Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.
That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
His support of transgender CG personnel.
I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.
The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.
6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven ships operating under SOUTHCOM.
Q&A begins at 11:00.
16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.
17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction
20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”
22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber
23m Cyber threat.
24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.
26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability
29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years
30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.
32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.
36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system. He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.
43m30s Comments on transgender members
45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.
47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.
49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.
50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease
53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.
56m DHS is the right place for the CG.
The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically
He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways. Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.
The administration’s FY 2018 budget request was not available, but the Commandant was there to discuss future priorities, requirements, and programs. The Department Secretary, General Kelly, is expected to address the Subcommittee on May 24 at 3PM Eastern.
I will just mention a few of the items I thought significant.
Admiral Zukunft noted that Huntington Ingalls has begun cutting steel for NSC #9. Questioned about NSC#10, he said, if it were funded, the Coast Guard would of course use it, but that the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is the Coast Guard’s #1 priority. His response, that another NSC would have an effect on long-range operating cost, seemed to suggest anticipated significantly lower operating costs for the OPC. Significantly, there has been no mention of reducing the OPC program by one ship to offset the addition of NSC #9. (There is already a strong push to build more NSCs, a bill to authorized a multi-year buy of three more.)
He contended that the Coast Guard has taken a harder hit, due to budget restrictions, than other armed services and would need 5% annual growth and at least $2B annually for Acquisitions, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I). Later he stated that this annual AC&I appropriation would included about $300M annually for shore facilities. He pointed to a need to restore 1100 Reserve Billets and add 5,000 active duty military billets while retaining current levels of Civilian staff.
Apparently the FY2918 budget will begin a program to replace 35 Inland tenders at an estimated cost of approximately $25M each ($875M total). (Even if, in the unlikely event, this program were funded in only five years, that would only average $175M/year, so it is not a big program, but one that should have begun at least a decade ago.)
Cyber security for ports was discussed. The Commandant sees the Coast Guard role as decimating best practices, rather than imposing regulation. We now have a cyber program of record–still very small, two CG Academy graduates going directly into the program. The fact that two billets is worth mentioning, is probably the best indication of how really small the program is. A much smaller pre-World War II Coast Guard probably had more people working on breaking German and Japanese codes.
Marine Inspection was addressed. The Commandant noted the increased demand for Inspections because 6,000 tugs have been added to inspection program. He noted a need for more stringent oversight of 3rd party inspectors, who in some cases have not been as meticulous as they should have been. He also noted that the US flag merchant fleet, notably the MSC’s Afloat Prepositioning Fleet, will need replacement, which will also raise demand for marine inspectors.
The Commandant also voiced his support for the Jones Act. He noted, we only have three shipyards building Jones Act ships in the US, and their loss would be short-sighted.
There was much discussion about the Arctic and the Icebreaker Fleet. Looks like follow-on funding for icebreaker program (at least after the first) will have to come from CG AC&I rather than the Navy budget. This may be difficult, but it is the way it should be. The chair of committee expressed his reservations about attempting to fund such big-ticket items through the DHS budget. The Commandant stated that the Coast Guard is still considering the acquisition of the commercial Icebreaker Aiviq (but apparently they are doing it very slowly–the chairman of the committee seemed a bit irritated about this).
The committee members seemed to latch onto the idea that the USCG, rather than the Navy, would be responsible for enforcing US sovereignty in the Arctic (which by US definition includes the Aleutians), and seemed to be asking if the Coast Guard was prepared to fight the Russians and/or Chinese in the Arctic. The Commandant suggested instead, that our role was to provide presence in the pre-conflict phase in order assert US sovereignty. He acknowledged that the National Security Cutters are only armed defensively and are not suitable for conventional naval warfare against an enemy combatant.
The Commandant acknowledged that, at some point it may be desirable to arm Polar Icebreakers, meaning they should be built with space, weight, and power reservations for additional weapons.
(I am all for keeping open the option of arming our icebreakers, so that they can defend themselves and do their part, if there is a conflict in a polar region, but there did not seem to be recognition among the Congression Representatives, that an Arctic conflict is most likely to be determined by submarines and aircraft. The icebreakers’ role is likely to be primarily logistical.)
The Commandant apparently does expect that there may be disagreements with regard to the extent of the US authority over certain areas of the Arctic.
In discussing the need for land based Unmanned Air Systems, there was a curious note at minute 40 about go-fast boats going south. Where are they going?
Alien Migrant Interdiction (AMIO). We have gone for seven weeks without a single Cuban Migrant being interdicted. This is because of the end of Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy. This has allowed reallocation of resources to drug interdiction South of Cuba and human trafficking from the Bahamas
A Congressional Representative, from Texas pointed out there is no CG presence on the Rio Grande River, in spite of it being an international waterway. There was no mention of it, but perhaps he was thinking of the Falcon Lake incident in 2010 when an American was allegedly shot in the head by Mexican drug runners. Maybe something we should reconsider.
The May issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is the Naval Review issue. It includes updates on the Coast Guard as well as the Navy and Marine corps that are behind the membership pay wall, but it also has an article, “Too Small to Answer the Call,” by Capt. David Ramassini, future CO of USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) that is accessible to all, and I think is worth a read.
Basically he is advocating using the Coast Guard internationally to build capacity and counter threats of lawlessness and poor governance in trouble spots all around the world. Below is his recommended building program.
Build a New Great White Fleet
Enhancing regional security in partnership with willing nations requires a 21st-century Great White Fleet of forward deployable (or stationed) national security cutters (NSCs), offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), and fast response cutters (FRC). The mix of platforms and duration of presence would be tailored to the distinct geographies and vary based on the receptiveness of the host nation(s), problem sets to be addressed, and mutual goals of the combatant commands and partner nations. Building on a proven bilateral approach for counterdrug operations and EEZ enforcement, the Great White Fleet would leverage existing agreements—based on the extent to which partner governments are willing—to strengthen CTOC (counter transnational organized crime–chuck) and CT (counter terrorism–Chuck) across the JIME (Joint Interagency Multinational Environment–Chuck).
From an acquisition perspective, doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100) programs equates to the projected cost of one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)-class aircraft carrier (approximately $13 billion). Furthermore, procuring an additional seven NSCs over the nine planned would cost the equivalent of one Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer (approximately $4.2 billion). The NSC and OPC both offer more than three times the on-station time between provisioning than is afforded by a littoral combat ship (LCS).
Building more OPCs also could rapidly grow the National Fleet by leveraging commercial shipyards outside the mainstream industrial complex. These shipyards may be able to provide better value to the government during an economic downturn in the oil and offshore supply industry. Further leveraging this acquisition would continue to drive down the cost of the OPCs and provide an additional industrial base to build a 400-ship National Fleet of ships with far lower operating and maintenance costs than the LCS.
Redirecting proposed future LCS/frigate dollars (approximately $14 billion) to a Great White Fleet to modernize the U.S. National Fleet mix would provide a greater return on investment and more staying power abroad. For instance, building international security cutters—NSCs with Navy-typed/Navy-owned enhancements such as the SeaRAM antiship cruise missile—could offer combatant commanders a truly useful “frigate,” leveraging mature production lines that now operate at only 70 percent capacity. These estimates are for relative comparison and do not include the associated aviation, infrastructure, basing support agreements, and personnel plus-ups that are needed to provide a more credible and persistent presence across the JIME. But investing in a larger Coast Guard and the supporting infrastructure would return high dividends.
I’m not sure I agree, but it is worth considering. We should, however, keep in mind a sentiment expressed by friend Bill Wells that white paint is not bullet proof. We should not perpetuate the idea that only white painted ships can enforce laws, that is a uniquiely American concept and perpetuating it plays into the hands of the Chinese, who have more coast guard ships than any other country in the world.
Still I think there is merit to this concept. It seems to be working for PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces South West Asia). There has already been talk about a similar deployment to SE Asia. We might consider similar detachments of various sizes for West Africa, the Eastern Pacific, and the Marshall Islands.
The additional ships, 7 NSCs, and “doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100)” Is clearly arbitrary. There is very little the NSCs can do that the OPCs will not also be able to do cheaper, so I don’t see a need for more NSCs.
If we take on additional international roles it probably will not be done in one fell swoop. It will probably be done incrementally. Captain Ramassini is clearly looking at this as a near term possibility. Some movement in this direction is clearly possible, but it will take a radical change in the Administration, the Navy, and the Coast Guard for this to happen on the scale he envisions.
Meanwhile, if you look at the “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study,” the Coast Guard actually needs 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs just to meet all of our statutory obligations. That is not far from his 16 NSCs, 50 OPCs, and 100 FRCs. The study and the “Great White Fleet” would both probide 66 large ships (NSCs and OPCs).
Actually the only way I see this happening is if there is a realization that keeping the USN constantly cycling through distant deployments may not be the best way to maintain readiness. That it wears out very expensive ships and drives people from the service, and that perhaps cutters can perform at least some of the presence missions.
Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian interviews the Commandant, Adm. Paul Zukunft, at the 2016 Reagan National Defense Forum.
The Commandant hit many of themes we have heard him discuss before, but there was also mention of beginning to replace the inland Aids to Navigation fleet. We were supposed to have had a joint program with the Corp of Engineers to develop a common design, but I haven’t heard anything about that for several years now. They are certainly due for replacement. It almost sounds like they just realized they needed to do something about this.
As I understand it, he will need to have a waiver from the Senate to serve because he retired less than seven years ago, but it appears he will have broad bi-partisan support having received the endorsement of President Obama’s former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Many of us have wondered about the apparent duplication of effort by the Coast Guard and Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Air and Marine Operations (AMO). Apparently the The U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Homeland Security, Subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security had the same concern and asked for an audit by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of the Inspector General (OIG). This resulted in a report, “AMO and Coast Guard Maritime Missions Are Not Duplicative, But Could Improve with Better Coordination (pdf).”
Guess there is no suspense in what their findings were, but I find the methodology and conclusions less than complete and satisfying.
The recommendations of the audit were:
Recommendation #1: We recommend that the DHS Under Secretary for Management reestablish an oversight mechanism at the DHS level to ensure that AMO and the Coast Guard coordinate operations.
Recommendation #2: We recommend that the Coast Guard Commandant, CBP Commissioner, and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director revise the Maritime Operations Coordination Plan to include requirements for coordination and information sharing at all levels, especially the local level.
So the response was equally predictable–form a committee.
I’m sorry, but my BS meter is off the scale. The alarm went off first, when they consistently called the territorial sea, “customs waters” lending a presumption that this is a Customs job.
While their conclusion may ultimately prove correct, they essentially failed to look at the most significant area of overlap–Maritime Patrol Aircraft. The audit concentrated exclusively on drug enforcement and failed to consider Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations (AMIO). And they failed to answer the most basic questions.
While coordination is always assumed to be a “good thing,” the only real reason you should want two agencies performing the same function would indicate less coordination, not more.
There is no doubt AMO does useful work, that is not the point. The question is, what is the most effective and economical way to distribute resources. Should DHS be working toward a different distribution of tasking and resources?
Why does Customs need boats? The Revenue Cutter Service was Customs’ boat service. Why doesn’t the Coast Guard still fulfill that function? The Coast Guard operates boats. Boats are on standby with crews at the ready. When Customs needs a boat, why don’t they ride Coast Guard boats? What is the cost of an operating hour for comparable Coast Guard and Customs boats?
AMO does need aircraft to do several tasks, including interdiction of smuggling by air, but why does Customs need to have a fleet of maritime patrol aircraft for interdiction of surface vessels, when the Coast Guard also has to provide a similar fleet for a whole range of missions? The AMO operates a fleet of 14 P-3s including both Airborne Early Warning models and P-3 Long Range Trackers. They are over 40 years old and undergoing an extensive and expensive life extension program. AMO also operatesBombardier DHC-8, and Beach King Air 350ER equipped with marine search radars. What is the cost of an operating hour for comparable Coast Guard and Customs aircraft?
AMO regularly performs air interdiction. Perhaps they should be the ones doing the low speed air interdiction over DC.
In addition to drug enforcement, the two agencies seem to have overlapping missions in Alien Migrant Interdiction Operations (AMIO) and counter terrorism. Why weren’t these missions looked at as well?
AMO boats are suitable only for very short ranged AMIO missions while Coast Guard vessels a suitable for interception long before the approach the US coast.
It appears that AMO assets are limited to small arms. If the terrorist threat is anything much larger than a small boat, they are unlikely to be effective in countering it without assistance.
What about Jurisdiction?
AMO operates primarily within the customs waters, but it maintains the authority to pursue vessels fleeing the customs waters or hovering outside those waters as a means of avoiding AMO jurisdiction.
The Coast Guard is not similarly limited in the Marine environment. The effects of this on agency effectiveness was not considered.
Maybe AMO’s jurisdiction should be extended to cover the entire EEZ, but that is not the case now and AMO’s boats don’t seem suited for operations much beyond 12 miles. They are generally very fast, but probably short legged with minimal protection for the crew from the elements.
The characteristics of their boats don’t seem to square with the very long range character of their aircraft like the P-3s.
Why overlapping responsibility might be a good idea–coordination be damned:
There is one reason you might want two agencies responsible for the same law enforcement mission. That would be if you worry about the possibility that one of the agencies might be compromised. For instance if one agency is somehow compromised by a criminal organization. The law enforcement agency might still appear successful. The criminal organization might use the agency to eliminate its competitors, providing intelligence. A second independent agency might uncover this corruption.
Use of Force:
There is an interesting section comparing the two agencies’ use of force policies.
Approval for Employing Use of Force
Coast Guard crews must receive approval from the appropriate official in the chain of command, typically an Admiral, before using force to stop noncompliant vessels. According to the Coast Guard, the approval time can take from 10 minutes to several hours depending on the case. In contrast, AMO policy reflects a more traditional law enforcement approach and allows its agents to make use of force decisions.
According to the Coast Guard, it needs a use of force policy to cover a vast range of mission sets across a legally and jurisdictionally complex operating environment. Although the approval process has some level of risk mitigation, the Coast Guard designed the process to relieve on-scene officers of the need to access U.S. jurisdiction and legal authority to employ force against a noncompliant vessel, and allows those officers to focus on executing the tactics and procedures to safely and effectively employ that force.
We participated in use of force demonstrations for noncompliant vessels with both components and experienced the delay in the Coast Guard’s approval process. Although there are potential safety concerns for Coast Guard boat crews during a pursuit, the Coast Guard stated that it updated its law enforcement manual to “refine and streamline the process in every way possible” to reduce the time lapse from when the Coast Guard vessel is “overt” (known by the suspected vessel to be following) to when the necessary actions (use of force) are completed.
Hopefully if a Coast Guard CO sees a terrorist attack underway, he will have the flexibility to act on the knowledge, even if there is no time to get approval.
Using Statistics that do not correlate:
As noted, the report only looked at drug enforcement and only at a small part of the mission. Quoting from the report,
“There are 206 combined locations where AMO and the Coast Guard conduct operations in customs waters. Of the 206, there are 17 locations (8 percent) where AMO and the Coast Guard have similar capabilities and an overlapping area of responsibility.”
” In FY 2015, at the 17 overlapping locations, all of AMO’s drug seizures occurred on land or in customs waters, where marine units primarily conduct operations.”
“The Coast Guard is a multi-mission agency, including law enforcement that operates in both customs and international waters. In contrast to AMO, Coast Guard personnel assigned to drug and migrant interdiction do not conduct investigative or land operations. In FY 2015, 93 percent of Coast Guard drug seizures occurred in international waters (Transit Zone) (emphasis applied–Chuck). AMO only deploys aircraft in this area; it does not have the vessels to operate in these waters.”
“In the overlapping locations, 84 percent of reported drug seizures were from AMO operations. These seizures occurred, in part, because of the different activities of each agency. For example, while some of AMO operations were intelligence based, the Coast Guard conducts routine patrols looking for illegal activity. Although Coast Guard patrols are not as effective as intelligence-based operations, they show a presence and can deter illegal activity.” (Emphasis applied–Chuck)
First note that this compares Customs’ seizures both on land and on the water with the seizures of the Coast Guard, a multimission agency, on the water alone. This also seems to imply that Customs was not sharing their intelligence with the Coast Guard.
FY 2015 Drug Seizures from the 17 Overlapping Locations Agency Customs Waters (Drugs in Pounds) AMO 28,707 (land and water) (84%) Coast Guard 5,602 (16%) Total 34,309.
I doubt the Coast Guard units they looked at drug interdiction as their primary mission. Certainly the AMO units did.
Why the difference in statistics?:
According to Coast Guard statistics, Coast Guard drug seizures in FY2015 were 319,229.4 lbs of Cocaine and 78,262 lbs of Marijuana. Appendix C indicates that the Coast Guard had seized 199,749 lbs of Cocaine and 57,855 lbs of Marijuana. (Why the large difference in these figures?)
Figures reported for AMO in Appendix C were 243,387 lb of cocaine and 719,180 lb of Marijuana.
Pounds of drugs is not a very informative metric, if various types of drugs are aggravated. It also says nothing about its purity. After being cut there is less drugs in a pound of drugs.
Looking at this, I found a cost comparison of what the two agencies spend for their personnel interesting. The total AMO budget for FY2015 was $750M supporting 1,665 members, while the CG budget of $8,380M supported 41,700. Budget/Personnel equals $450,450 per AMO member and $200,959 per CG member. There are probably lots of reasons AMO cost more than twice as much per member, but it might have been worth some examination.
Bottom line, this report failed to answer the question, “Why do both the Coast Guard and Customs have both boats and maritime patrol aircraft?”
What we got was a distorted comparison of the relative success of the Coast Guard and Customs drug interdiction efforts.
These distortions can have consequences and should not be allowed to pass unchallenged. I can understand the Coast Guard not wanting to offend people in the IG office, but I have no such problem, and neither should the subcommittee that requested the audit.
It is relatively short and readable at 21 pages. The recurring themes of the Commandant’s administration are all there, starting with TOC (transnational organized crime) and its deleterious effect on Western Hemisphere governance and prosperity. It does read a little like an Officer Evaluation Report input.
There is nothing particularly surprising here, but even for me, the enumeration of the scope the Coast Guard’s authorities, responsibilities, and international contacts is still mind boggling.
I am not going to try to summarize the report, but there were a few things that struck me.
The Commandant mentions service life extension programs for the seagoing buoy tenders (already begun), the 47 foot MLBs, and the 87 foot WPBs (in the future), but there is no mention of what we will do about the inland tender fleet. There will also be a life extension program for helicopters before they are finally replaced.
There is mention of a program I was not aware of, the “Defense Threat Reduction Agency National Coast Watch System project.” The Defense Threat Reduction Agency attempts to track and reduce the WMD threat. It is not really clear what our role is here. We know about the container inspection programs in foreign ports. Is that it, or is there more to this? (that can be discussed at an unclassified level.)