Anatomy of a Drone Boat, a Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (WBIED)–Legion Magazine

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Legion Magazine gives us a technical analysis of a Water-Borne Improvised Explosive Device of the type used by Houthi rebels to attack Saudi lead coalition forces and merchant ships in the vicinity of the Bab-el-Mandeb Straits.

We have talked about these before, here and here. They are apparently radio controlled, 10 meter (33 foot), twin outboard powered boats, built in the UAE and donated to the Yemeni Navy for Coast Guard duties.  As we learned earlier, the warhead was a 1000 pound shaped charge from a P-15 (Styx) missile.

The analysis shows construction of the circuit that would cause the explosive to detonate, how the throttle was worked, and speculated on the steering.

Really, making one of these is too simple. It is not impossible we will see something like this in the US. In the radio control hobby, we would call this a two channel control system, controlling only steering and throttle. It doesn’t get much simpler than that. As I speculated earlier, there was a video link from the WBIED to the operator. In addition, there was also a link to pass GPS information to the operator.

The analysis unfortunately does not tell us the frequencies used to control the boat or provide video from the boat, or to provide the GPS information from the boat to the control station. That information would give us an idea of the effective range of the system and provide the basis for electronic countermeasures. Presumably the information is available to those who have a need to know. There is a good chance these explosive boats are controlled from a vessel near by.

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

A Conversation with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard–CSIS

CSIS and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) conduct an interview with Admiral Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, conducted 1 August, 2018.

Below I will attempt to outline the conversation, noting the topics and in some cases providing a comment.

The first question is about immigration. Coast Guard is the “away game.” minimizing the factors that push immigration to the US.

The Commandant does not expect a substantial increase in help from the Navy, because they are already heavily tasked, but would welcome any additional help.

06:30 Talk about Inland fleet. Congressional support is evident. $25M provided so far.

9:20 House Appropriations Committee decision to divert $750M from the icebreaker program to fund “the Wall” in their markup of the FY2019 budget bill. The Commandant is “guardedly optimistic”

11:30 Human capital readiness? Operating account has been flat and effectively we have lost 10% in purchasing power. Want to increase leadership training.

16:30 Support for combatant commanders.

18:00 Capacity building and partnering. Detachments working on host nation platforms.

21:00 Defense Force planning–Not going back to the MARDEZ model.

22:30 Situation in Venezuela/Preparation for dealing with mass migration.

24:30 Arctic forums–Need to project our sovereignty

29:00 UNCLOS

30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA

34:00 Cyber

36:15 High Latitude engagement/partnerships.

39:30 Perhaps the icebreaker should be the “Polar Security Cutter?”

40:00 International ice patrol, still an important mission.

41:00 CG role in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea. In discussion with Indo-Pacific Command. Will see more CG presence there.

44:00 Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)–on track

46:30 Border issue — passed on that

48:00 Small satellites–we are looking at them

49:00 African Capacity building/cooperation. May send an MEC.

51:30 Tech modernization. Looking at it more holistically.

Other Coverage:

This interview prompted a couple of notable posts.

SeaPower’s coverage of the discussion is here. They focused on the growth of demands on the Coast Guard.

Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”

“Build a Great White Fleet For the 21st Century”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings May 2018 edition has an article, “Build a Great White Fleet for the 21st Century,” that recommends greater Coast Guard funding to support Combatant Commanders. It is written by Captain David Ramassini, USCG. The accompanying bio states,

“Captain Ramassini is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and cutterman who has served in the Pentagon as Coast Guard Liaison on the Joint Staff and also in the Office of Secretary of Defense. Captain Ramassini is slated to assume his fifth command as the plankowner commanding officer of the national security cutter Kimball (WMSL-756).”

Unfortunately the article is “members only.” If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably should also be a US Naval Institute member, but for those who are not, I’ll try to summarize his argument, including some quotations. After reviewing the article, I’ll offer some thought on how, and where, we might provide some assistance to the Combatant Commanders.

The Article

Captain Ramassini contends improved maritime governance and suppressing transnational crime is in the US interest where ever it occurs.

“As the line between terrorist and criminal activities continues to blur, the transactional connections between a wide range of unlawful organizations is likely to cloud the distinction between law enforcement and military operations.”

The Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC) need afloat assets to aid in dealing with these problems.

Source: UNODC, responses to annual questionnaire and individual drug seizure database

The Coast Guard is uniquely qualified to leverage “vast authorities; capabilities; and interservice, interagency, intelligence community, and international partnerships” in support of Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC).

There are not enough Coast Guard assets to do this now.

To provide additional assets funding for the fleet needs to be rebalanced, moving money from the Navy to the Coast Guard.

Rebalancing the national fleet composition would improve relationships and provide the United States and our partners advantages in a complex world filled with threats that go beyond the nation-state.

Recognizing the Coast Guard for the unique national, international, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence power that it is, the current administration has the opportunity to turn this tide and make the national fleet great again by directing a smart business decision. Specifically, prioritize Coast Guard cutter production to grow the fleet and provide a more cost-effective and adaptable instrument for the nation. A 21st-century Great White Fleet of Coast Guard cutters would begin a new era of sea power better suited to promote rule of law through cooperative partnership and distributed lethality, and allow the U.S. Navy to refocus its efforts on high-intensity conflict. It is time to rethink international engagement using the Coast Guard—an armed force at all times, but a more cooperative power known for its olive-branches-over-arrows approach.

Coast Guard national security, offshore patrol, and fast response cutters could serve as powerful instruments for GCCs. They are large enough to operate globally, yet small enough to gain access and foster cooperative partnerships. In addition, these more affordable naval assets could be produced more expediently than Navy surface combatants to build a credible national fleet. The goal of a 355-ship Navy needs to be expanded to a 400+ ship national fleet with utility across civil and military disciplines and a better return on investment.

It is time to change the costly Navy-centric approach toward peace and security and focus on restoring the underpinnings of rule of law to regain the trust and confidence of partner nations. The Coast Guard is capable of more finely tuned and less costly persistent presence. It is an affordable, accountable, and reliable instrument of national power well equipped to execute international engagement. Bolstering white hull numbers within the national fleet by doubling the number of cutters could provide a 21st century advantage to the United States and our international partners in this ever-evolving global environment.

Captain Ramassini suggests that large cutters could be upgraded so that they can fill the frigate role.

One approach worth examining is up-arming the Coast Guard’s fleet with a vertical-launch system (Mk-41 VLS) and SeaRAM close-in weapon system to provide increased warfare interoperability. Imagine a forward-deployed “international security cutter” capable of operating with a carrier strike group and/or surface action group and assuming a role historically filled by a Navy frigate.

Commentary

There are currently six Unified Combatant Commands. Two, NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM already have substantial Coast Guard assets available, although SOUTHCOM could use more. CENTCOM has the six WPBs of PATFORSWASIA. Three Unified Combatant Commands, PACOM, EUCOM, and AFRICOM, have no regular Coast Guard representation.

EUCOM (European Command) probably has far less need for a US Coast Guard presence, since they already have several sophisticated coast guard organizations among allied nations.

PACOM probably could use more Coast Guard assets for capacity building and suppression of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Western Pacific. Seventh Fleet has already asked for more Coast Guard presence to confront Chinese white hulls.

Africa has a serious problem with Maritime crime and could use training, capacity building, and more international inter-agency cooperation. The Coast Guard has sent ships to the area intermittently, but the area has been largely neglected. China is making serious inroads in Africa. We need a presence, but gray hulls are not what we need. The six boats of Patrol Force South West Asia (PATFORSWA) could help address the problem in East Africa, but that would require some sharing by CENTCOM. There is an unrealized opportunity to do a lot of good in West Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea where piracy, kidnapping, IUU fishing, and other marine crimes are common.

Gulf of Guinea, from Wikipedia

To maintain a single large cutter off the West coast of Africa or in the Western Pacific would require three ships in rotation, assuming they are homeported in the US. Larger ships are more difficult to homeport in foreign ports, smaller vessels are likely more feasible.

It appears more likely we could replicate the six boat PATFORSWA organization with similar organizations in East Africa and the Western Pacific. There are several ports in each area that might be worth considering.

Obviously we would not send more now overage 110s, we would be sending Webber class WPCs. This would require extending the current program beyond the 58 in the program of record. There is already discussion about six additional WPCs to replace the six 110s assigned to CENTCOM. Adding six for AFRICOM and six for PACOM would extend the current program by two or three years. The shipbuilding costs for 12 more WPCs are on the order of $700M spread over two or three years, not much more than a single NSC. Basic personnel requirements for 12 vessels with a crew of 24 are 288 crew members. Rotational crews and supporting personnel would probably push this up to about 500, a notable increase for the Coast Guard, but “small change” in the defense budget. The PATFORSWA costs are paid for from the DOD budget, so I would expect a similar arrangement for similar squadrons assigned to AFRICOM and PACOM.

Perhaps at some point. we should also consider a similar forward deployed squadron for SOUTHCOM.

 

Where in the World are the WHECs?

The Former USCGC Morgenthau, now in Vvietnamese service

The Philippines has a continuing interest in the 378 foot WHECs, after all they already have three, and it appears they may want another. Certainly they and other operators (Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Vietnam) will want to cooperate in finding ways to keep them operational.

An online discussion group called “Defense of the Republic of the Philippines” has a page entitled “Where in the World are the WHECs?” devoted to the topic. It includes both the old and new names and hull numbers. It also looks at the future disposition of 378s still in US Coast Guard service (Sherman, Midgett, Mellon, and Douglas Munro). (Yes we currently have both a USCGC Douglas Munro (WHEC-724) and a USCGC Munro (WMSL-755).

Sherman is expected to be decommissioned in 2018, Midgett in 2019, Mellon in 2020. Douglas Munro’s decommissioning is not currently scheduled but will probably happen in 2021.

The decommissioning information is based on Annex J of a MARAD report, “OFFICE OF SHIP DISPOSAL PROGRAMS ANNUAL REPORT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2016.”

 

Was Libya’s Sinking of a Tanker “Fake News?”

I have begun to suspect that the report of the Libyan Coast Guard sinking the Tanker GOEAST may have been more propaganda than reality.

Compare the Libyan video above with the video of USCGC ANACAPA sinking a much smaller derelict Japanese fishing vessel Ryou-Un Maru.

The Tanker was probably 20 times as large as the fishing vessel and had a crew on board and operating pumps to address flooding. USCGC ANACAPA began the operation at 13:00 and the RYOU-UN MARU sank at 18:15. It appears that the F/V may have been hit 100 times by 25mm projectiles, and at one point the ANACAPA used a hose to pour water into the fishing vessel.

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On the video, the Libyan patrol boat fires no more than 20 rounds from its 30mm and I believe it was less than 15. At no time was there sustained fire directed at the tanker. The longest burst was perhaps four rounds.

At the end of the video, the tanker is pumping water, but it is also upright with no significant list and it appears to be making way. I am positive the tanker is underway at least as late as five minutes into the five minute 44 second video.

Perhaps things happened later, but if they recorded the opening shots, it seems they would have recorded the sinking.

This might have been an attempt at deception by the Libyans to discourage smuggling.

It might have been that the patrol boat skipper had been instructed to sink the tanker, and when he failed, he lied about the result of the attack.

It may be that a government information officer simply assumed that because they fired at the ship, that it was sunk. Capsized and sunk does make a much better story than shot at, was annoyed, and sailed away.

It is not impossible the entire thing was theater staged with the cooperation of the tanker, although I think that very unlikely.

Certainly the tanker’s owners may have reasons not to debunk the story.

  • They don’t want to confirm they were smuggling.
  • The report may discourage competing smuggling organizations.
  • They may even rename and reflag the tanker and file a bogus insurance claim.

Certainly, there was nothing in the video to indicate that this ship was sunk.

A final note. The patrol boat is seen firing into both sides of the tanker. If you want to sink a ship, it is usually better to concentrate as much damage as possible on one side. It is more likely to make the ship list and ultimately capsize. As the list increases holes initially made above water start to submerge and take on water.