Intelligence Upgrade for the OPC?

Allen Balough, a lead engineer for the C4ISR program (right), tests the new interior communications system with a Coast Guard Cutter Spencer crewmember after installation of leaky coax cable. The installation took place in Boston July 18-21. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

U.S. Coast Guard photo.

The Coast Guard has been enjoying the benefits of better intelligence available to (and from) the National Security Cutters (NSC).

The Acquisitions directorate (CG-9) recently issued a press release that suggests they hope to get more of the same from the Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC).

Acquisition Update: Acquisition Directorate Looks To Continue Operational Successes With OPC C4ISR Design

Jan. 13, 2017

The Coast Guard shattered its record for drug interdictions in fiscal year 2016 due in large part to the enhanced capabilities of the national security cutters and their advanced command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) systems. The Acquisition Directorate’s C4ISR Program is working to bring similar success to the offshore patrol cutters.

The Coast Guard seized more than 400,000 pounds of cocaine in fiscal year 2016, worth around $5.6 billion, and much of that is thanks to the advanced intelligence-gathering capability of the NSC class.

“Since the post-9/11 reorganization of the intelligence community, the Coast Guard has a much greater responsibility for intelligence gathering,” said Wayne Jacobs, intelligence system acquisition manager. “Instead of simply acting on intelligence reports, NSC crews have an improved ability to gather information themselves and share it with the intelligence community.”

Part of the NSC’s success is thanks to its ability to access the most up-to-date intelligence reports from shore-based intelligence networks in addition to its own intelligence data collection systems. “Before the NSC, a cutter would use intelligence which could be eight to 12 hours old to find smugglers,” he said. “The NSC gives the Coast Guard the capability to guide their patrols with real-time intelligence to better locate drug traffickers.”

Once on patrol, the NSC’s advanced sensors and surveillance equipment help its crews identify, locate and interdict smugglers. For example, NSC crews can use infrared sensors to better locate smugglers at night.

However, perhaps the most important feature of the NSC is interoperability. “The Link 11 system is the best part,” Jacobs said. “It allows ships and aircraft in a group to share their tactical data so the NSC crew can better see the command and control picture around the cutter.” Link 11 allows tactical information sharing with other U.S. military branches and with allied militaries.

An advanced communications suite makes coordinating operations easier for NSC crews, improving interoperability further. The NSC uses both line-of-sight and satellite radios to provide voice communications, chat rooms and data transfers to better coordinate with partners.

Jacobs says that the NSC has led to a notable increase in the Coast Guard’s interdiction of semisubmersibles – vessels that operate partially underwater to avoid detection. “It’s a technique that we’ve seen more in recent years, and they’re very hard to find in the water,” he explained. “We’ve caught a lot of semisubmersibles thanks to operations guided by better intelligence data from these systems.”

Recognizing the success of the intelligence-gathering systems on the NSC, the C4ISR Program is working to bring similar systems to the OPC. “The OPC systems will provide similar capabilities to what the Coast Guard uses and needs on the NSC,” Jacobs said.

The OPC will feature the Link 11 system and similar intelligence-sharing equipment to the NSC. The C4ISR Program is also hoping to include a data collection system that will integrate and analyze information from the cutter’s sensors to provide the crew with better situational awareness. An advanced, Navy-provided electronic warfare system and gun system will also be included to help the cutter perform defense readiness missions. The Navy is also providing the latest multimode air search radar.

“Because they operate closer to shore, the OPCs are more focused on Coast Guard-specific missions like drug interdiction,” Jacobs explained. “We’re designing intelligence systems with that in mind.”

I am not sure what this means. The only likely change I see, to what was already planned for the OPC, is that perhaps the Ships Signals Exploitation Space (formerly referred to as a SCIF (Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility)) for which space was to be provided but with no immediate plans to equip and man it, will in fact be fully furnished. That would be a step in the right direction.

This might also be an attempt to head off any attempt to dumb down the OPC.

It might also be a “thank you and more, please” to the Navy for the “Navy Type/Navy Owned” equipment they have been providing.

It might be all three, but it is formal recognition that thermal imaging, Link 11, secure satellite radio, high level intel access, and sophisticated radars make our ships more effective.

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