“Distribute Lethality to the Cutters”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings’ September 2018 issue has an article recommending installation of Naval Strike Missiles (NSM) on the Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) and the Argus class Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), “Distribute Lethality to the Cutters,” by LCdr. Daniel M. Wilshire, USCG. Its outside the paywall; you can just click on the link.

He makes some good points.

  • The Navy does not have enough ships.
  • The Coast Guard is building 36 likely candidates.
  • Using deck mounted canister launchers it should not be too difficult to mount NSM on cutters.
  • The systems would be Navy owned and we could use Navy training.
  • Arming cutters for combat, including missiles is not new.
  • If there is a major conflict, cutters may find themselves in combat, whether they are prepared for it or not.
  • These are not a replacement for Navy construction.
  • We should not wait for the outbreak of war before arming cutters

In conclusion he says.

“The prospect of great power conflict once again looms. Though the time and nature of that conflict is not clear, one thing is certain: when the next war breaks out, Coast Guard cutters will go into harm’s way as they have done in nearly every major conflict since 1790, not only because every ship will be needed, but because doing so is part of the Coast Guard’s history and culture. Procurement and training decisions made today will dictate whether the Coast Guard enters that conflict with the weapons needed to best help deter or defeat a peer competitor. Failing to put antiship cruise missiles on the 36 cutters of the NSC and OPC classes, cutters that will serve for the next 50-plus years, is an omission that the Navy, the Coast Guard, and the nation can ill-afford.”

My only comment would be:

  • First, I would prefer to see the longer ranged, heavier Long Range Anti-Ship Missile used instead of NSM, as I believe it is better suited for our peacetime anti-terrorism mission as well as being a more effective weapon in wartime.
  • Second, while it is probably a more complex change, reviving the Coast Guard’s Wartime Anti-Submarine Warfare Mission would probably be an even more important addition to the “National Fleet” than an expanded anti-surface capability. While it probably would contribute nothing to our peacetime anti-terrorism mission, long range acoustic sensors might help our counter-drug effort.


13 thoughts on ““Distribute Lethality to the Cutters”–USNI Proceedings

  1. In terms of weight and space, as well as mission, perhaps NSM on OPCs and LRASM on NSCs?

    ASW is a much more suitable fit for probable war-time use of the OPCs and makes sense for NSC, since the USN is currently fresh out of frigates…

    But agree completely with the article and your points, Chuck

      • I guess it depends on how the hulls will be utilized. The size, speed, range, and built-in capabilities of the NSC, make it easily a stand-in for a frigate. It can easily add AAW, ASW, and ASuW at an FFG/DDG level.

        OPC, with it’s slower speed and smaller displacement, is not big or fast enough to operate in an offensive surface-warfare environment, being much more suited to escorting convoys, replenishment vessels, or operating as screen around amphibious landing zones. Smaller and lessor-ranged missiles make more sense in those roles. Put LRASM on the OPCs and USN will start looking at using them in offensive roles, putting them at risk inappropriately.

      • The OPC is almost 4000 tons so it is by no means too small to carry an array of weapons. They are also fast enough to join ARGs, escort underway replenishment ships, and most logistics ships. Actually I suspect a sustained speed of 22+ translates to 24 knots in most circumstances.

        ASCMs can be offensive or defensive depending on the circumstance. You can protect ships you are escorting by shooting the “archer” rather than shooting the “arrows” but that can be impossible if your are outranged. Both China and Russia have ASCMs with twice the range of NSM.

        Plus there is the advantage of having only one type of ASCM on cutters.

        For the part of our peacetime anti-terrorism mission that requires the ability to forcibly stop even larger vessels being used in a terrorist attack, I don’t think NSM has enough range to assure that there will be an ASCM equipped cutter within range in the event of an attack on any significant US port.

        So far the Navy has not started using LRASM as a surface launched missile. It is being integrated with B-1s and FA-18s. We will have to wait to see if it becomes an option for surface launch.

      • I agree with each point. One we haven’t spoken about is cost. The LRASM with it’s sophisticated loiter, discrimination, and range is almost like an aerial version of a sea mine, providing a denial area or barrier for an opponent to breach as well as being an AShM. All this sophistication and capability makes LRASM quite expensive per shot, whereas NSM is meant to be less expensive.

        The other issue, which I’m sure you spoke about in the past, is targeting. The reason an acoustic torpedo is a better ship-stopper is it targets the props, shafts, rudders and is less likely to sink a ship in a channel, thus blocking a major port. Even with LRASM, targeting a specific spot on a ship is unlikely. (Ironically, the “old technology” Walleye using a TV seeker would be better than a radar-guided AShM for targetting a specific spot, although with the sophistication of LRASM being able to discriminate types of ship, it may be targetable to specific points – probably classified, if that capability exists.)

        So, I think the Navy would be reluctant to put their most-expensive, most sophisticated missile on the least capable surface ship in the “National Fleet,” especially in peacetime. When did the Harpoons get installed on the WHECs? Was it in the 1990s? (When Harpoon was about 25 years old, at that point?)

        Even at 4000 tons, the OPC is a slower, longer-ranged LCS, and NSM is going to be the LCS SSM system.

      • For our peacetime counter terrorism mission NSM would be better than nothing, but it is still only a half measure. Light weight torpedoes are still my favored capability, and we could put them on the Webber class, but I don’t see that happening. We could conceivably both add to the Navy’s distributed lethality mission with ASCMs and help out the counter terrorism mission. If the Navy develops a surface launch version of the LRASM, it is far better for our purposes than NSM. LRASM is at least as smart and has a warhead four times as large. Perhaps more importantly for our purposes, it has more than twice the range. If you consider how many ships we are likely to have underway and how far they are likely to be from a port that might be under attack, that is important.

        For our purposes a pair of missiles is probably adequate for counter terrorism, since we would not have to swamp a sophisticated air defense system. Our ships could be given the capability to host 8 to 16 missiles, but if the Navy is short, we don’t have to have every launch position filled. Until it is clear we are going to war, just give us two per NSC and OPC.

  2. On UK defence blogs and sites for a long time now there has been an ‘idea’ running that we don’t need anti-ship missiles because we are on the same side of the USN. Harpoon is out there but about to go out of service. Annoys the heck out of me. The French, Italians, and Spanish don’t go to sea without missiles; heck even the Germans have just bought the SAAB system.

    • So are the other parties advocating just ASW and AAW capability for their surface ships? UK has great SSNs and getting back into the carrier game, but that is the same folly as USN for too long — Relying on planes and subs to counter enemy surface ships.

      • Well we will have a capability gap as Harpoon leaves service. Many lay persons who take an interest in naval matters think that warships should leave the wall armed. But many professionals and those follow the government line say that yes there is a gap but that will be eventually plugged, and yes we don’t need to do everything because we are on the same side as the USN. Though I understand the latter position up to a point it seems how can I say a convenient get out for a lack of funding and shortsightedness. The fundamental role of a navy is to sink the ships of the enemy. You could be high minded and say the navy’s role is to do as the government bids. But playing semantics and double think doesn’t hide the hollowness of the RN. The Astutes are very good boats but we will only have 7 replacing 12. The force level now is such I would be questioning whether I would deploy them without some form of ‘top cover’ in a time of conflict. That is to say deploy them in the North Atlantic and Norwegian Sea where there will be assets to track warships from other states and perhaps interdicts, but not the Indian Ocean. I believe I am right The latter is the only standing task I believe for RN SSN’s. We have few escorts and T45 goes to sea with no ASW capability which was cut to save budget; 6 T45 replace the 10 T42 that did have an ASW capability. When T26 comes on line there will be only 8 of them. The T31 program seems to want to achieve the impossible. My problem with the lack of surface anti-ship capability isn’t that as part of the total cost missiles are quiet cheap. (It seems odd that our European allies have the capability, but the RN doesn’t.) It is that there is a certain smug clevereness about the MoD that doesn’t really bear inspection. The new carriers are awesome ships, but the cost to the RN of global presence and budget is probably too much. If we don’t have to do X or Y because the USN does it, why are we replicating the USN’s most outstanding capability ‘big deck aviation’? Especially when the USN is short of escorts and soon will have a submarine gap.

  3. Pingback: “Precision-Guided Munitions: Background and Issues for Congress” –CRS | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

    • Keep in mind the Marines are planning on buying NSM as well.

      Their new strategy of becoming quickly-deployable coastal artillery will require NSM or a missile like it to be purchased.

      I believe they’ve chose NSM but have not been able to purchase it in number.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s