“U.S. Coast Guard’s VADM Linda Fagan (Pacific Command) answers why the Large Coast Guard Cutters Do Not Up-Arm” by Peter Ong

We have a guest author, Peter Ong. He reports on the response to a question he asked during the Surface Navy Association 2020 virtual meeting. Peter forwarded a draft copy of this to PACAREA to confirm that they had no issues with the post and received an affirmative response. 


PACIFIC OCEAN (May 3, 2020) U.S. Coast Guard Cutter, James (WSML 754), front, fleet replenishment oiler USNS Laramie (T-AO 203), middle, and U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Pinckney (DDG 91) transit the Pacific Ocean during a vertical replenishment-at-sea May 3, 2020. James, Laramie and Pinckney are deployed to the U.S. Southern Command area of responsibility to support Joint Interagency Task Force South’s mission, which includes counter illicit drug trafficking in the Caribbean and Eastern Pacific. (U.S. Navy photo by Air Crewman (Helicopter) 2nd Class Aaron Malek)

In recent years, up-arming suggestions about changing and upgrading the weapons’ fit aboard United States Coast Guard Cutters (USCGC) have been increasing on certain naval, Coast Guard, and Defense blogs and websites, including Chuck Hill’s Coast Guard Blog.  Posters and public commentators suggest that the 57mm Bofors cannons on the National Security Cutters and Offshore Patrol Cutters should be swapped out with a 76mm cannon and that lightweight torpedoes, Longbow Hellfire missiles, and long-range Anti-Ship missiles be installed to increase the range and firepower of the Cutters’ armaments.  Since the USCG Cutters use U.S. Navy weapons, these up-arming ideas seem very plausible.

At the Surface Navy Association 2020 held virtually on August 27th due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Vice Admiral Linda Fagan, USCG, Pacific Command Theater, answered my question as to why the U.S. Coast Guard does not up-arm its large Cutters with guided smart missiles, torpedoes, missiles, larger caliber guns, and other more powerful and lethal weapons to counter peer nations and future threats.

“The Navy…they forward deploy; they Force Project; this is about lethality and National Defense,” VADM Fagan said over the screen. “The Coast Guard’s role as a Law Enforcement, regulatory, Maritime security agency is different. There is no intention to turn the Coast Guard into the [U.S.] Navy with that same lethality because there is that differentiation.  The White-Hull, [the red] racing stripe, the Humanitarian ability to help nations increase [and to] protect their own sovereignty and enforce their own laws is the place where the Coast Guard brings the most value at and provides the most benefit.  I think that the reaction might be different if the Coast Guard were to sort of look like the Navy combatant.”1

VADAM Fagan goes on to say that it is important for the USCG Cutters to seamlessly integrate with the U.S. Navy, RIMPAC, and NATO ships to share the same systems, communications, and sensors to maintain and generate a level of integration, Readiness, and interoperability as part of the U.S. National Fleet strategy.  Ensuring that the White-Hull with red stripe is a symbol of the Humanitarian Mission is critical to the United States Coast Guard and complements with the U.S. Navy’s peers in the region.

Often, a USCG National Security Cutter that is deployed far overseas is escorted by a well-armed U.S. Navy AEGIS destroyer armed with long-range Anti-Ship, Anti-Air, and Anti-Submarine missiles and torpedoes through International Waters of contention.  An example would be the USCGC Bertholf’s (WMSL-750) deployment to the Indo-Pacific region where the Bertholf linked with the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54), based in Yokosuka, Japan.  Together, the two ships transited the roughly 110-mile wide Taiwan Strait in March 24-25, 2019 with the Curtis Wilbur riding armed shotgun.2

Is the weapons fit onboard these National Security Cutters (NSCs) and Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs) ironclad for the foreseeable future?  For the present time, the U.S. Coast Guard is satisfied with keeping the current “gun and no missiles” weapons fit the same and exercising the White-Hull Humanitarian symbol of Search and Rescue and Maritime Law Enforcement wherever and whenever the large Coast Guard Cutters sail into far off seas.

References:

1 Surface Navy Association 2020. Thursday, August 27th, 2020.  10:35 A.M. – 11:35 A.M. VADM Linda Fagan, USCG, Pacific Command. Virtual Streaming of Keynote Address.

2 Werner, Ben. USNI News. March 25, 2019. Referred from: https://news.usni.org/2019/03/25/42133

17 thoughts on ““U.S. Coast Guard’s VADM Linda Fagan (Pacific Command) answers why the Large Coast Guard Cutters Do Not Up-Arm” by Peter Ong

  1. “There is no intention to turn the Coast Guard into the [U.S.] Navy with that same lethality because there is that differentiation.”

    Well, isn’t that special. With deference to the Admiral Fagan’s position, the Coast Guard truning into a Navy got it 1) a retirement system first for officers then enlisted. 2) huge recapitalization of its aging fleet in the 1930s and 1960s, 3) respect of the nation during WWII and Vietnam, and 4) a greatly expanded officer corps.

    The Coast Guard is not the Life Saving Service or the Bureau of Navigation and Marine. The Coast Guard is a military service that also performs civil services. She did not mention defense operations in return the attitude of the awful 1920 and “The Lifesaver” mode.

    Fagan just proved the Coast Guard is not a military service.

    White paint is no defense against an enemy determined to kill you.

  2. Well with that statement from a flag officer, we’re definitely not going to see any up-arming anytime in the near future, which is both sad and frustrating. While I personally, do not know to what level our ships weapons should be upgraded, I do know that there should be SOME sort of upgrade. It has been discussed on this site many times and Bill Wells has always done an excellent job of making the case for why.

    I look at it from two perspectives. First, law enforcement ops. In most of the daily law enforcement operations, weapons are not used. However that doesn’t mean they couldn’t be. Sure, a go fast or semi-submersible and migrant interdiction ops do not usually require much if any, force. What if the target was a bigger ship with a steel hull? What if that ship was packed with explosives and being used on a suicide mission targeting one of our ports such as Miami, Norfolk or NYC? Would we be able to stop that ship?

    Second, from a military perspective, up-arming is a no brainer. We’ve had far more armament in the past even post WW2. When I was on the Gallatin we had the 5″ 38 main deck gun in addition to torpedo tubes. Both of those we removed as the Cold War was winding down. In today’s world, Russia is heating up again and China is an even bigger threat. The Navy is already short on ships and that is not going to change anytime soon. USCG Cutters have complemented the Navy fleet very well. Most of what our ships do, they really don’t want to do anyway. So why shouldn’t we have the tools to do that job effectively? I fully agree with the earlier assessment of “a 76mm cannon and that lightweight torpedoes, Longbow Hellfire missiles, and long-range Anti-Ship missiles be installed to increase the range and firepower of the Cutters’ armaments.”

    Do I think this will happen, no. However, I think it would be better to be prepared and have the weapons (and expertise to use them) than to need them and have one of our ships pay the price.

    At face value, up-arming our cutters makes sense. Even to a former BM2 like me.

  3. While I understand the admiral’s comments on CG ships being used primarily for humanitarian and supportive roles, the cutters are a part of the national fleet, have been tasked with the national defense role, and are increasingly operating in the Indo-Pacific area as a response to China. I don’t feel that up-arming the cutters with certain advanced offensive equipment will somehow result in them not being as warmly welcomed by our partners and allies. Navy aircraft carriers and destroyers have responded to natural disasters…just because they have the ability to carry an arsenal of weaponry doesn’t result in them being rejected by the country in need.

    • Well there we have it. We now know why the CG does not embrace even very modest up-arming. The leadership does not want to as they do not see themselves not as a quasi military force but as a humanitarian one.

      If the US gets involved in a large Naval conflict, the humanitarian vision will come to an abrupt halt. The CG will be dragged into it but will be woefully unprepared.

      This smacks of a leadership group which came of age when the US had no real challenges at sea.

      • The Commandant has been talking about putting cruise missile on icebreakers because the Russians reportedly plan to do that. That kind of mirroring may not give us the best solutions, but it seems to be helping to sell the idea of more icebreakers.

        The Coast Guard is a very diverse group, and ship drivers are in a minority. Even they have widely differing views of our role. If there is a recognition that we need to put our flack jackets back on and go to war, everyone will get behind it, but my estimate of how close we are to the next near peer conflict is certainly different from that of most Coast Guard Officers.

        If we keep sending cutters to the Western Pacific to face off against the Chinese, we may see a change of attitude.

      • While the officer corps is diverse, there’s no question which perspective is predominant. Other than Harpoons on the WHECs a LONG time ago, there’s been no “modern” (for the times) weapons on USCG Cutters since the 1950s…

        As long as there is no outside influence/force applied, the officer corps is just going to be more of the same. Senior officers will prefer junior officers who think like them, so innovation amd change will suffer. It will take an outsider to force change on them.

  4. If the “Polar Security Cutter” is armed with only crew served MGs and 25mm gun then it’s not really much on the security aspect. But that’s probably what they are gonna get.

  5. 1. The Navy is going 57mm, so we can expect the Coast Guard to do the same.
    2. Maybe “defensive” missiles? A RAM launcher can take out missiles, aircraft, and small boats; possibly mission kill something larger. But it won’t cause the screaming say, torpedoes or NSMs would. Also multi-purpose, unlike Longbow.

    • @Brett, I would like to see us switch out the Phalanx on the Bertholfs and the Mk38 on the OPCs for a SeaRAM.

      For OPCs should also change the .50 cal. in remote weapon stations to Mk38s, Maybe add Mk38s to NSCs as well.

      (Not sure any type of missile could be installed without screaming.)

      Putting APKWS or Hellfire launchers on the Mk38 mounts might be the easiest path to providing a meaningful upgrade.

    • @Brett Baker: EXACTLY!

      SeaRAM is seen as a defensive system, even though it could provide some mission kill (at great risk because of the short range). SeaRAM would be an easy way to get people used to the idea of missiles on Cutters. Could even be used on go-fasts, if the Cutter (or its boat) is taking fire. APKWS would be a cheap and simple add-on as well.

      NSM, with its range is an obviously offensive weapon system. Too hard a sell, and too provocative for what a Cutter might be sent to do in a geo-political sense…

      Torpedoes on a large Cutter make sense from an ASW mission, but would require sonar and ASW weapon’s control systems. I see a CG torpedo as a ship-stopper for FRCs or WPBCs. Now, if the mindset changes and the “military service” attitude comes back, perhaps a full ASW suite with sonar, torpedoes, MH-60 capability, and weapons control system would be an ideal fit, but that’s a lot of money and needs Navy support.

  6. The changes you propose would significantly improve the survivability of the vessels and their crew.

    The increase in survivability and kinetic effects would help the Coast Guard perform their missions more safely and effectively.

    They are not an attempt to turn the Cutters into Kirovs or Burke.

    Also, don’t forget out the FRCs. They are our most ubiquitous platform and are being deployed to areas where even small increases in survivability and lethality would be prudent.

  7. Pingback: RADM Eric Jones’ Comments on the U.S.C.G.’s D7 Operations and the Fast Response Cutter at Virtual SNA 2020 –by Peter Ong | Chuck Hill's CG Blog

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