“Royal Canadian Navy ship completes Northwest Passage journey for first time since 1954” –CBCNEWS

HMCS Harry DeWolf

CBCNews reports that the Canadian Navy Artic and Offshore Patrol Ship HMCS Harry DeWolf has completed its East to West transit of the Northwest Passage as part of a planned circumnavigation of North America.

For the first time since 1954, a Royal Canadian Navy ship has completed the journey through the Northwest Passage.

“It was the longest time a Canadian navy ship has operated in the Arctic in consecutive days in more than 50 years,” said Cmdr. Corey Gleason, commanding officer of HMCS Harry DeWolf.

USCGC Healy is also conducting a similar circumnavigation of North America, but moving clockwise, while the Canadian vessel is moving counter-clockwise. If they get together, they should have some interesting stories to exchange.

I would think the Canadian experience with this class is also informing the Coast Guard’s acquisition process for the “Arctic Security Cutter,” our planned medium icebreaker.

There is also this D17 report of her PassEx with USCGC Kimball near Dutch Harbor.

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard 17th District Alaska

U.S. Coast Guard Kimball, Royal Canadian Navy crews conduct joint exercise near Dutch Harbor

Harry DeWolfe

The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew and a Royal Canadian Navy crew, aboard the military vessel Harry DeWolf, transit alongside one another off the coast of Dutch Harbor, on Sept. 23, 2021. The crews exchanged radio communications after rendering honors along the ship railings. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

JUNEAU, Alaska – U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Kimball and Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) crews conducted a joint exercise off the coast of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, on Sept. 23, 2021.

The Coast Guard Cutter Kimball crew and an RCN crew, aboard the military vessel Harry DeWolf, operated alongside one another to exchange radio communications after both crews lined their respective ship’s port railings to properly salute in formation, rendering honors.

The joint exercise was a significant opportunity that allowed the crews to demonstrate international operability and reaffirms the longstanding relationship between the U.S. and Canada. The mutually beneficial alliance between the two Arctic nations continues to contribute to maritime security in this increasingly critical region.

“Our exercise with the Harry DeWolf is just the latest in a long history of maintaining a strong bond with our close friend, Canada, as well as our commitment to work with all the Arctic nations,” said Capt. Thomas D’Arcy, the Kimball’s commanding officer. “The maritime partnership between the United States and Canada enhances each nation’s regional stability, while providing mutually beneficial economic opportunities. With the increased importance of the Arctic and activity in the region, our trust and partnership in the maritime domain will promote each nation’s interests and provide opportunities to protect the environment.”

The Coast Guard provides a continuous physical presence in the Bering Sea and throughout Alaska to carry out search and rescue and law enforcement missions and to conduct interagency and international cooperation, building on current regional partnerships.

The Bering Sea, considered the gateway to the Arctic, encompasses 900,000 square miles of the U.S. exclusive zone off the Alaskan coast. The joint operations conducted by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Royal Canadian Navy bolster the ability to operate in this critical region at a time when the Arctic is becoming increasingly accessible.

The Kimball, homeported in Honolulu, Hawaii, is one of the Coast Guard’s newer 420-foot Legend-class National Security Cutters and boasts a wide array of modern capabilities helping the crew to complete their varied missions.

“Arctic Security Cutters: Regionally Named, Globally Deployed” –US Naval Institute Proceedings

HMCS Harry DeWolf in ice (6-8 second exposure)

The August, 2021 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article, that is the first I have seen to discuss the roles that should be expected of the “Arctic Security Cutters,” the Coast Guard’s planned Medium Icebreakers.

The article is available on line. I am not sure if or for how long it will be accessible to non-members.

The thrust of the article is that these ships should not be limited to deployments in the Arctic. That they have important roles in Antarctica and might also be used for domestic icebreaking, particularly in the Great Lakes during unusually severe winters, or if the Great Lakes icebreaker Mackinaw should suffer a casualty. I have suggested something similar before. It is also likely we will have reasons to operate in the Arctic entering from the Atlantic side.

This would require a homeport on the East Coast, perhaps Newport, Boston, or Kittery, ME. It would mean the ship would have to fit through the locks from the St. Lawrence to the Lakes and between the lakes.

To qualify as a “Medium Icebreaker” in the Coast Guard lexicon, the ships would have to have propulsion motors totaling 20,000 HP or more, meaning it will be more powerful than the Canadian DeWolf class Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships, like the one pictured above.

The author suggests a design evolved from the Wind class Icebreakers. These were very successful ships, but the design is about 80 years old, so we can certainly do better. Even so, the successful use of the Wind class globally shows what can be done with a design smaller than the planned Polar Security Cutters.

That the Coast Guard continues to claim a requirement for a medium icebreaker class rather than simply building more Polar Security Cutters may mean they have recognized a need for a smaller ship, perhaps one that could operate in the Lakes or in shallower water than might be accessible to the PSC.

Questions remain regarding the expectations of the class. How will it be armed, and what sensors will it be equipped with? I would anticipate an outfit similar to that of the Offshore Patrol Cutters, but that is yet to be seen. Should it be capable of operating more than a single helicopter? UASs? USVs? Space and utilities to support containerized systems? Space for a SCIF? I look forward to hearing more about this class.

Authorization (not money) for Six Icebreakers and Better Comms in the Arctic

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.

Breaking Defense reports the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) includes six icebreakers for the Coast Guard and better satellite communications for the polar regions.

Not really a reason to get too excited yet. Authorization does not include any money. There was already general bipartisan acceptance of the idea that the Coast Guard needs new icebreakers with the 3 heavy and 3 mediums apparently seen as reasonable. Funding ($555M) for the second Polar Security Cutter was requested by the administration and agreed to by both Senate and House oversight committees, so should be in the FY2021 budget.

The addition of better comms may be the best news in the NDAA for the Coast Guard. It has been a major problem in US Arctic operations.

Polar Security Cutters and Coast Guard ASW

The US Naval Institute Proceedings web page has a couple of Coast Guard related articles that did not appear in the print version of Proceedings,

I have reproduced my comments on these topics below.


In regard to arming the Polar Security Cutters (the author seemed fixated on cruise missiles. We did discuss this topic earlier here)

There are limits to what we want to put on ships bound for Antarctica, since they have to be open for inspection. On the other hand if we ever do have a near peer conflict involving the Arctic or Antarctic, these will become rare and essential naval auxiliaries. As such they will probably operate with other vessels, including more powerful warships if appropriate, but that does not mean they should not be able to defend themselves against the possibility of leakers. We need to make provision for last ditch defense with systems like SeaRAM.

Meanwhile the fact that they are law enforcement vessels means they should be able to forcibly stop any private or merchant vessel regardless of size. So far it seems they will have at most, 25mm Mk38 Mod3 guns.

The follow on Medium Icebreakers or Arctic Security Cutters, which are unlikely to go to Antarctica, are more likely to be more heavily armed from the start.


Coast Guard ASW (comments were generally surprisingly adverse):

It is a fact that in WWII most U-boats were sunk by aircraft, but about a third (about 230) were sunk by surface vessels, primarily those of our allies Britain and Canada.

Even when surface vessels did not sink U-boats, they often performed valuable service in blocking access to convoys and in rescuing mariners from sunken ships.

US Naval vessels only sank about 38 U-boats. Coast Guard cutters and Coast Guard manned Navy ships were involved in sinking a disproportionate number of those (ten) for various reasons. Most of the US Navy effort went into the Pacific and most of the USN effort in the Atlantic at least through mid-1943, was in escorting high speed troop convoys than largely avoided contact with U-boats.

Circumstances we will face in any near peer conflict may be very different.

The advantages provided by code breaking in WWII are unlikely.

The advantages provided by radar equipped aircraft detecting U-boats charging their batteries or transiting the Bay of Biscay on the surface during the night no longer exists.

The Chinese surface and air threat would divert the most capable USN assets from ASW tasks.

Unlike the Japanese during the Pacific campaign, the Chinese are likely to make a concerted effort to disrupt our logistics train.

We simply do not have enough ASW assets.

Augmenting Coast Guard cutters to allow them to provide ASW escort and rescue services for ships that are sunk by hostile subs, in lower threat areas, is a low cost mobilization option that can substantially increase the number of escorts at low cost.

This could be facilitated by augmenting cutter with USN Reserves. Navy reserve ASW helicopter squadrons could be assigned to fly from cutters.
LCS ASW modules could be placed on cutters and manned by reactivated Navy reservists with LCS ASW module experience.

Our few US merchant ships need to be protected and when inevitably, some are sunk, we need someone to rescue those mariners, because they have become a rare and precious commodity.

The crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Midgett (WMSL 757) and Kimball (WMSL 756) transit past Koko Head on Oahu, Hawaii, Aug. 16, 2019. The Kimball and Midgett are both homeported in Honolulu and two of the newest Coast Guard cutters to join the fleet. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West/Released)


In answer to this comment from James M

Add : For (millions)

ASIST : 6.263
Mk 32 SVTT : 3.237
SLQ-25 Nixie: 1.727
AN/SRQ-4 LAMPS III: 4.625
VDS/MFTA combo: 14.802
ASW Combat Suite: 33.684
64.338 total. I am sure something could be arrived at for less. I look at this as what it takes to fit out an NSC the whole way. For one, OPC will never fit that VDS/MFTA on its stern. At best it would be a Nixie, maybe a container towed sonar we don’t yet use, and the mods for MH-60R. It would be good to know the plan for MUSV as it might help the equation. After all, the 64.338 would buy 2 MUSVs without payload. It could also buy an additional FRC.

So, we could equip ASW equip all eleven projected Bertholf class National Security Cutters (NSC) for less than the cost of a single frigate.

Why do you believe the VDS/MFTA would not fit on the Offshore Patrol Cutter? It is fully as large as the NSCs and does not have the boat launch ramp cut into the stern. They are also substantially larger than the LCSs.

OPC “Placemat”

Seapower’s July/August Coast Guard Issue.

USCGC Stratton (WMSL-752), left, and the U.S. Navy Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell (DDG-85) maneuver in formation during Talisman Sabre 2019 on July 11, 2019. US Navy Photo

The July/August issue of the Navy League’s magazine Seapower included a lot of Coast Guard content. I will not try to cover everything included, much of which has already been covered here, but I will mention a few things that stood out for me.

The Commandant’s Interview:

There was an interview with the Commandant, Admiral Schultz, that I found most interesting. There was a fair amount of information that was new to me.

Icebreakers:

Perhaps most significant was a comment regarding the Medium icebreaker.

“We also are looking to build probably a medium breaker, potentially what we’re going to call the Arctic security cutter — a little less capability in terms of icebreaking, but that capability would get us back to being an Atlantic and Pacific icebreaker Coast Guard.(emphasis applied–Chuck)

It may be that, if this ship is intended to transit the St Lawrence Seaway and work part time in the Great Lakes, like Canada’s proposed six “Program Icebreakers,” it would preclude the option of simply building six Polar Security Cutters rather than the three heavy and three medium icebreakers called for in the High Latitude Study. Alternately we might have four heavy Polar Security Cutters (PSC) in the Pacific and two Arctic Security Cutters (ASC) in the Atlantic.

The interview goes on to state, referring to its planned five year long progressive service life extension program, “…we could keep the 44-year-old Polar Star around here probably through the end of the decade if things go well.” (emphasis applied–Chuck)

The Western Pacific:

The Commandant noted that the Coast Guard had advisers in the Philippines, Vietnam, Fiji, and that an additional adviser would go to Malaysia and an attache to Australia to work with Australia and New Zealand. That there would also be an advisor assigned to Guam to work with the Commonwealth of Micronesia and the Federated States of Micronesia.

The Coast Guard is becoming more involved in countering Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing, and will be providing leadership in international forums.

In reference to the forthcoming Tri-Service Maritime Strategy the Commandant said we could expect, “…to see the Coast Guard bring some unique capabilities to that conversation, particularly in the Indo-Pacific region.” 

Unmanned Systems:

Regarding land based systems the Commandant noted, “..we’ve completed prototype deployment of ScanEagle in Puerto Rico and Texas.” and “We teamed with U.S. Southern Command and CBP and employed one of those (MQ-9–Chuck) in an operation out of Panama that proved tremendously successful.”

He also mentions the possibility of using UAS of all sizes and mentioned the possibility of unmanned surface systems as well.

Cyber:

Sighting the FY2021 budget, Admiral Schultz said, “That is one of the biggest growth areas for humans in the Coast Guard here in the past budget cycle or two. There is somewhere north of 150 additional cyber warriors in the budget before the Congress right now.” 

“Insitu’s ScanEagle Performs ISR for Coast Guard”

There is a short one page report on the use of ScanEagle. It notes that ScanEagle is currently installed on six National Security Cutters and will be installed on all NSCs.

“A standard pack-out for a deployment of three ScanEagle UASs. The sensor systems include an electro-optical/infrared camera, a laser pointer, a communications relay, an automatic identification system (AIS), and visual detection and ranging (VIDAR)–a surface search capability.”

Interesting that it includes a laser pointer on the Coast Guard aircraft because that is usually used as a designator for laser homing weapons.

“The Era of the New Cutters”

This was a three page story, most of which is familiar to regular readers of this blog, but there was one nugget I had not seen before. “…the Coast Guard still will need to pursue a service-life extension program on six of the ships to ensure sustained fleet capability until the OPC program is finished.”

This almost certainly refers to the service life extension program (SLEP) for 270 foot WMECs. This is, I believe, the first time I have seen a number of ships mentioned, so not the whole class of 13. Notably it is only six so don’t expect a SLEP for 210s. They will soldier on in their current configuration until their long delayed retirement.