Fourth HC-144A delivered

Photo: The Government of Mexico purchased four CN235-300M aircraft (similar to the Coast Guard’s HC-144A). Oct. 1, 2010, the Foreign Military Sales program awarded a $157.9 million contract to EADS North America to produce these aircraft. The fourth and final delivery took place May 2, 2012, at EADS’ facility in Seville, Spain. Photo courtesy of Airbus Military.

CIMSEC has an interesting post that postulates a greatly expanded leadership role for the Coast Guard. In many ways it is radical, but I think it may be the way we are headed.

It suggests an enlarged role in international maritime policing and Foreign Military Sales. That probably implies intelligence collection and distribution.

“Under the umbrella of muscular law enforcement, the Coast Guard would manage not only patrols of the American coast, but also patrols off South America and Africa as well.”

That may already be close to reality in the SouthCom AOR.

The author describes a standard “frigate” that could very well be the Offshore Patrol Cutter:

“The principal requirements would be low cost, ease of maintenance, and margins for growth. The basic warship would have a simple power plant, enough systems to operate as a minimalist patrol ship, and substantial space and weight left available for additions.”

“Built cheaply and in large numbers, flotillas of these semi-modular ships would patrol for pirates off Africa, drug smugglers in the Gulf of Mexico, or vessels in distress off North America.”

He also sees a role for these ships in Amphibious Assaults.

“…the amphibious train would be escorted by frigates (based on the common hull introduced above) specialized with the maximum number of naval guns possible. With these frigates, the amphibious force would be able to defeat enemy forces in waters too constricted for the blue-water warships to operate effectively.”

We have seen a growing Coast Guard role in Foreign Military Sales with the delivery of hundreds of boats to dozens of nations, new 87 foot patrol boats going to Yemen, and maritime patrol aircraft going to Mexico. I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to see OPCs or Webber class WPCs being sold to our allies and friends, possibly funded in whole or in part by US Foreign Military Assistance.

There may be minor issues with his vision. I might argue that in accordance with the post’s logic, force protection should be under Coast Guard management, but generally his views are sound. It is surprising to see so much of a post by a former E-2C/D Hawkeye Naval Flight Officer devoted to the Coast Guard. The whole post is worth a read.


  1. Two things occur to me:

    1. The future focus of maritime power projection for all developed (and many developing) nations will involve less emphasis on procuring traditional naval assets such as SSNs, destroyers and aircraft carriers and more on vessels optimised for a policing role. We see this trend on land and sea, from Russian-backed “Ukrainian” rebels whose combat activities are carefully calculated to below the threshold required to trigger Article 5, to drug interdiction and anti-piracy operations neither of which needs a fully specc’d complex warship where a more technologically austere, cheaper to run, modular vessel will do. (With the caveat that a core war-fighting strength must be maintained in order to deter the escalation of future conflicts from police actions to full peer-on-peer conflict, naturally.)

    2. The UK Royal Navy has already studied the role of cheaper, simpler “patrol/presence/deterrence frigates” that utilise economical propulsion, low basic manning requirements and simple equipment fit-outs to yield reduced operating costs, leading to greater possible unit numbers being procured that directly permits larger numbers of units to be deployed globally. These vessels make up for their obvious short-falls in terms of equipment, sensors and weaponry by incorporating modular systems. One of the most famous examples of such studies was the Black Swan concept. It was widely derided as unworkable. I wonder if that was because if was technically and operationally flawed, or whether it was pitched in the context of being a naval asset (the UK does not have a Coast Guard force, per se). Perhaps such a vision could work for a separate military or paramilitary entity such as a coast guard.

    • Excellent point on the need for low-end capabilities to defeat deniable threats. The use of “volunteers” like in Ukraine isn’t new–every Chinese soldier in the Korean War was a “volunteer”–but it is has pros and cons.

      Deniable forces may insulate the sending country from retaliation, but they also are limited to deniable support, so countries can’t complain when their “volunteers” come to bad ends, either.

  2. Almost on cue, the DOD is looking for greater Coast Guard engagement with ASEAN. http://www.defensenews.com/articles/expect-asean-focused-increases-for-fy18-budget

    “While noting DoD does not control the Coast Guard budget, the official, speaking on background said “we’re certainly encouraging increased funding not just for the Coast Guard, but for the State Department’s foreign military funding. I don’t have the figures at my fingertips.”

    I”n a speech Sept. 29, Carter laid out his priorities for the next step of the Pacific rebalance, including increased military exercises, greater Coast Guard engagement in the region, and development of cyber capabilities.”

    “…Second, representatives from ASEAN will travel to Florida to visit the US Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates anti-drug efforts between US agencies, to learn about potential tactics and techniques. This will play into the Coast Guard role, the second defense official said.

    “And third, Carter will request the US-funded Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies to host an ASEAN counterterrorism workshop in 2017, in order to identify gaps that may exist in the fight against violent extremism in the Pacific. Once again, the Coast Guard will play a role here, as the report will consider inter-agency approaches as well.

    “With regard to the Coast Guard, we think increased cooperation in maritime law enforcement and maritime security through coast guard interactions will be an extremely useful tool for us,” the first defense official said. “We’ve seen a lot of Chinese Coast Guard activity out there. The regional players will need to strengthen their own coast guards.

    “That is why we are transferring, for example, excess US Coast Guard vessels to the Philippines, probably to Vietnam as well. We will be working with regional players, with ASEAN claimants, to build their capacity in maritime law enforcement and coast guard.”

  3. Eric Beaty’s article was indeed interesting. My thoughts:

    His re-defining of roles to put command in charge of the forces which are central to their mission, regardless of their service origin makes tremendous sense. However, my impression is that many of the assets will be unique, such as a seperate version of his generic frigate which emphasizes gun armament to support the amphibious branch. Sounds like his concept is those are separate hulls from the patrol frigates for the CG.

    As one parses out his ideas on this, the inevitable question becomes: how many separate assets are we talking? And how much does it cost? A superficial look at command structure from WWII in the Pacific through modern unified commands, shows the US already utilizes a command system where there is a central “expert” authority for an operation, and all units, regardless of branch, fall under it. So, the US already does this, kind-of.

    Secondly, as I was reading, I also got the impression he isn’t aware of the number and diversity of patrol vessels already on the sea, when looking at our allies around Europe, So. America, and the Pacific. Really, instead of a new Patrol Frigate, we need some coordination of assets. For example, there’s already a multi-country task force for the Horn of Africa piracy issue.

    Lastly, why must the modular patrol frigate have a grey hull? He wants the CG to control it. Does he want it manned and “owned” by the Navy? If so, why, since these are going to be different hulls than the amphibious force frigates? Chuck has made the point elsewhere: often the CG is welcome where the Navy is controversial. Especially as part of a multinational force, white hulls might look much better.

    Still, overall a good article, because at least he’s thinking about how things could be better!

    • Bill, I’m glad you read my article and found it worth commenting on!

      My concept of a patrol frigate/cutter design is largely aimed at replacing the LCS with a family of vessels that emphasize the attributes the LCS disregarded: while both LCS designs are fast and sport large flight decks, they are expensive, complex to maintain, and lightly armed. For patrol missions and escort of slower vessels like amphibs, speed in a luxury, but low costs and high numbers are vital.

      The unified Combatant Commands are an operational construct, while the administrative manning, training, and equipping of forces is still done by the individual services. Parceling out missions by service is intended to improve the quality of forces assigned to COCOMs rather than change the COCOMs’ function.

      Coordination with allies is a good thing, which I did not address because it can be done separately in parallel with US-only reforms.

      Additionally, I didn’t try to revise the general shares of budget dollars each service gets, and presently the Coast Guard can’t afford more than a limited slice of the patrol ship force. That doesn’t rule out gamesmanship to increase the number of white hulls–a cutter could conceivably bought with Navy money, partially manned by Sailors, and carrying Marines for VBSS, but be commanded by a Coast Guard skipper–but that is a topic for another article.

      • Well, hello Eric! Thanks for your reply; your line of thinking was mostly where I thought you were heading.

        I’ll skip the LCS/Frigate issue, because, for one, I think we all agree, and second, DOD/DON has already made its decision…

        As far as the force re-design, yes, that is what I was thinking too. Theoretically some duplication of effort could be eliminated and the entire force from Chief of Staff, administrative, R&D, and ALL operational forces in the area of specialization would be more focused, rather than “multi-mission.” The question becomes, would anyone go for the concept. Specialization = expensive to Congress. Then you have Navy officers who would see it as career suicide to be assigned to Expeditionary, because Marine Officers would get most of the flag ranks and promotion slots… Doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea, just very hard to sell, when every command these days is “joint.”

        Good article, and happy there continues to be professional interest in questioning why and how we do stuff. That’s where some of the best ideas come from!

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