WHY THE COAST GUARD NEEDS LRASM IN PEACETIME–CIMSEC

This is an expanded version of an earlier piece that was posted here. I rewrote it for the CIMSEC blog in hopes it would find a larger audience. Hopefully it is a clearer than the original. 

The Coast Guard has a problem. It is not currently equipped to perform one of its missions, and it appears no other agency is prepared to cover the deficiency. The Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) may be a possible solution.

The Mission

One of the Coast Guard’s peacetime missions is 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.”

The Shortfall

Implicit in this mission is that the service should have the capability to forcibly stop a non-compliant ship, any ship, of any size. If a crew is motivated by simple greed, a .50 caliber machine gun is probably enough to convince them to take their chances in court rather than resist, but if the crew is motivated by a fanatical, or even suicidal belief in a cause, they become much harder to stop.

Terrorist targets are limited only by their imagination. They might include something like the Mumbai attack, an assault on a bridge, an LNG tanker or facility, a nuclear power plant, a passenger ship, an SSBN departing on patrol, or they might use a vessel to bring in a nuclear weapon.

The Coast Guard is an armed force at all times, but it is certainly not heavily armed. In fact, in terms of stopping a recalcitrant merchant ship, the Coast Guard seems relatively less capable now than they were eighty years ago.

This is because of the rapid growth in the size of merchant ships. Even the largest cutters with their 57 mm and 76 mm guns are far less capable of stopping today’s over 100,000 ton merchant vessels than the cutters of the 1930s, with their 5″ guns were against ships that were typically well under 10,000 tons.

Worse yet, the units that would actually be on scene to attempt to stop and board a ship suspected of being under the control of terrorists is unlikely to include any of the larger cutters because they seldom remain near harbor entrance. Rather, they are frequently sent well off shore.

The Coast Guard simply does not have the capability to deal with a terrorist attack using a medium to large sized merchant ship, and it currently appears that there is no other organization capable of answering this threat in the 30 or more port complexes terrorists might find worthwhile targets.

Our Friends

Navy surface forces, in U.S. waters, are too geographically concentrated. Navy ships tend to be either in homeport, working up in specific geographic areas, deployed, or in transit to deploy. There are no Navy surface warships homeported in the Gulf of Mexico, on the East Coast north of the New Port News/Norfolk complex, in Alaska, or on the West coast between San Diego and Puget Sound with weapons equal to or better than those on cutters. For many ports, the nearest Navy surface vessel is hundreds of miles away.

Air Force, Navy, Marine, and Army Air are not on standby around the U.S. armed with anti-ship weapons. Of the Air Force, only some strategic aircraft are training for the anti-shipping mission. Fighters and attack aircraft do not. The author suspects the U.S. would not get a timely response from the Air Force to a no notice requirement to stop a maritime target. Units that are not trained for an anti-shipping role cannot be easily pressed into that mission.

A Possible Solution

LRASM, with an over 200 nautical mile range and the ability to strike selected locations on a target ship, could possibly provide an answer. If the U.S. fielded LRASM on all nine National Security Cutters (NSC) and 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC) currently planned, its over 200 mile range could cover virtually all of these ports, and likely have a weapon on target within 20 minutes of launch.

How It Might Work

The Coast Guard is developing a Maritime Domain Awareness system. Most likely, it will tap into the Navy’s system and over the horizon radars.

When the maritime domain awareness system detects the approach of a suspicious vessel, a small patrol vessel (WPB or WPC) is assigned to intercept it and conduct a boarding to determine the vessel’s nature and intent.

When the patrol vessel is assigned the intercept, a larger cutter that may be at some distance, but within range, would be directed to provide support in the form of a LRASM launch if necessary.

The patrol craft will transmit video, position, course, and speed during its approach which will allow the start of mission planning for an LRASM launch should it become necessary. The results of the patrol craft’s attempt to board will allow determination of hostile intent.

Once a determination of hostile intent has been made, and deadly force authorized, the supporting cutter can launch its weapon. The patrol craft will continually update the supporting cutter before and during the flight of the LRASM. Navy, Joint, and/or Allied procedures would be used to call for a strike, and should also work with other service’s assets if they are available.

LRASM_TSL_Concept_Lockheed_Martin
LRASM topside launcher concept. The size and weight are comparable to launchers for Harpoon. Photo: Lockheed Martin.

Is It Affordable?

It is likely cutters could be equipped to carry eight missiles, but for peacetime purposes, two per ship would almost certainly meet the Coast Guard’s needs. Since some ships will always be in maintenance with ammunition removed, and others may be deployed where carrying the weapons would be counterproductive. The Coast Guard is unlikely to ever require more than about 50 missiles to meet its peacetime needs. A very rough estimate of LRASM unit cost would be something on the order of $2M to $5M each. That means the total cost of the missiles is likely between $100M and $250M. Adding launchers, control systems, and installations to cost would almost certainly be less than $500M. These costs would be spread over several years. This gives only an order of magnitude estimate, but it is several orders of magnitude less than the cost of other systems being deployed to protect the U.S. from attack.

Since the missiles, their launchers, and control systems are Navy type/Navy Owned equipment, the Navy would be responsible for paying for them. The cost of adding another four missiles per year for the Coast Guard to the Navy’s buy for LRASM could be lost in the rounding errors in the Navy budget.

For the Coast Guard, the program would probably require no more than 150 additional billets ashore and afloat. Not insignificant, but doable.

Conclusion

If the LRASM performs as advertised, its combination of range, warhead, and intelligent targeting may allow the Coast Guard’s small, but widely distributed force to effectively cover virtually the entire U.S. coast.

26 thoughts on “WHY THE COAST GUARD NEEDS LRASM IN PEACETIME–CIMSEC

  1. the problem is not US mainland due to NORAD, but when they are expected to perform the Maritime Security Mission when part of a Expeditionary group. I do believe that all HC designated aircraft should be modified for the SC designation since the P-3/8 might be stationed someplace else and the S-3 vikings have been retired.

    How much would it cost to refit the NSC to be able to be equipped with the LRSM or NSM?

    • Why do you think NORAD is the solution in peacetime? They are an air defense organization. I don’t think countering unconventional naval attacks is their forte.

      • two reasons.
        1 NORAD is under the command of Norther Command
        2 Norther Command is HQed at Norad.
        3, Part of Northern Command mission is Maritime Security.
        4. In 2006 they expanded Norad to look for sea going threats.

        If you intercept a merchant ship within the US EEZ. You are within range Navy/Marines/Air force/Coast Guard assets. Excluding parts of Alaska of course.

        I think the proper course would be to disable it if you can then send a VBSS team in to secure it. Send a LEDET team or equivalent in to search it to find out what your dealing with and to collect intelligence. And then determine the best way to dispose of it if need be based on what you find.

        But it you are going out of hemisphere or outside of mainland assistance please arm them to general purpose patrol frigate, corvette standards.
        But ASW systems and weapons should be mandatory equipment 24/7 365 for the USCG.

        http://archive.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=118926

      • Lyle, from the link you provided,

        “Another major step in that evolution took place in 2006, when U.S. and Canadian authorities expanded NORAD’s mandate to address seaborne threats. This maritime-warning mission applies the command’s capabilities to identify and track vessels of interest approaching either country’s coast, and passing that intelligence to authorities that would intercept them.”

        I think, in this case, the Coast Guard is the authority that would intercept them.

  2. I don’t understand why USCG cutters should be equipped like general purpose (patrol) frigates. Such equipment isn’t cheap, it requires costly maintenance and you have to maintain personnel to operate them which also costs money. Sonar, weapon system and munitions (torpedoes) handling and maintenance are too specific missions to assign as secondary roles.

    In my opinion there is no viable business case for such equipment when you already have Navy designed to take care of ASW missions. Additional ASuW capability however is still justifiable as it adds less new equipment (you already have radar and it might be possible to integrate missile sytem to existing system) and also requires smaller set of new skills to maintain.

    What comes to tactics used against merchant vessels. I have understood that USCG can’t board foreign vessel until it enters U.S. territorial waters. Is that correct? Besides I understood Chuck’s proposal to be an last resort option after more peaceful jenas fail to work.

    • History has shown that you will never have enough ASW assets. And you go to war with what you have available now. The US navy is not going to be protecting the merchant fleet and the soft underbelly of our ports here and abroad when they are too busy taking the fight to the enemy. Besides the coast guard personal wouldn’t operate the equipment, but naval reserve personal in wartime. Its no different then assigning Coast Guard personal to the Navy’s Coastal Riverine Force.

    • Timo, you bring up a lot of points. This may take more than one response.

      In most cases we can board any vessel inside the US territorial sea (12 miles). In a scenario like I have been concerned with, you would like to start the process before they get that close, and most innocent vessels bound for US ports will not object to be being boarded.

      Still there are reasons why vessels might be well inside the US EEZ with no intention of calling at a US port. They might be enroute Mexico for sailing between parts of Latin America or the Caribbean and Canada. They might be transiting the Florida Strait.

      They might claim they diverted closer to the coast to avoid weather.

      If a vessel refuses to be boarded, we could get the authority from the flag state or perhaps determine the ship is stateless if that is the case.

      All these complications take time to resolve and might be used by a terrorist organization to run out the clock while getting closer to their target. In this case time is not our friend.

    • Timo, Regarding whether we should provide a full suite of frigate style weapons on our ships, my current feeling is that our ships should be designed with weight, moment, electrical power, and any other margins necessary to accept these weapons and sensors, but that they need not all be fitted from the beginning as I discussed here.. “OPC, Design for Wartime, Build for Peacetime” https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2012/06/27/opc-design-for-wartime-build-for-peacetime/

      Still a good case can be made for equipping them fully. If you need a certain number of frigates, then cutters equipped as frigates could count against your required number. You are paying for most of a frigate already and most of the crew. The upgrade is a marginal cost that has to be less than the cost of providing a frigate in addition to the cutter.

      The Royal Navy reached a similar conclusion, coming at it from another direction, when they claim that their frigates can do anything an Offshore Patrol Vessel (OPV) can do and are also more useful in wartime, so there is no reason to build Offshore Patrol Vessels. I do think they underestimate the value of OPVs in wartime. https://chuckhillscgblog.net/2012/02/10/what-might-coast-guard-cutters-do-in-wartime-part-2-coast-guard-roles/ The British are getting more OPVs anyway, whether the Royal Navy wants them or not.

      I take the position I have now, because, currently the USN seems strong enough to dominate any other navy. I do see this changing in the next 15 to 20 years. If we put what are now sophisticated sensor and weapons on our ships when built, when they are needed in 15 or more years those systems will likely be obsolete or inappropriate for the threat and they will have to be removed before appropriate systems can be added. Better to have a clean slate. I came to this conclusion in looking at experience of the 327 foot Secretary Class cutters in comparison to their Navy half sisters the gunboats Charleston and Erie. The Navy ships were built with a heavy armament of four 6″ guns and four quad 1.1″. They were armed for the wrong mission. One was sunk early in the war, but the other spent the entire war armed this way and was never very useful. The 327, on the other hand, were given heavy anti-submarine weapons and were the most successful class of ASW vessels in the US fleet.

      If war seemed imminent, it would certainly make sense to build the cutters ready to fight.

      • The Treasury Class Cutters were designed to have additional armament added in the event of a national emergency. Fitted for, but not equipped with.

  3. “(…) 30 or more port complexes terrorists might find worthwhile targets.”

    Take 60 of these
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M198_howitzer
    and include desk jockeys of some local police station as additional crewmembers.

    Procurement needs:
    60 COTS navigation radar for rangefinding
    60 sniper spotting scopes for identification (even in nighttime, with ILLUM shells)
    Procurement costs:
    Less than a million.

    Upsides:
    Ship-defeating firepower is always on station, vessel observation adn dientification would be possible even under conditions where no USCG helicopter is avalable (storm, return from feint SAR mission etc.).
    Vessel could be engaged with satisfactory safety even inside a harbor, unlike with a missile (that simply wouldn’t be fired at a vessel that close to U.S. residential areas, period).

    Downside:
    The irrational desire to make USCG ships more powerful would not be satisfied.

    • Needs a crew of nine 24/7. Three watches, 60 weapons means 1620 men. One radar operator and one spotter 24/7, three watches times 60 weapons, 360 men. Assuming the crews will also provide security for the weapons and their ammunition. that is 1980 men, plus administrators, training, and pipeline, and you are well over 2000 men every year for the foreseeable future. 2000 men at least $50,000 each, something on the order of $100,000,000 per year.

      Bottom line, not cheap. There is a reason we no longer have Coast Artillery..

      Yes you might find some economies, but you are not going to replace all those people with existing watch standers.

      There will also be an outcry from the neighbors when you fire your inevitable practice rounds.

      • easier and cheaper to use aegis ashore and make sure you have some LRASM loaded up. and dual purpose SM-6’s, or cheaper alternative.

      • No way. Not a single man needed to keep watch.
        The USCG ship that for miraculous reasons would notice the intrusion in time despite the possibility of deception and feints would simply make a call and USCG personnel and cops who are on land anyway leave their desks and man the gun. A protective housing is removed, radar oriented and switched on.

        Almost all costs would be sunk costs anyway.

        There’s also no trouble with practice rounds. Army aritllery doesn’t exaclty fire live in the barrakcs either. They do so once in a while (very rarely) on a distant firing range, and other than that only exercise ammo.

      • Sven (lastdingo), It is not the ships that are expected to detect the suspicious ship, it is the Maritime Domain Awareness System. It is still a work in progress.

    • Sven’s idea has one salient point: shore-mounted/assigned batteries are never deployed elsewhere… I also disagree you would need dedicated crew available 24/7, but there’s a 3rd, better alternative between a cannon and expensive Aegis ashore.

      NORAD/NorthCom can/should be connected with every Sector/COTP Ops Center. This provides national and local C&C and situational awareness for all the major ports. Each of the 60+ Sector/COTP Ops Centers will have a Control Station, not unlike that in a CIC aboard ship, to command a shore-launched Harpoon battery. (They were developed, but never procured back in the 80s as I recall. There are plenty of Harpoons being removed from service which could be converted to ground-launched version.)

      Also locate a shore-based medium-sized UAV capability at each of these major threat areas for Search, ID, and Tracking. Combined with radar, boats, and MDA capabilities NORAD brings to the party, we won’t need to worry about the whereabouts of a large cutter nearby.

      There could be a traveling crew to check readiness status of the automated shore-based missile battery (possibly a mission which could be assigned to local USN Reserve for their monthly “drill”). The USCG would only need to provide a single watch-stander for the control station, and that may be a supplemental duty to someone already there (given they are trained and given refresher training; but it wouldn’t need to be a dedicated position/rating).

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