Coast Guard to Recieve Two Satellites, Launch Expected This Year

Cube shaped satellite, 100mm (3.9″) on a side. This photo shows the Norwegian student satellite NCUBE2 ready for shipment to the Netherlands for integration with the ESA student satellite SSETI-Express, photographer, Bjørn Pedersen, NTNU.

National Defense is reporting that the Air Force is building two “Polar Scout” SAR satellites for the Coast Guard, expected to be launched this year.

An earlier post referenced a Acquisitions Directorate report on this R&D Center project.

These satellites, or “cubesats,” are capable of detecting transmissions from emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), which are carried on board vessels to broadcast their position if in distress. The Coast Guard will deploy the cubesats in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s Polar Scout program, the Air Force Operationally Responsive Space Office, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

These two satellites will only provide intermittent coverage of EPIRB signals from the polar regions so more satellites may follow.

This appears to be first fruit of a growing cooperation between the Coast Guard’s R&D Center and the Air Force Research Laboratory which has been formalized by a recent Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by the heads of the two organization on April 12, 2018.


“Charting the Course: the U.S. Needs an Arctic Fleet”–USNI/Why We Never See the Navy In Alaska

The US Naval Institute Proceedings has a short article that is available on line here. It not only advocates for an Arctic Fleet, but also explains why it has not happened, but suggests the operation of the 4th Fleet as an organizational model.

“…While naval forces are not permanently assigned to Fourth Fleet, the organizational structure remains in place both to support force assignment and to represent Navy interests in the region. The same can be true in the Arctic.

“This new Arctic Fleet can be established in a step-wise fashion, tailored across time and married to changing force structure. A sensible first step would be to augment the small Navy staff assigned to AlCom (Alaska Command–Chuck). Subsequently, in the mid-term, a joint inter-agency task force (JIATF) could be established out of the AlCom office, as resources and activity grew. Certainly, this JIATF would include the Coast Guard, but it also should include liaison officers from Canada, Norway, and other key allies. Ultimately this fleet would be stood up and merged with the NorthCom’s NCC. The Arctic Fleet could be commanded by, for example, either a Navy reserve admiral or a Coast Guard admiral.”

If we could get it to work:

This might end up looking a lot like 4th Fleet where the COCOM says all my ships are white with a racing stripe.

I would suggest that the Fleet would need much more than token Canadian representation. Ultimately any Arctic fleet is likely to have substantial Canadian representation.

Why the 4th Fleet Model probably will not work:

The proposed inclusion of “Norway and other key allies” seems to suggest that the author sees a single fleet working out Alaska Command (ALCOM), but while NORTHCOM includes Arctic waters as far east as the West coast of Greenland (which is a “constituent country” of the Kingdom of Denmark), realistically, there will be ships based in the Atlantic, and ships based in the Pacific, and the two are unlikely to have much interaction. Arctic waters that connect to the Atlantic are closely connected to NATO and LANTFLT operations. Operations in those areas would not logically come under the control of a small Naval staff in Alaska. Our Arctic Fleet would mostly be needed for the Pacific/Arctic/Alaska. The proximity of Russia and China reinforce the point.

The 4th Fleet model works because their AOR is part of the Atlantic Fleet AOR and Fleet Forces, as Atlantic Fleet, sees 4th Fleet as one of their responsibilities, all be it a minor one. Pacific Fleet does not see sending forces to answer to NORTHCOM as part of their responsibility.

The Bureaucratic Hurdles:

There are at least two major problems in overcoming “the way we have always done things” in making this happen.

  • There is a mismatch between who is in charge of the area and who is in charge of the ships that are needed.
  • There is a mismatch between the resources needed and the way the Navy packages its forces.

Areas of Responsibility:

The Arctic, note the US includes the Aleutians and the Bearing Sea as part of the Arctic even though they are below the Arctic Circle

U.S. Fleet Forces (USFF) Command serves as the supporting Navy commander to Commander, U.S. Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) and USFF also serves as the Joint Forces Maritime Component Commander (JFMCC) to U.S. Northern Command (including AlaskaCommand), but they are also Commander Atlantic Fleet. Notably for our purposes Commander, Pacific Fleet is someone different with a different set of priorities.

These are the Unified Combatant Commander’s Areas of Responsibility. Note Alaska in the extreme upper left

PACOM Area of Responsibility. Note all of Alaska is outside PACOM AOR, even though they are nominally 3rd Fleet waters.

The most likely areas of operation for an Arctic Fleet, the Bearing Sea and the Chukchi Sea, are split between PACOM and NORTHCOM. The most critical chock point in the entire area, Bearing Strait, is similarly split.

US Navy Fleet Organization. Note 2nd Fleet has now been subsumed into 6th Fleet.

Tactical Organization:

Another potential hang up is that the Navy has three primary organizational subsets.

  • Carrier Strike Groups (CSG)
  • Amphibious Ready Groups (ARG)
  • Submarines

Carrier strike groups and amphibious ready groups are in high demand and are rotated through customary assignments to 5th, 6th, and 7th Fleet. If you look at the USNI fleet tracker reports on a regular basis, you will see that there is never a sufficient number of Navy ships deployed to Fleet Forces, 3rd Fleet, or 4th Fleet to actually constitute a “fleet.”

Only submarines operate normally as single units and even they are frequently assigned to support CSGs.

Rarely, the Navy has dispatched groups of destroyers and frigates (when they had them) as “Surface Action Groups” (SAG) but generally these are fully committed to support of carrier strike groups.


Make Alaska part of USPACOM. It is the only way to rationalize this as an area of potential Combat.


CGAS Kodiak C-130Hs to be Replaced by J Models

Navy Times is reporting that Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130s will be replaced with more capable C-130Js by 2020.

This is a very welcome change. According to the Acquisitions directorate,

“The HC-130J has a more advanced engine and propellers, which provide a 20 percent increase in speed and altitude, and a 40 percent increase in range over the HC-130H. The new aircraft also features state-of-the-market avionics, including all-glass cockpit displays and improved navigation equipment. The HC-130J’s suite of command, control, communication, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (C4ISR) equipment – comparable to that of the HC-144 Ocean Sentry medium range surveillance aircraft – helps to extend the fleet’s mission capabilities.”

Higher speed, longer range, shorter take-off and landing, better climb rate, better sensors, more intuitive cockpit, better terrain avoidance. Not bad.

China unveils vision for ‘Polar Silk Road’ across Arctic–Reuters

Chinese icebreaking research vessel Xue Long (Snow Dragon), Photo by Bahnfrend

Reuters has an interesting short article about China’s interest in the Arctic. Initially this will probably be primarily concerned with shipment of Russian LNG, but it appears we can expect other activities as well, including fishing. Certainly we should expect more traffic through the Bering Strait, bringing with it the possibility of SAR and Marine Environment Protection incidents.

“The white paper said China also eyes development of oil, gas, mineral resources and other non-fossil energies, fishing and tourism in the region. It said it would do so “jointly with Arctic States, while respecting traditions and cultures of the Arctic residents including the indigenous peoples and conserving natural environment”. “

Video–“Coast Guard Readiness: How Far Can We Stretch Our Nation’s Only Multi-Mission, Military Force?”

Above is the video of the Senate Subcommittee hearing for which I provided the Commandant’s prepared remarks earlier.

Participating Senators I noted were:

  • Dan Sullivan, Sub-Committee chair (R, Alaska)(Lt.Col., US Marine Corps Reserve)
  • Gary Peters, ranking member (D, Michigan)(LCdr. US Navy Reserve, Supply Corps)
  • Bill Nelson, ranking member of the Commerce Committee (D, Florida)(Capt. US Army Reserve)(NASA Scuttle payload specialist)
  • Roger Wicker, Chairman of the Seapower sub-committee (R, Mississippi)(Lt.Col. ret. USAF reserve)
  • Richard Blumenthal (D, Connecticut) (USMC Reserve 1970 to 1976 discharges as Sargent)
  • Brian Schatz (D, Hawaii)
  • Ed Markey (D, Mass.) (Spec4, US Army Reserve, 1968-73)
  • Jim Inhofe (R, Oklahoma) (Spec4, US Army, 1956-1958)
  • Maria Cantwell (D, Washington)

You can also check out the original post from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. (Same video is available there, but the meeting does not actually start on that version of the video until minute 36.) There you can also find the written statements of the other three witness who constituted the second panel. The Commandant was the sole witness on the first panel.

This was something of a love fest for the Coast Guard with repeated praise for the people and actions of the Coast Guard.

This hearing was reputedly about how the Coast Guard had been impacted by the unusually severe Hurricane season. There is not a lot new here but there were some interesting remarks.

Polar Icebreaker Contracts

The intention is to Contract for the first Icebreaker and then employ block buy for the next two (28m). To me this seems to negate most of the advantage of a block buy. I don’t believe we will or should buy one and then wait until we have tried it out before contracting for the next two. That would necessitate a delay of at least five years during which we would still have the nightmare scenario of our only heavy icebreaker having no rescue if it should break down in the ice–certainly not an impossibility even with a new ship. If we are going to contract for the remaining two before testing the first, we might as well block buy all three.

First of class is always the most expensive. If the shipyard gets a block buy they know that initial improvements in productivity can be amortized over the entire block buy quantity. In some cases, in order to win the whole project, the shipyard will cut the price of the first ship substantially knowing they will make a profit over the entire project.

If we buy one and then block buy the second and third, we have paid for improvements to the winning yard with the first contract and minimized the chances for a competitive bid for numbers two and three.

Legislation has capped DOD participation in icebreaker procurement, so the bulk of icebreaker procurement costs will come out of the Coast Guard budget.


There was a lot of discussion about the need to have the Coast Guard Authorization Bill signed into law, still not approved. You can see it here.

Other topics

There was a discussion of the high cost of the Coast Guard response to the recent series of Hurricanes.

Representative Sullivan spent a lot of time, discussing and advocating for an eleven mile road from King Cove  (population estimate–989) to Cold Bay, Alaska (population estimate–122) which has an all-weather airport with two runways, one 10,180 feet and one 6285 feet in length. The Coast Guard connection is that the road would minimize or eliminate the necessity for the Coast Guard to Medivac emergencies from King Cove by helicopter, which is frequently hazardous. It is a Federal issue, because the road would run through a Federal reserve. The Commandant fully supported the desirability of completing the proposed single lane gravel road as a means of minimizing the requirement for helicopter medivac.

Video Breakdown

28m Domestic icebreakers–Design work on new domestic icebreakers is expected to start in 2030. That sounds a bit late to me. Mackinaw was commissioned in 2006 so if that is what he is really talking about, that makes sense, but the 140 foot icebreaking tugs are a different story. The first for of these will be 51 years old in 2030. More than  half of them have already completed in-service which was expected to add 15 years to their service life. Morro Bay, at least, is expected to reach the end of her service life in 2030, and considering how long it takes us to build a ship we really need to start the process not later than 2025.

45m Western Pacific Fisheries Protection–They have not seen much risk of Illegal, Unregulated, or Unreported fishing. 

51m Inland River Tenders

56m We may need to replace the 52 ft MLBs with something larger than the 47 foot MLB sometime in the future, but their end of life is not yet apparent

58m Coast Guard Museum in New London

60m Sexual Assault in the CG

1h02m Puerto Rico/Virgin Islands continuing commitment and its effects on drug seizures and alien migrant interdiction.

1h05m Vessel homeporting

1h08 CG center of expertise, particularly in regard to clean up spills in ice and fresh water

1h16m Army Corp of Engineers dredging backlog.

1h17m  Second Panel begins.

1h19m Medivac from King Cove

1h31m Mr Smithson regarding Deepwater Horizon experience, unified approach, investment in mitigation.


Drilling for Oil in Alaskan Arctic Resumes

© National Geographic Stock/ James P. Blair /WWF (Note, this may or may not be the facility in question–Chuck)

MarineLink reports that

“Italian oil producer Eni this week began drilling a new well in U.S. waters off the north coast of Alaska, becoming the first company to do so since 2015, federal regulators said on Wednesday.
“The oil and gas firm is working from an artificial island in the Beaufort Sea about three miles off Oliktok Point in the Arctic Ocean…The project could result in 20,000 barrels a day of oil production…”
This should add urgency to research into dealing with oil spills in the ice covered water. Perhaps also more justification for revitalizing the icebreaker fleet.