“Waterways Commerce Cutter: It’s Time for an Upgrade” MarineLink

Shown above are Coast Guard indicative designs of a river buoy tender, inland construction tender and inland buoy tender.

Marine Link has an article discussing the importance of the Waterways Commerce Cutter program. Waterways Commerce Cutter: It’s Time For An Upgrade.

The author makes a case as to why these little vessels need to be better than might be assumed. That they are in fact multi-mission vessels. He sees a massive increase in the river cruise industry.

Its an inciteful look at trends on America’s rivers and well worth the read.

“Demise of the Cutterman, Part II” USNI Proceedings

A Coast Guard Cutter Valiant crew member embraces his son Feb. 27, 2020, as he returns home to Naval Station Mayport, Florida. The Valiant crew returned home after completing a nine-week patrol in the Caribbean Sea supporting Joint Interagency Task Force South. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Dickinson)

The US Naval Institute has an article discussing the Coast Guard’s difficulty getting qualified volunteers for sea duty, Demise of the Cutterman, Part II. This article makes reference to a 2015 post, The Demise of the Cutterman. I think both are currently accessible even to non-members, at least for a limited time.

I considered that perhaps there were other reasons for the difficulties. Was it possible the difficulties were due to the change in the manning requirements of the recapitalized fleet?

Are there more sea duty billets than there were before? I checked this and there does not appear to be great difference in the gross numbers.

I compared the previous fleet of 12 WHEC 378s, 28 WMECs, and 41 Island class WPBs (81 total) to the projected fleet of 11 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 64 Webber class WPCs (100 total).

The requirements to man 64 Webber class (24 crewmembers each) compared to 41 Island class (16 crewmembers each) required 880 additional.

This was largely offset by the change from 12 WHECs (177 crewmember each) to 11 NSCs (122 crew members each) for a reduction of 782 billets.

There has been no change in the WMEC/OPC fleet yet but the shift from 28 WMECs (requiring a total of 2449 billets) to 25 OPCs (requiring approximately 2500 billets) should only add about 51 billets.

So it looks like the recapitalization should require only about 150 additional billets or an increase of less than 3%. But the specifics of the crews composition may have changed.

I don’t have enough information to investigate these in detail but I suspect three changes have effected our ability to crew the new ships.

Do we have fewer non-rates? I suspect the percentage of the crew who are non-rates has decreased. (It is not hard to fill non-rate billets.) This means that more of the crewmembers are married and have families at home. It also means fewer non-rates are being introduced to sea duty, so the number of prior sea service personnel advancing to petty officer will be reduced. Assuming no change in the proportion of non-rates choosing to return to sea as petty officers later in their career, this will effect the future talent pool as well. It will mean fewer salty first class, chiefs, and warrant officers.

More technical ratings? Again this is a supposition on my part, but presumably the new generation of ships require greater levels of expertise to operate. This means a higher proportion of the crew is mature with more responsibilities and more attractive job possibilities outside the Coast Guard. Increasingly, individuals in this demographic will seek shore duty or choose to leave the service, which is an option for most because they will have completed their initial enlistment.

More officers required? Also a supposition on my part, but at least in the case of replacing 41 WPBs with 64 WPC, we are going from 82 officers to 256, a 210% increase. Junior officers are probably not a problem, so I presume the problem is in getting middle grade billets filled, particularly O-3 and O-4 billets. While I doubt that there is a shortage of volunteers to command Webber class WPCs, I can understand why there would be a hesitance to volunteer for other O-3 billets afloat. If you have ambitions of command afloat, and you don’t get command of a Webber class, the feeling may be that your chances for future command afloat selection are extremely slim, because those who had Webber class command will inevitably be considered better qualified.

There is a cure for this that would provide incentive to take those O-3 billets. Make an O-3 tour, e.g. department head on “big white one” or buoy tender XO, a prerequisite for command afloat as an O-3 or O-4. The result might theoretically reduce the future pool of command afloat candidates, but the pool should still be large enough, and those selected for O-3/O-4 command afloat would be more experienced and will have passed an additional layer of vetting.

“BUDGET 2022: Biden Proposes Flat Budget for Coast Guard” –National Defense, I have a different take

National Defense provided the first report I saw on the Presidents FY2022 budget request for the Coast Guard, reporting it as flat relative to the FY2021 budget as enacted.

The Navy League Magazine, Seapower, on line edition has a pretty good summary of what is included.

I found the budget justification document here, all 445 pages of it.

Actually I find the proposed budget encouraging. $13.1B is only 0.3% larger than the enacted budget for 2021, but that is only because the Congress loves the Coast Guard and has added on to the Administration’s budget every year I have followed the budget process. This 2022 budget request is actually 6.5% greater than the corresponding initial 2021 administration request.

The Procurement, Construction, and Improvement budget is down compared to 2021 enacted budget, but it does include everything we would expect, given the end of the FRC program and the expected pace of Polar Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter procurement. On the other hand there is a substantial increase in Operations and Support.

“Under Biden’s budget, the service would see a significant boost in operations and support funding in 2022. The $9.02 billion for O&S would be $535 million, or 6.3 percent, more than it received for 2021.”

This includes substantial increases to reduce the maintenance backlog for aircraft and cutters. If you would like to check out the “Program Changes,” follow the link to the full budget document. There are 37 program changes on 20 pages, beginning on the 72nd page of the pdf. The page is labelled USCG–O&S–34.

One of these (#17) indicates new homeports for Webber class in Saint Petersburg, Sitka, and Boston expected in FY2022.

I would not be surprised to see the Congress make some additions. I’ll venture a guess, that about $300M will be added, including a C-130J and three more Webber class to counter Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported fishing in the South Pacific. If that happens, the resulting $13.4B budget would be a three percent increase over 2021.

After the new administration has had more time to look at the Coast Guard’s programs, I hope they will see fit to accelerate the building of the Offshore Patrol Cutters and/or perhaps add a class of cutters between the OPC and the FRC.

Not directly Coast Guard related but the Army Corp of Engineers is getting a big boost for maritime related work that impacts safety of navigation and risks of flooding.

Information on MARAD’s budget request here.

“Iranian Warship Thought to be Headed to Venezuela Left Port with 7 High-Speed Missile Boats Aboard” –USNI

USNI News Photo Illustration. Satellite image ©2021 Maxar Technologies used with permission

The US Naval Institute News Service has a report that may be of interest because of the potential for interaction with Venezuelan forces in the Caribbean.

“The seven missile craft aboard Makran are each approximately 57 feet (17.5 meters) long and match the Peykaap family of medium-sized fast attack craft operated by Iran. There are several variations of these craft in Iranian service, although all are generally similar. The latest Peykaap-II type (also known as the Bavar class) is 57 feet long and can carry two anti-ship missiles and two 12.75 inch torpedoes. The missiles could be of the Kowsar or Nasr types, which are derived from Chinese models with a quite modest range of around 18 nautical miles.”

An 18 nautical mile range may be “quite modest” to the Navy, but it is twice that of anything the Coast Guard has.

How Many 110s are left?

The Coast Guard Cutter Naushon (WPB 1311) 110-foot Island-class patrol boat and crew conduct training in Kachemak Bay near Homer, Alaska, Feb. 16, 2018.(Picture source U.S. Defense Visual Information)

Had a question from a reader, how many 110s are still in commission with the USCG?. Figured I could get a quick answer here. We know about the four still with PATFORSWA. Looking at District web sites, I am not sure they are up to date.

The FY20222 budget anticipates decommissioning five more. So how close are we to seeing the last of these cutters in the USCG?

Looking at the Wikipedia page for “Sentinel Class Cutters,” which seems to have been kept up to date, at this point there are 20 Webber class that have not yet been delivered to the Coast Guard. Future homeports have not been associated with 17 of these.

If you know of 110s still in commission please add a note.

V-BAT Improvements

V-BAT Vertical takeoff and landing UAV. Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Anderson W. Branch
V-Bat from Martin UAV

Martin UAV has announced improvements to their V-BAT unmanned aircraft, including increased payload and endurance.

Claimed characteristics include a 25 pound payload and an eleven hours endurance. While that endurance does not equal that of the ScanEagle, the payload is about three times greater.

A second announcement reported,

“The Navy selected Martin UAV’s V-BAT for a VTOL UAS prototyping and development effort in order to fulfill new technological requirements driven by the changing nature of threats in austere operating environments.

“The V-BAT was selected to meet these requirements as a result of its minimal logistic support requirements and maximum versatility. The system offers vertical takeoff with a single-engine ducted fan, automatic transition to straight and level flight, easily commanded hovers and stares, interchangeable payloads, and an open architecture.”

The Coast Guard conducted tests of the V-BAT aboard USCGC Harriet Lane in August 2020.

It looks like this system might be able to provide the 270s with the same sort of advantages the National Security Cutters have enjoyed with the use of Scan Eagle despite their much smaller hangar, because it does not need catapult launch or recovery equipment.

The Manufacturer claims that the V-BAT requires only a 12 x 12 foot area for take-off and landing, so a 270 foot WMEC should have plenty of space, even if it also has a helicopter inside a fully extended hangar. We can expect all the 270s to be with us for at least another 13 years, some are expected to remain in commission for at least another 17 years. It is still worthwhile to try to make them as effective as possible.

USCGC Lagare, for reference, beam of this class cutters is 38 feet.

“Backing The White House, Senator Wicker Introduces New Coast Guard Funding Bill” –Forbes

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

Forbes brings us some good news, that people in Congress are trying to help the Coast Guard.

This is apparently only one of several bills, but it has some good things, money for the Coast Guard Yard and for the backlog of shoreside infrastructure, also assurance that Coast Guard personnel will continue to be paid if there is a government shutdown.

But it also includes something cheap that I have been advocating repeatedly, a new Fleet Mix Study. It has been 13 years, far too long since the last one was done. (Follow the link to see what we thought would happen in 2012.) Much has changed. The OPCs were long delayed, do we still want to go with the slow pace of construction currently planned? Should we consider something like “Cutter X?” More NSC were built than planned. We still have no shore based UAS. The MH-65s are becoming unsupportable. “Future Vertical Lift” aircraft are with the planning horizon. We got far fewer C-144s than planned. C-27 became available, replacing some C-144s, but also perhaps replacing some C-130s. The 87 foot Marine Protector WPBs are reaching the end of their lives, what do replace them with, a large motor lifeboat, an interceptor, or both? A new Tri-Service Strategy has been published. International Illegal Undocumented Unreported (IUU) fisheries has become a hot topic. Capacity building with friendly nations is becoming a major goal. Arctic presence, law enforcement, and SAR has become a concern.

Unlike the previous Fleet Mix Study we need to consider alternatives, not just preselected solutions.

Churchill is reputed to have said, “Gentlemen, We Have Run Out Of Money; Now We Have to Think.” In this case if we think, we might make a case for getting money. Too often it seems the Congress has been willing to give us money, but the Coast Guard did not have a wish list, e.g. unfunded priorities. We need a new vision of what the Coast Guard can be.

“Future Coast Guard: Think Special Operators, Not a Less Capable Navy” –Real Clear Defense

Real Clear Defense has an interesting article that ask decision makers to think about the special talents the Coast Guard brings to international relations.

Part of the reason this article is perhaps significant is the position held by the author.

Jason Smith currently serves on the faculty at the National War College.  He has served in the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army, as an advisor to the Commandant of the Coast Guard, as Senior Policy Advisor in the U.S. Senate and on the staff of the National Security Council.

The author draws parallels between the way special forces should be used and the way the Coast Guard should be used internationally. This particular point is something that I have come to believe.

Frequently require discriminant and precise use of force. This often requires development, acquisition, and employment of equipment not standard for other Department of Defense forces.

The author seems to be thinking Gray Zone Ops, but I am thinking counter terrorism missions. To do our missions the Coast Guard may need equipment and weapons that are not in the Navy inventory. We need light weight anti-surface torpedoes to forcibly stop larger vessels, regardless of their size. We need small missiles to stop small, fast, highly maneuverable terrorist controlled vessels (manned or unmanned) while avoiding collateral damage.

I also believe the Navy will need similar weapons if there is a major naval conflict, to enforce blockades and counter coast wise infiltration, but these weapons are not sufficiently sexy to warrant career making attention within the Navy.

The Coast Guard also has the unusual job of enforcing flight restrictions over the National Capital. Conventional fighter aircraft are not appropriate for this. On the other hand the helicopters we currently use are not really fast enough to keep up with high performance general aviation aircraft. (Plus it seems we may be phasing out the MH-65s.) The aircraft special operations is considering for armed overwatch look like a good fit for the mission and linking Coast Guard procurement with that of the Air Force Special Operations Command could provide cost savings.

“Covert Shores Guide To Mozambique Navy: New, Fast, and Stuck In The Mud” –Covert Shores

Three WP-18 Tactical Strike Craft (see arrows) in a yard in Mozambique after delivery. The other boats are DV-15 Interceptors

Covert Shores brings us an interesting, but ultimately sad story of Mozambique’s attempts to provide a naval/coast guard force. There are interesting classes of patrol and interceptor classes here, all let down by inadequate support.

“PATFORSWA receives 2 new Sentinel-class U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutters” –LANTAREA

210524-G-N0146-0094 ARABIAN GULF (May 24, 2021) – Fast response cutters USCGC Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) and USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141), and patrol boats USCGC Maui (WPB 1304) and Adak (WPB 1333) transit the Arabian Gulf en route to Bahrain, May 24. Robert Goldman and Charles Moulthrope are the newest additions to Patrol Forces Southwest Asia (PATFORSWA), which is comprised of six 110′ cutters, the Maritime Engagement Team, shore side support personnel, and is the Coast Guard’s largest unit outside of the U.S. playing a key role in supporting Navy security cooperation, maritime security, and maritime infrastructure protection operations in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Logan Kaczmarek) More Photos here.

Below is a news release reporting the arrival of two Webber class WPCs to their new homeport as they join PATFORSWA.

united states coast guard 
News Release 
U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area

PATFORSWA receives 2 new Sentinel-class U.S. Coast Guard fast response cutters 

MANAMA, Bahrain — U.S. Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutters USCGC Charles Moulthrope (WPC 1141) and Robert Goldman (WPC 1142) arrived at their new homeport onboard Naval Support Activity Bahrain, May 25.

The FRCs are two of six planned to be attached to Patrol Forces Southwest Asia, forward-deployed to Bahrain with Commander, Task Force 55. They will replace the existing Coast Guard Island-class patrol boats USCGC Aquidneck (WPB 1309) and USCGC Adak (WPB 1333).

“These crews have shown that they are more than ready for the mission at hand in this region through numerous successful engagements with partner maritime forces during port visits and bilateral exercises,” said Capt. Willie Carmichael, commander of PATFORSWA. “I am extremely proud of the high performance they have displayed during their transit to Bahrain.”

Aquidneck and Adak are set to decommission in Bahrain later this year and are being replaced as part of the Integrated Deepwater System Program, the Coast Guard’s 25-year program to replace most of the branch’s equipment. The IDSP plans to have 64 fast response cutters, with Charles Moulthrope and Robert Goodman being the 41st and 42nd, commissioned into service on Jan. 21 and Mar. 12, respectively.

The FRCs are designed to patrol coastal regions and perform expeditionary operations.

They feature advanced command, control, and communications systems and improved surveillance and reconnaissance equipment. They are also capable of launching and recovering small boats from the stern.

“The addition of the FRCs to our task force has been highly anticipated, and the team here is excited to work with these outstanding crews,” said Capt. Christopher Gilbertson, commander of Destroyer Squadron 50 and CTF 55. “The advanced capabilities of these cutters greatly enhances our ability to provide high-end support to regional and coalition partners throughout the area of operations.

”PATFORSWA, attached to CTF 55, comprises six patrol vessels, shoreside mission support personnel, and the Maritime Engagement Team. They play a crucial role in maritime security, maritime infrastructure protection, and theater security cooperation in the region. The unit also supports other U.S. Coast Guard deployable specialized forces operating throughout the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.

CTF 55 operates in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations, supporting naval operations to ensure maritime stability and security in the Central Region, connecting the Mediterranean and Pacific through the western Indian Ocean and three critical chokepoints to the free flow of global commerce.