assets are in the Eastern US where most of the population (and political clout) resides.
Improved Maritime domain Awareness (MDA) has the potential to assist in SAR, fisheries enforcement, drug interdiction, coast defense, and protections of ports.
The Coast Guard cannot afford a comprehensive MDA system solely for its own purposes, but if it can share information with DOD agencies also interested in monitoring the maritime approaches to the US, including perhaps cruise missile defense, it could make the employment of assets much more efficient.
4. What emerging technology is going to most profoundly change the way naval warfare is conducted, and why?
For the Coast Guard’s operations, in both peace and war, the most important aspect is likely to be processed vessel track information. Given the ability to track every vessel in the EEZ, identify it, and correlate it to its past history including the cargoes it has received, would be the ultimate goal. OTH radar/Satelite/AIS derived information may eliminate the search in search and rescue, allow us to know where all the fishing vessels are, and allow us to recognize anomalous voyages that might be smugglers. To do this effectively we need to be able to track small vessels as well as the large.
In wartime this will also make blockade enforcement more effective, and permit prompt response when vessels are attacked.
5. How would you design the next naval vessel for your fleet?
Better information will not totally eliminate the need to board and search vessels. In fact it might raise many questions that can only be resolved on scene. The Coast Guard will continue to need vessels to do boardings, as will the Navy in wartime. A significant unmet requirement for the Coast Guard and possibly for some elements of the Navy is an ability to forcibly stop even the largest merchant ships. With merchant ships now up to 100 times as large as their WWII counterparts, gunfire and even ASCMs may not be effective. Torpedoes, even small ones, targeting ships propellers might satisfy this need.
To maximize their utility in war, I would like to see new cutters designed for wartime roles, but equipped for peacetime to keep down the cost of operation, with the ability to be upgraded within a few months. https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2012/06/27/opc-design-for-wartime-build-for-peacetime/
6. What will your Navy/Coast Guard look like in 5/10/25/50 years, and how is it different from today?
Unfortunately the Coast Guard will not look different enough, if the relatively low level of capital investment continue. Ships being planned now, will not be built for five to ten years. The last of the Offshore Patrol Cutters expected to replace our medium endurance cutters will not be fully operational until approximately 2029, and all will likely still be in the fleet in 50 years. The oldest of them will only be 44 years old, younger than ships we are replacing now.
I do believe we will see less distinction between search aircraft and rescue aircraft. Other systems are likely to replace the pure search functions of our fixed wing aircraft, while rescue aircraft will gain greater speed and range as they employ newer technology. Hopefully in 25 years we will see a new generation of rescue aircraft that have sufficient range and speed to eliminate the separate requirement for long range search aircraft.
There will also, hopefully be more information sharing with other agencies, including comprehensive vessel tracking.
7. What maritime dispute is most likely to lead to armed conflict in the next 5/10/20 years?
China and Iran are the most obvious candidates. Today’s Navy seems geared to those threats.
Looking elsewhere, we are likely to see some asymmetric conflicts where insurgents attempt to exploit the seas.
China will continue to push its claims in the South and East China Seas by unconventional means, or perhaps we may wake up some morning and find that every tiny islet that remains above water at high tide has been occupied. They are building enough non-navy government vessels to do that. They may also sponsor surrogates to destabilize the Philippines, Indonesia, and other Asian Nations that don’t willingly accept Chinese leadership.
We may also see conflicts
–in Latin America, e.g. Venezuela vs Colombia;
–between the countries surrounding the Caspian Sea over oil and gas drilling rights;
–over water resources on the great rivers of Asia.
There are always wars in Africa. They may become more general. Where ever there is both oil and weak governments, there may be conflict. Nigeria and Sudan come to mind, The entire Maghreb is at risk with Libya unstable, an ongoing arms race between Morocco and Algeria, and a growing Al-Qaeda franchise.
8. What advice would you give to a smaller nation on the maritime investments it should pursue, and why?
Not every coastal nation needs a navy, but they all need a coast guard–see Costa Rica for example. It is their only armed force.
9. Any final predictions?
In the most likely conflicts, large numbers of vessels will be needed to perform blockade and marine policing, to prevent use of the use of the seas for transportation of weapons, supplies, and personnel. We will never have “enough.” The Coast Guard will be needed to supply some of them.
Biometrics, the ability to positively identify individuals, already in use in counter-piracy operations, may become important in tracking down terrorists and agents in unconventional asymmetric conflicts.
States led by China will attempt to reinterpret UNCLOS to apply the restrictions and requirements of innocent passage to the EEZ as well as the Territorial Sea. They will use Article 58 section 3 of UNCLOS, “In exercising their rights and performing their duties under this Convention in the exclusive economic zone, States shall have due regard to the rights and duties of the coastal State and shall comply with the laws and regulations adopted by the coastal State in accordance with the provisions of this Convention and other rules of international law in so far as they are not incompatible with this Part.” They will interpret this to mean that anything other than expeditious transit including “spying,” “hovering,” flight ops, and submerged operations might be considered illegal.