Maritime Counter-Insurgency/Stabilization

Gun crew on board USCGC Point Comfort (WPB-82317) firing 81mm mortar during bombardment of suspected Viet Cong staging area one mile behind An Thoi.(August 1965)

Good discussion of the maritime dimensions of “small wars” here.

Insurgencies, failed states, piracy, terrorism all look pretty much like law enforcement and require similar resources. It requires maritime “boots on the ground” in the form of patrolling vessels to do VBSS, including those that can operate in shallow water . The Navy has shown little interest in this type of warfare. Certainly their resources for these types of operations are limited.

When Operation Market time began in 1965, the Navy had 880 ships in the fleet including 287 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates, but that did not mean they did not see a need to bring in 26 Coast Guard 82 foot patrol boats and build 193 Swift boats. Currently the US Navy has about 273 deployable ships including about 100 cruisers, destroyers, frigates, and LCS, plus 13 PCs and the first of their 85 foot Mk VI boats plus a few smaller boats.

It is the nature of these conflicts, that the Navy will never be able to divert all its assets to address the threat. They will continue to worry about and employ assets to counter other threats.

This is an area where the DOD might want to consider funding Coast Guard forces to be available for contingencies to supplement the Navy’s resources. After all the Coast Guard is the country’s primary repository for knowledge about these types of missions. A decision might be based on a poll of the six Combatant Commander’s views of their requirements. It would not be necessary to be able to meet all these contingencies simultaneously, although two trouble spots is certainly a possibility, but choosing the most demanding could provide a good baseline.


7 thoughts on “Maritime Counter-Insurgency/Stabilization

  1. “Brown Water, Black Berets: Coastal and Riverine Warfare in Vietnam” is a classic. I am going to go out on a limb here as layman and say, from my perspective speaking of my own navy, that they don’t appear to be interested in getting their hands dirty. It is all high concepts of strategy and doctrine. Identifying threats and synthesising suitable solutions. You even see it with the RN with their (understandable) obsession with EW because the Yanks will be there to sink ships if needed. My last discussion on Think Defence before I stopped visiting the sight revolved around patrol assets were needed vs intelligence lead missions for border work with an RN officer who thought the latter was all that was needed. There doesn’t seem much desire or should that be it isn’t seen as priority to go into harm’s way. That ultimately the bottom line of defence is men coming into contact with other men through violence. Of course violence is an elastic term. Coastguards today the world over fire warning shots, turn monitors on offenders, bring ships into contact with other ships, and more often than navies leave the safety of mother to go board other vessels where who knows what waits. It is real. It is dangerous. And that is day to day business never mind terrorism and insurgency. In a way coastguard have much more dare I say “soldiery” way of looking at these issues. A soldier or marine wouldn’t hang about. Today’s navies seem more about the abstract. Again speaking for this side of the pond I have pondered whether the RN should appoint a Royal Marine as Second Sea Lord to bring in more decisiveness or dare I use the term “warrior spirit”? It certainly hasn’t been lost in the Royal Australian Navy. Certainly today’s RN isn’t the same one that freed the prisoner from the Altmark with cutlasses………

  2. x, speaking as a PBR patrol officer (met Tom Cutler) that is an excellent book. AND the USN is definitely less interested in close direct combat than offshore “force protection”
    BTW we used a 60 mm mortar with a M-60 on top on our boats. The 81 mm over and under combo had a .50 on top for direct fire

    • That book has shaped a lot of my thinking about how navies should be fighting today’s “war” at sea. Before cannon war at sea was all about closing with the enemy. And even in the days of sail ships were won by bringing your vessel alongside that of the enemy and fighting hand to hand. Obviously coasties don’t fight (much) but they do operate at that human level. I think some navies (starts with R and N *cough*) need to look a little bit beyond EW and high concepts.

      • I would have thought the Iranian seizure of a Royal Navy and Royal Marine personnel and equipment in 2004 and again in 2007 would have focused more attention on this area.

      • The phrase “knowing how to fight your ship” comes to mind. I have heard that brownwater riverine combat (once again) is being downplayed for inshore aka greenwater. That having been said I DO think the USN is serious about inshore force protection and to a lesser degree about anti-terrorism. they regularly issue IRWG strategy docs which cover that end of the phases of conflict.
        The USN seems to know that amphibs sitting in an AOA, or MSC ships transiting the littorals ARE in danger and can NOT really protect themselves well. The Mark VI PB should be a good boat for the above roles.

  3. @ Chuck Hill

    Training and procedures were changed. There is an expression in British politics, “Lessons have been learnt….” which really is shorthand for “We sort of knew there was a problem and we hoped it would never manifest and cause embarrassment.” Now Royal is our of the Sandbox and going back to sea there will be a return to some normalcy in boarding ops. I don’t buy into the RN propaganda that they are smarter and cleverer than the rest of the world’s navies and coast guards. But I think the RN is going to need as many bodies possibles. As I said this new war is one on a human scale. We will need seaman and fighters able to man a range of craft away from today’s high tech’ grey war canoe with all its home comforts/

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