What Frustrates Me? –an Apparent Lack of Transparent Long Term Planning

A reader recently asked me, “What frustrates you, Chuck? … what is the one or two key areas that you think the USCG needs?  A new ship design, up-arming, or missiles?”
My answer, actually it is the apparent failure to plan.

Rant to Follow

Maybe there is a plan, but if there is, it has not been shared with the Congress or the public. Consequently there has been no opportunity to build support for the plan.

Despite direction from Congress to provide a 25 year shipbuilding plan, none has been provided. Is the hold up in the Coast Guard or the Department? Who knows.

Our shipbuilding “Program of Record” (POR) was last baselined in 2005, as part of the defuncted “Deepwater” program. It was based not on need, but on expected funding.

An examination of need was made, in the form of an “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study.” A report was completed in 2009. It was reevaluated in 2011, resulting in lower requirements that still indicated that we needed assets far in excess of the program of record. Results were not made public until 2012.
There has been no reexamination of our needs since then, in spite of the fact that the Fleet Mix Study was based on an assumption of the use of the “Crew Rotation Concept” on the National Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter. It also anticipated deployment of shore based Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), large vertical take off ship based UAS, and networking that would provide a common tactical picture. So far, no land based UAS, only a much smaller less capable ship based UAS, and no real common tactical picture. The only pleasant surprise has been the utility of the Webber class cutters.
I have a half assed Operations Research background. It pains me to see that we are apparently not using the planning tools that are available.
When we present a well considered and fact based plan, the Congress has been responsive. They have supported the program of record, and are funding icebreakers in response to the High Latitude Study.
  • We sorely need an updated Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Plan.
  • From this and consideration of other needs we need to develop a 30 year Shipbuilding and Aviation Procurement Plan.
  • We need to update these planning tools on a regular basis. We can expect that they will get better with each iteration.
Normally the leadership changes every four years. It is reasonable that we have a planning cycle that follows this pattern. We can give the new Commandant and his staff a year to work with his predecessor’s planning products before initiating a new cycle. A year in he should initiate a new Fleet Mix Plan. Using it and other inputs, a new 30 year Shipbuilding and Aviation Procurement Plan should be completed well before the new Commandant is selected. 
Only tangentially related, but a budget document we seldom see, is the Coast Guard’s unfunded priority list. Almost three years ago, I did one of my own. Not much has changed.
Thanks to Peter for kicking off this line of thought. 

11 thoughts on “What Frustrates Me? –an Apparent Lack of Transparent Long Term Planning

    • We seem to have forgotten that sailors are frequently tired, sleep deprived, and under stress. Going to sea is like Clausewitz said of war, “Everything … is very simple. But the simplest thing is difficult.”

      The fewer options you have, the better.

      • @ Chuck Hill.

        IF the Flight IV “Arleigh Burke” never go cancelled in 2014, it would have sported a crew of ~170 officers and sailors and relied heavily on computer automation…

  1. What frustrates me about our naval and Coast Guard assets are two areas: First, it normally takes too long to implement a program, and second, the entrenched belief that it HAS TO BE THIS WAY and NO HIGHWAY.

    The “Deepwater Program” is a decades old idea that only came into fruition with the FRC, OPC, and NSC. It has taken a looooooong time to produce the “Deepwater” ships and the OPC with no OPC being built yet and placed into the water as of 2020. The FRCs are finally completing the build program and I’m sure that they are a welcome relief, so too for the additional NSCs that are very welcome above the eight NSCs originally planned.

    The problem here is that the “Deepwater Program” takes ship designs when Russia and China were not building the new ships being seen today. The USCG with its maritime fishery enforcement and Anti-Drug War seemed settled with the armament aboard. There wouldn’t be any overseas deployments or hostile peer nations to combat the Coast Guard back then. The designs for the NSCs and OPCs were fine and capable for THAT time.

    The same goes for the Polar Security Cutters (PSCs)—takes too long to enter service. It’s a shame that the Polar Star, 43 years old, still sails to the Antarctic, polluting smoke, I might add. It’s held together by bandages and duct tape, figuratively. Yes, the USCG planned for new ones, but it took a long time for Congress to fund them even though Congress acknowledged the urgent need and President Obama wanted them urgently built. The PSCs are being realized under a new President and won’t enter service for this term….delays and politics.

    Secondly, the entrenched belief that these plans and designs are set in stone. This blog’s (and other defense blogs) call to up-arm the USCG hasn’t yielded results. The 57mm and CIWS or MK38 remain the weapons of choice aboard the NSC and OPC with no deviations due to the heavier armed peer nations’ ships. There are no provisions for torpedoes, 76mm, missiles, ATGMs, armed drones, or a new corvette. How entrenched is this? There is no other “highway option” down the road for the USCG, unlike the Navy which could just RFP for a new ship design. The USN seems to be the distant detached brother to the USCG, offering little support and guidance in changing times with Red Force navy rising. The USCG’s entrenched ways makes for a powerful Blue Force against the Drug War occurring for decades, but a seriously weak force against the Red Force navy maturing in recent years. CIMSEC’s Fiction Week offers good glimpses as to future of naval combat (against peer nations) and there is no mention of the USCG Cutters even participating in those stories. Kicking the can down the road just ran out of road with no destination or road attractions.

    The PSCs will be unarmed with “provisions” for containerized cruise missiles. True, the USA does have missiles able to launch from HiMARS racks inside shipping containers. But will the USCG be trained in this—was anyone? Thus, with entrenchment, I doubt that the PSCs will be armed when the Russians are launching an Arctic icebreaker with a possible 100mm cannon, not even a 57mm or 76mm cannon. A 5-inch gun is 127mm.

  2. What frustrates me is the lack of real coordination and cooperation on the “National Fleet” concept. Everyone knows if a major or prolonged war starts, the USCG will be playing a major role, yet, many within the CG and the Navy, are happy to ignore/deny this and only talk about how different the two services are…

    • Bill, I agree with you completely. Both services show a lack of real support for the National Fleet concept. The CG I think because it’s always fearful of being absorbed or controlled by big Navy. Big Navy because it sees the possibility of losing budget dollars to an entity it cannot control.

      The worst instincts of both organizations get in the way of developing a true national fleet optimized for or at least ready for war.

    • Bill, you know that I agree 100%. “Navy, this is Coast Guard, we need to talk.”
      was my most viewed post of the year.

      The Navy is sized for war, but the Coast Guard is sized for its peacetime missions with provisions for wartime missions added at the margins when it looks appropriate. So our planning, at least theoretically, has to start with the peacetime missions unless we are actively engaged in conflict. We need to find out what sort of platforms, and how many we need to do the peacetime missions. Then we need to ask, what sorts of additional capabilities or weight and space reservations make sense as a hedge against the possibility of war.

      Ultimately though, we need to do all the various kinds of planning iteratively and continuously. As circumstances change, plans for the legacy assets also change.

    • I agree with your perspective completely, Chuck: the CG has many peacetime missions which it must be able to perform every day. However, we all also know how quickly warfare takes place these days, so “equipped for but not with” isn’t acceptable as a solution. With things like this ( https://thediplomat.com/2019/12/whats-in-the-growing-russia-china-iran-trilateral-convergence/ ) happening, the USN is not currently configured/equipped to handle a 3-ocean & 2-sea war with two near-peers and a strategically-located enemy. The CG could add nearly 100 ships to the USN if a major conflict occurs. I think of 1942 and how, at times, the US had 1 operational carrier and zero battleships. We were lucky then. It would be better if we were prepared, especially when handwriting is on the wall. I’ve suggested before USNR ASW helo squadrons should drill or spend annual training with/aboard CG Cutters. Put a small TAS on all large cutters and the same could be done with USNR Sonar Techs. Chuck came up with the idea of a torpedo, tuned as an acoustic “screw/rudder” killer. The same tubes could have ASW torpedoes… There’s so much which could be done for so little, and here the nation sits, sticking it’s head in the sand and the two services being territorial. :-/

      • “So much could be done for so little”. That is the frustrating part. We are not talking about developing a distributed network of USUVs firing lasers and hypersonic missiles. We are talking about things like a larger gun or a torpedo. Being able to host a Navy aviation detachment. No real technical hurdles. Just will, training and vision.

  3. The lack of transparency around long term planning as well as the lack of flexibility around the plan arrived at long ago lead me to believe there is no real long term plan.

    The Coast Guard has the appearance of an organization that bounces from budget year to budget year just hoping for the best.

    The planning done as part of Deepwater is as of this point very outdated as the geopolitical situation has changed. The assumptions and risks that drove Deepwater have very much changed.

    If the Technology business worked that way we’d still be producing VCRs.

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