The Rockets’ Red Glare–the Improv Guided Missile Cruiser

Israel Aerospace Industries IAI successfully test ship launch of LORA artillery missile

TheDrive reports that IAI (Israel Aerospace Industries) has successfully tested a long ranged (400 km/216 nautical miles) ballistic artillery missile launched from a container ship.

The missile is called LORA. LORA is a quasi-ballistic missile, meaning, it “has a low trajectory and/or is largely ballistic but can perform maneuvers in flight or make unexpected changes in direction and range.” It is advertised to both Armies and Navies and now has a man in the loop capability against moving targets (like ships). It is comparable to the US Army and Marine Corps’ ATACMS which has been upgraded to use against naval targets and is expected to be replaced by DeepStrike. Deepstrike will have greater range than 160km/86 nmile ATACMS (nearer the treaty limit for such weapons, or about 269 nautical miles) and will require only half the space of ATACMS, permitting four ready missiles on the M270 MLRS and two on the HIMARS launch vehicles.

There is already an indication that the next RIMPAC exercise will include an ATACMS launched from a ship against a ship.

Missiles with similar capabilities, at least against fixed targets, are available to, and in some cases for sale by, Russia, China, Iran, Syria, N. Korea, India, Pakistan, and Hezbollah. Rebels in Yemen have been using ballistic missiles against Saudi Arabia.

Like most military developments these tactical ballistic missiles may be a blessing or a curse.

  1. They might be used in a terrorist attack against the US, a potential new threat.
  2. If we could call on Marine or Army units equipped with these missiles, they might be used to thwart a terrorist attack.
  3. Coast Guard cutters might take them aboard as temporary, improvised. weapons or they might even be permanently installed in wartime.
  4. It could give the Coast Guard the capability to deal with peacetime terrorist threats in the form of medium to large ships that I had hoped we could provide by using LRASM.

They might be used in a terrorist attack against the US: 

Cruise missiles have already fallen into the hands of terrorist. We have seen them used against ships off Lebanon and Yemen. Use of ballistic artillery missiles from ships to land targets would not be much of a stretch. These small ballistic missile are not that different from cruise missiles in their support requirements. The LORA is claimed to require no maintenance for at least five years. Both cruise and ballistic missiles are now commonly truck mounted.

The US has basically no defense against cruise missile attack, and what little defense there is against ballistic missiles is targeted against ICBMs, not these shorter range missiles with their depressed trajectories and short time of flight.

If we could call on Marine or Army units equipped with these missiles, they might be used to thwart a terrorist attack:

Earlier we talked about the difficulties the Coast Guard would have dealing with any terrorist attack that might use a medium to large vessel as the attacking vehicle (here, here, here, and here) .

These weapons might provide a partial solution. At least some of the Army and Marine units armed with these missiles will spend time State-side.

With proper planning, equipment, training, and exercises we might be able to exploit the proximity of some of these units to provide a credible anti-ship capability.

A significant contributor to making this or other forms of cooperation with other military services possible would be to equip Coast Guard surface and air units with laser designators so we can make sure they pick out the right target.

Coast Guard cutters might take them aboard as temporary, extemporised weapons or they might even be permanently installed in wartime:

The option of loading Army or Marine Artillery rocket launchers on ships, including perhaps cutters and icebreakers may provide a quick upgrade.

During war-time, loading these rocket launchers on cutters, perhaps placing them on the flight deck, might be a way to provide more Naval Surface Fire Support or an anti-ship capability.

These tactical ballistic missiles might be particularly effective against the Russian or Chinese Navies that have had decades of effort developing countermeasures against sub-sonic, low altitude anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon, but have never had to deal with ballistic missiles.

If we find ourselves at war, adding several launchers to the flight-deck, might allow cutters to become dedicated Naval Surface Fire Support vessels (with an equally effective anti-ship capability).

Photo: LSM(R)-197 firing rockets at Okinawa, 1945.

It could give the Coast Guard the capability to deal with peacetime terrorist threats in the form of medium to large ships that I had hoped we could provide by using LRASM:

Photo: LORA missile launcher, 14 Sept. 2008, Hebrew Wikipedia, by Tal Inbar (טל ענבר)

Earlier I suggested that equipping our larger cutters with the LRASM missile might provide a means to deal with a medium to large vessel being used by terrorist. While the range and claimed precision of LRASM make it a good choice, the Deepstrike missile may be an alternative, assuming it also receives the ability to hit moving targets. While it isn’t clear that it is going to be accurate enough to target a ship’s propulsion, a penetrating warhead that comes in almost vertically, penetrates the ship from top, goes through the bottom and explodes below hull could be effective. The shorter time of flight of the ballistic missile would also be an advantage.

Another bit of extemporaneous weaponry was seen recently on an Egyptian LPD. These ships had been ordered by Russia from a French shipbuilder. Ultimately the French were convinced that building ships for Russia was not a good idea. Instead the two ships were sold to Egypt, but they never received the self-defense systems that would have come from Russia. NavyRecognition reports the vessel was seen with four Boeing AN/TWQ-1 Avenger short-range air-defense vehicles secured on deck as a stop-gap AAW system.

Boeing AN/TWQ-1 Avenger (fitted with Raytheon FIM-92 Stinger missiles) on the flight deck of the Mistral-class LHD Anwar El-Sadat (L 1020) during the joint French-Egyptian naval exercise “Cleopatra 2017”. Picture: Ministry of Defense of Egypt

India’s OPV mounted ballistic missiles. Really a test rather than an expediency but below you can see that the Indians have launched fairly large ballistic missiles from an Offshore Patrol Vessel.

Dhanush missile launching from INS Subhadra offshore patrol vessel
(Picture: DRDO)

 

Interview: Adm. Paul Zukunft demands Coast Guard respect–Defense News

DefenseNews had an interview with the Commandant. You can read it here. I will not repeat the Commandant’s responses here, but I will repeat one of the questions and add my own thoughts.

Admiral, you have said that the Coast Guard’s identity as an armed service is forgotten. Can you tell me what you mean by that?

The Commandant talks here about budget, but I think this starts with self image. We do SAR. We rescue sea turtles. Armed services are first and foremost ARMED. We are by law a military service, but we are currently inadequately armed for even our peacetime counter terrorism, DHS mission. We are less capable of forcibly stopping a ship than we were 90 years ago.

Do our people know what their role will be if there is a major conflict with the Chinese or Russians? You can bet Navy and Marine Personnel have a pretty good idea of their roles.

We have had a quarter century hiatus in a mono-polar world where no one could challenge American seapower. That is changing rapidly and it is time for the Coast Guard to see itself in a new light. Just as the nation has benefited from having two land forces (Army and Marines), it can benefit from having two sea forces. The Coast Guard is a substantial naval force. Certainly we will not replace the Navy’s sophisticated systems, but there is a need for a high low mix and the marginal cost of adding capability to Coast Guard vessels that are going to be built anyway is very small.

We are currently in an unrecognized naval arms race with China. It is time to give the Coast Guard back the ASW and ASuW capabilities it was building before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

When I reported to the academy in 1965, it had a gun lab, and we were taught ASW (badly) during swab summer. The Coast Guard had 36 ships equipped with sonar, ASW torpedoes and 5″ guns. The ships were old (not as old as now), but we were building a new fleet of 36 Hamilton Class WHECs equipped with a better sonar in addition to torpedoes and a 5″ gun. Being armed did not stop us from doing SAR, fisheries, or aids to navigation.

At that time (1965) in terms of personnel, the US Navy was about 25 times larger than the Coast Guard and had 287 cruisers, destroyers, and frigates. Now it is only eight times as large as the Coast Guard and has only 85 ASW equipped surface ships. We also had a powerful naval ally in Europe in the form of the Royal Navy. Now the Coast Guard is supplying personnel to the Royal Navy and in terms of personnel the Coast Guard is larger than the Royal Navy or the French Navy. Equipping our planned 33 to 35 large cutters as true surface combattants could make a real difference.

Even if we never go to war, preparation can make us better at our peacetime roles. Drug interdiction, migrant interdiction, and even SAR benefit from military grade ISR and C4I. Recognition of naval capabilities in the Coast Guard may justify additional resorces that have dual use for peacetime missions. Its a win-win.

 

Marines (or Army) Sink Ship with Missiles from Coast Guard Ship–It Could Happen

PACOM wants the services to operate across domains. The Navy already operates aircraft over land, but he also wants the Army, Air Force, and Marine Corp to help control the sea areas. We noted earlier, that it appears the Army may be moving to form something like the old Coast Artillery.

Now the US Naval Institute reports the Army is set to sink a ship during the 2018 RIMPAC exercise, presumably from land. In addition,

“Headquarters Marine Corps and [Marine Corps Forces Pacific] are working to deploy HIMARS (M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) rapidly aboard ships to shoot at other ships.”

Now the Marines will probably do this from a Navy amphibious assault ship, but wouldn’t it be cool if the Army did this from a Coast Guard Cutter. That would really demonstrate cross service cooperation.

It is also something we might want to do operationally from an Icebreaker in the Arctic some day.

Putting Torpedoes on the Webber Class WPC

USCGC Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109)

What is the Problem?:

For a good while, I have been pointing out that the Coast Guard really does not have a means of forcibly stopping a medium to large ship, if its crew is willing to risk death. Even the largest guns the Coast Guard has (76 and 57mm) are unlikely to be able to reliably stop such a ship, and those larger cutters that carry the 76 and 57mm guns are unlikely to be available when needed anyway. They are more likely to be either deployed far from the ports or in maintenance status, unable to respond in a timely manner. There are also no other US military forces positioned and ready to respond to this type threat.

This means, the assets most likely to be available to stop a terrorist attack are Webber class WPCs and smaller vessels. They are armed, at best, with the 25mm M240 chain gun in a Mk38 mount and .50 caliber machine guns. These are even more unlikely to be able to forcibly stop a vessel. In addition there is a good possibility, a hostile vessel used for such a mission could be equipped with weapons that can out gun and out range the cutter. The Mk38 has a reported effective range of 2700 yards. I estimate the maximum effective range of improvised weapons on a terrorist vessel might be as much as 4000 yards. (I have never seen any indication anyone is attempting to train to use anything approaching the 25mm’s maximum range of 7,450 yards.)

Photo: This is a Chinese experiment with improvised armament for civilian ships. Likely useful systems include anti-tank guided missiles, recoilless rifles, heavy machine guns, man portable anti-aircraft missiles, and anti-aircraft and anti-tank guns which are designed to follow fast moving targets allowing them to compensate for movement of the ship. Terrorists would probably make more of an effort to hide the weapons, but you get the idea. 

What is available?:

I believe light weight torpedoes are the lightest, cheapest way to provide the missing capability.

Until recently, I had assumed, we would have to at least reprogram some of our existing light weight torpedoes. Recently I saw a report that the Mk46 mod5 has an anti-surface capability, so it may not be necessary to create or modify a torpedo for the role.

The Mk46 torpedo is not exactly new tech, the original design is over 50 years old and the mod5 version was introduced over 30 years ago. Two newer light weight torpedoes have been developed since introduction of the Mk46, the Mk50 in 1981 and the Mk54 (which uses the propulsion system of the Mk46) in 2004. Because the replacements are more expensive, there are still a large number of Mk46 torpedoes in the inventory. The national fleet (Navy and Coast Guard) has far fewer light weight torpedo armed surface combatants now (85) they did, 30 years ago (229). (At one time, the Coast Guard had quite a few Mk46 torpedoes on the 378s.)

Despite its age, the Mk46 appears adequate to stop most ships. It has an unclassified reported speed 45 knots and a range variously reported as at least 8,000 yards. Its warhead wight is only 98 pounds, about 15% that of the Mk48 heavy weight torpedo’s 650 pound warhead, but the effects of underwater explosions are not proportional to the weight of explosive. The effect, assuming the same explosive is use, is proportional to the cube root of the weight of explosive. This means that the shock experienced as a result of a 98 pounds of explosive underwater is more than half that experienced as a result of the explosion of 650 pounds at the same distance.

We might convince the Navy that putting torpedoes on Coast Guard cutters, is just another place to store them until needed. We are not likely to expend many of them, and if we use one or two, I think they will forgive us.

Why the Webber class WPCs?:

If there is a terrorist attempt using a medium to large ship, a Webber class WPC is likely to be the most capable Coast Guard unit available to attempt to stop the attempt. Larger ships are likely to be either far away or unable to get underway in time.

Perhaps in the future we could also equip the larger cutters and the 87 foot WPB replacement with these weapons, but the WPCs should be the highest priority.

What does an installation look like?: 

American light weight torpedo launchers are all designated Mk32, but they are available in three configurations, triple, stacked twin, and single. The single tube fixed Mod11 is the lightest and probably most appropriate for the WPCs. Two torpedo tubes and two torpedoes are probably sufficient. Support equipment can mostly be left at a support facility ashore.

Surface Vessel Torpedo Tube, Mk32 mod11

These systems are relatively small, 11’4″ in length and less than two feet wide. Loaded with a Mk46 torpedo, each tube weighs 1160 pounds. They do require 9’6″ of open space behind the breech for the tray used to load the 8’6″ long torpedo.

Where to put install?:

In regard to putting torpedoes on Webber Class cutters, one question I have gotten is, “where would you put them?”

I see three likely locations. All three would require some minor modifications to the ship.

  1. On the stern aimed aft to fire over the transom.
  2. On the O-1 deck behind the bridge firing forward and slightly to the sides.
  3. On the O-1 deck forward of the bridge firing forward and slightly to the sides.

The first would require some rearrangement of deck outfit.

The second and third options would likely require about a three foot wide and 12 foot long extension to the O-1 deck on both sides essentially covering the walkway between the main deck superstructure and the side of the hull. This would allow mounting and access to the tubes which would be pointed at a shallow angle outboard placing the muzzle just inside and above the ship’s side. The breech would be angled in so that it is accessible for loading from the clear space behind it.

Personally I prefer the second or third options.

If there is ever a question “Are cutters are large enough to launch a light weight torpedo?” this should dispel any doubts. Below is a photo of a 12 meter (40 foot) Unmanned Surface Vessel with two torpedo tubes. It also has a dipping sonar (presumably the type used by helicopters).

My Unfunded Priority List

An earlier post reported a plea by Representative Duncan Hunter, Chair of the Transportation Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, for the Coast Guard to provide an unfunded priority list to include six icebreakers and unmanned Air System.

Thought perhaps I would list my own “unfunded priorities.” These are not in any particular order.

PLATFORM SHORTFALLS

Icebreakers: We have a documented requirement for three heavy and three medium icebreakers, certainly they should be on the list. Additionally they should be designed with the ability to be upgraded to wartime role. Specifically they should have provision for adding defensive systems similar to those on the LPD–a pair of SeaRAM and a pair of gun systems, either Mk46 mounts or Mk38 mod 2/3s. We might want the guns permanently installed on at least on the medium icebreakers for the law enforcement mission. Additionally they should have provision for supporting containerized mission modules like those developed for the LCS and lab/storage space identified that might be converted to magazine space to support armed helicopters.

110225-N-RC734-011 PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 25, 2011) Guy Mcallister, from Insitu Group, performs maintenance on the Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Scan Eagle is a runway independent, long-endurance, UAV system designed to provide multiple surveillance, reconnaissance data, and battlefield damage assessment missions. Comstock is part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, which is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility during a western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac/Released)

110225-N-RC734-011
PACIFIC OCEAN (Feb. 25, 2011) Guy Mcallister, from Insitu Group, performs maintenance on the Scan Eagle unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) aboard the amphibious dock landing ship USS Comstock (LSD 45). Scan Eagle is a runway independent, long-endurance, UAV system designed to provide multiple surveillance, reconnaissance data, and battlefield damage assessment missions. Comstock is part of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group, which is underway in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility during a western Pacific deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joseph M. Buliavac/Released)

Unmanned Air Systems (UAS): We seem to be making progress on deploying UAS for the Bertholf class NSCs which will logically be extended to the Offshore Patrol Cutters. So far we see very little progress on land based UAS. This may be because use of the Navy’s BAMS system is anticipated. At any rate, we will need a land based UAS or access to the information from one to provide Maritime Domain Awareness. We also need to start looking at putting UAS on the Webber class. They should be capable of handling ScanEagle sized UAS.

File:USCGC Bluebell - 2015 Rose Festival Portland, OR.jpg

Photo: The Coast Guard Cutter Bluebell sits moored along the Willamette River waterfront in Portland, Ore., June 4, 2015. The Bluebell, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this year, is one of many ships participating in the 100th year of the Portland Rose Festival. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer David Mosley.)

Recapitalize the Inland Tender Fleet: This is long overdue. The program was supposed to begin in 2009, but so far, no tangible results. It seems to have been hanging fire for way too long.

Expand the Program of Record to the FMA-1 level: The Fleet Mix Study identified additional assets required to meet the Coast Guard’s statutory obligations identifying four asset levels above those planned in the program of record. Lets move at least to first increment.

Alternative Fleet Mix Asset Quantities

————–POR       FMA-1      FMA-2      FMA-3       FMA-4
NSC                8             9                 9                 9                  9
OPC              25           32               43                50               57
FRC              58           63               75                80               91
HC-130         22            32               35                44               44
HC-144A       36            37               38                40               65
H-60              42            80               86                99             106
H-65             102         140             159              188            223
UAS-LB           4            19                21                21              22
UAS-CB        42            15                19               19               19

At the very least, looks like we need to add some medium range search aircraft (C-27J or HC-144).

Increase Endurance of Webber Class Cutters: The Webber class could be more useful if the endurance were extended beyond five days (currently the same as the 87 cutters, which have only one-third the range). We needed to look into changes that would allow an endurance of ten days to two weeks. They already have the fuel for it.

MISSION EQUIPMENT SHORTFALLS

Seagull_torpedo_trial_1

Ship Stopper (Light Weight Homing Torpedo): Develop a system to forcibly stop even the largest merchant ships by disabling their propulsion, that can be mounted on our patrol boats. A torpedo seems the most likely solution. Without such a system, there is a huge hole in our Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security mission.

121211-N-HW977-692

Photo: SeaGriffin Launcher

Counter to Small High Speed Craft (Small Guided Weapon): Identify and fit weapons to WPB and larger vessels that are capable of reliably stopping or destroying small fast boats that may be used as fast inshore attack craft and suicide or remote-controlled unmanned explosive motor boats. These weapons must also limit the possibility of collateral damage. Small missiles like SeaGriffin or Hellfire appear likely solutions.

40 mm case telescoped gun (bottom) compared to conventional guns.

40 mm case telescoped gun (bottom) compared to conventional guns.

Improved Gun–Penetration, Range, and Accuracy: The .50 cal. and 25mm guns we have on our WPBs and WPCs have serious limitations in their ability to reach their targets from outside the range of weapons terrorist adversaries might improvise for use against the cutters. They have limited ability to reach the vitals of medium to large merchant vessels, and their accuracy increases the possibility of collateral damage and decreases their probability of success. 30, 35, and 40 mm replacements for the 25 mm in our Mk38 mod2 mounts are readily available.

Laser Designator: Provide each station, WPB, and WPC with a hand-held laser designator to allow them to designate targets for our DOD partners.

CONTINGENCY PLANNING SHORTFALLS

Vessel Wartime Upgrades: Develop plans for a range of options to upgrade Coast Guard assets for an extended conflict against a near peer.

 

30mm “Swimmer” Round

30x173mm ammunition for Mk44 Bushmaster II

30x173mm ammunition for Mk44 Bushmaster II

Ran across an interesting new type of ammunition, the 30 mm Mk 258 mod 1 APFSDS-T, which appears to be designed specifically to counter Fast Inshore Attack Craft (FIAC). It uses a unique configuration to allow it to maintain high velocity after entering the water. Being an armor-piercing, fin stabilized, discarding sabot, tracer round, I suspect it might help us attack the engine rooms of larger ships. if we upgrade our Mk38 gun mounts to use the 30mm. Might be able to disable propellers and rudders as well.

In a test “…it destroyed a representative FIAC target travelling at 30kts at a range of 4.8km with the first shot.”

It would probably be good against radio controlled boats like the one in the recent attack off Yemen. General Dynamics is advertising that this “swimmer version” is currently available. This might explain why the Navy replaced the 57mm on the DDG-1000 class will 30mm guns. 

There is a bit more in the 2014 NAMMO Bulletin, on page 8 (5/13 on the pdf), under the title “The Navy’s Best Ammunition”;

The nose-shaped configuration was originally patented by the U.S. Navy and NSWC Dahlgren, but was never turned into functional ammunition. Nammo, NSWC Dahlgren and FFI (Norwegian Defense Research Establishment) carried out a comprehensive study that resulted in the final design configuration of the penetrator nose. Today, Nammo’s Mk258 mod 1 ammunition is used on board the LPD-17 and LCS class of U.S. Navy ships. This has significantly increased the fleet’s capability to defeat aerial and surface threats, as well as submerged threats like torpedoes and mines.

At the very least the 110s in Bahrain (or their Webber class replacements–whenever?) probably should have these. I’d like to see them on all the Webber Class WPCs.

Worried about the Size of the U.S. Navy? Rearm the Coast Guard–The National Interest

Navy photo. MH-60R “Knighthawk” helicopters conducts an airborne low frequency sonar (ALFS) operation during testing and evaluation

Navy photo. MH-60R “Knighthawk” helicopters conducts an airborne low frequency sonar (ALFS) operation during testing and evaluation

The National Interest has a post subtitled, “A new challenge for Trump: redefine the U.S. Coast Guard’s defense roles” you might find interesting.

The author, a Coast Guard Officer and Cutterman, wants to see our larger cutters better armed. He recommends specifically, provision for support of the Navy’s MH-60R

“The U.S. Coast Guard should explore adding the ability to embark, operate with, maintain and rearm these aircraft from both the National Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter. Only complete solutions that see cutters equipped with ordnance handling facilities, surge berthing for a full-maintenance detachment and sensor integration through data links should be considered.”

and the 5″ Mk45 for the National Security Cutter.

“The addition of a true major caliber-deck gun offers immediate utility, but the system’s real potential will be unlocked if efforts to develop hypervelocity projectiles bear fruit. If so, the National Security Cutter would emerge as a true utility warship capable of providing fires to forces ashore at substantial range and meaningfully contributing to air defense.”

070111-N-4515N-509 Atlantic Ocean (Jan. 9 2007) - Guided missile destroyer USS Forest Sherman (DDG 98) test fires its five-inch gun on the bow of the ship during training. The Sherman is currently conducting training exercises in the Atlantic Ocean. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Adam Nuzzo (RELEASED)

Atlantic Ocean (Jan. 9 2007) – USS Forest Sherman (DDG 98) test fires its five-inch Mk 45 mod4 gun during training.U.S. Navy photo 070111-N-4515N-509 by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Joshua Adam Nuzzo

He does, however, see the services culture as an impediment.

“The lesson of the twenty-five years following the Hamilton experience is that a challenge to maintaining the U.S. Coast Guard’s warfighting capability lies in managing the service’s perception of its character…

He also notes that previous concepts of the Coast Guards wartime environment may be unrealistic.

“Attempts to define the U.S. Coast Guard’s defense roles following the Cold War have been challenging. Published in 1998, Coast Guard 2020 proclaimed that the “Coast Guard will be prepared to operate in low-threat conflict environments, and to provide specialized functions at all levels of operation.” The notions of low-threat operations and service-unique specialization are obstacles to interoperability. While U.S. Coast Guard buoy tenders and icebreakers absolutely provide specialized capability, the major cutter fleet’s warfighting role was never—nor should it have ever been—unique to the U.S. Coast Guard. Rather, the major cutter fleet provided an active augmentation force trained and equipped to provide service in any theater of war. This should be the target for the fleet’s future employment as the community of nations returns to its more normal mode of great power competition. As for the limitation of a low-threat environment, U.S. Coast Guard cutters have deployed recently to Southeast Asia, the Black Sea, the Arctic and the Arabian Gulf. Saber rattling among great powers and the HSV-2Swift incident demand that we ask: which of these locations will qualify as a low-threat environment on the first day of a global or major regional war?

Generally I agree with the thrust,

“The immediate challenges are acquiring and integrating combat systems and training crews in their employment. These are not trivial tasks and will necessarily consume time and resources. Better to act with dark clouds forming on the horizon, however, than in the midst of the storm.”

It is a two page post. The first page is mostly history lesson on the Coast Guard’s participation in past conflicts, but if he gives the impression the Coast Guard was historically ready for these roles on day 1, that would be a mistake. The Coast Guard entered WWII terribly unprepared. The cutters had no sonar or radar and no depth charge racks. There is nothing new about our current lack of readiness for war, it is not the exception, it is the norm.

Trouble is, we tend to have a binary approach. Either we are at peace and could care less about war-time roles, or we are all in after an attack. We need a more measured approach that responds to changing circumstance.

We really need to do better at preparing for a transition from peace to war. 

I don’t necessarily think removing the ASW systems from the 378s following the collapse of the Soviet threat was a mistake. It was a rational response to rapidly changing circumstance. Since then, we have had a quarter century without a substantial ASW threat, and the 378s are now on their way out. We probably should have removed the CIWS too, unfortunately it did mean we lost all the Coast Guard’s accumulated expertise in ASW. Hopefully we can rebuild it with the Navy’s help if needed.

But circumstances have changed again.

To me, a major conflict now appears more likely in the next ten to twenty years than at any time since I entered the Academy in 1965. We have a true peer challenger, with a chip on its shoulder and a belief in its inherent right to rule, in China. If that was not enough, Russia is rearming and acting increasingly obnoxious. Iran and North Korea may be annoying, but they are really not in the same league, at least in terms of a naval threat. Dealing with them would not stress our Navy, so would not really require Coast Guard assistance. China is the real threat, and if Russia sides with them, things could get dicey. Even without the Russians, the Chinese are building credible surface combattants at least as fast as the US. They already have a local superiority in the Western Pacific. We have to spread our fleet out, while they can concentrate their forces. To concentrate our forces in the Western Pacific, the US will be fighting at arm’s length with long vulnerable supply lines.

I don’t necessarily think war with China inevitable, but we need to recognize the possibility and plan for it.

Theoretically the process should start with an agreement between the Navy and the Coast Guard about what the Coast Guard, particularly its vessels and aircraft, will do in a general war. I see few indications that is happening. Certainly the OPC Concept of Operations did not include anything beyond a simple contingency operation.

I may be wrong about this, since I am way out of the loop, but if the service had an established general war mission focus to prepare for, it should be generally known. It should be reflected in our procurements. Perhaps the Navy thinks it would be presumptuous of them to assign the Coast Guard missions, and the Coast Guard does not want to push itself into Navy planning, but this is too important for delicate feelings to get in the way. Right now the Coast Guard is probably proportionately larger compared to the Navy than at any time in the last 100 years. When I entered the service, the Navy was 22 times larger than the Coast Guard in terms of personnel. Now it is only eight times larger. A combat ready Coast Guard may be the difference between victory and defeat.

Plans:

The Coast Guard has potentially important roles to fill in any general conflict. If the Navy cannot envision these roles, perhaps the Coast Guard should think for itself. Plans should include our aircraft as well as our vessels, but I will stick to the vessels for now.

What we need is not an overall strategy to defeat China, but a well developed range of options for employment and a good idea of what upgrades would be required.

In a major war, I see a major shortfall in open ocean escorts. Thirty years ago, when the threat was the Soviet Navy and the problem was projecting American power across the shorter distances of the Atlantic, the US had 36 cruisers, 69 destroyers, and 115 frigates (plus 12 WHEC 378s). Now they have 22 cruisers, 63 destroyers, and 8 LCS.

Then we had the advantage, that the Soviet Fleet was split into four parts and their egress to our supply lines was limited by the presence of powerful European Allied navies that restricted their access to our supply lines.

In a Pacific War with China, the distances are much greater, our allies fewer, and, with the exception of Japan and S. Korea, much weaker. Our Navy’s fleet, currently 274 ships, with ambitions of 355, is scattered across three oceans while China’s fleet, likely soon to be 500 ships, is geographically concentrated.

If we needed over a hundred frigates to cross the Atlantic, we probably need at least that many to push across the Pacific. As it is, the Navy cannot meet their current peacetime commitments, and replenishment ships cross the oceans unescorted and unarmed.

The Navy seems to have belatedly recognized this with moves toward a new frigate to be based on one of the LCS designs, but even if they complete all 52 small surface combattants currently planned, less than half will be completed as frigates, and if based on the LCS designs, they will have limited range, survivability, and crew size. The Independence class LCS will likely be permanently employed as mine countermeasures (MCM) vessels (There were 22 of those in 1987). The Freedom class will likely be employed in enforcing a blockade (perhaps with help from Webber class WPCs). Even with some backfitting of LCS  25-32, that leaves at most 28 frigates in the current plan. 35 ASW equipped cutters could make a huge difference.

The Cutters:

Cutters should be designed with wartime roles in mind, even if they will not be initially fully equipped with combat systems.

In the Bertholf class and Offshore Patrol Cutters, we will have most of the elements of modern warships. To not be prepared to add the few systems necessary to make them effective warships, if the nation were engaged in combat, would be criminal. If we do not already have plans to upgrade the Bertholf class National Security Cutters and the Offshore Patrol Cutters to give them significantly improved ASW, AAW, and ASuW capability we should start those plans.

At some point perhaps we should prototype an installation of these capabilities on at least one NSC and one OPC. Then we need to wring them out by deploying with the Navy and getting feedback on their performance, and periodically update plans for mobilizing their war-time potential.

The People: 

Just as we have marine inspection, fisheries, and drug enforcement specialist, the Coast Guard needs a cadre of officers in the Office of Counter Terrorism and Defense Operations Policy (CG-ODO) who have a deep understanding of the needs of modern naval warfare, who will advocate for naval capabilities consistent with both wartime missions and the Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) mission. Likely this means revival or strengthening of officer exchange programs, Tactical Action Officer training, and War College education.

Perhaps the longest lead time item in mobilizing the Coast Guard for war would be the senior enlisted we would need for rating not currently found in the peacetime Coast Guard. It might be possible for the Navy to identify some reservist to augment the crews of Coast Guard cutters upon mobilization, but even a small cadre within the Coast Guard, founded on prototyping systems on at least a couple of cutters would provide valuable continuity and advice in defining required capabilities.

Bottom Line–When we get in trouble, we cannot make it up as we go along. Sweat now, saves blood later.

Thanks to Lyle for bringing this to my attention.