“Guard the Coast from High-End Threats” –USNI

180710-G-ZV557-1313 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 10, 2018) Crewmembers aboard the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) check the flight deck July 10, 2018, alongside the flight crew of the a U.S. Navy HSC-4 Black Knight MH-60 helicopter 15 miles south of Oahu, Hawaii, while in support of RIMPAC 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weydert

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.

7 thoughts on ““Guard the Coast from High-End Threats” –USNI

  1. All the more reason for a dual-service variant of the Webber to be used here and abroad.
    I would opt for a torpedo to start with on a longer than Webber hull. I am sure DAMEN can design that rather well.

  2. It’s always fun to discuss the sexy stuff: vessels and weapon systems, but one of the threats you are speaking of, Chuck, is really defeated way before a vessel or weapon gets within operational range. The covert attack by merchant ship is defeated by CGI and FEACT/ACTEUR, FIST teams, and data synthesis and analysis with systems like MAGNet and the smart & dedicated people who work them. It *appears* those systems are working, as there has not been such an attack in the 16 years since their organization/reorganization since 09/11. However, the white hats must be right every time, whereas the black hats need only be right once. Therefore, I’d say these programs could always use more resources. I think if information comes to light there is a threat which isn’t identified until the last minute, an airborne asset is more likely to have the response time and not have to worry about being too out-of-position to respond. Sounds like an Air National Guard or AFRes mission, just as they have the 24/7 stand-by air defense zone fighters, there should be some assets dedicated to anti-ship warfare.

    Now that the post cold war is getting chilly again with China and Russia rattling sabres, I agree the CG needs to up it’s military capability. The biggest problem I see with this is that the CG has an entire generation of personnel who see themselves and the service as law enforcement and life-saving. We’ve had input on posts here in the past by members who have shown a strong aversion to any higher militarism in the CG. That is going to need addressed.

    The practical military problem which I see the most vulnerability to a surprise attack from a state-actor, like Russia, China, Iran, or No.Korea is a submarine attack. Many of the tools to respond to this threat also fold nicely into MDA, counter-smuggling, and even SAR, as the tools/capabilities/operational profile can serve multiple missions. The addition of sensors and weapons is one piece of that capability.

    Another, arguably more important piece, is intel/operational synthesis. During the Cold War the CG Area Commanders were also commanders of the MDZs (East & West), and this seems to have disappeared post-09/11, as the combination of the end of the cold war and re-focus on terrorism, made the capability appear antiquated. Well, “it’s baaAAAaack…” This too is a relatively easy fix, though. The Area Op Centers simply need to be tied in to the Air Force assets which I proposed above, and training for the additional threat made a priority. (This would be good training for the Navy subs and their officer corps as well.) Of course, this will also make the Areas “Joint Commands” as USAF and USN assets will be at their disposal.

    • getting rids of rates and capabilities has helped the young’uns to think less that they are a military force. we don’t do sonar any more, we carry little pop gun, which are fine for dealing with dopers. pretty much useless in a shooting war. when the 270s go away we won’t even mount a 76 mm gun/3 inch. are we just a constabulary ? I remember dad, a sonar man, bragging about bagging nuke s u.s. subs during war games. we’d be lucky to find one on the surface now.

    • Great comment. I am all for more and better Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA).

      Could definitely use tight links between NorthCom and Coast Guard Commanders. Add in the new reestablished Second Fleet and Third Fleet.

      Always thought neglect of the Maritime Defense Zone Concept after the collapse of the Soviet Union was a mistake, because the thrust was always countering covert, asymmetric attacks and that possibility never went away. The Commands still exist somewhere on paper, I believe, but fell into disuse, so might as well not exist.

      As for getting an air asset to respond to an unconventional attack by a staged from a merchant ship, I don’t think the Air Force or Air National Guard is the answer. First you have to add a lot of additional on duty personnel and a lot more flying hours to prepare them for the mission. Despite the speed crews need to be briefed, They need to work through air traffic control, and they are necessarily that close to our ports. Once they get on scene how is the crew going to recognize the target, that is not a trivial point for Air Force Crews.

      As I have mentioned before, we might want to equip many of our units with laser designators so that we could identify targets for our sister services.

      It would be good if Coast Guard Districts could establish agreements with local Air Force, Navy, and Marine air stations so we could call on them for assistance and exercise with them, but unless response to these kinds of attacks are sanctioned by JCS, it is not likely to happen. It is not likely to happen in any case if the Coast Guard does not push for it.

      Navy Maritime Patrol Aircraft might be more helpful, assuming they are flying with weapons aboard. (There is a temptation not to because weapons can be traded for more fuel and consequently more endurance.) P-3s and P-8s can carry Harpoon and will presumably also carry Naval Strike Missile, but perhaps their ASW torpedoes might be useful as well. The Mk46 mod 5 torpedo reportedly has anti-surface capability. Hopefully it was continued in the Mk54 torpedo.

      As for the attitude of our people. I think the young people will come around as the threats become clear. The problem is the senior leadership may not recognize what needs to be done and how much the Coast Guard has to contribute to the effort.

      In terms of personnel, the Coast Guard is larger than the Royal Navy.

      Our most powerful European allies, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, and Italy each have fewer than 20 ASW capable surface ships. The USN has fewer than 100 and is working up to about 120. Upgrading the NSCs and OPCs planned, we could have 36.

  3. First you have to identify the “bad” merchant ship. Start point is Port State Control for intel gathering. IOW if the ship hasn’t been registered, and its cargo recorded, then it needs to be watching WHILE inbound. Second is range. MPA would be nice to use and powerful platforms IF IF enough of them were flying. Shorter range UAVs nee RPVs flown off cooperating cutters can cover a lot of area.
    Defense in depth, you know

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