“Reinvent the Fifth Armed Service, Quickly”-USNI

The August issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is appropriately enough, the “Coast Guard Issue,” although less than a third of the content is Coast Guard related. I was disappointed but not surprised to see that there was no article about the OPC. It includes four articles that are written by Coasties, active or retired, and includes a “rouges gallery” of CG flag officers and senior enlisted as well an orgainizational chart.

There is one particular article I’d like to recommend that actually dares to be a bit controversial, and it is available on line, “Reinvent the Fifth Armed Service, Quickly”.  I think it is definitely worth a read.

They talk about

  • reorganization within the Coast Guard
  • exploitation of UAS technology
  • integration of DHS maritime aviation and vessel fleets.
  • coordination of procurement with the Navy
  • integration of the NOAA fleet into the Coast Guard

As I say it is controversial, it is going to ruffle some feathers, and hopefully it will start some thinking and some discussion.

31 thoughts on ““Reinvent the Fifth Armed Service, Quickly”-USNI

  1. Wow, a very good read Chuck. Thanks for picking up on “Reinvent the Fifth Armed Service, Quickly” article, some very thought-provoking ideas.

  2. I’ll throw this out for discussion as an extension of the article:

    The Coast Guard was formed from the amalgamation of other services. While this was necessary and efficient at the time, times have changed. Unfortunately, through the 20th and so far in the 21st century, this has created an institutionalized attitude of doing more with less and being multi-mission. This actually degrades strength and capability.

    DHS is a good fit for many of the Coast Guard’s missions. SAR, maritime LE, maritime border protection (migrant interdiction), EEZ & fisheries patrol, port security, etc. What CG needs to get out of is navigation. I love the icebreakers and my local unit is ATON, but let’s face it, those are not LE, national defense, or maritime border protection related. (WAGBs should go to NOAA and WLs should go to the Army Corps of Engineers.)

    This only makes sense if simultaneously there is an increase in the budget for more WPBCs and WPBs, and the ATON & WAGB coasties are moved over to those new/additional assets and become “guardians.” If the change is done just to save money, CG will actually lose more effectiveness…

    • OK, I’ll bite. Re Icebreakers, can’t see them going to NOAA, or to the National which is the other icebreaker operator now. What about law enforcement, SAR, and fisheries in the Arctic? What is we have military operations in the Arctic? (who is going to seize those Nazi weather ships?)

      Icebreaking on the North Coast of Alaska is just the new frontier of domestic icebreaking. Would you also give them the 140s and the Mackinaw?

      The buoy tenders do more than tend buoys, they do law enforcement, break ice, and respond to pollution incidents and natural disasters. In wartime I would not be surprised to see them hosting mine countermeasures unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs) at least around US ports. (interesting little graphic here http://www.uscg.mil/acquisition/newsroom/updates/rdc080913.asp)

      I think it makes more sense for NOAA to hand their ships over to the CG. Lots of us old timers remember doing Nansen casts and launching weather balloons. The CG commonly hosts scientists on our ships. Supporting scientific research has been a long term mission for the CG.

      Three different agencies running vessels and aircraft all charged with interdicting smuggling in the Caribbean certainly does not make sense, even if there is more than one kind of smuggling going on.

      And I think we can forget about diverting more money for some mission by passing off a different mission to some other agency. The money will certainly go with the mission.

      • I agree the biggest weakness of my idea is its “all-or-nothing” aspect. Politicians usually screw that up in a hurry. The idea is the mission and some hardware go to another agency (whose budget would have to go up), while the people stay in the CG to man the maritime assets, and the CG budget is maintained. For no more money, the service’s capability to prosecute other, homeland security, missions is vastly improved. (Ideally, in the long term, a large class of replacements for the 87s which are fast and geared for interdiction work, but in the short term, especially due to cost, a shift of CBP/BP boats could fill the immediate role.) This is kind of reversing the over-agree-able psychology and perception. Instead of: “yes, we can do more missions with less people and budget,” this is, “we can do critical missions better, with the same budget, through better focus.”

        The Mackinaw is basically an ATON vessel. It’s a WLB on steroids and works that mission in warm weather. Its icebreaking role is pretty much limited to aiding commercial traffic by extending the navigable periods of time on the lakes. That’s a navigation mission, IMO. Yes, they do vessel rescue, SAR, and even LE, but it’s really limited. I wonder what their stat would break down on time spent on each type of mission?

        The 140s are much the same as the Mackinaw. Freedom of navigation for commercial traffic. I seem to remember at one time, a couple of the 140s had an ATON barge assigned, so I know what they did in the summertime… The 140s and Mackinaw should likewise go to the Corps of Engineers as well.

        The very thing you cite about the ATON assets being “multi-role/multi-mission” is the downfall of this approach. WLMs & WLBs will never be good mine hunters or mine-sweepers. They will be platforms exploited for that role in a crisis, but they won’t be as good at it as a purpose-designed vessel. And, while they’re off hunting mines, who is servicing the ATONs? Likewise as a SAR asset. WL_s are only utilized/good at it, if they are right on top of it. Otherwise other assets or other agencies usually get to the scene first anyway…

        The CG has to get out of the multi-mission mindset.

        It’s out-dated in the age of homeland defense. In the 1930s I had a relative who played professional football. He played both on the offense and the defense. Had to back then, as team owners couldn’t afford specialized players. Today, you never see that. Why? Because they burned out players. (My relative only lasted 2.5 years before injury.) And because some specialization makes sense. Training and skills are honed razor sharp. A guy used to setting buoys with the differential GPS may be great at charting mines and has directly-transferrable skills, but no one else on a WL_ will have any qualification to hunt or sweep mines… (Not necessary, exclusively, though. — Football still has “special teams” which draws both offensive and defensive players, and that’s where CG’s small boat, port security, and VBSS skills are directly transferrable.)

      • Forgot your question about fisheries, SAR, and LE in the arctic: If the CG needs to do those missions there, the ice won’t need “breaking.” The vessels just need to be capable of operating in light ice, like the spec on the OPC.

        As far as military ops in the arctic, the Navy will take over anyway. You know the Wind class was a Navy class which later came to the CG. The Navy would take control of current and future WAGBs in case of war, whether they fly a CG flag or NOAA or National flag. Since the Wind class’ twin 3″ mounts, no WAGB has had any military capability anyway…

        Glad you mentioned pollution events. CG should give that up too. Out of the total response to Deepwater Horizon, what percentage of clean-up did the CG accomplish? Not much. Lot’s of private companies, other agencies, and even other countries, but CG role was mostly command and control. IMO CG was lucky it came out looking as good as it did. CG has never put enough budget money and assets into spill mitigation. To handle a Deepwater Horizon or Exxon Valdez, much more robust assets are needed, and it’s only a matter of time before a spill happens which exposes the true weakness here, and then CG will have egg on its face.

        Again, mission focus prevents this.

      • Flushing out a bit more for thought: The CG is struggling to get, what, 6, or 8 NSCs built to replace 12 WHECs. And Congress is holding out the money for them one budget year at a time, so it’s unknown if all of them will get built? (This is the punishment you get from Congress for smiling and saying, “yes” every time to doing more with less.)

        My idea transfers 50 medium-size vessels out of the CG, and maybe 20 smaller-sized ones. Just think of the number of OPCs, FRCs, and WPBCs which could be procured and operated with that budget money. CBP couldn’t argue for their own fleet of boats anymore. Some of that money could be diverted to CG aviation assets and improvements which are drastically needed.

        And this wouldn’t be an increase to CG or DHS budget. (There would need to be a budget increase to ACoE and NOAA, but they’re in different departments. — Their budget people would make the case for it, and the assets fit better with those agency’s core missions. Having CG and DHS support the idea and point out better mission capability/focus with no increase on that end would seal the deal.) It would take strong salesmanship with Congress and maybe the public, but it would be better, and that was the whole premise of the original article…

        (I’ll shut up now… 🙂 )

      • Bill I would like to hear why you think, “Some of that money could be diverted to CG aviation assets and improvements which are drastically needed.”

        I haven’t a lot of experience with the aviation side, but they appear to be doing relatively well compared to similar organizations in other nations. Would you elaborate?

      • Chuck, I was actually thinking of a blog post here, or maybe an article linked from here. Fuzzy now, but I seem to recall it was about the CG getting hand-me-down C-130s, rather than the newest, best type plus how CG C-130s were finally getting some long overdue software or maybe even hardware upgrades. Also, there’s the whole replacement of HITRON with the weapons on 65s, and overall short numbers of assets (compared to how hard they are leaned on for SAR cases).

        I think CG Aviation is doing great, but with adding the armed security mission (more decentralization of mission focus), and the tight numbers, it seems they could stand a moderate increase as well. This thought isn’t just restricted to current-type manned assets, either.

    • Bill Smith wrote, “The Coast Guard was formed from the amalgamation of other services.” I disagree. The Coast Guard was created, as the 1913 Act and 1915 law notes, in “lieu” of the RCS and LSS. The LSS was included only because Sumner Kimball had been fighting for a retirement system for the LSS since 1878. The RCS officers finally got a retirement system in 1902 after about 110 years of attempts. Aviation was added through a 1916 Navy Appropriation Act but was not funded until about 1928–when it became the new LSS-this time with commissioned officers. The LHS shifted over to the Coast Guard in 1939 under a cost savings measure and BMN to the Coast Guard as a wartime convenience in 1943 becoming permanent in 1946.

      Not so much an amalgamation but more of a cobbling of many dissimilar cultures. It would have been even more cobbled had FDR gotten his way when he tried implement a Hoover order to move both the Customs Patrol and Border Patrol to the Coast Guard. It almost happened, but Russell Waesche talked him out of it because there would be no saving or efficiency in the move. You won’t read about this one in the current history books of the Coast Guard.

      The addition of all these different factors were made more inefficient by the lack of leadership early on that allowed each and every one of the individual groupings to remain as they were. There was no real move to make them become part of the Coast Guard. The pure LSS culture ended in 1946 but made a resurgence in the 1970s and remains so. The LHS culture continues on as if were separate and the civil based marine inspectors can enjoy a rather peaceful career with much more than putting on the uniform once in awhile.

      As I have mentioned many times, there is no “ONE” Coast Guard as some claim. The first thing that future commandants have to decide is just what is the Coast Guard. With the relative rotating door on the Commandant’s officer and Department secretaries, this could take generations. The Revenue Cutter Service was little better, it could no figure out what it was either, civil or naval.

      • Of course, as usual, my fellow Bill is right in his details. However, let us not get distracted from the important point: Multi-role/multi-mission has come to be mentally equated by the money-givers (Congress) as: “The CG can do more with less better than anybody!” This has come about because for decade after decade, leadership has smiled and said, “sure we can-do,” when more responsibilities with stagnant (or even shrinking when inflation is factored in) budgets were handed out by Congress.

        I would love to see one Commandant go before Congress and say something like: “with the multitude of mission responsibilities of the CG combined with the drastic loss of financial capability in the budget, Congress must understand that CG leadership will now be in the unprecedented position of choosing which missions can be accomplished and which will be de-emphasized.” (Or, as an old crusty Chief would say: “we’ll pick what’s important, do it well, and the rest will get done half-a**ed.)

        Of course, the problem is so institutionally ingrained, the best opportunity for effecting this change was probably lost (9/11). A forward-thinking Commandant who understood the long-term/historical implications of 9/11 would have made the recommendation. (No criticism, it takes a brilliant person to see that kind of thing. I’m certain I would have missed it at that time. Hindsight is always 20/20.) If 9/11 would have been a sea-borne attack, none of this would matter, as I guarantee the non-security/protection aspects of the CG would already be gone.

  3. Why does the collective “we” continue to refer to the Deepwater Program cutter as NSC/OPC, the names given by the fired contractor, instead of their hull designation, WMSL/WMSM?

    • I’m not surprised WMSL/WMSM are not used. They are poor descriptors that have no history. Hull designators are not supposed to uniquely identify a single class, they are supposed to be more general. NSC and OPC uniquely identify particular programs that are each intended to produce a single class. The Bertholf class could have been designated WHECs, and it would have given those who had become familiar with the designation some idea of what the ships were capable of.

      I don’t understand why we don’t call the Bertholfs 418s and the Webbers 154s.

    • Bill Wells can clarify the details, but I agree there needs to be some clarity.

      I remember learning about the “W” being added to designate “Coast Guard” when I was a kid, and that the remainder of the designation followed Navy convention. This led to extended confusion about why ATON cutters were considered amphibious ships….??? It wasn’t until I was able to find some CG history books (seriously, why aren’t there more?) that the “L” was a carry-over from the Lightships and the Navy co-opted the designation for amphibs since lightships were not deserving of a primary designation category.

      This all raises the question of why the CG does not have a more solid convention. WHEC, WMEC, WMSL, and WMSM, in my opinion are confusing to outsiders, and not really even descriptive to insiders. (“M” desig in Navy is for mine warfare vessels.)

      To my thinking, the CG should use a sensible designation system:

      “W” – first letter, designates “Coast Guard Cutter”, used by all CG vessels. Obviates the need for any “C” to stand for “Cutter”.

      Second letter should describe general mission area —
      “L” – ATON
      “G” – Icebreaker / Arctic Service
      “P” – Patrol (most white-hulls from 87′-413′, except Arctic)
      “T” – Tug

      Third, and if absolutely necessary, fourth, letter differentiates major size or sub-purpose differences:
      “R” – River
      “S” – Small
      “C” – Coastal
      “B” – Large
      “H” – Air Cushion

      • Actually I have spent much more time thinking about this than is reasonable and I will probably revisit the topic as a separate post.

        Generally I think a lot of your thoughts are dead on, but I do have some reservations. I note that under your system a Coast Guard LCS (another type designation that has been criticized for being outside the norms) would be a WLCS or a small coastal AtoN vessel.

        M in the first position (after the W in the case of CG ships). does mean mine warfare, but elsewhere it can mean medium. I like L as the modifier to indicate Large, but it has also been used for Light

        The current designations WPC and WPB both work fine and are consistent with the designation system for the past 70+ years.

  4. how about we rethink the maritime services as a whole.
    1) Navy for maritime defense(power projection)
    2) Coast Guard for maritime security (protecting the whales aka merchants and gator navy and the revenue/eez, and Combat SAR). I say combat because of the Bering sea.
    3) and a Auxiliary force for non combative tasks that have to be done in peace and war like AtoN(survey/Buoys/mines/ice breaking)

    But if you ask me we need to rename the Coast Guard. When people think of coast guard they think of the continental united states and Alaska and Hawaii not realizing that we have all the commonwealths and island territories all over the world. We could very easily find ourselves in a situation like the Spratly islands

    Just my two cents.

    • @Lye
      I agree with you, That their are curtain functions that the Auxiliary force can take on all the Non Combat functions such as Inland SAR, Medical, Communications, Aton work on top of their Normal functions. Even Medical such as Doctors, Nurses, Paramedics & EMT’s and Language translators can be dual non combat/Combat status for both Auxiliary force and Regular/Reserve side.

      It’s why I think NOAA should merge with the US Coast Guard and all the NOAA ships should fall under the US Coast Guard. The same would merge the US Customs office or Air and Marine and transfer all their assets and functions under the US Coast Guard.

    • Not sure how in-depth you guys’ knowledge/experience of ATON is, but it’s nearly laughable to say a voluntary organization can take over the ATON mission. It’s not a small enterprise.

      It’s also not glamorous, so it is rarely discussed at length in detail, so I understand.

      30 WLBs & WLMs alone should give a clue as to manning needs. Add WLRs, WLIs, and WLICs. These ~50 black hulls operate pretty much full-time, and let’s talk about how the Auxiliary is going to deploy with a WLB to Guam and cover the Western Pacific, or the WL_s in Alaska. We haven’t even talked about technical skills (navigation [ATONs require pretty precise placement], welding, electronics, crane operator, etc., plus operating the vessels themselves — big marine diesels, break-downs at sea, etc.). And then we have the logistics — ordering, inventorying, storing, and distributing buoys, sinkers, chain (all of varying size, types, etc.), batterries, lights, towers, dayboards, solar cells, even the special galvanized U-bolts for holding dayboards on towers.

      Keep in mind, except in Winter in northern climes, these are pretty much full-time operations, and in those northern climates, there is a surge issue so commercial traffic can get moving once again, ASAP after the ice has drug those buoys all off station.

      The Auxiliary can do a lot of things, but this isn’t one of them.

      • the problem with that is that the merchant marine is a auxiliary of the navy, the NOAA is a auxiliary of the navy, even the coast guard in time of war is a auxiliary of the navy. even the national guard and reserves are auxiliary troops. a role model we could use would the be army corp of engineers.

        auxiliary doesn’t mean volunteer and civilian it means support and supplement.
        I understand everything that your saying and as long as I keep thinking and learning I’m happy which is what happens when I read your posts.

      • So, just so I’m clear, you are simultaneously saying the Auxiliary should become full-time (paid/career) civilian employees of the CG?

        Interesting idea.

        On first blush, and thinking to Bill Wells points, it seems this would re-emphasize the separation between the mission areas. (Bills point above about the CG acting like several different independant entities in the early to mid-20th Century, even though Congress put them under one HQ and one name.) I guess my question is: how would this be either better (more efficient for operational needs) or more sell-able to Congress (better financial deal for taxpayers) than folding ATONs into the Corps of Engineers?

      • @Bill Smith
        The idea is to bring back the Temporary Reserve system that the USCG had during WW2. It would allow the USCG to tap into the Auxiliary pool and give auxiliarist temporary reserve status, when working with the Active/reserve. I’m all for bringing it back because it would give the USCG a wider pool to tap into for people who have specific skills that a Cutter, Station or district needs on a temporary basis. It would give the Auxiliary temporary Reserve status when they work with the active and reserve crews.

      • The history of the CGS and NOAA is interesting, but it also shows a significant argument [u]for[/u] the proposal I made:

        “…what is now called the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA—the agency that charts the seacoasts for ships, predicts the path of hurricanes, and [i][b]protects delicate coral reefs and spawning salmon[/i][/b].”  (Hmmm, sounds like maritime environmental disaster response could possibly be a good fit here. — I was thinking more about giving that mission to the EPA, but NOAA looks like the nautical version of EPA, much like CG is, in part, a maritime version of CBP.)


        “NOAA still produces nautical charts and predicts the tides, monitors the magnetic field of the earth and solar system, and maintains the geodetic network upon which all precise positioning on the North American continent is based.”  (Sounds like missions WAGBs would be particularly useful for.)

        Here’s a link to NOAA’s National Ocean Service, explaining their branches and responsibilities: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/programs/
        Although, a couple other branches of NOAA also could utilize the WAGBs, such as the Oceanic & Atmospheric Research Office.

        NOAA, as an agency, is full of scientists, so, presumably, they “speak the same language,” or “play off the same sheet of music” as the NSF.  Why not give the WAGBs to NSF?  Because their operational capacity is tiny.  They mainly operate by awarding grants for scientific research done by others.  Of their 1700 total employees, the vast majority work out of the Arlington, VA HQs (figuring out whose grant proposals are “worthy”).  I wouldn’t want to see the WAGBs turned over to contractual operators or receive poor/low maintenance and upkeep.  NOAA has the people, resources, know-how, operational capacity to operate large ships:  http://www.omao.noaa.gov/

        Here’s a dated article about the icebreakers:  http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/GAOREPORTS-RCED-95-77/html/GAOREPORTS-RCED-95-77.htm
        It is from about 1994, but it gives interesting incite into the tug-of-war between USCG and NSF/NAS.  Scientists also pointed out the multi-mission nature of the CG degrades the usefulness of the icebreakers to the scientific community.

    • Lyle said:
      “But if you ask me we need to rename the Coast Guard. When people think of coast guard they think of the continental united states and Alaska and Hawaii not realizing that we have all the commonwealths and island territories all over the world.”

      What would you name it?

  5. Even the USNI News is getting in on how to reinvent the US Coast Guard. I’ll Highlight some points in quotes.

    First point
    “A Coast Guard response boat patrolling off Coronado works for Station San Diego, which reports to Sector San Diego, which reports to the 11th District (Alameda), which reports to Pacific Area (also Alameda), which reports to Headquarters (Washington, D.C.).

    Streamlining this bulky command structure would put more personnel on the front lines and allow greater focus on the commandant’s top priority of operational proficiency, a need acutely felt in the wake of the tragic 2009 boat collision in San Diego Bay.”

    Second point
    “There is much duplication of effort within the Department of Homeland Security: the Coast Guard, Customs and Border Protection, and the Border Patrol all fulfill similar patrol functions.

    One framework would be for the Coast Guard to serve as force provider for all such maritime resources, with assets assigned to CBP and the Border Patrol for agency-specific missions.

    The cost savings, operational improvements, and value to the nation produced by such a merger could be significant.”

    Third point
    “Similarly, the Coast Guard has much to offer the U.S. Navy and more interoperability between the two services would benefit our nation’s defense.

    There could not be a mission better aligned with Coast Guard competencies, for example, than the multinational effort against Somali pirates, yet the service has had only a limited role in those operations.

    Instead, the Navy burns holes in the ocean with its most expensive warships, searching for skiffs and dories, while the Coast Guard’s expertise, sharpened through decades in the drug war, goes essentially unused.

    A Navy-sponsored squadron of Sentinel-class cutters would be far more operationally effective and cost-efficient for the nation than the current paradigm of employing cruisers and destroyers to do a patrol boat’s job.”

    This is why the US Coast Guard needs to be reinvented in this day with tight economic budgets and duplication of services on so many levels.

    Here’s the link: http://news.usni.org/2013/08/12/opinion-u-s-coast-guard-needs-a-reinvention

    • The internal resistence to changing the command structure is promotions. Frankly, as limited as promotion opportunities are (I’ve seen several good officers forced out by the up-or-out policy), I’m not sure I like the idea of getting rid of layers.

      I think the streamlining could happen from making CGHQ and Districts purely administrative organizations and Areas and Sectors purely operational. Stations (Air or boat) and other front-line organizations (Cutters, Facilities, offices, etc.) will have a mix, since they are where operations happen and where most personnel are assigned, but the administrative part could/should be very small at this level.

  6. personally, as a snipe I would hate to see aton go elsewhere. being the epo of an ant team was the best, busiest and most rewarding shore tour I had. hell of a learning experience.

  7. Pingback: Ship Type Designations | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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