R&D Center on Healy

It looks like the Healy has been having an interesting voyage. They had aboard a team from the Research and Development Center that were aboard to try out some new technologies.

Here you will find a listing of what they hoped to do while aboard. Projects included.

  • 3-D Printing
  • NOAA buoy
  • Passive Millimeter Wave Camera
  • Oil Skimmer
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft System
  • MSST San Diego Dive Team in Cooperation with a Navy dive team
  • Unmanned surface and subsurface vehicles

A later post shows how it turned out–lots of photos. It is presented in reverse chronological order, August 6 to July 21, so you might want to read it from bottom up.

U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

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.

40m Icebreakers

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.

 

 

Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities, Part II, 25 July, 2017

The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing recorded above is a follow-on to one already discussed. The video does not actually begin until minute 10:40. It is basically done in two parts as indicated below.

Panel I

Panel II

  • Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition and Chief Acquisition Officer, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Rear Admiral Richard D. West (Navy Ret.), Chair, Committee on Polar Icebreaker Assessment, National Academy of Sciences | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service | Written Testimony

Elsewhere the Coast Guard reported on the Commandant’s testimony, but what we really need to listen to is what the Congressional Sub-Committee members are telling us. They seem to love and respect the Coast Guard (you may have noticed Congress keeps giving us more than we ask for), but they are not pleased with the planning documents they are getting from the Coast Guard. I would particularly recommend you watch the opening comments of Representatives Hunter (10:40 to 13:30), Garamendi (to 17:00), and DeFazio (to 21:20). It will probably make you mad. You should be mad. We have to identify the problem and fix it.

If you want only a taste, here is a short version: 

So what is discussed?:

  • 27:00 Great Lakes icebreakers, line item for design of a Great Lakes Icebreaker is being budgeted but no plan for buying one.
  • 29:30 Five Year plan “reflects Fiscal guidance.” That is, we are being told, we have to fit our budget request into predetermined ceilings, so it is less than we really need.
  • 35:00 We are asking DOD to fund six FRCs CENTCOM has requested to replace the 110s currently assigned.
  • 37:00 Graph comparing AC&I funding as requested, authorized, and funded.
  • 39:00 Twenty year plan which was due to Congress at the end of June has not been submitted to Department.
  • 44:00 DOD does not see icebreakers as a National Defense resource. Navy will not pay for the first icebreakers.
  • 54:00 Strong support for icebreakers among the representatives.
  • 57:30 Question on icebreaker lease. Ice trials issue still on the table.
  • 1h02:00 Discussion of Cyber.
  • 1h09 Why not a block buy on the first ship?
  • 1h18m Commandant’s testimony ended
  • 1h34m.Particularly watch Ronald O’Rourke’s testimony, he suggests accelerating the OPC program may be an alternative to WMEC life extension program.
  • 1h43m Sub-Committee liked getting the fleet mix study, but that was several years ago.
  • Block Buy Report due in Dec.
  • Expected cost of heavy icebreaker has dropped about $200M.
  • 2h07m again, “no military requirement for an icebreaker.” Representatives feel that question should be studied.
  • 2h15m if we wait a number of years between the first and second WAGB contract results in loss of expertise and additional cost.

The discussion was dominated by three topics,

  • Coast Guard long term planning,
  • block buys for the OPC and Icebreakers,
  • whether we should build three or four heavy icebreakers.

Three or four heavy icebreakers: The proposal to build four heavy icebreakers rather than three came from a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It is largely based on the reasonable assumption that heavy icebreaker #4 will cost less than medium icebreaker #1, as a result of the learning curve savings on heavy icebreakers and first of class costs for the medium icebreakers. I have not read the study but they don’t seem to have addressed the question, of the need for a total of six icebreakers found in the high altitude study. Assuming we build four of a single class of icebreakers, should we then start on a new class of two medium icebreakers with its attendant start-up costs or should we go ahead and build six heavies?

Block Buys for OPC and Icebreakers: The Congress has authorized the Coast Guard to use “Block Buy” funding for its shipbuilding programs. The Coast Guard seems hesitant to even ask to do this. In the case of the OPC, it might save us more than $1B. We could have (and I believe should have) asked to use multi-year procurement for the second phase of the Webber class WPC buy, but we did not.

The National Academy of Sciences study recommends we use block buy procurement for four icebreakers. The current contract for the OPCs is a contract for the first with options for eight more to be funded through FY2023. Until the options are executed we have the option of seeking a block buy contract for future construction.

Block buys commit Congress to fully fund all vessels included in a program to the extent of the contract. If they back out there are penalties incurred. From the Coast Guard’s point of view it would seem a commitment from Congress would be a good thing.

Because of that commitment, shipyards are likely more willing to invest in productivity improvements, resulting in lower costs.

The Commandant’s remarks on the Icebreaker seem to indicate we will wait until we finish and evaluate operations of the first new Polar Icebreaker before seeking funding for a second. If that happens not only will we miss the potential savings of the a block buy, we will also lose the experience the shipyard gained building the first. Long delays between the first few NSCs was largely why we did not see a significant price drop after the first ship.

Coast Guard long term planning: Our current program of record is a continuation of the “Deep Water” program which originated in 2002 and updated in 2005 following 9/11. A fleet mix study (apparently completed in 2009) confirmed that the Program of Record, if executed, would be an improvement of the fleet as it existed in 2007, but it also showed that it fell well short of meeting all the Coast Guard’s statutory requirements with many missions at risk. Additionally the fleet mix study assumed 230 days away from homeport for both the NSCs and the OPC using the “Crew Rotation Concept.”

We still have a very long way to go before we can achieve the Program of Record. There has been no meaningful test of the “Crew Rotation Concept” in spite of the fact that virtually every test of rotating multiple crews among multiple ships has proven problematic and has failed to realize the claimed benefits. Aircraft are also not achieving utilization hours planned. The OPCs, if constructed as currently planned, will not be completed until 2034.

In short our planning is out of date and the current planning seems to be limited to answering the question, “What will fit in the predetermined, but inadequate budget?”

If five-year plan is subject to “fiscal guidance” then why would the 20 year plan not also be subject to “fiscal guidance.” If we are to provide a true picture of what we need we need to change what we are doing.

What do we need to do?:

  • We need to know what we need.
  • We need to know the consequences of not getting what we need.
  • We need to be able to communicate both what we need and the consequences of inadequate funding to the Congress and Administration.

As noted in the introduction to the executive summary of the Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Analysis.

To support its role as Systems Integrator (SI), the Coast Guard (CG) needs to establish and continually update a strategic plan for the acquisition, operation, and sustainment of capabilities necessary in achieving organizational goals. Key to this strategic plan is a repeatable, comprehensive process that identifies alternative capabilities and Fleet mix solutions that will meet future mission requirements in an efficient, effective, and affordable manner.

This should not be a one time thing. We need to do this regularly as a repetitive process that is improved over time. We also really need to look at alternatives, not just already chosen solutions.

Once we know where we want to go we can come up with a 20 year (or better yet a 30 year) plan, beginning with what are we going to lose.

It might be best if the long-term plan did not include cost figures. Then we don’t have to comply with preconceptions of cost limits. Identify generic platform types with the capabilities we need.

———

Copies of Acquisition and Operation of Polar Icebreakers: Fulfilling the Nation’s Needs are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu

North West Passage, Earliest Transit

Finnish icebreaker Nordica assisting a merchant ship near Hamina, Finland, on 28 February 2009. photo by Cornelia Klier

A bit of news that may be indicative of things to come.

The Associated Press, via the SeattlePI, reports. the Finnish multi-purpose icebreaker Nordica. has made the earliest transit of the North West Passage on record. “Setting off from Vancouver on July 5 and reaching Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on July 29.”

That is a journey of 6000 miles in 24 days for an average of 250 miles per day or 10.4 knots.

Nordica is not a particularly powerful icebreaker with four engines totaling 21 kW or about 28,000 HP, smaller and slightly less powerful than USCGC Healey’s 22.4 kW.

International Court of Arbitration Rules for Green Peace over Russia

Green Peace Photo and Caption. “A Russian Coast guard officer is seen pointing a knife at a Greenpeace International activist as five activists attempt to climb the ‘Prirazlomnaya,’ an oil platform operated by Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom platform in Russias Pechora Sea.” 

gCaptain reports,

Russia rejected a ruling by an international arbitration court which said Moscow must pay damages for seizing a Dutch-flagged Greenpeace vessel, saying on Thursday that the decision would only encourage illegal protests.

We tracked this incident earlier. In this case I think the Russians may have a point. It is very difficult to distinguish between a “peaceful protest” that involves what may appear to be an assault and an actual attack.

The Russians may have made a mistake in not participating in the proceedings.

Russia had originally declined to take part in arbitration, arguing that it was acting within its sovereign rights to seize the ship in international waters where Russia enjoys exclusive economic rights.

The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise departs from Murmansk, Russia, August 1, 2014. The Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise departs from Murmansk, Russia, August 1, 2014. Photo (c) Dmitri Sharomov/Greenpeace

Coast Guard Cutter Maple begins historic voyage through Northwest Passage

Photo: Maple in front of the LeConte Glacier

The following is a Coast Guard news release. USCGC Maple will be using the NorthWest Passage to transit to the Coast Guard Yard for its In Service Sustainment mid-life renovation, and will be doing some scientific research along the wah

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Maple, a 225-foot seagoing buoy tender homeported in Sitka, Alaska, departed Wednesday on a historic voyage through the Northwest Passage.

This summer marks the 60th anniversary of the three Coast Guard cutters and one Canadian ship that convoyed through the Northwest Passage. The crews of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutters Storis, SPAR and Bramble, along with the crew of the Canadian ice breaker HMCS Labrador, charted, recorded water depths and installed aids to navigation for future shipping lanes from May to September of 1957. All four crews became the first deep-draft ships to sail through the Northwest Passage, which are several passageways through the complex archipelago of the Canadian Arctic.

The crew of the cutter Maple will make a brief logistics stop in Nome, Alaska, to embark an ice navigator on its way to support marine science and scientific research near the Arctic Circle. The cutter will serve as a ship of opportunity to conduct scientific research in support of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

The Maple crew will deploy three sonographic buoys that are used to record acoustic sounds of marine mammals. A principal investigator with the University of San Diego embarked aboard the cutter will analyze the data retrieved from the buoys.

The Canadian Coast Guard Ship Sir Wilfrid Laurier will rendezvous with the Maple later this month to provide icebreaking services as the Maple makes it way toward Victoria Strait, Canada. The Maple has a reinforced hull that provides it with limited ice breaking capabilities similar to Coast Guard 225-foot cutters operating on the Great Lakes.

“We’re very excited to make this voyage through the Northwest Passage and to assist in the Scripps Institute research,” said Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Armstrong, commanding officer of the Maple. “In planning this, we have worked very closely with our Canadian counterparts and we look forward to continuing that cooperation in the Arctic.”

All scientific research, icebreaking and marine science activities that occur during the voyage will be conducted in accordance with the 1988 Canada-US Agreement on Arctic Cooperation.

The Maple crew is expected to conclude their historic voyage in Baltimore, Maryland, during late August. The cutter will undergo scheduled maintenance in dry dock at the Coast Guard Yard in Baltimore for repairs and upgrades. The crew will return to Sitka to take command of the 225-foot Coast Guard Cutter Kukui, which was previously homeported in Honolulu.

Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities–House Subcommittee Hearing

 

The hearing recorded above was held 7 June. The original video was found here. That page also provides the chairman’s opening statement and links to the witnesses’ written statements that are also provided immediately below. The video does not actually start until time 4:30.

Below, you will find my outline of the highlights.

Witness List:

  • Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director, Acquisition Sourcing & Management Team, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. John Acton, Chairman, Coast Guard Affairs Committee, Navy League of the United States | Written Testimony

The GAO’s written testimony is particularly comprehensive. They report that new assets (NSCs and FRCs) are not meeting planned availability. There have been an unexpected number of engine replacements. In the case of the National Security cutters it appears to me the down time was predictable, a normal part of introducing new ships and availability should return to planned levels as more ships join the fleet. The known defect, that when operating in waters 74 degrees or warmer, the NSCs cannot maintain maximum speed has apparently not been corrected. Max speed must be reduced two to four knots to allow adequate cooling.

Planning Documents:  The Congressional Representatives repeatedly complained that they were not getting an unsensored statement of the Coast Guard’s needs. It appears the Coast Guard is not being allowed provide this information. Rather it appears the GAO is telling the Coast Guard how much they will be getting and told to submit a budget that fits the predetermined amounts. Reportedly the Unfunded priorities list will be provided by the end of June. They also asked for the 5 year and 20 year plan (1h04:30). Coast Guard representatives were repeatedly told the Coast Guard does not say what they really need, that information provided by the Coast Guard is inadequate for the sub-committee to make decisions (1h48m).

It appears that the GAO continues to ask the Coast Guard to plan procurements based on historically low AC&I appropriations that were adequate for a time because of the sporadic character of Coast Guard ship building. They acknowledge that the current budget is not realistic. (43:45)

The Coast Guard is now consistent in requesting $2B in the AC&I annually and a 5% annual increase in its operating budget and that we need 5,000 additional active duty billets and 1,100 addtional reservists. There was a statement from one of the Representatives to the effect, We need you to fight for yourselves (1h50:30). The representatives were informed that the 5 year, 20 year plans and unfunded will be delivered together (1:56)

My opinion: we need a regularly revised Fleet Mix Study. That in turn should feed directly into a 30 year ship and aircraft procurement plan

Webber Class WPCs: The Coast Guard is reportedly pushing WPCs operations down as far as the coast of South America. (50:00) This confirms my earlier speculation that these ships would be operated in what had been WMEC roles. Six cutters for CENTCOM The representative confirmed that they had approved procurement of six Webber class requested by CENTCOM. Apparently their approval was in the form of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill which has still not been made law. Adm. Ray stated that these would be in addition to the 58 currently planned (9:30) and it is not clear how or when they would be funded. Adm Stosz indicated it was not certain six Webber class would be the Coast Guard’s choice in how to fill this requirement and the question required more study. (1h11)(1h41m).

Shore Facilities: Reportedly there is a $1.6B shore construction backlog. $700M shore facilities maintenance backlog. Some infrastructure improvements that directly support new operational platforms.are being accomplished under the platform programs (55:00) The representatives asked, why we have asked for only $10M if the total shore facilities backlog is $2.3B?(1h35)

Icebreakers: The possibility of leasing the commercial icebreaker Aiviq is still being considered. (1h27) The owners have offered a plan for Ice trials and the Coast Guard has said it would be interested in observing. (1h29:50)

Great Lakes Icebreaker: Rep. Lewis brought up icebreaker for Great Lakes.Adm Ray says for now we will address with the existing fleet. (1h00:30) Priority is still Polar Ice Breakers.

eLoran: There seems to be considerable interest in eLoran to deal with GPS vulnerabilities. (1:22) The Navy League representative supported the need. The Re-Authorization Bill directs Secretary of Transportation to initiate E-Loran testing. There was a clear anticipation that the Coast Guard would support implementation.

Coast Guard Health Care: Looks like the Coast Guard heath care records system which reverted to paper now may be able to piggy back on the VA’s conversion to the DOD system. (1h25)/(1h32:30) There is currently a major gap in funding for medical care of CG retirees

A Better Armed Coast Guard: Not that the Representatives were specific, but there was a statement, “We want to weaponize you.” (5:55) I think I heard essentially a second time as well. I’m not sure what that means.

Rising Sea Levels: There was concern expressed regarding rising sea level and how they might impact shore facilities (1h12:20)

WMEC Service Life Extension: The Coast Guard was given money several years ago to plan a service life extension program for 270. The Congress has not seen or heard any result and they questioned, why delay? (1:09) See fig. 4 on page 17 of the GAO’s written testimony

Operating Expenses: Replacement ships are costing more.(26:25)(50:55). This is becoming problematic without an increase in operating budget.

Changing the way we buy ships: Included in the Reauthorization Bill are changes in the way the Coast Guard can fund its shipbuilding, putting us on par with the Navy (5:50)

Cyber: Budget includes 70 additional billets. (19:45)  What are we doing for the ports? (1h13:45)

Inland Tender Fleet: Budget includes $!M to investigate alternatives. (52:30) (1h19)

It is remarkable that there seemed to be no sentiment that the Coast Guard budget should be cut, while there was considerable evidence the Representatives believe the Coast Guard is underfunded.