The February issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article by Cdr. Brian Smicklas, USCG, that warns the Coast Guard may not be ready to respond to attacks on the Maritime Transportation System (MTS).
Fortunately, this article is outside the paywall so it should be accessible to all. Some selected paragraphs to give a flavor of the argument:
“… it would be foolish to assume the MTS is safe from attack. Considering its economic and military importance and its limited protection, an assault on it should be considered among an adversary’s most likely courses of action. The risk of an unprepared Coast Guard overseeing the protection of the MTS in the era of renewed interstate conflict can no longer be overlooked.”
“The Coast Guard must recommence “guarding the coast,” including the active deterrence and detection of threats from peer adversaries. Doing so would augment Navy high-demand/low-density (HDLD) warship capabilities allocated to combatant commanders while providing the Coast Guard a true course toward maritime homeland-defense competencies and renewed relevance against the threat of interstate conflict. Such a course not only would enhance national defense but also would provide the Coast Guard a fiscal lifeline to budgetary stability in the face of government shutdowns through alignment with fully funded DoD imperatives. ”
“To be clear, this should not include placing the Coast Guard in DoD. Were the service required to move to that side of the Potomac, it quickly would find failure in the zero-sum competition for DoD dollars. Remaining relevant through the dual roles of homeland security and homeland defense in an era of interstate conflict is a strategically smart position for both the Coast Guard and its executive agency. However, the keys to remaining relevant to both DHS and DoD will be increased capability and lethality in the face of peer adversaries. ”
“Enhancing the Coast Guard to address the most pressing threats facing the MTS welds the Coast Guard to national defense priorities and has the potential to demonstrate the highest level of defense and budgetary relevance for the nation’s smallest armed service. The nation must up-arm the Coast Guard to enable the Navy to fight and win. “
We have addressed many of the possibilities he discusses, including the need to protect US ports including Military Load Out ports, “Ruminating on Homeports While Playing the Red Cell.” He suggests reintroducing the Coast Guard’s ASW mission advocated here numerous times. He even talks about the possibility of using the hyper-velocity projectile and 5″ gun.
In terms of priorities the Coast Guard should first prepare to deal with covert attacks launched from merchant ships that might be the opening gambit in a larger conflict. Adding an ASW capability is certainly doable and will be needed if there is a prolonged conflict, but hopefully the Navy is already tracking potentially hostile submarines and Navy maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8 do operate from the continental US so that threat is addressed at least to some extent. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of NORAD against cruise missiles from unexpected directions, but that is probably not something that even AAW missile equipped Coast Guard cutters would be in a position to do something about without significant warning.
On the other hand, covert minelaying by merchant ships, commando raids launched from merchant ships, or perhaps even merchant ships with containerized missile launchers might be interdicted by Coast Guard units. To deal with these types of threats, every cutter from Webber class on up, and perhaps some of our aircraft, need an ability to quickly and reliably, forcibly stop even a very large vessel. 25 mm and even 57 mm guns are not going to cut it. We need to tell the Navy we need such a weapon.
Because we are the “Coast Guard,” for some crazy reason, people will expect us to guard the coast.