“Too Small to Answer the Call”–USNI Proceedings

The May issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is the Naval Review issue. It includes updates on the Coast Guard as well as the Navy and Marine corps that are behind the membership pay wall, but it also has an article, “Too Small to Answer the Call,” by Capt. David Ramassini, future CO of USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) that is accessible to all, and I think is worth a read.

Basically he is advocating using the Coast Guard internationally to build capacity and counter threats of lawlessness and poor governance in trouble spots all around the world. Below is his recommended building program.

Build a New Great White Fleet

Enhancing regional security in partnership with willing nations requires a 21st-century Great White Fleet of forward deployable (or stationed) national security cutters (NSCs), offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), and fast response cutters (FRC). The mix of platforms and duration of presence would be tailored to the distinct geographies and vary based on the receptiveness of the host nation(s), problem sets to be addressed, and mutual goals of the combatant commands and partner nations. Building on a proven bilateral approach for counterdrug operations and EEZ enforcement, the Great White Fleet would leverage existing agreements—based on the extent to which partner governments are willing—to strengthen CTOC (counter transnational organized crime–chuck) and CT (counter terrorism–Chuck) across the JIME (Joint Interagency Multinational Environment–Chuck).

From an acquisition perspective, doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100) programs equates to the projected cost of one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)-class aircraft carrier (approximately $13 billion). Furthermore, procuring an additional seven NSCs over the nine planned would cost the equivalent of one Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer (approximately $4.2 billion). The NSC and OPC both offer more than three times the on-station time between provisioning than is afforded by a littoral combat ship (LCS).

Building more OPCs also could rapidly grow the National Fleet by leveraging commercial shipyards outside the mainstream industrial complex. These shipyards may be able to provide better value to the government during an economic downturn in the oil and offshore supply industry. Further leveraging this acquisition would continue to drive down the cost of the OPCs and provide an additional industrial base to build a 400-ship National Fleet of ships with far lower operating and maintenance costs than the LCS.

Redirecting proposed future LCS/frigate dollars (approximately $14 billion) to a Great White Fleet to modernize the U.S. National Fleet mix would provide a greater return on investment and more staying power abroad. For instance, building international security cutters—NSCs with Navy-typed/Navy-owned enhancements such as the SeaRAM antiship cruise missile—could offer combatant commanders a truly useful “frigate,” leveraging mature production lines that now operate at only 70 percent capacity. These estimates are for relative comparison and do not include the associated aviation, infrastructure, basing support agreements, and personnel plus-ups that are needed to provide a more credible and persistent presence across the JIME. But investing in a larger Coast Guard and the supporting infrastructure would return high dividends.

I’m not sure I agree, but it is worth considering. We should, however, keep in mind a sentiment expressed by friend Bill Wells that white paint is not bullet proof. We should not perpetuate the idea that only white painted ships can enforce laws, that is a uniquiely American concept and perpetuating it plays into the hands of the Chinese, who have more coast guard ships than any other country in the world.

Still I think there is merit to this concept. It seems to be working for PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces South West Asia). There has already been talk about a similar deployment to SE Asia. We might consider similar detachments of various sizes for West Africa, the Eastern Pacific, and the Marshall Islands.

The additional ships, 7 NSCs, and “doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100)” Is clearly arbitrary. There is very little the NSCs can do that the OPCs will not also be able to do cheaper, so I don’t see a need for more NSCs.

If we take on additional international roles it probably will not be done in one fell swoop. It will probably be done incrementally. Captain Ramassini is clearly looking at this as a near term possibility. Some movement in this direction is clearly possible, but it will take a radical change in the Administration, the Navy, and the Coast Guard for this to happen on the scale he envisions.

Meanwhile, if you look at the “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study,” the Coast Guard actually needs 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs just to meet all of our statutory obligations. That is not far from his 16 NSCs, 50 OPCs, and 100 FRCs. The study and the “Great White Fleet” would both probide 66 large ships (NSCs and OPCs).

Actually the only way I see this happening is if there is a realization that keeping the USN constantly cycling through distant deployments may not be the best way to maintain readiness. That it wears out very expensive ships and drives people from the service, and that perhaps cutters can perform at least some of the presence missions.

9 thoughts on ““Too Small to Answer the Call”–USNI Proceedings

  1. Sounds familiar. The “1000-ship” fleet to counter SE Asia piracy comes to mind and I believe the Coast Guard wanted to be in charge of it. Well, that worked out.

    The Coast Guard may build all the ships but does it have the personnel expertise to man and run them? The NSC crew is less that half of what than the run-to-death 311-foot cutter and much more technical. Doubling the NSC crew size now would be the way to begin. Most to nor realize just how small the Coast Guard was, in cutter personnel, at beginning of WWII. Total enlisted strength was just over 11,000 but the majority were at sea in one form or the other. This gave the Coast Guard a strong cadre of trained people. The same for Coast Guard Squadron One in Vietnam. Most of the crews and all of the officers were experienced seamen. Some COs on their second WPB command.

    NSCs today are being commissioned with rookie crews and worse, some do not want to go to sea. Sea duty has become something to avoid and by sea duty, I mean, real sea duty on the high seas.

    I would also begins getting Coast Guardsmen assigned to Navy vessels in real billets to learn their craft. The LEDTS and such just ride and board.

    I doubt the Navy will give up any funding to build more Coast Guard vessels. The best way is to do what Russell R. Waesche did was to convince the Congress that building new cutters was good to put people to work and for the national defense. He had the largest and quickest ship building program in the Service’s history.

    Before anyone starts thinking about more white cutters, ask them why they are white in the first place.

    • the hulls are color coded. Red= Ice breaking, Black= ATON, White=Maritime enforcement(Combat). Now why did they pick white instead of grey i don’t know. The only thing i can think of is that it is probably easier to turn white into grey then it is to paint over black and red.

      Now the reason why all the other countries are white is easy. They copy the USCG. But why did we choose white? And do the other countries even know why?
      Educate me please…..

      • Lyle, Hopefully Bill will have more, but I will give it a shot.

        White hull and superstructure, buff stacks, and black trim was the Navy’s standard color scheme prior to the Spanish American War as seen in the original “Great White Fleet.”

        It seems the Coast Guard retained that scheme. It was how my first ships was painted. The buff seems to have disappeared,

      • Chuck,

        It goes deeper into the culture of the late 19th century USRCS officer corps. In the mid to late 1890s Captain Charles F. Shoemaker, one of the two great heads of the service, the other is Waseche, pushed hard for recognition of the USRCS as a naval service. The purpose was not so much to be naval but to impress the Congress that the USRCS was every bit as valuable as the USN and, therefore, worthy of a retirement system just as much as the Navy.

        Shoemaker, W. E. Reynolds, and civilian assistant head of the USRCS, Henry S. Merrill, pushed to make the USRCS more naval in outlook. Improved regulations (1894) that were based on naval regulations, naval uniforms for officers and enlisted, creating a service motto, “Semper Paratus,” (1896), and changing cruising cutter hull color from black to white. There was a wide, and loud, protest from cutter captains about the white color that they considered suitable for “yachts” but not cutters. They did not understand Shoemaker’s move and Chuck is correct. USN vessels were white. It was political camouflage.

        The “harbor” vessels, as they are today, remained with black hulls out of a matter of practicality and to separate them from the cruising cutters. There was on OD green cutter – Seneca – the derelict destroyer as well as a yellow, quarantine, cutter.

        There is no practical reason to keep white cutters. They could be the “sea-sick” green the Canadians used to be. However, the reason for painting cutter white in the 19th century was a political decision and not one to copy the Navy. .

      • We actually switched from “seasick green” hulls and grey superstructure to white to follow the “international standard”. The racing stripe is blue, though, as per our flag:

        It’s quite interesting how you guys would want to bring the (US)CG closer to the (US) Navy while I would personally see a benefit in drawing a line between a military service (of course keeping in mind that the coast guard is a branch of the armed forces) and a service more oriented towards civilian “customers” (not unlike law enforcement) at least in the home waters and in their immediate vicinity during peacetime.

        In the area where my cabin is and where we patrol with our volunteer-crewed SAR boat, the locals are generally happy to see a CG patrol boat doing rounds as their primary mission is to help those in distress (perhaps with the exception of someone who is boating and drinking) but pretty much everyone frowns when the navy guys pass by in one of their fast crafts, messing up everyone’s fishing nets, throwing boats onto the shore etc. Even my dad, who completed his military service in the navy in the age of steam, gets grumpy when he sees a grey camouflage hull because there’s practically no need for it to operate in that area.

        Thus, I see certain benefits in not mixing the two fleets at least in our small Nordic country. Of course, on international scale it’s of course not as simple, as can be seen from your ongoing discussion.

    • Yes. The wing propellers are electrically-driven Rolls-Royce “Azipull” Z-drive thrusters while the CP propeller in the middle is mechanically coupled to a dual-fuel diesel engine. I don’t know for a fact why they went for this kind of complex propulsion configuration, but at least on a theoretical level it offers some advantages in e.g. redundancy (distributed power plant), propulsion efficiency (low losses on the mechanically-coupled centerline propeller), ice operations, and dynamic positioning. However, the ship is not particularly fast (18 knots) but works well in the harsh Baltic winter conditions.


      When this OPV was ordered, the initial 3D renderings had the old green-orange-grey color scheme. However, during the construction they decided to convert the whole fleet to blue-and-white. To me the old patrol boats looked better with the darker colors (white brings out all the bumps and dents accumulated over the years, not to mention rust), but the new one looks good in white as well. I see it from time to time, refueling LNG in Helsinki, but normally it’s out on patrol.


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