How the Coast Guard and Navy Could Plan to Mobilize the Cutter Force in a Major Conflict

The Coast Guard has a rich military history, but we should recognize that, while we may be an “armed service,” we are not prepared for war.

We took the opportunity presented by the apparent end of the Cold War in the early ’90s to cut cost and overhead by removing recently installed  anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and Harpoon launching equipment from the 378s and eliminating entire Sonar Tech (ST) rating.

Unfortunately, the holiday from worrying about a possible major conflict is over. China is challenging us, and Russia is resurgent. While it appears the Coast Guard has planned to provide some resources to address contingencies, it also appear we have no real direction as to what the Coast Guard will do if we have a major conflict. Certainly the new major cutters, the NSCs and OPCs, could be turned into credible escort vessels, but it would take months and their crews would need to be trained.

The development of modular systems for the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) may provide a mechanism for rapidly upgrading our ships while Navy Reserves might provide the personnel and expertise to cut mobilization time from months to weeks.

The Navy currently has over 100,000 reservists, either Selected Reservists or Individual Ready Reservist, subject to recall. A number of them have expertise not resident in the Coast Guard, but useful upon mobilization. At one time these reservists might have gone to man Navy reserve frigates, but there are currently no navy combatants in reserve. As the number of LCSs increase the number of reservists with experience operating and maintaining the mission modules will increase. In addition all LCSs have two complete crews, so in wartime when they will presumably stop rotating crews, they will have an excess of active duty crews training in the mission module systems.

The primary mission modules planned for the LCSs are Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (SuW), and Mine Counter-Measures (MCM). It would not take much to make cutters capable of accepting all or parts of these mission modules, perhaps an OPC “B” class and during overhauls.

There is a very real possibility of inter-service synergy here.

A mission package of equipment, aircraft, sensors, and personnel could be loaded aboard for exercises, providing training for both the Navy and Coast Guard personnel.

The acoustic sensors from the ASW module might be deployed on a cutter bound for a drug interdiction mission in the Eastern Pacific, to help locate drug running semi-submersibles or if they are out there, submarines.

There are very few Navy mine counter measures assets in the US and those we have are not spread out geographically. If there were to be a peacetime mining incident in US waters, it might be possible to airlift an MCM module to the nearest cutter to allow the problem to be dealt with more quickly.

How much would it cost to weaponize a cutter?

Photo: Sigma 10514 in Mexican Navy configuration, fitted with a BAE Systems Bofors 57Mk3 57mm main guna 12.7mm remote weapon system right behind it. The Mexican Navy opted for the Smart Mk2 radar by Thales. The Mexican “Long Range Patrol Vessel” will not be fitted with VLS cells but a Raytheon RAM launcher will be fitted on top of the helicopter hangar.

How much would it cost to turn one of our new construction cutters into a minimally capable frigate with at least some capability for anti-submarine, anti-surface, and self defense anti-air warfare?

I don’t have a definitive answer but we did get a good indication along with more information about Mexico’s new long range patrol vessel, a Damen 10514 design, that is close enough to our own Offshore Patrol Cutter requirements, that I thought it might have been an OPC contender.

Earlier we had an indication regarding the addition of VLS and  Evolved Sea Sparrow Missiles (ESSM) when Chile ordered $140.1M worth of equipment to arm three ships. Plus we had an earlier post based on a 2009 Congressional Budget Office study (apparently no longer available on line) that suggested costs to replace the Phalanx on NSCs with SeaRAM and to add 12 Mk56 VLS and associated equipment, which could have provided up to 24 ESSM.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency has issued a news release concerning the sale of weapons for the new Mexican patrol vessel, and the shopping list is a pretty extensive, including anti-surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine weapons.

Mexico –Harpoon Block II Missiles, RAM Missiles and MK 54 Torpedoes

Media/Public Contact: pm-cpa@state.gov
Transmittal No: 17-63

­­­WASHINGTON, Jan. 5, 2018 – The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Mexico of RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes for an estimated cost of $98.4 million.  The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today.

The Government of Mexico has requested to buy six (6) RGM-84L Harpoon Block II surface launched missiles, twenty-three (23) Block II Rolling Airframe Missile (RAM) tactical missiles and six (6) MK 54 Mod 0 lightweight torpedoes.  Also included are eight (8) MK 825 Mod 0 RAM Guided Missile Round Packs (GMRP) tri-pack shipping and storage containers; RAM Block 2 MK 44 Mod 4 Guided Missile Round Pack (GMRP); two (2) MK 32 Surface Vessel Torpedo Tubes (SVTT) triple tube launchers; two hundred and fifty (250) rounds of AA98 25 mm high explosive and semi-armor piercing ammunition; seven hundred and fifty (750) rounds A976 25mm target practice and tracer ammunition; four hundred and eighty (480) rounds of BA22 57mm high explosive programmable fuze ammunition; nine hundred and sixty (960) rounds of BA23 57mm practice ammunition; containers; spare and repair parts; support and test equipment; publications and technical documentation; personnel training and training equipment; U.S. Government and contractor representatives’ technical assistance; engineering and logistics support services; installation services; associated electronics and hardware to control the launch of torpedoes; and other related elements of logistics and program support.  The estimated cost is $98.4 million.

This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner.  Mexico has been a strong partner in combating organized crime and drug trafficking organizations.  The sale of these ship-based systems to Mexico will significantly increase and strengthen its maritime capabilities.  Mexico intends to use these defense articles and services to modernize its armed forces and expand its existing naval and maritime support of national security requirements and in its efforts to combat criminal organizations.

Mexico intends to use the weapon systems on its Mexican Navy Sigma 10514 Class ship.  The systems will provide enhanced capabilities in effective defense of critical sea lanes.  The proposed sale of these systems and support will increase the Mexican Navy’s maritime partnership potential and align its capabilities with existing regional navies.  Mexico has not purchased these systems previously.  Mexico will have no difficulty absorbing this equipment into its armed forces.

The proposed sale of this equipment will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The equipment will be provided from U.S. stocks.  There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of this proposed sale will require annual trips to Mexico involving U.S. Government personnel and contractor representatives for technical reviews, support, and oversight for approximately two years.

There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.

This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

All questions regarding this proposed Foreign Military Sale should be directed to the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs, pm-cpa@state.gov.

The big ticket items certainly made the head lines, but the ammunition for the 57mm is not cheap.

Fortunately for the Coast Guard, the Navy generally pays for our ammunition and weapon systems. The cost to the Coast Guard is installation and integration, plus primarily long term personnel and training costs.

Narcosubmarines: Nexus of Terrorism and Drug Trafficking?–CIMSEC


There is decent post on CIMSEC looking at the possibility of terrorists using the vehicles developed by drug smugglers to carry out an attack. The author also does a pretty good job of explaining why smugglers might be unlikely to cooperate. There is also a worthwhile bibliography associated with the post that appears to have been an academic treatise.

Acoustic Systems from Our Canadian Friends

TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.

We talked about the possibility of using TRAPS earlier. I had an email discussion with a GeoSpectrum Technologies representative, Geoff Lebans. He tells me the Canadian Navy will test TRAPS from a Kingston class ship in March. 

The Kingston class are a little smaller and slower than the 210 foot WMECs, but they have regularly assisted the Coast Guard in drug interdiction.

Would love to see how effective this system might be in detecting semi-submersibles.

The Coast Guard has expressed an interest in having unmanned systems providing networked sensors and GeoSpectrum makes a much smaller towed acoustic directional sensor that they believe would work with the Liquid Robotics™ Wave Glider™ and other small autonomous vehicles. Frankly, I could see the drug cartels putting a bounty on recovery of unmanned surface vessels and their sensors. Still the Navy might also be interested in this sort of network for ASW and they could probably fund the program out of loose change they might find in the sofa. Forth Fleet would probably more than happy to test it in the Eastern Pacific and cutters could probably deploy them.

Hopefully the Canadians will send their TARPS equipped ship down to the Eastern Pacific transit zones. If they do not, it might make a good Coast Guard R&D project to mount one on the back of a WMEC and use it to help define competitive contract requirements.

An acoustic system like this should be good for detection of something like a semi-submersible out to at least the first convergence zone, well beyond the visual and radar horizon. Mounted in a container they could be placed on WMECs bound for the Eastern Pacific and then transferred to the OPCs as they replace the MECs.

 

HMCS Nanaimo, a Royal Canadian Navy maritime coastal defense vessel operating in support of Operation Martillo

ASW on Small Craft

The 425 ton, 187 foot corvette HMS Gävle of the Swedish navy in Visby harbor. To be fitted with the Kongsberg Maritime ST2400 variable depth sonar.  Photo by Mr Bullitt

It seems warships are getting bigger all the time, but technology can sometimes make it possible to do more with less.

If we ever again face a submarine threat, there will never be enough destroyers and frigates to meet all the needs. The larger Coast Guard cutters will certainly be pressed into service, but there may also still be a need for protection of ports, coastal traffic, or choke points. These are prime submarine hunting areas. The Webber class might be adaptable to meet this need.

Certainly we would not I expect to see these on Cutters any time soon, but I wanted to point out the possibilities. Adding any ASW sensor, with the possible exception of the hull mounted sonar, would probably require that we land the 26 foot boat.

Below are three examples of ASW sensors applicable to small vessels. Most of the sensor technology comes from ASW helicopters, which like patrol boats, are limited as to space and weight. While helicopters can provide rapid response and movement, patrol boats have the advantage of persistence, including the ability to drift for days at a time.

We have already discussed how tubes for light weight torpedoes might be fitted to the Webber class for use against surface vessels. They could of course also be used against submarines.

Elbit Systems:

Elbit Systems’ Seagull unmanned surface vessel (shown firing a light weight torpedo) recently exhibited its anti-submarine detection capabilities using a dipping sonar rig and proprietary software.

The smallest is actually aboard a 39 foot unmanned boat, but it includes both a sensor in the form of a dipping sonar and an ASW torpedo weapon system.

Dipping sonars are a common feature on most ASW helicopters. The current US Navy system is the Airborne Low Frequency Dipping Sonar (ALFS) subsystem. ALFS began life as a Thales system.

Kongsberg Maritime ST2400 VDS variable depth:

Presentation of the Kongsberg Maritime ST2400 VDS variable depth sonar in the video above time 12:00 to 13:50

NavyRecognition reports this system is to be fitted on the Swedish Navy’s two remaining Göteborg class corvettes, which are already 24 to 27 years old. They are 20% larger than the Webber class, but they also are equipped with:

  • 1 × Bofors 57mm Mk2
  • 1 × Bofors 40mm/L70
  • 8 × RBS15 MkII AShM
  • 4 × 400 mm tubes for Type 43/45 torpedoes
  • 4 × ELMA Antisubmarine grenadethrowers
  • Mines & Depthcharges

Thales BlueWatch and CAPTAS-1

DefenseNews announced a new ASW sensor suite for ships as small as 300 tons that might include both a hull mounted sonar based on the same transducer currently used on the currently used dipping sonar, ALFS, and a towed sonar with a both an active transmitter element and a towed linear towed array receiver, the CAPTAS-1.

Thales Blue Watch Sonar System. (A hull mounted version of the AN/AQS-22.)

 

 

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.

 

JANUS, the Standard Underwater Language

NATO has announced,

The NATO Science and Technology Organization’s Centre for Maritime Research and Experimentation has developed a standard for underwater acoustic communications called JANUS, which is recognised as a NATO standard by all NATO Allies since 24 March 2017. This marks the first time that a digital underwater communication protocol has been acknowledged at international level and opens the way to develop many exciting underwater communication applications.

I think this might become important to us. It is not just a military system.

Thanks to EagleSpeak for bringing this to my attention.