Navy, this is Coast Guard, we need to talk

Look, I know you are in trouble. As much as we might kid each other, when it is time to fight, I’m your best friend, and I want to help. But you seem in denial, or maybe you are just up to your ass in alligators, and too preoccupied to think about how I might help. 

Numbers of ships is way down. You don’t even have enough escorts to protect the highest priority merchant shipping. You have had trouble bringing new classes on line. You are having trouble keeping the ships you have properly maintained, and you are having trouble manning the ships you have. Our shipbuilding industry has lost the ability to surge production of complex vessels. We don’t have enough trained mariners to man the shipping needed for a prolonged conflict. 

It hasn’t mattered much since there has not been much competition, but that is changing. 

The Chinese Navy is adding ships faster than you are. Their ships are starting to look very impressive. They have a robust ship building industry, and huge merchant marine and fishing fleets to backstop their Navy. They even have more Coast Guard ships than we do. 

It that were not enough, the Russian Navy is rebuilding, although they are a long way from as capable as the old Soviet Navy, but, worst case, we might have to fight them both, along with some minor hangers-on who have their own scores to settle. 

Meanwhile most of our allies, who may or may not help, have been coasting, letting their capabilities decline.

I know you are trying to fix this, but maybe I can help at least a little bit, if you will tell me what we can do.  


USCGC Mellon seen here launching a Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile in 1990.

The Coast Guard used to be an armed naval force prepared for war. We came out of World War II with an ASW mission, and while our assets got older, the mission continued. In the late 80s we cut the number of ASW assets, but modernized the best of our ships, upgrading their ASW equipment and adding anti-ship cruise missiles.

Then, we all got a break. The Soviet Union collapsed and the need for ASW escorts pretty much disappeared. The Navy downsized and the Coast Guard removed all ASW equipment and the anti-ship missile.

We had almost 30 years without a major naval threat, but it looks like that is changing.

The US Coast Guard is the US Navy’s closest ally, but it seems there is little coordination between the two in defining Coast Guard roles in a major conflict. We certainly don’t see any evidence in the way the cutters are currently being equipped.

In terms of personnel, the Coast Guard is larger than the UK’s Royal Navy or the French Navy. The new cutters are comparable in many respects to frigates or corvettes. Looks like we are going to have 64 Webber class patrol craft similar in capabilities to the Navy’s Cyclone class. Plus we have over 200 aircraft.

A U.S. Coast Guard C-130 participates in forward arming and refueling point (FARP) operations during Arctic Expeditionary Capabilities Exercise (AECE) in Adak, Alaska on Sept. 18, 2019. US Marine Corps Photo

Being combat ready is one of the Coast Guard’s eleven missions, but obviously we are not.

Though there has been some thought regarding the use of Coast Guard assets for limited wars in the tradition of their use in Vietnam and the Gulf Wars, consideration of the possibility of a larger conflict is nowhere evident in the way these assets are currently equipped. They may not even be adequately armed to deal with the full range of terrorist threats.

Upgrading the Bertholf class NSCs and the Offshore Patrol Cutters could add up to 36 light frigates to the national fleet. The Navy would need to provide some additional equipment, but that cost would be far less than the cost of adding similar ships to the Navy, and the difference in operating costs between ships with or without the upgrades is very small.

The Bertholf class National Security Cutters and the Offshore Patrol Cutters share systems with the Littoral Combat ships and the planned FFG(X). Exploitation of some of the additional systems developed for the LCS should be possible. Huntington Ingalls has already done basic design work on upgrades to the National Security Cutter class as part of a marketing effort.

There are opportunities for synergy between the Coast Guard and the Navy reserve such as flying Navy ASW helicopters from Coast Guard ships.

The first of the Offshore Patrol Cutters has yet to be completed. Significant upgrades should be possible. The program is just getting started with the first of a projected 25 expected to be delivered in 2021. It may be possible to develop a more capable, better armed “B”class.

OPC “Placemat”

Potential Missions: 

  • Upgraded NSCs and OPCs could escort priority shipping from the US coasts to the theater of operations. They may not be ideal, but they are ships we will have.
  • They and the Webber class supported by Coast Guard aviation assets could sweep the seas of hostile merchant shipping and fishing vessels that might be used to provide intelligence, land agents, or lay mines.
  • Those same assets could help enforce a blockade.
  • We can do Combat SAR and provide rescue services for when vital supply ships are inevitably lost. We can’t afford to loose trained mariners.
  • We can protect bases from unconventional attacks.
  • Buoy tenders can place sensors on the sea floor to detect enemy activity or lay something like captor mines.
  • Some of our ships can support unmanned systems for mine countermeasures.

If we go to war, “If it floats, it fights” will apply to Coast Guard vessels as well as Navy. They need to be ready. We need to be equipped and trained for whatever the Navy wants us to do.

59 thoughts on “Navy, this is Coast Guard, we need to talk

  1. Basically, the heads of the USCG and USN needs to be locked in a room together and they need come up with a Viable plan and Don’t let them out until they come up with a Viable plan in writing.

      • Not an issue at all. It is, by statute and by tradition, a branch of the military. It comes under operational command of the Navy as needed. In fact, there are a number of units under operational control of various elements of the Navy right now. Combat equipment is Navy equipment, supplied by the Navy. Almost all of such equipment on the current designs is also used on either the Burke Class DDGs, or by the LCS classes.

        The CG also brings a whole host of specialized skills and technologies to the mix. They are experts at hostile boarding and seizure, search and rescue, ice operations, disaster relief, port security, anti piracy operations, etc. they are second to none in these areas and do it for a tiny fraction of the Navy budget.

      • @ Kevin Dougherty.

        The question was about the “Outfitting” of USCG Vessels with US Navy Weaponry. Unless the US Congress or the President makes a Formal Declaration of War, the USCG works under the banner of the DoHLS, not the DoN…

    • Not exactly accurate, the USCG does not fall under USN in times of war, it can but has not, some forward deployed units yes but not the whole organization.

      • @Dave
        yes it does dude and You seem to be clueless because the USCG in times of War falls under the Navy but in peacetime falls under the DHS.

      • The Coast Guard will come under Navy command “in times of war, or when the President so directs.” Be careful interpreting “in times of war,” because that means at any time when Congress declares war, and that hasn’t happened since the beginning of World War II. Coast Guard units regularly deploy under the Operational Control (OPCON) of the Navy, such as Operation Market Time in Vietnam and during the conflicts in Southwest Asia, but they do not “fall under the Navy,” when so deployed, they are independent units of the Coast Guard all the time.

  2. The US Navy isn’t the exchequer of the purse, the US House of Representatives IS. And the US Navy doesn’t distribute Weapons Systems, the US Senate DOES. So pointing fingers at either one, does both of them an injustice, when both have little of ANY input as to what their budget is or what can be purchased from that budget…

      • As of 1 March 2003, The transfer of the USCG Administrative Control from the US Department of the Treasury to the US Department of Homeland Security. The USCG reports directly to the Secretary of Homeland Security. However, under 14 USC 3 as amended by section 211 of the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2006, upon the declaration of war and when Congress so directs in the direction, or when the President directs, the Coast Guard operates under the Department of Defense as a service in the Department of the Navy. As I recall, no such order has be given, either by the Congress and/or by the President. So any and all USCG procurement goes through the “DoHLS” and not the “DoN”…

      • This is exactly right Chuck. It starts with a strategy and a plan.

        Nobody will spend money on weapons and sensors without a plan. Nor should they.

        You hit the nail on the head. The Navy and Coast Guard needs to jointly develop a realistic strategy and plan.

        We sometimes talk about additional weapons on this forum. In reality, the weapons chosen should help support the strategy. Do we want the cutter to help fight pirates and skiffs or do ASW against a peer competitor? Convoy escort?

        In reality, the Navy must come to the table and drive the analysis.

      • @Secundius, as I said the Navy provides weapons for the Coast Guard. The are “Navy type, Navy owned.” It is not a Coast Guard procurement. They are part of the Navy pool of equipment. The Coast Guard does not own the weapons on our cutters, the Navy does.

  3. ASW, think NSC with its noisy diesels and propellers not suited to ASW as they will degrade any ship sonar returns to make them near useless, but it has the flight deck and hanger for a ASW helo with active and passive sonobuoys. The OPC maybe be better option but would need upgrades with silenced DG’s, more powerful EM’s and optimized propeller for lower cavitation/noise (propellers are the main source of noise but are also very important for vessel efficiency).

    Current gen submarines with their anechoic coating sound absorbing sonar rubber tiles makes them very difficult to detect, limiting the effectiveness of towed array passive sonars and with active sonars limited to short range, 5nm?, very little info released of actual results of trials in open sea or in the more noisy environment of the littorals.

    Possible in the future it will get an order an magnitude more difficult to detect submarines as they move on to using bubble impregnated coatings, if the new tech works as claimed, a big IF, will make submarines near invisible to the sound frequencies used in sonar using 4mm silicon rubber coating with 2mm bubbles which can absorb more than 99% of sonar energy cutting down reflected sound by more than 10,000 fold.

    From <

  4. I think this is on target. When you get on line and look from satellite at everything China has in the water you see where the numbers game is a huge problem regardless of any air or sub surface advantage. They could almost bumper boat us to death. Get whatever is easy to integrate, mass produced, and onto anything that stands a chance in a fight like CIWS, Searam, Mk 38, Griffin, Naval Strike Missile. Frankly, until LCS gets Nulka and SEWIP all the coast guard cutters have a certain potential to be more useful in a high end fight. At least get towed decoys on them, plan for the MH-60 to deploy, figure out how to mount a RAM or CIWS in place of the Mk 38 on the OPC, knock that 3rd boat off the top in favor of some anti ship missiles. Get ambitious and put in the 16 cell tactical length Mk 41 on the NSCs.

  5. The US Navy has so many older decommissioned vessels, that are put up in moth balls. But with minimal work could be up and ready quicker than trying to build new ships. Just a thought. Bring back the best of those ships. And who would think about these older ships in the fight again.??

  6. About half the Coast Guard’s eleven missions are outside the DHS including military readiness. The Congress was very concerned that those missions not be neglected when the CG was transferred to DHS required a report to ensure that they continued to be performed.

    • Good. At least there’s a report. If the balloon goes up with China we can show them the report. That should do it.

      Ok. I’m being sarcastic but I have a point. I dont mean personal offense.

      Beurocratic reports will only take you so far and are sometimes slanted to make things appear better than they really are. There are careers to be made and few are likely to rock that boat. Whitewashing of reports and metrics is a real phenomenon.

      It’s hard to look at the situation and not see that more could be done. Its starts with leadership brokering a real dialog between the Navy and Coast Guard. Vision. Strategy. Plan. Execution.

      • Could not agree more. My point was only that the DHS does not have final authority. Congress has repeatedly given the Coast Guard larger budgets than requested by DHS. If the Navy and the Coast Guard can come to an agreement and present a case to the both the administration and the Congress, there is at least the possibility action will be taken.

    • No they don’t. CG is better without Navy. Make another service, specialize part of the Navy, IDC, but Coat Guard is really good at what it does for reason. Logic would tell you that you don’t mess with a good thing by bringing it down with some one else’s problems. Maybe learn from us, study what makes us better, but don’t make their burden ours.

      • I am sympathetic to your point of view but do you think the CG will be able to sit out a major conflict and say “it’s not my job”?

        The CG will get called to help as they always have.

        The CG fleet is a national asset and would be utilized. Feelings will have little to do with it.

        It’s better to work out strategy, equipment and training now. The next war may very well be a “come as you are” affair.

        I’m convinced steps could be taken which would not break the CG but would better position it to be of more useful service in a serious naval conflict.

      • I think we can all agree, that we don’t want to the Coast Guard to become “Navy Lite”, but when the country finds itself in desperate need of warships, it would be criminal not to have adapted the Coast Guard’s larger ships which are 80 or 90% of a frigate with crews that are 80 or 90% that of a frigate and give them the additional 10 or 20% needed to make them useful as warships.

        It might be as simple as building extra LCS ASW mission modules to put on cutters in war time manned by Navy crews either from their Reserves or excess LCS crews, since they each have two crews.

        The ASW Helicopter might be from the Navy Reserve.

        Beyond that, I would replace the CIWS on the FRCs and the 25mm Mk38 on the NSCs and the OPCs with a SeaRAM. Then maybe look at adding ESSM.

        As I have noted before, absent other alternatives for dealing with a terrorist attack using a medium to large ships there may be good reason for our larger cutters to have anti-ship cruise missiles in peacetime.

        When we want to do these things is a question open for discussion. Do we want to implement fully, or just do design work, perhaps prototype with one ship. It depends on how quickly we see the need developing and how quickly we could implement changes.

  7. Where’s the SONAR dome? Where are the torpedo tubes? It’s big enough for a 5 inch 54 instead of the Oto popgun…CIWS (Christ, It Won’t Shoot!) could also be added for SSD. This thing is not a military vessel by any(italics) stretch of the imagination. It is good for nothing in warfare. It’s not even worth wasting a torpedo to sink the thing. It’s a very good rescue and LE platform. If that’s all its missions are going to be, fine I retract all my comments, but it is not worth a gob of spit on a stove in a conflict. I don’t know if Cooperative Engagement is an option for this vessel, I don’t think it would be worthwhile providing the tactical data links because this boat is toothless. It is a high-endurance cop car that floats…and that’s it.

      • The CG was brandishing Harpoons and performing the ASW mission into the late 1980s or early 1990s. This has been done before and not that long ago.

        If it helps, something like NSM could be thought of as dual purpose. It would be a big step up over the 57mm or 25mm in defending against the sort of rogue merchant ship scenario Chuck has effectively articulated. It also had military advantages though as now a potential adversary has to at least be wary of CG ships within 100nm of its assets. Distributed lethality theory.

        Dual purpose. Small steps. Not trying to turn the cutters into Kirovs. Identify things that could be fairly easily done to make them more effective across a broader range of scenarios.

    • Hello Nicky. I saw that. I read what I could find about it. Not many details available.

      As best I can figure it’s an OPV, built to commercial standards with cost of ownership and modularity/upgradeability as primary goals.

      They’ve checked all the correct buzzword boxes but what is it really? Right now it’s a concept. It’s not clear how big it is or what the powerplant is. How are they achieving that modularity? We saw in the case of LCS that modularity did not guarantee success. Where will the mission modules come from? How do they get integrated into the Combat Mgmt System?

      Unless I missed some relevant docs, there are more questions than answers currently.

      Kongsberg has a good relationship with US Industry and Military. I’m sure they will shop the concept. Perhaps we will learn more.

      I dont think Kongsberg has ever designed or built ships before. Maybe that gives them a fresh perspective. Maybe that leads to a lot of rookie mistakes. Too soon to tell which.

  8. I deployed to the Arabian Gulf as a civilian contact mariner on several USNS vessels. USCG cutters provided THE BEST security escorts overall. A USN cruiser was the worst. Thank you to the Coast Guard!
    When I was a USN LTJG I applied to transfer my commission to the Coast Guard. The USCG added but SECNAV wouldn’t let me go. 🙄

  9. Umm, that’s a big nope! I’m waive l active duty coastguard 12+ years now. We do what we do best because we focus on OUR mission and make the best of what we have. You start lumping us in with Navy and you will lose what makes us special along the way. Absolutely not. Burn this article. Forget you read this. Our men and women are really good at what we do and we have pride in it. If we wanted Navys mission we would have found them at the recruiting office.

    • When the country is in a real war, a war like WWI or WWII, then it becomes our mission. It is best we be prepared for it if it comes.

      I am not talking about the types of wars we have had in Iraq and Afghanistan. If we get in a fight with China or Russia or both, we will have to adjust our priorities. We will not worry so much about intercepting drug runners in the Eastern Pacific.

  10. Coast Guard used to be more friendly toward Merchant Seaman until Homeland Security took over. Now, like pulling teeth for proper assistance. My 1st cousin – Admiral Kenneth Braithwaite of USN; now Ambassador to Norway; had less to say of the efficiency of our USCG. Time to put a boot into someone’s butt to get all our Navies on the same page.

  11. Seeded promote aims too narrow an integrate.
    We excel by overhead Intel.
    Detection (sensory) Marvels effectively eliminate veiled opponents. There is no more hiding. There is no more unknown.
    When that time arrives all hands are integrated by central command.
    Dry runs before this reduce margins of errors for the true event.

  12. Pingback: Will Guest on Midrats Podcast Sunday | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

  13. All I will say is that the decline in the RN isn’t the choice of the British peoples but that of their Government who are more interested in Europe.

    As I exciting as I find our new carriers we should have been pragmatic and built ships needed for our collective defence; escorts and SSN’s.

    I apologise on behalf of my country. 😦

    • Ahhh but X, the people vote in the Government. There is that old adage, in a democracy the people get the government they deserve.

  14. Pingback: Wednesday What We’re Reading (Oct. 23, 2019) | The Soapbox

    • I doubt very much that the Coast Guard will employ anything bigger than the “Hellfire Longbow” Missile onboard. And even a Hellfire will punch a hole in ~11.22-inches (285mm) of Composite Armor. And as far as I know, NO naval vessel in the world is building ships using Composite Armor Materials. Unless the vessel is a Sailing Vessel with Old Stock Depleted Uranium embedded in the Keel as weight ballast…

      • @ Chuck Hill.

        “Hellfire” warhead is a tandem warhead! First is a 20# HEAT to penetrate the armor follow by a 18# Metal Augmented Fragmentation Charge. RHA armor isn’t Composite Armor…

      • @ Chuck Hill.

        285mm of Ural Composite Armor is equivalent to ~427.5mm (~16.8-inches) of RHA Armor. Last I looked no one including the United States are still sailing Battleships. Even the Double Hulled Super Tankers aren’t able to withstand a Blast Hit of a Hellfire Missile. And all it takes is One Hit near the Engine Room or Fuel Bunker to cripple if not outright destroy a ship…

      • @Secundius, No that is not true. Having an explosion in the engineroom room does not guarantee the engines will stop working. Marine diesel engines are very tough. A projectile that penetrates the hull will not necessarily penetrate the engine, particularly if it explodes on contact with the hull or after penetrating the hull.

      • @ Chuck Hill.

        Like YOU I’m preaching to the choir! That being said, in 1990 the USCG were still using the Mk.12 5-inch Naval Gun! I honestly don’t see the USCG going back to using the Harpoon Missile or even the NSM, unless Donald Trump signs an Executive Order ordering it to be done…

      • @Secundius, When the Hamilton class cutters were built the Navy was also putting 5″/38 Mk12 mounts on their frigates being built at the same time. (Garcia and Brooke class). When we built the 270 foot WMECs, they also had the same gun as the frigates being built at the time, the Oliver Hazard Perry Class.

        Arming cutters with ASCMs is really a question that has to be pushed by at least one of several parties that will have to approve it, the CG, the Navy, the Executive, or Congress. The House committee has actually pushed better armament for the Coast Guard in the recent past.

        Actually I am more concerned that we have an ASW capability than an anti-ship capability although that does have a possible anti-terrorism element.

      • That the guns have gotten progressively smaller (5″ on the 378s, 76mm on the 270s, and 57mm on the NSCs) probably reflects the fact that guns are seen as less and less important as an anti-ship weapon, yet the Coast Guard continues to see them that way and has not taken the logical step and replaced them in that role with missiles or torpedoes.

        An earlier post on why we may now be less able to forcibly stop a ship, then we were in the 1920s:

      • @ Chuck Hill.

        As formidable as the Mk.12 was, it still only had a range of ~16,000-meters using a Fragmentation Projectile and ~8,800-meters using an HE Projectile. And there was limited Fire Control for the system…

    • Yes the original firecontrol system on the 378s was limited to 12,000 yards unless you used an analog computer you wound up with a key, but it was in some ways better then what we have on the NSCs now, at least for dealing with surface targets.

Leave a Reply

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

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

Facebook photo

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

Connecting to %s