Leslie B. Tollaksen, USCGC Chelan, USS Moberly, and the Last Battle in the Atlantic, May 5/6, 1945

Caption: Biggest and costliest yet. This is the radio room on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Chelan, the newest cutter of the service now anchored at the Navy Yard, Washington D.C. This radio room houses three transmitters and three receiving sets. On the maiden trip, she picked up an SOS and towed schooner 1,500 miles, a record tow. Ensign Leslie B. Tollaksen, is shown in the photograph. Harris & Ewing, photographer. 1928 November 26. LOC LC-H2- B-3101 [P&P]

While looking into the sinking of U-853, the next to last U-boat sunk during World War II, I learned about the career of a largely unrecognized Coast Guard Officer, Leslie Bliss (Tolley) Tollaksen (1903-1973), Cdr., USCG. The story also links the next to last US warship sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic, USS Eagle 56, the last US merchant ship sunk in the Battle of the Atlantic, SS Black Point, and a cutter, USCGC Chelan, turned Royal Navy sloop that sank an Italian submarine in the Atlantic.

It also brought to mind a couple of possible names for future Offshore Patrol Cutters.

Commander Leslie B. Tollaksen:

We see Tollacksen in the photo above as a fresh caught ensign aboard USCGC Chelan. From a genealogy page:

Tollaksen “attended the University of Washington for two years before going and graduating from the US Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut. He graduated from The USCG Academy in the Class of 1927, a year early to man the ships chasing down rum runners.

As a young Lieutenant, he was assigned to the US Coast Guard HQ in Washington, DC. He helped establish “Radio Washington” the telegraph station on Telegraph Road in Washington, DC, and also served as Aid to the Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, Jr. (At that time, his sister worked in the typing pool for President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s White House).

Leslie, about 1937 was the first US Coast Guard Officer selected for Post Graduate School at MIT.

Leslie, during WWII, and in command of the USS Moberly, sank the LAST German U-Boat U-853. U-8533 was a Type IXC/40 U-Boat, and lays on the bottom off Block Island…”

USCGC Chelan

USCGC Chelan was one of ten Lake Class cutters loaned to the British as part of the Lend Lease program.

USCGC Chelan as she looked in WWII in service with the Royal Navy as HMS Lulworth (Y60)

From Wikipedia:

On 14 July 1942, Lulworth was escorting Convoy SL 115 when she depth charged the Italian submarine Pietro Calvi and forced her to surface. She then open gunnery fire on Pietro Calvi, further damaging her, and Pietro Calvi’s crew scuttled her and abandoned ship; 35 members of Pietro Calvi’s crew survived.

The Italian submarine, Pietro Calvi, had previously sunk six Allied vessels, totaling 34,193 gross tons, including two American tankers.

U-853 

U-853 was a Type IXC/40 long range U-boat commissioned 25 June 1943. In July 1944 it had been fitted with a new device, a Dutch invention, a snorkel that allowed it to run its diesels and recharge its batteries while submerged, with only a small mast protruding above the water. U-853 had not been particularly successful. It had been attacked twice by Allied aircraft on 25 March 1944 and 17 June 1944. It had had two fruitless war patrol of 67 and 49 days, before the new commanding officer took over, 1 Sept. 1944.

Oberleutnant zur See Helmut Frömsdorf

It may be an indicator of the state of the German Navy that the new U-boat commander, Helmut Frömsdorf, was only 23 when he departed for his first and final patrol as CO on 23 Feb. 1945. He had served on U-853 for four years prior to being selected for command. From the time he had assumed command, including ten days moving from ports in Germany to Stavanger, Norway, the U-boat had been underway a total of only 83 days when U-853 and the crew of 55 was lost with all hands.

Hitler committed suicide on 30 April 1945. His successor was Admiral Donitz.

On 4 May, he issued orders that all Germans forces would surrender and, as part of the surrender process, U-Boat Headquarters sent the following message that same evening:

ALL U-BOATS. ATTENTION ALL U-BOATS. CEASE-FIRE AT ONCE. STOP ALL HOSTILE ACTION AGAINST ALLIED SHIPPING. DÖNITZ.

The order was to become effective at 0800 the following morning.  However, of the 49 boats then at sea, several were submerged and would not receive the message.  Among them was the U-853.

She is now a dive site:

This boat lies in 130 feet (42m) deep waters roughly 6 miles north east of Block Island and south of Newport, USA. The boat still contains remains of most of the 55 men who perished when she was sunk on May 6, 1945, in the last U-boat action as such in WWII.

USS Eagle 56 (PE-56), 430 tons, Commissioned 26 Oct. 1919. Sunk 23 Apr. 1945.  Automaker Henry Ford built 60 Eagle Boats for World War I, but none arrived before the Armistice and the Navy had discarded all but eight of them by WWII. (Navy)

Eagle 56:

Eagle 56 was nominally a subchaser, but an old and obsolete one. It was being used to tow targets when U-853 attacked and sank it.

At noon on 23 April 1945, Eagle 56 exploded amidships, and broke into two pieces 3 mi (4.8 km) off Cape Elizabeth, Maine. The destroyer Selfridge was operating near Eagle 56 and arrived 30 minutes after the explosion to rescue 13 survivors from the crew of 62. Selfridge obtained a sharp, well-defined sonar contact during the rescue and dropped nine Mark IX Mod 2 depth charges without obvious result.  According to a classified Navy report, U-853 had been operating in the waters off Maine.  At a Naval Board of Inquiry in Portland the following week, five of the 13 survivors claimed to have seen a submarine. Several spotted a red and yellow emblem on the submarine’s sail.

The Board of inquiry, however, concluded that the sinking had been the result of a boiler explosion. The record was not corrected until 2001.

In June 2001, Purple Heart medals were awarded to three survivors and the next of kin of those killed.

The wreck was located in June 2018, five miles (8.0 km) off the coast of Maine.

A commemorative plaque was erected on the grounds of Fort Williams Park near Portland Head Light.

“Seen from an airship from ZP-11, SS Black Point steams off the east coast of the U.S., some 10 miles east of the entrance to the North River on 22 September 1944. A sailor on her foc’sle is probably watching the K-ship from which the picture was taken. The SS Silver Star Park steams in the background, both ships’ hulls reflecting hard service
National Archives photo 80-G-208086″

SS Black Point:

The SS Black Point was a 5,353 ton collier (coal carrying ship). She was 395′ (112.35 meters) long, with a beam of 66′ (16.82 meters) and a draft of 27′ (9.3 meters). She was the last US Flag vessel sunk during World War II. She was torpedoed 1740 May 5, 1945. She capsized and sank 25 minutes later, with the loss of 12 of her crew of 46. The torpedoing was observed by the crew of Judith Point Lighthouse and reported immediately.

“”COAST GUARD DEPTH CHARGES SCORE IN LAST U-BOAT KILLING: Off Point Judith, Rhode Island, crewmen of the Coast Guard-manned frigate watch the surface boil as a pattern of depth charges scores the final kill in the long, uphill battle against Nazi U-boats in the Atlantic. Working in teamwork with three Navy vessels, the Coast Guard ship destroyed the submarine on Sunday, May 6, 1945. The Moberly operates as a unit of the Atlantic Fleet.” Moberly has just fired a hedgehog pattern as the charges drop in a circular pattern ahead of the frigate.
U.S. Coast Guard photo 4557″

USS Moberly (PF-63) Off San Francisco, CA in early 1946.
Naval Historical Center photo NH 79077

USS Moberly was one of 75 Tacoma class patrol frigates manned by Coast Guard crews.

The only anti-submarine unit in the immediate vicinity was the remnants of a task group, TG 60.7 that had left New York at 1200 hours that day. It had arrived earlier after safely escorting the remaining vessels of GUS-8446, an 80-ship convoy that had originated in Oran and Casablanca. Several of the task group members were bound for the Charlestown Naval Base where the ships were scheduled to undergo extensive overhaul: destroyer Ericcson (DD-440), destroyer-escorts Amick (DE-168) and Atherton (DE-169), and the patrol frigate Moberly (PF-63). Accordingly, Eastern Sea Frontier headquarters issued dispatch 052223 diverting TG 60.7 to the sinking site and ordering various support activities to assist in discovering the intruder as needed.

Destroyer Ericcson, with the task group commander, Cdr. Francis C.B. McCune, aboard, was then under the control of a Coast Guard pilot in preparation for entering the Cape Cod Ship Canal and could not reach the scene for some time. Thus, Coast Guardsman Tollaksen found himself the Senior Officer Present and de facto commander of TG60.7.

A blow by blow of the search for, and attacks on, U-853 can be found here.

USS Moberly and USS Atherton share credit for the sinking.

For Consideration:

The Offshore Patrol Cutters are to be named after famous cutters. We have eleven names so far, but there are at least 14 to go. Perhaps we might name one for Moberly as representative of the 75 ships manned by Coast Guard crews.

We might also consider naming one for the Lowe (DE-325/WDE-425) to represent the 30 destroyer escorts the Coast Guard manned during WWII. 18 March 1945: Lowe, in company with Coast Guard manned destroyer escorts Menges (DE 320), Mosley (DE 321), and Pride (DE 323) sank the German submarine U-866, south of Nova Scotia. Lowe was primarily responsible for the sinking. Not only was she Coast Guard manned during WWII, but she also served as a Coast Guard cutter for almost three years, 20 July 1951 to 1 June 1954.

 

“GeoSpectrum Launches Low Frequency Active VDS Deployable by USVs”

Geospectrum’s new, compact version of the Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar (TRAPS) suitable for Unmanned Surface Vessels (USVs)

NavyNews reports that Canadian Company GeoSpectrum has developed a version of their “Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar” (TRAPS) that is scaled to fit vessels as small as 12 meter Unmanned Surface Vessels (USV).

We talked earlier about an earlier version of this system. If it fits on a 12 meter (39’4″) USV, then it should certainly be able to fit on anything WPB or larger. If we should ever have to go to war, this might be a capability we would want to protect our harbor approaches from submarines. We would probably also want to add an ASW torpedo launching capability.

It might be worth doing some experimentation to see how it works, and if desirable, draw up plans for adding this or a similar system for mobilization. First of course we should take a look at the results of Canada’s tests.

Might also be desirable to have something like this for the Webber class cutters going to PATFORSWA, since the Iranians have a large number of small conventionally powered submarines.

Maybe it could help us find semi-submersibles smuggling drugs as well. 

“Spain seen joining Greece, France, Italy on European Patrol Corvette program” –DefenseNews

Defense News reports that it appears likely that four European countries and perhaps more will join forces to build a class of 3000 ton patrol vessels.

The two firms (Italy’s Fincantieri and France’s Naval Group–Chuck) are hoping to match Italian and French navy requirements with a jointly built, modular vessel that can handle patrol and surveillance missions as well as taking second-tier roles in anti-submarine and anti-surface missions.

The vessels these ships are to replace, perform their respective countries offshore coast guard missions.

The project is one of many being supported by an EU initiative called “Permanent Structured Cooperation” (PESCO) that is to be supported by the entire EU community. It sounds like this may be heading toward a shipbuilding version of Airbus.

According to this report, Bulgaria and Portugal are also joining the program.

French Navy Floreal class surveillance Frigate, FS Ventose

The French Navy intends to replace the six ships of the Floreal class. These “surveillance frigates” are scattered among France’s overseas territories. They have no ASW capability, but are equipped with a pair of Exocet anti-ship missiles (ASCM).

Italy expects to retire the ten ships of the Cassiopea, Sirio, and Commandanti classes 2022-2025. These ships are all about 1500 tons. They have neither ASW equipment or ASCMs.

The Greeks don’t seem to have any ships in this class, but may now see a need.

Spanish Navy Meteoro class OPV Tornado. Photo from Sergio Acosta, via Wikipedia

I was a bit surprised that Spain would join in this effort. They have their own OPV designs supplied by Navantia, and they have been doing pretty well. They have been produced a class of six referred to as BAM, and were expected to procure six more of the same class. In addition they have produced corvettes for Venezuela and have been contracted to produce five corvettes for Saudi Arabia. Navantia had teamed with Bath Iron Works to provide BIW’s proposal for the USCG OPC program, and they are on BIW’s FFG(X)  team. It may be that they feel they have to join now or risk being excluded in the future.

If these ships come equipped as indicated in the diagram at the head of the article, they will be significantly better armed than the ships they replace. They will be a bit larger than the French ships being replaced and more than twice as large as the Italian ships being replaced.

It appears they will be very close in size to the Coast Guard’s Argus Class OPCs, being the same length (110 meters or 360 feet) and only slightly narrower.

Surface Navy Association 2019 –Virtual Attendance

Like many of you, I was unable to attend the Surface Navy Association Conference, but I did find a number of videos which may provide some of the information that would have been available there. The Coast Guard Commandant had been scheduled to speak but cancelled, apparently in response to the partial government shutdown.

I have provided three videos, each about ten minutes, that may be of general interest, and links to four others, typically 20-25 minutes. The descriptions are from their respective YouTube pages.

The second and third videos have specific Coast Guard content, which I have identified by bold typeface with the beginning time in parenthesis. Some of the other equipment may have Coast Guard applications in the future.

Day 1 video coverage at SNA 2019, the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium. In this video we cover:
– Austal latest frigate design for FFG(X)
– Raytheon DART Variable Depth Sonar (VDS)
– Raytheon / Kongsberg Naval Strike Missile (NSM)
– Lockheed Martin Long Range Anti Ship Missile (LRASM)

Day 2 video coverage at SNA 2019, the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium.
In this video we cover:
– Fincantieri Marine Group FREMM frigate design for FFG(X)
– General Dynamics NASSCO John Lewis-class T-AO (New Oiler)
– Raytheon SM-2 restart
– Raytheon SM-3
– Leonardo DRS Hybrid Electric Drive for U.S. Coast Guard’s Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) (time 11:10)

Day 3 video coverage at SNA 2019, the Surface Navy Association’s national symposium. In this video we cover:
– Atlas North America’s solutions for mine counter measures, harbor security and unmanned surface vessels
– Lockheed Martin Canadian Surface Combatant (Type 26 Frigate, Canada’s Combat Ship Team)
Insitu ScanEagle and Integrator UAS (time 4:30)
– Raytheon SPY-6 and EASR radar programs

NAVSEA’s Moore on Improving Ship Repair, McCain & Fitzgerald, Ford, LCS

Vice Adm. Tom Moore, USN, the commander of the Naval Sea Systems Command, discusses US Navy efforts to increase public and private ship repair capabilities, lessons learned from repairing USS John S. McCain and Fitzgerald, the new Ford-class aircraft carrier, getting the Littoral Combat Ship on regular deployments and more with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia.

GE Marine’s Awiszus on LM2500 Engine Outlook, Future Shipboard Power

George Awiszus, military marketing director of GE Marine, discusses the outlook for the company’s LM2500 engine that drives warships in more than 30 nations and the future of shipboard power with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia.

US Navy’s Moran on Improving the Surface Force, Culture, Ship Repair & Information Sharing

Adm. Bill Moran, USN, the vice chief of naval operations, discusses dialogue with China, improving the surface force in the wake of 2017’s deadly accidents, refining Navy culture, increasing ship repair capabilities, harnessing data, improving information sharing across the force and the new Design for Seapower 2.0 with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian at the Surface Navy Association’s annual conference and tradeshow in Northern Virginia.

US Navy’s Coffman on New Expeditionary Warfighting Concepts, Organizations, Unmanned Ships

Maj. Gen. David “Stretch” Coffman, USMC, the US Navy’s director of expeditionary warfare (N95), discusses new expeditionary warfighting concepts, the recent deployment of Littoral Combat Group 1 — composed of USS Wayne E Meyer (DDG-108) and USS Somerset (LPD-25) — to South America, new formations to replace the current Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit, unmanned ships, the performance of the F-35B Lightning II and more with Defense & Aerospace Report Editor Vago Muradian.

“Guard the Coast from High-End Threats” –USNI

180710-G-ZV557-1313 PACIFIC OCEAN (July 10, 2018) Crewmembers aboard the USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) check the flight deck July 10, 2018, alongside the flight crew of the a U.S. Navy HSC-4 Black Knight MH-60 helicopter 15 miles south of Oahu, Hawaii, while in support of RIMPAC 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Weydert

The February issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings has an article by Cdr. Brian Smicklas, USCG, that warns the Coast Guard may not be ready to respond to attacks on the Maritime Transportation System (MTS).

Fortunately, this article is outside the paywall so it should be accessible to all. Some selected paragraphs to give a flavor of the argument:

“… it would be foolish to assume the MTS is safe from attack. Considering its economic and military importance and its limited protection, an assault on it should be considered among an adversary’s most likely courses of action. The risk of an unprepared Coast Guard overseeing the protection of the MTS in the era of renewed interstate conflict can no longer be overlooked.”


“The Coast Guard must recommence “guarding the coast,” including the active deterrence and detection of threats from peer adversaries. Doing so would augment Navy high-demand/low-density (HDLD) warship capabilities allocated to combatant commanders while providing the Coast Guard a true course toward maritime homeland-defense competencies and renewed relevance against the threat of interstate conflict. Such a course not only would enhance national defense but also would provide the Coast Guard a fiscal lifeline to budgetary stability in the face of government shutdowns through alignment with fully funded DoD imperatives. ”


“To be clear, this should not include placing the Coast Guard in DoD. Were the service required to move to that side of the Potomac, it quickly would find failure in the zero-sum competition for DoD dollars. Remaining relevant through the dual roles of homeland security and homeland defense in an era of interstate conflict is a strategically smart position for both the Coast Guard and its executive agency. However, the keys to remaining relevant to both DHS and DoD will be increased capability and lethality in the face of peer adversaries. ”


“Enhancing the Coast Guard to address the most pressing threats facing the MTS welds the Coast Guard to national defense priorities and has the potential to demonstrate the highest level of defense and budgetary relevance for the nation’s smallest armed service. The nation must up-arm the Coast Guard to enable the Navy to fight and win. “

We have addressed many of the possibilities he discusses, including the need to protect US ports including Military Load Out ports, “Ruminating on Homeports While Playing the Red Cell.” He suggests reintroducing the Coast Guard’s ASW mission advocated here numerous times. He even talks about the possibility of using the hyper-velocity projectile and 5″ gun.

In terms of priorities the Coast Guard should first prepare to deal with covert attacks launched from merchant ships that might be the opening gambit in a larger conflict. Adding an ASW capability is certainly doable and will be needed if there is a prolonged conflict, but hopefully the Navy is already tracking potentially hostile submarines and Navy maritime patrol aircraft like the P-8 do operate from the continental US so that threat is addressed at least to some extent. I have my doubts about the effectiveness of NORAD against cruise missiles from unexpected directions, but that is probably not something that even AAW missile equipped Coast Guard cutters would be in a position to do something about without significant warning.

On the other hand, covert minelaying by merchant ships, commando raids launched from merchant ships, or perhaps even merchant ships with containerized missile launchers might be interdicted by Coast Guard units. To deal with these types of threats, every cutter from Webber class on up, and perhaps some of our aircraft, need an ability to quickly and reliably, forcibly stop even a very large vessel. 25 mm and even 57 mm guns are not going to cut it. We need to tell the Navy we need such a weapon.

Because we are the “Coast Guard,” for some crazy reason, people will expect us to guard the coast.

The New Hyper-Velocity Round and an Old Five Inch Gun Make a Revolutionary Combo

Mk45 Mod4, a 5″ gun 62 calibers in length

The US Naval Institute reports that during an unclassified exercise as part of RIMPAC USS Dewey (DDG-105) fired 20 hyper velocity projectiles (HVP). The rounds were fired from a 5″/62 Mk45 Mod4.

Back in 2012, I published a post “Case for the Five Inch Gun.” My conclusion was

In choosing the Mk110 57mm because it was seen as a better AAW weapon, a better anti-swarm weapon, as lighter, cheaper, easier to maintain or man, for whatever reason, the Coast Guard will have a weapon that is at best only marginally more capable, perhaps even less capable, of performing the most likely missions–stopping/sinking a surface target or performing NSFS–than the weapons of 60 to 90 years ago.

While the size, toughness, and survivability of merchant ships has increased dramatically, the Coast Guard has not provided its ships with a significantly improved capability to stop or sink a ship since the introduction of the 5″/51 in 1921. I still think the Coast Guard should add a light weight anti-surface vessel torpedo to its inventory as the cheapest way to have a truly effective ship stopper that can be made widely available. But until such a weapon becomes available, the Mk45 5″ is the best alternative available.

The 5″ Mk45 is a versatile weapon. Equipping the OPCs with this weapon make the ships more capable of performing both the PWCS and probable wartime mission and significantly enhances the NSFS capability of US Naval forces in a major conflict.

I think the argument for the 5″ just got a lot stronger. The test involved shooting guided rounds at a target of cruise missile size and speed. That has got to mean extreme accuracy against even moving targets.

Adding this capability to Cutters would increase both their survivability and their offensive capability. In addition it would substantially increase their capability to forcibly stop a vessel of almost any size since the projectiles, about seven times heavier than an 57mm round, would be traveling at near hypersonic speeds, they would likely disable any engine it hits by kinetic energy alone.

An artist’s conception of BAE Systems’ Hyper Velocity Projectile. BAE Systems Image

I have not seen any particular kind of guidance identified for this test. The illustration above does appear to show a panel, presumably one of four, between the fins at the base of the projectile.

“So if you think about the kinds of threats you might face in the Middle East, the lower-end cruise missiles or a larger UAV, now you have a way to shoot them down that doesn’t require you use a $2 million ESSM or $1 million RAM because a hyper velocity projectile – even in the highest-end estimates have it in the $75,000 to $100,000 range, and that’s for the fanciest version of it with an onboard seeker,” he said.

An added benefit of using HVP in powder guns is the gun’s high rate of fire and a large magazine capacity.

The projectiles apparently weigh about 45 pounds, and may cost as little as $25,000, far less than even the relatively cheap RAM short range anti-air missile at about $1M each. Range is expected to be about 40 miles when fired from a 5″ gun.

The Mk45 Mod4 was first installed on the USS Winston Churchill (DDG-81) commissioned in 2001, superseding the earlier 5″/54 Mk45 mods. Since then it has been the standard USN 5″ gun. It is also in service with the Australian, South Korean, Japanese, and Danish Navies, and they will arm the British Type 26 frigate. Earlier models of the 5″ Mk45 also serve in the Navies of New Zealand, Greece, Spain, Turkey and Thailand.

The gun mount is not a lot larger than the 5″/38 Mk30 mounts that were used on over 50 Coast Guard cutters (255s, 311s, 327s, 378s, and icebreakers) between the early 1940s and their removal from the 378s in the late ’80s and early 90s. In fact the early models of the Mk45 were designed as a drop in replacement for the 5″/38.

Earlier 5″/38 mounts used by the Coast Guard were highly manpower intensive requiring 14 to 15 to fully man the mount and pass projectiles and powder. Full manning for a Mk45 Mod4 is only six, a Gun Captain, Panel Operator and four ammunition Ioperators, all below deck. It can fire up to twenty rounds before the four ammunition operators arrive on station, allowing relatively easy Condition III manning.

The 5″/38 mount weighed about 41,000 pounds. The Mk45 Mod4 is estimated to weigh 50,456 lbs. (22,886 kg) without a lower hoist and 54,398 lbs. (24,674 kg) with a four-flight lower hoist. that is at most a 33% increase.

Time to Think about an OPC “B class” 

What the Soviets used to call the correlation of forces is changing. The Navy’s top surface warfare officer told a gathering at the Surface Navy Association Seminar, For the ship crews, “we need to have them prepared on a moment’s notice to turn the readiness we are building into lethality,” that they had to be ready to fight now.

It is time for the Coast Guard to start reasserting its military nature. Hopefully we have at least a few years to rebuild the Coast Guard’s capability as a naval force which was discarded after the Soviet Union fell apart

It is not too early to start thinking about a “B class” OPC. Replace the 57mm with the 5″/62 Mk45 mod4, replace the 25mm Mk38 with SeaRAM. Add the sensors from the LCS ASW mission module at the stern. Add some Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles Forward. Make sure we have space to support MH-60R ASW helos it is supposed to be able to hangar with torpedoes and sonobuoys. That is not a whole lot different from the systems we had on the FRAM 378s, and the OPC is a third again as large.

USCGC Mellon seen here launching a Harpoon anti-ship cruise missile in 1990.

 

Hearing: “Review of Recent GAO Reports on Icebreaker Acquisition and the Need for a National Maritime Strategy”

Note: Apparently as a result of the Government Shutdown, links to the House of Representative’s Website that have been included in this are no longer available and once you get their error message you will no longer be able to back arrow to this site. You will have to reload. Hopefully these link will be reestablished some time in the future, so I have left them in. I have been unable to relocate some of the quotations below to provide more specific citations so I am going to go ahead and publish without them.  

Again, I have to apologize for being late in analysis of a Congressional hearing. In this case it is the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, “Review of Recent GAO Reports on Icebreaker Acquisition and the Need for a National Maritime Strategy” that took place on 29 November, 2018.

The video actually begins at minute 21.

Witnesses were:

  • Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition & Chief Acquisition Officer, United States Coast Guard  | Written Testimony
  • Rear Admiral Mark H. “Buz” Buzby, USN, Ret., Administrator, Maritime Administration  | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office  | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Andrew Von Ah, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, Government Accountability Office  | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service  | Written Testimony

Subcommittee members present included:

All five Representatives won reelection, so it is probable we will see them on the Subcommittee next year. Representative Garamendi was clearly excited and optimistic about the becoming chair of the House Sub-Committee. He strongly reports Coast Guard recapitalization. He also expressed a desire to see Rep. Brian Mast return as ranking member.

The two topics were essentially unrelated. We have revisited the topic of the Polar Security Cutter/Heavy Polar Icebreaker numerous times.

GAO is still contending there are Scheduling and Technological risks. They don’t seem to recognize the steps that have been taken to minimize these risks and that the largest scheduling risk is in delaying the start of the project once the detail design is substantially complete. There is real urgency in the need to replace Polar Star and they don’t seem to recognize that. Yes, the Coast Guard might have done a better job, if we had started this project about a decade earlier, and we might have done that if they had not continued to insist we had to keep our AC&I (now PC&I) budget to about $1.1B, but we can no longer afford more delay to achieve a drawn out, risk free, acquisition process.

Mr. O’Rourke once again made the case for block buy vs a contract with options, contrasting the way the Coast Guard has contracted for vessels while the Navy has successfully used Block Buy and Multi-Year contracting for vessels much more complicated than those being procured by the Coast Guard.

The need for a National Maritime Strategy reflected a realization that the US ability to transport military reinforcements to a theater of conflict in American ships with American crews seems to be in jeopardy. We discussed this problem and what the Coast Guard could do about it here.

Rather than reference the exchange on the video above as I have done before, I will just highlight parts of the two source documents, the “Summary of Subject Matter” (a six page pdf) and Congressional Research Service Naval Expert, Ronald O’Rourke’s prepared statement.

Regarding the Polar Security Cutter (Heavy Polar Icebreaker or HPIB), from the summary of subject matter

The Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate is conducting a tailored technical readiness assessment to update the HPIB cost estimate with an estimated completion of June 30, 2019.

The Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate will update the program schedule within three months of the Detail Design and Construction contract award and before awarding construction, as appropriate, with an estimated completion date of September 30, 2019.

The Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate is conducting a tailored technical readiness assessment to analyze and determine schedule risks with an estimated completion of June 30, 2019.

Since presumably much of this work would be done by civilian acquisitions specialist, it is likely the work is falling behind because of the government shut down

Shift in Security Environment; New National Defense Strategy

A Maritime Strategy has not been issued. If it had it would likely need an update given that both the Administration and Geopolitical situation have changed.

Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study 2018 (MCRS-18)

 DOD states that it started the study, which it refers to as the Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study 2018 (MCRS-18), on March 8, 2018, and that it is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2018…A September 25, 2017, press report about MCRS-18 states that “Since the early 1990s, Pentagon mobility studies have consistently identified a requirement for about 20 million square feet of roll-on/roll-off capacity to quickly transport material in support of a contingency.” Mobility studies conducted from the 1990s until recently, however, were all done in the post-Cold War era, when U.S. military force planning focused to a large degree on potential crises and conflicts against regional military powers such as Iran and North Korea. Given the recent shift from the post-Cold War era to the new era of renewed great power competition and the resulting formal shift in U.S. military force planning toward a primary emphasis on potential challenges posed by China and Russia, it is not clear that MCRS-18 will leave the figure of 20 million square feet of roll-on/roll-off capacity unchanged. A change in this figure could have implications for the content of a new national maritime strategy.

We have seen no indication of movement on these documents.

Potential Shortfall of Navy Escorts and Possible Impacts on Mariners

 GAO notes MARAD’s September 2017 estimate of a potential shortage of U.S.-citizen mariners available to crew U.S.-owned reserve sealift ships during a crisis or conflict. The challenge of finding adequate numbers of appropriately trained mariners to crew DOD sealift ships in time of crisis or conflict is a longstanding issue, dating back at least to 1990, when mariners in their 50s, 60s, and 70s (and one aged 81), some brought out of retirement, were reportedly needed to help fill out the crews of DOD sealift ships that were activated for Operation Desert Shield (the initial phase of the U.S. reaction to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait). Problems in filling out ship crews reportedly contributed to delays in activating some RRF sealift ships to participate in the operation.  A potential shortage of U.S.-citizen mariners for manning DOD sealift ships in wartime has been a recurring matter of concern since then.

“Was I to die this moment, ‘Want of Frigates’ would be found stamped on my heart.”, Lord Nelson to Earl Spencer, 9 August 1798

Section 1072 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810/P.L. 11591 of December 12, 2017) requires the Navy to submit a report on its plans for defending combat logistics and strategic mobility forces—meaning Navy underway replenishment ships, RRF sealift ships, and MSC surge sealift ships—against potential wartime threats. The report is to include, among other things, a “description of the combat logistics and strategic mobility forces capacity, including additional combat logistics and strategic mobility forces, that may be required due to losses from attacks,” an “assessment of the ability and availability of United States naval forces to defend combat logistics and strategic mobility forces from the threats,” and a “description of specific capability gaps or risk areas in the ability or availability of United States naval forces to defend combat logistics and strategic mobility forces from the threats….”

This was brought sharply into focus in a surprisingly frank article in Defense News, dated October 10, 2018, “‘You’re On Your Own’: US Sealift Can’t Count on Navy Escorts in the Next Big War,”

My earlier post talks about what the Coast Guard could do to mitigate this shortfall, but the most significant step would be to bring back the Coast Guard ASW mission. Equipping eleven NSCs and 25 OPCs with ASW systems could make a huge difference.