“The United States Needs a Deep-water Arctic Port” –USNI

Nome, Alaska location. Adapted from Wikipedia’s AK borough maps by en:User:Seth Ilys.

The US Naval Institute Proceedings for Sept has a short article by By Captain Lawson Brigham, U.S. Coast Guard (Retired) advocating development of a deep-water port in Nome, Alaska.

Interest in a deep draft port in northern Alaska has been expressed in Congress, by the Secretary of the Navy, and the Commandant of the Coast Guard. Earlier we talked about the possibility of locating this facility at Port Clarence.

Port Clarence actually seems the larger natural harbor and has some infrastructure, including a runway, left over from when there was a Coast Guard LORAN station there. Nome (terminus for the Iditarod dog sled race) has a much larger population (about 3800 vs 24) and would require less supporting infrastructure development.

Aerial view from the West of Nome, Alaska, in July 2006, by ra64

In any case it seems likely that the ability to control the Bering Strait will become strategically important some time in the future. Both are within 160 miles of the Russian side of the Strait, with Port Clarence being about 50 miles closer.

Alaska and the Bering Strait

Until that time, it seems likely that the Coast Guard may establish a seasonal air station.

Full disclosure, Captain Brigham and I attended the same Naval War College class. 

“U.S. Coast Guard cutters support Oceania partners during month-long Operation Aiga in South Pacific” –Press Release

Samoa. Photo Credit: TUBS, This vector image includes elements that have been taken or adapted from this: Polynesian triangle.svg (by Gringer).

Below is a press release in full. I don’t normally report routine operations, but this seems a bit out of the ordinary, and part of a renewed interest in the Central and Western Pacific. It is also another demonstration of the capability of the 154 foot Webber Class cutters (“traveling between Honolulu and American Samoa, 2,300 miles in nine days, without refueling en route”). It also demonstrates the multi-mission capability of the large buoy tenders.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 14th District Hawaii and the Pacific
Contact: 14th District Public Affairs
Office: (808) 535-3230
After Hours: (808) 265-7748
14th District online newsroom

 Imagery Available: U.S. Coast Guard cutters support Oceania partners during month-long Operation Aiga in South Pacific 

USCGC Joseph Gerczak American Samoa boardings  USCGC Walnut gives tours in Samoa US Embassy and USCGC Walnut aboard HMNZS Otago

Editors’ Note: Click on images to see more, view video, or download a high-resolution version.
You can also visit our Operation Aiga feature page on DVIDS here.

HONOLULU — The crews of two Coast Guard cutters, the Walnut (WLB 205) and Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126), returned to Honolulu at the end of August following a successful deployment to Samoa and the U.S. territory of American Samoa, where they conducted operations to counter illegal fishing and strengthen relations with allies and partner nations. 

“Our Coast Guard crews demonstrated superior performance during intense operations over the past month in support of the Government of Samoa and within the U.S. territory of American Samoa,” said Rear Adm. Kevin Lunday, commander, U.S. Coast Guard 14th District. “Working with Australia and New Zealand, we supported the Government of Samoa by embarking Samoan law enforcement shipriders on a Coast Guard cutter to patrol their exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and ensure Samoan sovereignty. We also patrolled the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa to protect U.S. sovereignty. Our crews’ local engagements in Samoa and American Samoa reinforced our enduring shared values and Polynesian heritage, and advanced U.S. strategic interests in Oceania.” 

The operation, named ‘Aiga,’ the Samoan word for family, was first announced by U.S. Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz in a July interview describing the Coast Guard expansion of its permanent presence and effectiveness in the region through expeditionary capabilities, doubling down in Oceania.

The U.S. employs 11 bilateral shiprider agreements with Pacific Island Forum (PIF) nations throughout Oceania to help them counter illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing within their 200 nautical mile EEZ. Again, this operation was undertaken in coordination with Australia and New Zealand as Samoa awaits the delivery of its new, highly capable patrol boats from Australia later this year.

During the busy month-long deployment, the Walnut crew conducted numerous fishing vessel boardings with officers from the Samoan Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in the Samoan EEZ. The Walnut also carried Australian Fisheries Management Authority officers and a Chinese linguist from the U.S. Marine Corps. They further conducted maritime exercises with the Royal New Zealand Navy ship HMNZS Otago (P148) and Royal Australian Navy ship HMAS Choules (L100). 

“It was a pleasure to assist the government of Samoa, as part of a bilateral shiprider agreement, in enforcing their maritime sovereignty and resource security to combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing within their exclusive economic zone,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Jasnoch, commanding officer, Walnut. “We also had the privilege to strengthen our partnerships with New Zealand and Australia and proved our inter-operability by conducting at-sea maneuvers with Otago and Choules.” 

The Walnut crew engendered goodwill by hosting a reception with the U.S. Embassy for the acting prime minister of Samoa and senior Samoan government officials. The Walnut team also visited, read to, and played games with students at the Lufilufi Primary School in Apia. During a second port call, crews from Walnut and Joseph Gerczak attended sports practices with the Samoan Junior National Golf Team and American Gridiron football club. Both ships complement also hosted shipboard tours for dignitaries, a maritime academy, and the public. 

“The crew felt extremely rewarded to have these opportunities, and we look forward to returning to Samoa and American Samoa, hopefully soon,” said Jasnoch.

In support of strong maritime commerce and maritime transportation system, the Walnut crew installed a new Automatic Identification System (AIS) transmitter in American Samoa designed to notify mariners of the location of navigational hazards within the harbor if the physical aid marking the hazard is damaged or not working properly. The crew also recovered a sunken buoy in Pago Pago and replaced it with a new one to ensure safe navigation for mariners transiting in and out of the U.S. strategic deepwater port. 
The Joseph Gerczak set a new mark for the expeditionary deployment of the 154-foot fast response cutters by traveling between Honolulu and American Samoa, 2,300 miles in nine days, without refueling en route.  

During the deployment, the Joseph Gerczak crew also conducted professional exchanges with the New Zealand navy crew of Otago.

“The exchange with the Otago crew was a great opportunity to share best practices and hear their knowledge of this area including Samoa and the high-seas pocket that we do not frequently patrol,” said Lt. James Provost, commanding officer, Joseph Gerczak. “It was a great experience to see how another nation’s navy operates and the similarities and differences between us.”

The Joseph Gerczak crew conducted joint boardings in the U.S. EEZ around American Samoa with U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration enforcement officers and the American Samoa Marine Police. Later, the Joseph Gerczak joined up with Walnut in Apia, Samoa to participate in community relations events on behalf of the U.S. Embassy. The Joseph Gerczak also assisted local responders with search and rescue efforts for two teenagers swept out from shore by high swells off the main island of Tutuila. Despite the best search efforts by all involved, the teens remain missing. All of these efforts had a profound impact on the crew.

“It’s been a long patrol, but getting out to Samoa, meeting some of the locals and getting to take part in operations was well worth the trip,” said Joseph Gerczak Fireman Ty Kamiyama. “It’s good to know that we have laid a foundation to continue building strong relations with the Samoan community.”

“This patrol was an amazing experience to see firsthand just what our asset is capable of,” said Joseph Gerczak Petty Officer 3rd Class Scott Sabatini. “I thought getting to see the culture in Samoa was amazing. I got to go out with several other crewmembers to teach local youth about American football. It was such an enriching and rewarding time for all of us.”

The U.S. and its allies are trusted partners in Oceania. Operation Aiga is one of several operations conducted by the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, and France as part of the Pacific Quadrilateral Defence Coordination Group (Pacific QUAD) in support of PIF countries. The Pacific QUAD has historically supported PIF countries in their efforts to combat illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing in their exclusive economic zones. This year, the Pacific QUAD expanded the scope of its activities to encompass the broad range of maritime security concerns expressed by the PIF in the 2018 Boe Declaration.

The Walnut is a 225-foot Juniper-Class seagoing buoy tender responsible for maintaining aids to navigation, performing maritime law enforcement, port, and coastal security, search and rescue and environmental protection. Designed to patrol coastal regions, the Joseph Gerczak is a 154-foot Sentinel-Class fast response cutter and one of the newest patrol boats in the fleet to replace the 1980s-era 110-foot Island-class patrol boats. Both vessels call Honolulu their homeport.

Coast Guard Day in the South Pacific. The command from USCGC Walnut (WLB 205) conduct an exchange with peers on HMNZS Otago (P148) discussing mission, challenges and comparing shipboard life in the region while off Samoa Aug. 4, 2019. The Walnut and Otago crews are in the region combating illegal fishing, a part of promoting maritime governance and a rules based international order that is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific. (Photo courtesy HMNZ Navy Lt. Samuel Murray/Released)

A Conversation With General John Kelly

Marine Corps Gen. John F. Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, discusses the latest developments in his command’s efforts to stem the flow of drugs from South and Central America while briefing reporters at the Pentagon, March 13, 2014.

As part of The U.S. Coast Guard Academy 2019–2020 Leadership Lecture Series, General and former administration Chief of Staff John F. Kelly addressed an audience of future officers at the Academy with former Commandant Admiral Thad Allen moderating. You can watch it here, but skip ahead. It does not really start until time 31:30. The actual discussion is about an hour.

Is Our Fleet Recapitalization on Course? Do We Need to Change the Destination?

The Coast Guard started its recapitalization voyage almost three decades ago with the “Deepwater” Project. After false starts and course corrections, it seemed we finally got on course, but for too long we have relied on dead reckoning. It has been a long time since we have taken a fix to see if we are still on course. Meanwhile the world has changed. The fleet designed many years ago may not really be the fleet we want in the future.

To make our procurement case before Congress and the Department, we need a rigorous analysis of our requirements.

The Congressional Research Service issued an updated version of its “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” on August 7. As always one of the questions was what is the proper number and mix off assets, specifically, “the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.”

The Coast Guard’s Program of Record (POR, 8 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 58 FRCs, 91 total) has not changes since 2004. In that period the Navy has updated their requirements eight times.

As in previous reports, the Congressional Research Service author refers to the Fleet Mix Study. The Fleet Mix Study, which was apparently begun in 2007, seemed to indicate that while the Program of Record Fleet would be an improvement over the legacy fleet, it would not provide sufficient assets to meet all statutory requirements.

The last analysis of requirements, the “refined objective mix” of 2011, apparently based on a review of the initial study results, which were deemed unrealistically demanding, showed that the POR would provide only 61% of the vessels required to fulfill the Coast Guard’s statutory missions (9 NSCs, 49 OPCs, and 91 FRCs, 149 total).

But it has been a long time since the one and only “Fleet Mix Study” was done, and many of its assumptions were incorrect. The initial fleet mix analysis was to have been followed by follow-on FMA phases that would assess capabilities needed for coastal and inland missions as well as emerging missions, such as Arctic operations and those of the Deployable Operations Group (DOG). These were apparently never completed, but we did at least get the High Latitude Study that documented a need for three heavy and three medium icebreakers. 

We need a new Fleet Mix Study, and according to the CRS report, we have been directed by Congress to do a new analysis.

Asset Acquisition Report.—The Commandant is directed to provide to the Committee, not later than one year after the date of enactment of this Act, a report that examines the number and type of Coast Guard assets required to meet the Service’s current and foreseeable needs in accordance with its statutory missions. The report shall include, but not be limited to, an assessment of the required number and types of cutters and aircraft for current and planned asset acquisitions. The report shall also specifically address regional mission requirements in the Western Hemisphere, including the Polar regions; support provided to Combatant Commanders; and trends in illicit activity and illegal migration. (Pages 39-40)

Additionally the Congress has repeatedly directed development of a 20 year ship building plan. So far we have failed to deliver while the Navy provides a 30 year plan every year.

How was the Fleet Mix Study Wrong:

“The OPC and NSC will operate 230 days away from homeport (DAFHP). No specific crewing method is assumed (i.e., crew rotation concept [CRC]).

They may not have explicitly assumed the Crew Rotation Concept, but 230 days away from homeport certainly reflects an underlying assumption that the NSCs and OPCs would be operated at a higher tempo than could be sustained with only one crew per ship.

“Additional acquisition/next generation platforms have the same capabilities and cost as the FMA Baseline Fleet mix cutters and aircraft.”

These new, larger, more sophisticated assets cost more to maintain than the vessels they replace. According to the Master Chief Petty Officer of the Coast Guard, “our new ships costs almost twice as much to maintain as our old ships, but our money to maintain them has been relatively flat.” The OPCs and the FRCs require more people to man them than the ships they replace, adding to their operating cost. It appears the Coast Guard is going to need a substantial growth in its budget just to operate its assets in the Program of Record (POR).

What did not happen:

The Crew Rotation Concept was rejected as a “cost saving” measure, cutting the theoretical availability of NSC and OPC mission days.

The plan included 36 HC-144s, but when 14 C-27s became available, the HC-144 program was truncated so now we have only 32 Medium Range Search Aircraft instead of 36.

Shipboard Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), of lesser capability, in the form of ScanEagle, are only now being deployed on NSCs.

No Coast Guard land based UAS has been deployed.

The networking that was envisioned has proven problematic.

What has Changed: 

The original “Deep Water” program was developed after the collapse of the Soviet Union but before “9/11.” It was modified to at least theoretically address the terrorist threat, and the result was the 2004 Program of Record we still live with. At that time the US had no near peer naval competitors. The US Navy was unchallenged at sea, so there was no need for the Coast Guard to shoulder any significant war time role.

The Navy has all but abandoned any attempts to assist in drug interdiction.

The Coast Guard has begun to assume significant roles in the Western Pacific in the US EEZ and in support of the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Coast Guard is also supporting efforts by COCOMs in Africa and Asia to build additional coast guard like capabilities.

The replacement assets, particularly for the WMECs, are coming on line too slowly, and we are likely to see a drop in capability as these already difficult to maintain assets continue to age over the next 15 years current plans require to replace them.

Congress has departed from the Program of Record and funded eleven National Security Cutters instead of eight.

The Webber class seem to be exceeding our expectations and have proven more capable that I believe was originally envisioned.

Ship Debt:

The Fleet Mix Analysis was not linked to time of fulfillment except to say that it was looking at requirements for the year 2025. A reasonable service life for naval vessels is typically 30 years. Our youngest 210 is now 50 years old and the oldest 55. Two of the 210 were already passed off to Sri Lanka and Colombia. The youngest 270 is 29 years old and the oldest, 36 years old. We really should have started the OPC program 24 years ago. The plan to build the OPC provides the first coming on line in 2021, one in 2022, one in 2023, and two per year with the last to be delivered in 2034. That is 25 ships to replace 29 that were in the legacy fleet, one of which, Acushnet, was decommissioned in 2011. The remaining overaged ships are already having difficulty meeting their scheduled commitments. This situation will only get worse over the next decade. We really need to introduce the time element into our analysis. Some things just cannot wait.

The Bottom Line:

  • We need a new fleet mix study.
  • It needs to include the WPB replacement.
  • It needs to consider more than just the ship types as we are currently building as they are currently configured. We need to ask if equipment changes could make them more effective and reduce the total platform requirement. Specifically I think better armed WPCs and WPBs could eliminate a need for additional OPCs to fulfill the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security role.
  • The objective the Coast Guard has set for itself in Drug interdiction is I believe about 10%. That really serves no purpose, but to impose something less than an income tax penalty on drug shippers. It needs to be much higher.
  • The mix should also consider an alternative to meet the apparent need for more medium sized cutters using a notional alternative about half the size of the OPC, such as Cutter X.
  • We need to consider the Coast Guard’s role in the national fleet and what capabilities need to be incorporated to fulfill those roles in a potential conflict with China or in worst case, a combination of China and Russia.


Each commandant should prepare a new fleet mix to provide a best estimate of the Coast Guard’s future needs for his successor. Since a typical term is four years, the Commandant could take two years to frame a new fleet mix study. This would still allow about a year for completion and a year for evaluation and refinement of the results before passing it along to his successor.

In the period since the development of the program of record in 2004 we have had five Commandants, but only one, not completely comprehensive, look at our resource requirements. It is well past time for another.



This Is a Bit Funny, but There Are Lessons Here

We have gotten more security conscious since 9/11. I was frankly surprised at the level of security when I entered a Coast Guard base recently. It hasn’t always been that way. Still no doubt, we have lessons to learn, and its always better to learn from the mistakes of others, than to wait until lessons are learned in a more up close and personal way.

The Air Force Times reports on an incident that happily ended with no casualties other than a shot up Volvo and a shredded teddy bear.

Finding a balance between the essentially unlimited levels of increasing security (is there ever enough?) and a realistic assessment of the threat and cost benefit is difficult.

Incidentally, that Coast Guard Base I visited seemed to be well protected from threats arriving by motor vehicle on the one access road, but water side access was wide open.

What Really Happened to the Serpens?

Jan. 29, 2020 will be the 75th anniversary of the largest loss of life in Coast Guard history, the explosion of USS Serpens (AK-97). We have already discussed this incident, but now there is a effort to look again at the cause of this loss.

Foxtrotalpha reports there may be reason to believe that the ship was torpedoed rather than having been destroyed by an ammunition loading accident.

I considered that it might have been an attack carried out by Kaiten, submarine launched manned suicide torpedoes. They were being used at that time to attack shipping in forward bases. Kaiten might have made an attack on a protected harbor easier, but the link in this paragraph provides a listing of operations that seems to preclude that possibility. That in spite of the fact that there were about 20 Kaiten capable Japanese submarines operational at the time of the sinking.

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” CRS

The crew of USCGC Kimball (WMSL 756) arrive in Honolulu for the first time Dec. 22, 2018. Known as the Legend-class, NSCs are designed to be the flagships of the Coast Guard’s fleet, capable of executing the most challenging national security missions, including support to U.S. combatant commanders. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

The Congressional Research Service issued an updated version of its “Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” on August 7. I have reproduced the report’s summary below. 


The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests a total of $657 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2019 has funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. Six NSCs have been commissioned into service. The seventh and eighth were delivered to the Coast Guard on September 19, 2018, and April 30, 2019, respectively, and are scheduled to be commissioned into service in August 2019. The ninth through 11th are under construction; the ninth is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $60 million in procurement funding for the NSC program; this request does not include funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $421 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard awarded a contract with options for building up to nine OPCs to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The second OPC and long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third were funded in FY2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $457 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth and fifth, and other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 56 have been funded through FY2019, including six in FY2019. Four of the 56 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four OPCs, a total of 52 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2019. The 32nd FRC was commissioned into service on May 1, 2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $140 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of two more FRCs for domestic operations.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  • whether to provide funding in FY2020 for the procurement of a 12th NSC; 
  • whether to fund the procurement in FY2020 of two FRCs, as requested by the Coast Guard, or some higher number, such as four or six; 
  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs; 
  • the annual procurement rate for the OPC program; 
  • the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs; and 
  • the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.