Discussion on an earlier post suggesting the Coast Guard might want to fit our new major cutters “for but not with” Long Range Anti-ship Missiles (LRASM) has prompted me to rethink the suggestion and advocate for equipping them with the missile in peacetime.
One of the Coast Guard’s peacetime missions is of course Ports, Waterways and Coastal Security (PWCS).
“The PWCS mission entails the protection of the U.S. Maritime Domain and the U.S. Marine Transportation System (MTS) …prevention and disruption of terrorist attacks… Conducting PWCS deters terrorists from using or exploiting the MTS as a means for attacks on U.S. territory, population centers, vessels, critical infrastructure, and key resources.”
I have been concerned that the Coast Guard has not had adequate weapons to deal with a terrorist attack using a medium to large sized merchant ship, and currently I don’t believe there is any other organization capable of answering this threat in the 30 or more port complexes terrorists might find worthwhile targets, in a timely manner. Navy surface forces are too geographically concentrated. The over 200 nautical mile range and the ability to strike selected locations on a target ship suggest LRASM could possibly provide an answer.
If we had LRASM on all National Security Cutters (NSC) and Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), in perhaps a dozen ports on the Atlantic, Pacific, and Gulf coasts, Honolulu and Kodiak, its over 200 mile range fired from cutters, including possibly those in port, could cover all of these ports (except Guam), and have a weapon on target within about 20 minutes of launch.
To effectively counter the threat, I think we need to get a weapon on target within an hour of positive identification of the threat. This would require improved coordination between units. In addition to providing a datum, course, and speed, presumably an intercepting unit, boat or aircraft, would need to transmit a photograph of the target to be incorporated in the missiles memory and aim points would be chosen some time during mission planning. We would need to coordinate with air traffic control. A command decision to authorize use of the weapon and updates on the target position course and speed would also be needed. Because we might have 40 minutes or less from threat identification to launch, these steps would likely have to proceed in parallel with mission planning progressing prior to authorization.
New units appear to be on the way to developing the kind of common tactical picture we need to facilitate both decision making and targeting. We could start developing the capability with the National Security Cutters based at Alameda (San Francisco Bay) and Charleston, SC, even if the system could not be completed until the last OPCs are delivered in about 2034.