The US Naval Institute reports on the Activities of USCGC Thetis in support of AFRICOM, including Exercise Obangame Express 2019. I suspect she participated in Exercise Phoenix Express 2019 as well, but I don’t see any confirmation of that.
Photo: Maritime Enforcement Specialist 2nd Class Joe Kelly, a U.S. Coast Guardsman, demonstrates tactical combat casualty care during a training session at Phoenix Express on March 26, 2019.
ARIF PATANI/U.S. NAVY
Stars and Stripes reports on Exercise Phoenix Express 2019 and apparently the Coast Guard was there. It makes sense because this, like Exercise Obangame Express, was a law enforcement capacity building exercise sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). I have reproduced a Navy news release below.
CASABLANCA, Morocco (NNS) — Exercise Phoenix Express 2019, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (CNE-CNA/C6F), concluded with a closing ceremony held at the Royal Moroccan Naval Simulation and Training Center, April 6.
Phoenix Express is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities in order to enhance efforts to promote safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.
The complexity of today’s security environment and the interconnectedness of a global economy demand that we operate together to deter maritime threats,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Zirkle, Chief of Staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. “An effective global security strategy therefore must be collaborative in order to disrupt the flow of illicit trafficking and prevent the spread of violent extremism.”
This year’s exercise control group was hosted at the Royal Moroccan Naval Simulation and Training Center located in Casablanca, Morocco with training taking place throughout the Mediterranean Sea, to include territorial waters off the coast of northern African nations.
The at-sea portion of the exercise tested North African, European, and U.S. maritime forces abilities to respond to irregular migration and combat illicit trafficking. Additionally, forces participated in a port exercise (PORTEX), which incorporated Moroccan law enforcement into the scenario.
“Exercises like Phoenix Express are about working together to combat threats at-sea that impact safety and security ashore,” said Capt. Matthew Hawkins, U.S. exercise lead for Phoenix Express. “Our modern challenges are far too complex for any one nation to resolve and it is my hope that the scenarios practiced here and the addition of new training like the PORTEX are value added for all participants.”
“Many years after it started Phoenix Express has proven that regional cooperation is the best way to face maritime threats and issues,” said Royal Moroccan Navy Inspector General, Rear Admiral Mostapha El Alami. “AFRICOM and Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) have spent a lot of time, effort, and energy to bring together most of the maritime states in the Mediterranean basin in order to enhance military cooperation between them and allow them to work as one team.”
“Exercise Phoenix Express is the most enduring event of all the Express-series exercises. It incorporates complex scenarios, which evolve year over year just as the maritime threats we all face continue to evolve,” said Zirkle. “It is my sincere hope that your navies were enriched by this immensely valuable opportunity to operate together.”
Nations who participated in Phoenix Express 2019 included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Spain, Tunisia, United Kingdom and the United States.
Phoenix Express, sponsored by AFRICOM and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities to enhance efforts to achieve safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.
USCGC Thetis (WMEC-910) has been participating in a capacity building exercise in the Gulf of Guinea. I would not have known that except that the cutter rescued a couple of fishermen already given up for dead.
Looking for news of the wrap up, Adm. James G. Foggo III, commander, Allied Joint Force Command Naples, and commander, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa, did recognize the cutter.
More than 220 U.S. military personnel participated in OE19, including the crew of U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Thetis (WMEC 910). Specifically, United States forces conducted training in visit, board, search and seizure, maritime interdiction operations, legal, and surface warfare.
This was a pretty big exercise.
“We brought 33 countries together, [including] 95 ships, 12 high-performance aircraft, 19 maritime operations centers, [all] tied together in Obangame Express, and seven national military command centers for over 80 scenarios and exercises in the last two weeks,” said Foggo.
This is the ninth iteration of the exercise.
“Obangame Express has grown in scope from a communications exercise to become what it is now — a comprehensive maritime security event that exercises the full spectrum of activities from command and control, to maritime force responses, and ultimately the handing and transfer of evidence to bring criminals to justice,” said Rear Adm. Heidi Berg. “Today, we face serious challenges at sea such as illegal fishing, trafficking of weapons, narcotics, people, and the ongoing threat of piracy. This illicit activity undermines rule of law, food security, and economic development. Our efforts here will help make the region a safer place for maritime commerce and help increase prosperity throughout the region.”
The 33 nations scheduled to participate include Angola, Belgium, Benin, Brazil, Cabo Verde, Cameroon, Canada, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Denmark, Equatorial Guinea, France, Gabon, Gambia, Germany, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Morocco, Namibia, Netherlands, Nigeria, Portugal, Republic of Congo, Sao Tome & Principe, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Spain, Togo, Turkey and the United States, as well as the Economic Community of West African States and the Economic Community of Central African States.
One of the highlights of the event was the opening of a Maritime training school in Nigeria.
As part of the events to open the 2019 Obangame Express, Consul General Bray and Vice Admiral Ibas commissioned the Nigerian Navy’s Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA) Training School in Apapa. The training school was built by the Nigerian Navy and equipped by the United States Navy.
If you look at the Gulf of Guiana you can see that a fleeing pirate can quickly transit from one jurisdiction to another. They need cooperation between neighboring states.
Obangame Express is part of a comprehensive strategy by U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa to provide collaborative opportunities among African forces and international partners that address maritime security concerns. The Nigerian Navy is hosting the 2019 exercise from March 14 to 22.
The word ‘Obangame’ comes from the Fang language of southern Cameroon and other parts of Central Africa. It means “togetherness.”
This area still needs a lot of help. Five crew members were recently kidnapped off of an Offshore Support Vessel despite protection of an armed Nigerian Navy escort. One Nigerian Navy Guard was killed in the exchange of gun fire.
“According to the International Maritime Bureau, the number of piracy incidents reported in the Gulf of Guineas in 2018 in surged to 201 incidents, including six hijackings, marking a steep rise from 180 incidents in 2017 and 191 in 2016. Among the 201 incidents reported, there were 13 ships were fired upon, 130 hostages taken, and 78 seafarers kidnapped for ransom. To make matters worse, some experts estimate that some 40% of incidents in the region go unreported, so the number of actual incidents is likely much higher. “
They do seem to be making some progress in achieving greater coordination helped by these exercises.
COMMODORE OLISEMENOGOR: “… Within the last three months in Western Naval command areas, I think we have arrested over fifty-something vessels based on this collaboration with other nations.”
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.
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
30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)
32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA
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.
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.”
gCaptain has a good exploration of what is being done to crack down on Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing.
This is an area where having a Coast Guard presence in AFRICOM’s Area of Responsibility (AOR) could make a real difference, perhaps SE Asia as well.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.