“Let the Coast Guard Helm Alaskan Command’s Maritime Component” –USNI

PACOM Area of Responsibilty

Two officers, one Army and one Air Force, both with experience in Alaska Command, find that the organization of naval support for the Command is problematic and suggest that making CCGD17 the Naval Component Commander is the solution.

In 2014, the subunified Alaskan Command was reassigned from Pacific Command to NorthCom. Alaskan Command owns the joint force activities in the land and air domains over Alaska and the Arctic and coordinates with Naval Forces Northern Command (NavNorth)—based some 4,500 miles from Alaska—for maritime joint operations. The Alaskan Command commander also is responsible to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for the Alaskan region’s air defense and identification zone (ADIZ), which extends to the North Pole and along the eastern border of Russia. Currently, the maritime warning responsibilities in the Arctic are held at NORAD headquarters in Colorado, and maritime domain awareness responsibilities are retained with the NavNorth Commander in Norfolk, Virginia.

With three different chains of command, none of which own surface vessels around the waters of Alaska, Alaskan Command’s ability to conduct homeland defense is at risk because of a cumbersome command-and-control structure beset with the challenges of distance and limited expertise in operating in the Arctic. There is a more effective command-and-control structure to protect the homeland in the Arctic: establishing the U.S. Coast Guard as the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander of Alaskan Command.

This is recognition of a problem we looked at before, and my conclusion was that Alaska should be reassigned to PACOM. Short of that there is another alternative I will get to below, and they do seem to have a good workable proposal for a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North)

There has been almost no cooperation between the Navy and Alaska Command. That may be starting to change. In May the Navy conducted Exercise Northern Edge 2019. The Navy talked about this a relearning how to operate in the Arctic, but as far as I can tell, they never got into the Arctic. Apparently the Carrier Strike Group stayed in the Gulf of Alaska, but at least they did work with the Air Force in Alaska.

Admittedly the US Navy has limited capability in the Arctic.

“…the Navy’s minimal involvement in the region is for good reason: the Navy has limited Arctic capability, apart from submarines and patrol aircraft. Essentially, there are no current requirements levied on the U.S. Navy necessitating an Arctic presence.”

That also might be changing. It is not unlikely that the Navy will return in at least some fashion to Adak as it has in Iceland..

“Last year, the Navy indicated it would like to begin flying submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Adak Island hundreds of miles off the Alaskan coast in the Aleutian island chain, which would put US aircraft at the westernmost airfield that can handle passenger aircraft in the United States.”

Joint Force Maritime Component Commander

To be the Naval Component Commander you have to be ready for high end conflicts as well as the more routine requirements. Submarines and Maritime Patrol Aircraft are critical assets for success in any major conflict in the Arctic. They are also forces the Coast Guard is not ready to command.

US Navy Fleet Organization

Surely that Maritime Component Commander should be Third Fleet. Additionally, as I noted earlier, It makes no sense to divide the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea between 3rd Fleet and 7th Fleet. Third Fleet should assume responsibility for all of PACOM’s Arctic waters including the entire Bering Sea and the Aleutians. (7th Fleet already has more than enough to do in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.)

Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North):

Meanwhile it would make sense for the Coast Guard to participate in formation of a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North) for the purpose of Disaster Relief/Humanitarian Assistance, response to major SAR cases, and dealing with possible Russian, or even Chinese, Gray Zone operations in the Arctic.

“Big war in the Arctic: How could it happen?” –Global Security

http://www.state.gov/e/oes/ocns/opa/arc/uschair/258202.htm . This map of the Arctic was created by State Department geographers as part of the U.S. Chairmanship of the Arctic Council.

GlobalSecurity.com brings us a Russian view of the possibility of war in the Arctic (including a mention of the USCG).

“The US also seeks to increase its activity in the Arctic. One of the strategies used by the Americans is deploying a significant number of US Coast Guard units in the region.”

(Maybe if one is a significant number?)

Fortunately, even this author, Mikhail Khodarenok, “military commentator for RT.com, a retired colonel, …who served at the main operational directorate of the General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces,” sees little likelihood of a major conflict.

Unfortunately he does see similarities to the situations we have in the Persian Gulf and the South China Sea where there have been, and we expect to continue to have, high levels of tension over the long term. This would be a change from the generally peaceful relations the Arctic nations have enjoyed for almost three decades.

There are a couple of points in his discussion that merit some comment.

“Western experts claim that Russia’s position on the NEP (North East Passage–Chuck)/Northern Sea Route is not always convincing, as allegedly it violates international maritime law to some degree and goes against the principle of the peaceful use of the seas and oceans. Moscow argues that Russia has authority over the NEP which passes through its exclusive economic zone (emphasis applied–Chuck) and any vessels willing to use this route have to ask for its permission.”

The Exclusive Economic Zone is purely about Economic exploitation, hence the name, and conveys no right to restrict  passage in any form. If the Russians start interpreting the meaning differently, as the Chinese seem to be trying to do, there may be trouble.

“…if the ice continues to melt at current rates. The Northwest Passage may become completely free of ice in the next 40-50 years. This route goes across the Arctic Ocean along the Northern shores of North America and the Canadian Arctic Archipelago. It will be the shortest way from Shanghai to New York. If that happens, it will give rise to the same kind of problems that exist today around the NEP. The US is most likely to claim authority over the route, (emphasis applied–Chuck) while China is sure to say that such claims violate maritime law and go against the freedom of navigation principle.”

Canada is likely to continue to claim that the Northwest Passage is internal waters and demand notification and permission for passage, but the US has been very consistent in considering it an international waterway where anyone, including the Chinese, can transit without prior permission, based on the same argument used to claim that the Northern Sea Route is an international waterway.

There is a good possibility that once our icebreaker fleet is a little larger, we can expect the Coast Guard will be asked to exercise Freedom of Navigation on both the Northwest Passage and the Northern Sea Route. Apparently we have already been asked regarding the Northern Sea Route.

Ironically this is one area where we may find agreement with the Chinese regarding Freedom of the Seas, at least in the Arctic. It is a question of how closely the Chinese will try to work with the Russians. This could become a source of tension between the two.

Navy is Exercising in the Gulf of Alaska

171121-N-IA905-1120 PACIFIC OCEAN (Nov. 21, 2017) The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) which is participating in Exercise Northern Edge 2019 (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Morgan K. Nall/Released)

Seventeenth District units may see a rare sight this week, as Navy units are participating in Exercised Northern Edge 2019. The US Naval Institute News Service reports,

USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-71) is underway in the Gulf of Alaska. The carrier will participate in the joint training exercise, Northern Edge 2019 from May 13 to 24. U.S. Navy ships participating Roosevelt with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW 11), guided-missile destroyer USS Russell (DDG-59), USS Kidd (DDG-100), USS John Finn (DDG-113) and fleet oiler USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO-187).

“Personnel from U.S. military units stationed in the continental United States and from U.S. installations in the Indo-Pacific will participate with approximately 250 aircraft from all services, and five U.S. Navy ships. For the first time in 10 years, a Pacific Fleet aircraft carrier will be participating in the exercise,” according to a statement from the U.S. Pacific Fleet.
“Participants will serve as part of a joint task force, which will help enhance multi-service integration and exercise a wide range of joint capabilities.”

The US Pacific Fleet news release linked above is quoted below,

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, Hawaii – Approximately 10,000 U.S. military personnel are participating in exercise Northern Edge 2019 (NE19), a joint training exercise hosted by U.S. Pacific Air Forces, on and above central Alaska ranges and the Gulf of Alaska, May 13-24.

NE19 is one in a series of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command exercises in 2019 that prepares joint forces to respond to crises in the Indo-Pacific. The exercise is designed to sharpen participants’ tactical combat skills, to improve command, control and communication relationships, and to develop interoperable plans and programs across the joint force.

Personnel from U.S. military units stationed in the continental United States and from U.S. installations in the Indo-Pacific will participate with approximately 250 aircraft from all services, and five U.S. Navy ships. For the first time in 10 years, a Pacific Fleet aircraft carrier will be participating in the exercise.

Participants will serve as part of a joint task force, which will help enhance multi-service integration and exercise a wide range of joint capabilities.

Major participating units include: U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, U.S. Pacific Air Forces, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Marine Corps Forces Pacific, Air Combat Command, Air Mobility Command, Air Force Materiel Command, U.S. 3rd Fleet, Air National Guard, Air Force Reserve and U.S. Naval Reserve.

NE19 is the largest military training exercise scheduled in Alaska this year with virtual and live participants from all over the United States exercising alongside live players.

Follow the Northern Edge Defense Visual Information Distribution Service (DVIDS) feature page for full coverage of the exercise.

Note: U.S. Navy ships participating in Northern Edge include Carrier Strike Group 9, USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW 11), USS Russell (DDG 59), USS Kidd (DDG 100), USS John Finn (DDG 113), and USNS Henry J. Kaiser (T-AO 187).

Notably missing is any mention of Coast Guard participation, although I suspect Coast Guard units in fact are participating. Would appreciated any comments on actual Coast Guard participation.

“Rushing Navy Ships into the Arctic for a FONOP is Dangerous” –USNI

Map of the Arctic region showing shipping routes Northeast Passage, Northern Sea Route, and Northwest Passage, and bathymetry, Arctic Council, by Susie Harder

An interesting discussion of the Navy’s proposed Freedom of Navigation Operation (FONOP) in the Arctic which would presumably require Coast Guard assistance.

Within these stories are three different ideas: first, that the Navy is interested in expanding its physical presence in Alaska, through returning to Adak and/or a port on the Bering Strait ( Nome has been discussed for years); second, that Navy personnel need to regain operational familiarity with the Arctic environment; and third, that the Navy appears to be considering a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) in the Arctic for summer 2019.

The first two ideas are unremarkable. Given the dearth of infrastructure and the challenging environment, both improved facilities and practical learning opportunities are required to ensure Navy vessels and aircraft operate safely and effectively.

The third idea—conducting a FONOP in the Arctic in just a few months—is a bombshell.

I seem to remember hearing that this had been discussed, and the Commandant had taken the position that the Coast Guard could not support the idea of a Freedom of Navigation Operation given the state of our icebreaker “fleet,” but apparently the idea is still alive, at least as of mid January.

New Base at Port Clarence?

Bering Strait. Port Clarence bay is the large bight in the southeast.

Adapted from Wikipedia’s AK borough maps by Seth Ilys.

At the National Press Club Headliners Luncheon on Thursday, Dec. 6, the Commandant discussed the Coast Guard’s Arctic presence. We noted the Commandant’s remarks on the Polar Security Cutter earlier, that he was guardedly optimistic, but the US Naval Institute report on the same presentation, brings us more information about the possibility of a new port facility in Western Alaska.

Long-term, Schultz said it’s possible the Coast Guard would look to create a permanent presence in the Arctic. Most likely, Schultz said, the Coast Guard would look for a sea base, possibly in the far northern Port Clarence area. One option, Schultz said, is for the Coast Guard to install moorings to provide a safe haven. Port Clarence, Alaska, had a population of 24, according to the 2010 Census.

Port Clarence was at one time a LORAN Station, and it appears it may still have a substantial runway, so it might also develop into a seasonal air station.

The Secretary of the Navy has already expressed an interest in having a strategic port in Alaska. From the Navy’s point of view it is near the potentially strategically important Bering Strait.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Karl Schultz meets with Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer and Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan in Nome and Port Clarence, Alaska to discuss the construction of deep draft ports in western Alaska, Aug. 13, 2018. This would allow the Coast Guard and Navy to have a strong presence in the U.S. Arctic. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jetta Disco.

“Coast Guard, DHS S&T Venture into Space with Polar Scout Launch” –CG-9

The Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as part of the Polar Scout project. Photo courtesy of SpaceX.

The following is a release from the Acquisitions Directorate

Coast Guard Research, Development, Test, and Evaluation (RDT&E) Program, in partnership with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate (S&T), today launched two 6U CubeSats from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The launch is part of the Polar Scout project to evaluate the effectiveness of space-based sensors in support of Arctic search and rescue missions. Knowledge gained from this demonstration will be used to inform satellite technology recommendations for many potential applications within the Coast Guard and across DHS.

Jim Knight, the Coast Guard deputy assistant commandant for acquisition, said in ceremonies leading up to the launch, “The Polar Scout project presents an opportunity to evaluate the most efficient way to ensure that the United States can project surface presence in the Arctic when and where it is needed while filling an immediate Search and Rescue capability gap in these remote areas.”

The CubeSats, dubbed Yukon and Kodiak, were launched into a low-earth polar orbit on a rideshare with other spacecraft from 17 different countries. This economical alternative to a costly single-mission launch ensured dozens of spacecraft from various organizations reached orbit. Success of the mission was due to public and private sector collaboration throughout the process, from developing the CubeSats to propelling them into space.

“In order to demonstrate, test and evaluate the viability and utility of CubeSats for Coast Guard missions, the Coast Guard RDT&E Program has partnered with DHS S&T to conduct on-orbit testing of CubeSats using the Mobile CubeSat Command and Control (MC3) ground network,” said Holly Wendelin, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance domain lead.

Developed as a potential capability bridge between the current 20-year-old international search-and-rescue architecture and its future successor, “CubeSats serve as a much smaller, more cost-efficient solution that can be easily implemented over a short period of time. Each are only about the size of a shoebox,” said John McEntee, director of Border Immigration and Maritime at S&T.

In the 18 months leading up to the launch, DHS S&T handled the fabrication of Yukon and Kodiak, which are tailored specifically to detect 406 MHz emergency distress beacons. At the same time, the Coast Guard Research and Development Center (RDC) deployed two ground stations – one at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut, and one at University of Alaska Fairbanks – using the MC3 architecture and network. The ground stations will receive all of the signals from the CubeSats during the demonstration.

DHS will begin testing and demonstrations using emergency distress beacons in the Arctic beginning in early 2019 and continuing through the summer. “The demonstrations will include downlinking 406 MHz emergency distress beacon data from the CubeSats using the deployed MC3 ground stations,” Wendelin said. “We will set the beacons off, the satellite should detect it and send signals back to the ground station.” The testing period is expected to provide critical knowledge on how CubeSat technology can be used to enhance Coast Guard and DHS mission performance.

The Polar Scout project is providing valuable insight on the process, cost and feasibility of acquiring and using organic satellites. The Coast Guard and DHS will use the knowledge gained from Polar Scout and the MC3 installs, market research and space mission design and assessments to develop satellite technology recommendations.

As Coast Guard missions become more challenging and complex, the use of small and inexpensive satellites has the potential for great impact. Potential uses for satellites include improving communication in the arctic environment, monitoring large areas for illegal activity and helping to locate persons lost at sea. Additionally, the use of satellites has the potential to reduce the time and resources spent on intensive aircraft searches as well as the risks associated with placing personnel in hazardous situations that only need sensors and communications on scene.

“Undoubtedly, the results and knowledge gained by the Polar Scout Satellite Project will lead to force-multiplying solutions for the Department, which is a big priority in this age of complex threat cycles,” said Bill Bryan, senior official performing the duties of undersecretary for the Science and Technology Directorate.

Through Polar Scout’s robust search-and-rescue satellite solution, the Coast Guard may be empowered to respond to maritime disasters with unprecedented speed, preserving lives and even cargo, along trade routes in the Arctic Circle.

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.”