“Build a Great White Fleet For the 21st Century”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings May 2018 edition has an article, “Build a Great White Fleet for the 21st Century,” that recommends greater Coast Guard funding to support Combatant Commanders. It is written by Captain David Ramassini, USCG. The accompanying bio states,

“Captain Ramassini is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and cutterman who has served in the Pentagon as Coast Guard Liaison on the Joint Staff and also in the Office of Secretary of Defense. Captain Ramassini is slated to assume his fifth command as the plankowner commanding officer of the national security cutter Kimball (WMSL-756).”

Unfortunately the article is “members only.” If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably should also be a US Naval Institute member, but for those who are not, I’ll try to summarize his argument, including some quotations. After reviewing the article, I’ll offer some thought on how, and where, we might provide some assistance to the Combatant Commanders.

The Article

Captain Ramassini contends improved maritime governance and suppressing transnational crime is in the US interest where ever it occurs.

“As the line between terrorist and criminal activities continues to blur, the transactional connections between a wide range of unlawful organizations is likely to cloud the distinction between law enforcement and military operations.”

The Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC) need afloat assets to aid in dealing with these problems.

Source: UNODC, responses to annual questionnaire and individual drug seizure database

The Coast Guard is uniquely qualified to leverage “vast authorities; capabilities; and interservice, interagency, intelligence community, and international partnerships” in support of Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC).

There are not enough Coast Guard assets to do this now.

To provide additional assets funding for the fleet needs to be rebalanced, moving money from the Navy to the Coast Guard.

Rebalancing the national fleet composition would improve relationships and provide the United States and our partners advantages in a complex world filled with threats that go beyond the nation-state.

Recognizing the Coast Guard for the unique national, international, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence power that it is, the current administration has the opportunity to turn this tide and make the national fleet great again by directing a smart business decision. Specifically, prioritize Coast Guard cutter production to grow the fleet and provide a more cost-effective and adaptable instrument for the nation. A 21st-century Great White Fleet of Coast Guard cutters would begin a new era of sea power better suited to promote rule of law through cooperative partnership and distributed lethality, and allow the U.S. Navy to refocus its efforts on high-intensity conflict. It is time to rethink international engagement using the Coast Guard—an armed force at all times, but a more cooperative power known for its olive-branches-over-arrows approach.

Coast Guard national security, offshore patrol, and fast response cutters could serve as powerful instruments for GCCs. They are large enough to operate globally, yet small enough to gain access and foster cooperative partnerships. In addition, these more affordable naval assets could be produced more expediently than Navy surface combatants to build a credible national fleet. The goal of a 355-ship Navy needs to be expanded to a 400+ ship national fleet with utility across civil and military disciplines and a better return on investment.

It is time to change the costly Navy-centric approach toward peace and security and focus on restoring the underpinnings of rule of law to regain the trust and confidence of partner nations. The Coast Guard is capable of more finely tuned and less costly persistent presence. It is an affordable, accountable, and reliable instrument of national power well equipped to execute international engagement. Bolstering white hull numbers within the national fleet by doubling the number of cutters could provide a 21st century advantage to the United States and our international partners in this ever-evolving global environment.

Captain Ramassini suggests that large cutters could be upgraded so that they can fill the frigate role.

One approach worth examining is up-arming the Coast Guard’s fleet with a vertical-launch system (Mk-41 VLS) and SeaRAM close-in weapon system to provide increased warfare interoperability. Imagine a forward-deployed “international security cutter” capable of operating with a carrier strike group and/or surface action group and assuming a role historically filled by a Navy frigate.

Commentary

There are currently six Unified Combatant Commands. Two, NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM already have substantial Coast Guard assets available, although SOUTHCOM could use more. CENTCOM has the six WPBs of PATFORSWASIA. Three Unified Combatant Commands, PACOM, EUCOM, and AFRICOM, have no regular Coast Guard representation.

EUCOM (European Command) probably has far less need for a US Coast Guard presence, since they already have several sophisticated coast guard organizations among allied nations.

PACOM probably could use more Coast Guard assets for capacity building and suppression of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Western Pacific. Seventh Fleet has already asked for more Coast Guard presence to confront Chinese white hulls.

Africa has a serious problem with Maritime crime and could use training, capacity building, and more international inter-agency cooperation. The Coast Guard has sent ships to the area intermittently, but the area has been largely neglected. China is making serious inroads in Africa. We need a presence, but gray hulls are not what we need. The six boats of Patrol Force South West Asia (PATFORSWA) could help address the problem in East Africa, but that would require some sharing by CENTCOM. There is an unrealized opportunity to do a lot of good in West Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea where piracy, kidnapping, IUU fishing, and other marine crimes are common.

Gulf of Guinea, from Wikipedia

To maintain a single large cutter off the West coast of Africa or in the Western Pacific would require three ships in rotation, assuming they are homeported in the US. Larger ships are more difficult to homeport in foreign ports, smaller vessels are likely more feasible.

It appears more likely we could replicate the six boat PATFORSWA organization with similar organizations in East Africa and the Western Pacific. There are several ports in each area that might be worth considering.

Obviously we would not send more now overage 110s, we would be sending Webber class WPCs. This would require extending the current program beyond the 58 in the program of record. There is already discussion about six additional WPCs to replace the six 110s assigned to CENTCOM. Adding six for AFRICOM and six for PACOM would extend the current program by two or three years. The shipbuilding costs for 12 more WPCs are on the order of $700M spread over two or three years, not much more than a single NSC. Basic personnel requirements for 12 vessels with a crew of 24 are 288 crew members. Rotational crews and supporting personnel would probably push this up to about 500, a notable increase for the Coast Guard, but “small change” in the defense budget. The PATFORSWA costs are paid for from the DOD budget, so I would expect a similar arrangement for similar squadrons assigned to AFRICOM and PACOM.

Perhaps at some point. we should also consider a similar forward deployed squadron for SOUTHCOM.

 

Indonesia Uses Google to Stop Fish Pirates

The Indonesian Navy and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries blow up an illegal fishing vessel near Tanjung Batumandi, Pangandaran, West Java, on March 14, 2016. Photo credit: REUTERS/Adeng Bustomi/Antara Foto

gCaptain reports Indonesia has had great success in using Google to crack down on Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing.

“After hunting down violators and blowing up their boats in public spectacles, Pudjiastuti’s approach has become more sophisticated. In a global first, the minister has teamed up with Google to use satellites to spot illegal fishermen from space. It’s paying off: Indonesia’s fish stocks have more than doubled in two years, and an industry plundered by foreigners for decades is once again contributing to economic growth, which Widodo has pledged to boost to 7 percent.

“See Also: Scientists Use AIS Data to Map Global Fishing Activity in Extraordinary Detail

“In a sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands, the potential is vast. While fishing currently accounts for just 2.6 percent of Indonesia’s gross domestic product, that portion has grown about 40 percent since Pudjiastuti started her role. At that time, there were some 10,000 foreign vessels fishing illegally in Indonesia’s territory. She says they’re now all but gone.

Here is an earlier post on the Google system.

“Small Dots, Large Strategic Areas: US Interests in the South Pacific”

The Commandant talks about how the Coast Guard goes to areas the DOD tends to overlook, the Eastern Pacific and the Arctic. There is another area that the US seems to have taken for granted, These are the island nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau joined with the U.S. in “Compacts of Free Association.”

The Lowy Institute has a reminder of how important these little “dots” on the map are and what we have to loose if we don’t pay attention.

The Coast Guard is uniquely qualified to provide the help these nations need in terms of capacity building for policing their fisheries resources.

 

PATFORSWA Serves Forward in the Arabian Gulf–Defense Media Network


Crewmembers aboard the U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Adak (WPB-1333) raise the American flag. Adak is assigned to CTF 55, supporting maritime security operations and theater security cooperation in the U.S. 5th Fleet area of responsibility. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Frank Iannazzo-Simmons

Defense Media Network has a nice piece about the activities of the Coast Guard’s Patrol Forces South West Asia (PATFORSWA).

The article makes a single quick reference to the desirability of replacing the six Island class cutters with Webber class cutters.

“Although the patrol force desperately needs the increased operational capabilities that FRCs would provide in the CENTCOM AOR, the Island class will continue to serve for the foreseeable future.”

This issue has been raised in Congress by CENTCOM. As yet no plans to build replacements, but I expect we will see this possibility raised again. 

There is more information on PATFORSWA here.

China Coast Guard being further Militarized

Homeland Security Today is reporting that the Chinese Coast Guard has, you might say, “changed departments.”

At the annual National People’s Congress last week, delegates voted to put the China Coast Guard under the People’s Armed Police Force. Since January, this military police division has answered directly to the Central Military Commission, a body chaired by President Xi Jinping. According to the language authorizing the reorganization, the move is required “to fully implement the [Chinese Communist] Party’s absolute leadership over the PLA and other armed forces.”

This probably constitutes a recognition of the usefulness of the China Coast Guard in international affairs. It may also indicate a desire for closer cooperation with China’s armed forces.

Separation of the Philippine CG from the Navy

Japanese built Philippine Coast Guard cutter Malabrigo

There are many ways to structure coast guards. They may be military or civilian; part of the defense establishment or in a separate department; multi-mission or single purpose.

Here is a story of how the Philippine Coast Guard separated from its parent organization, the Philippine Navy. The narrative may be a bit self serving as it was posted by Fidel Ramos, who was President of the Philippines at the time, and who refers to himself in the third person, as FVR in the narrative.