Second 270 Goes to the Arctic

As part of the Operation Argus search and rescue exercise, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) and HDMS Triton (F358), a Royal Danish navy vessel, conducted towing evolutions off Greenland Aug. 18, 2020. Interoperability and rescue responses are vital in the high latitudes of the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

Below is a press release reproduced in its entirety. This operation seems to represent a significant change in Coast Guard operations. This is the first reference to a Coast Guard “Arctic Patrol” I have seen other than WWII historical references. Significantly this is on the Atlantic side. When I have seen the Coast Guard participate in this exercise in the past, it was with a buoy tender. Here we have participation by two 270 foot WMECs. We talked about this exercise earlier here. It seems to mark a change for the US Navy as well as the Coast Guard with a Navy destroyer participating as well. 

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
Contact: Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs
Office: (757) 398-6521
After Hours: (757) 641-0763
Atlantic Area online newsroom

U.S. Coast Guard carries out support of joint Arctic missions

As part of Operation Nanook, the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) maneuvers with vessel from the Royal Canadian navy and coast guard, the Danish navy, and French navy, in the Atlantic Aug. 9, 2020. Strong partnerships are imperative to success in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) Royal Danish navy members attached to HDMS Triton (F358) ran through search and rescue exercises aboard the Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) as part of the joint Arctic Operation Argus, Aug. 20, 2020, off Greenland. The Triton crew dispatched small boat crews to board the Tahoma, responding to the ‘distress call’ made by Tahoma. The scenario included multiple ‘injured’ parties and a pipe casualty exercise. Each ship’s crew shared techniques throughout the engagement, leading to a successful evolution. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) Coast Guard Cadet 1st Class Rochelle Parocha looks on to the Royal Canadian Navy supply vessel Asterix after guiding in the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) during approach drills as part of Operation Nanook in the Atlantic in mid-August 2020. Strong partnerships are imperative to success in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

 Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Fetzner, Lt. Katy Caraway, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Calvin Christianson, an aviation maintenance technician, crew an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter on search and rescue maneuvers above Greenland, Aug. 19, 2020. The team comprises the aviation detachment aboard U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908), taking part in joint Arctic Operations Nanook and Argus strengthening relations with strategic partners. They carried out multiple search and rescue drills involving lost hikers along the Arctic Trail and boaters in distress along Greenland's coast. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) The HDMS Triton (F358), a Royal Danish navy vessel, approaches Greenland as seen from the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908), Aug. 15, 2020. Both vessel crews are participating in the 10th year of Operation Nanook. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) As part of Operation Nanook, a Royal Danish navy MH-60 Seahawk Helicopter crew conducts cross-deck maneuvers over the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) in the Atlantic Aug. 10, 2020. Strong partnerships are imperative to success in the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) became the first Coast Guard 270-foot medium endurance cutter crew to cross the Arctic Circle, Aug. 17, 2020. They took part in joint Arctic Operations Nanook and Argus, (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) As part of Operation Nanook, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) boat-crew participates in a search and rescue exercise with the HDMS Triton, a Royal Danish navy vessel Aug. 17, 2020 off Greenland. Operation Argus part of Nanook, focused on search and rescue interoperability, highlights the importance of cooperation between international partners. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released) As part of the Operation Argus search and rescue exercise, U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) and HDMS Triton (F358), a Royal Danish navy vessel, conducted towing evolutions off Greenland Aug. 18, 2020. Interoperability and rescue responses are vital in the high latitudes of the Arctic. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Seaman Kate Kilroy/Released)

Editors’ Note: Click on images to view more or download a high-resolution version.

KITTERY, Maine  — The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell (WMEC 909) will relieve the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tahoma (WMEC 908) on Arctic patrol, Sunday near Greenland.  

In mid-July, Tahoma began operations for the overall two-month patrol to the Arctic in support of joint operations Nanook and Argus, to secure the maritime domain, protect resources and strengthen partnerships. 

“I’ve been doing this for more than 33 years and thought I’d seen everything until I saw how positively this crew responded. There’s nothing more humbling than being surrounded by such a great crew. Their families and friends should all be proud of them; that they accomplished something important and accomplished it with style. They represented themselves, their families, their Service, and their country as well as could ever be expected. The finest traditions of the Coast Guard are alive and well within the Tahoma crew,” said Cmdr. Eric Johnson, commanding officer, Tahoma. 

As the Nation’s primary maritime presence in the Polar Regions, the Coast Guard advances our national interests through a unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance.  

“The Coast Guard has been in the Arctic for over 150 years,” said Capt. Thomas Crane, commanding officer, Campbell. “This signature exercise began in 2007. We are committed to enhancing our multinational capability to operate effectively in the dynamic Arctic domain, strengthening the rules-based order through the presence and joint efforts, and adapting to promote regional resilience and prosperity. We are proud to bring USCGC Campbell back to Greenland as the previous Campbell (W32) supported Coastal Operations in and around Greenland during World War II.”

These exercises evaluate interoperability and build relationships between responders to identify shortfalls in communication and coordination of efforts. Each agency holds individual capabilities that complement each other’s efforts and bolsters the overall success of the regional defense and SAR system. The purpose is to continue building and improving operational cohesion between different agencies and the Coast Guard.

Tahoma participated in patrols and mutual exchanges with partners as part of Operation Nanook. Inuit for polar bears, Nanook is an annual joint exercise and the Canadian armed forces’ signature northern operation, which comprises a series of comprehensive, joint, interagency, and multinational activities designed to exercise regional defense and secure our polar regions. The Coast Guard is primarily supporting Nanook-Tuugalik, a defense readiness and security exercise, with multiple foreign partners off Northern Canada involving U.S. Navy 2nd Fleet, Royal Canadian navy and coast guard, the Danish navy, French navy, Royal Canadian air force, and multiple Canadian federal, state, local, and tribal agencies. This year crowns a decade of Operation Nanook.

Both Tahoma and Campbell participated in Operation Argus, a three-day search and rescue exercise in Greenland’s coastal search area with the Danish navy, French navy, U.S. Coast Guard, and Air Greenland. Campbell will also conduct exchanges, fisheries boardings to safeguard resources and protect domestic fisheries and serve as a platform for research and innovation.

“We continue to work with our allies and partners to ensure a safe, secure, and cooperative Arctic, even as our aspiring near-peer competitors maneuver for strategic advantage in the area,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander, Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “We are leaning forward, and our persistent presence continues to counter those entities’ efforts as the strategic value, economic, and scientific importance of the Arctic grows.”

Tahoma and Campbell’s home port is the historic Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine. Both cutters have a crew of roughly 100 who regularly patrol the Atlantic from Canada to the Caribbean. Like the other Famous-class cutters, they are designed and built for multi-mission operations, including law enforcement, search and rescue, marine environmental protection, and defense readiness.

Due to COVID-19, the service is taking extensive precautions and closely monitoring all operations. As needed, unit schedules adapted to ensure missions occur as planned. Any port calls or personnel exchanges are evaluated for risk and conducted in close coordination with the host nation and relevant agencies.

“Coast Guard Sails Medium Cutter North of Arctic Circle as Nanook Exercise Kicks Off” –USNI

The US Naval Institute News reports that

“The Coast Guard for the first time in years sent one of its medium-endurance cutters to the Atlantic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, as the sea service joins the U.S. and Canadian navies for a yearly maritime exercise.”

This is Operation NANOOK-TUUGAALIK 2020, the maritime portion of Operation NANOOK. In past years, when the Coast Guard participated, we usually sent a buoy tender. I don’t believe it has ever happened before, but this year the US Navy is sending a destroyer. According to Naval Technology,

“Participating assets include USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) guided-missile destroyer, the Royal Canadian Navy ships HMCS Glace Bay, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and MV Asterix; DDG 116, US Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) 46.2, the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tahoma, French Navy coastal patrol vessel FS Fulmar, and the Royal Danish Navy frigate HDMS Triton.” (Photos below–Chuck)

The Navy seems to be particularly concerned about doing small boat ops in the Arctic environment.

“We’ve really heavily relied on partners, including the Coast Guard, who have recent experience operating there,” he said.

Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian G. Reynolds/Released)

Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec

Danish frigate HDMS Triton F358 in Reykjavik – Iceland (2016). Photo credit: CJ Sayer via Wikipedia

Royal Canadian Navy supply ship MV Asterix (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jimmie Crockett/Released)

Canadian navy Kingston-class maritime coastal defense vessel HMCS Glace Bay (MM 701) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rafael Martie/Released)

FS FULMAR P740. Description: Owned by French Navy and crewed by Gendarmarie. Built as fishing vessel ‘Jonathan’1991 at Boulogne,re-built 1996/97 at Lorient for French Navy as patrol boat, LOA 39M; beam 8.5M; draught 4.7M. Displmt:680 tons full load. Note French Coastguard (AEM) stripes on bow. Vessel based on St.Pierre et Miquelon,off S.West coast Newfoundland.Photo credit © tabarly

USCGC Tahoma (WMEC-908)

“Why NATO Needs a Standing Maritime Group in the Arctic” –CIMSEC

NoCGV Svalbard (W303), an icebreaker and offshore patrol vessel of the Norwegian Coast Guard (Kystvakten).

A recent CIMSEC article makes a case for a standing NATO group in the Arctic.

“…NATO needs to improve its capability and capacity to operate on the Arctic front. In order to deter the Russian threat and safeguard maritime security, sustained presence in the region is needed. To this end, NATO should create a new standing maritime group dedicated to the Arctic and separate from the maritime groups focused elsewhere.


“Instead of relying exclusively on frigates and destroyers from NATO navies to form the new group, NATO should look to its coast guards as well, recognizing that many of these forces field ships that are optimized for Arctic operations.”

The post also sees a standing NATO Group as a counter to Chinese militarization of the Arctic as well,

“How China might move to militarize the Arctic is anyone’s guess, but its 2018 white paper on the Arctic, as summarized by Lieutenant Commander Rachel Gosnell, USN, clearly states China’s interests in the region, and it has plans to protect them. While much of the paper touts adherence to international law, the world has very little reason to believe China will do so. One example of how China could move to militarize the Arctic is on the back of its seemingly benign fishing fleet. China has stated it has inherent rights to the fish migrating to the Arctic because of its large population. And where China’s fishing fleet goes, militarization will soon follow, as has been demonstrated already by Chinese fishing “militias.””

My take:

While I earlier I suggested something similar for the Western Pacific, a “Combined Maritime Security Task Force Pacific,” a maritime law enforcement alliance between Asian nations and other interested parties (probably including the US, Australia, France, and New Zealand) to ensure a rules based maritime environment in the Western Pacific, the situation in the Arctic is very different. 

A picture taken on November 16, 2011 from a South Korean helicopter shows Chinese boats banded together with ropes, chased by a coastguard helicopter and rubber boats packed with commandoes, after alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea.
Credit: Dong-A-Ilbo

In the Western Pacific, multi-unit cooperation is desirable to push back against Chinese bullying of her neighbors. Huge numbers of fishing vessels including many that are Chinese maritime militia, backed by Chinese Coast Guard vessels, can overwhelm and intimidate individual enforcement vessels. They have even been known to be violent. Having numerous international witnesses on scene can counter the Chinese narrative. So far we are not seeing huge Chinese fishing fleets in the Arctic.

Certainly we can benefit from international cooperation and coordination in the Arctic, for now at least, a wide ranging dispersal of assets, rather than concentration seems more appropriate.

A Combined Interagency Task Force (or maybe two), modeled on our Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) but including staff from other Arctic nations rather than a grouping of ships, might be a better near term solution. (In considering a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” through the Northern Sea Route, former USCG Commandant, Admiral Zukunft, even suggested formation of a JIATF–Arctic based on an augmented JTF Alaska.)  Missions potentially include SAR, Environmental Protection, and Fisheries Protection. Those concerns, have been to some extent addressed by the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. For now at least, Russia shares those interests. 

The limits:

In the CIMSEC article, there is discussion about the possibility of “Freedom of Navigation Operations” through the Northern Sea Route. Canada is likely to side with Russia on this question, because they consider the North West Passage Canadian internal waters.

Communications in the far North are still difficult. Recently the Commandant noted the difficulty of maintaining communications with USCGC Healy.

Western nations’ access to the Arctic is limited to widely separated Pacific and Atlantic Approaches. Inevitably we have to see the Arctic as two separate theaters. The Arctic Ocean that we approach from the Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean approached from the Pacific.

While Russia actually has naval bases in the Arctic, Western nations generally do not. The only exceptions are Sortland Norway where the Norwegian Coast Guard has their headquarters and Northern base, and Nanisivik, where Canada has converted a former mining site to a refueling station near the Eastern Entrance to the North West Passage.

The US has no Navy bases in Alaska. On the Atlantic side, the US Navy has no surface vessels based north of the Virginia Capes. The US Coast Guard has no ice-capable vessels larger than large buoy tenders (WLBs) based on the Atlantic side. Basing for future USCG medium icebreakers has not be made public. 

Canada is building eight Harry DeWolf class ice-strengthened “Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships,” six for the Navy and two for their Coast Guard.

Canada has no true naval bases in the Arctic, though their bases are further north than those of the US. Denmark patrols Greenland waters from Naval Base Frederikshavn on the Jutland peninsula. Sweden and Finland extend above the Arctic circle, but they have no coast line on the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle.

What we can do: 

A comprehensive common NATO operational picture of the Arctic and its approaches is desirable and doable. There are probably economies possible in maintaining air surveillance over the Arctic access points.

Icelandic Coast Guard Cutter Thor. Photo credit: Claus Ableiter

What is in place?:

We have the Arctic Coast Guard Forum.

Denmark has a Joint Arctic Command for the defense of Greenland and the Faroe Islands Area.

Canada has a Joint Task Force (North) and exercises annually under the name Operation Nanook. The US Coast Guard has participated in Operation Nanook at least three times.

Pacific Area Coast Guard, Third Fleet, and Canada’s Maritime Forces Pacific have been in discussion, but it does not appear that the Arctic was high on their agenda.

What we lack:

Seems a good next step would be a standing staff, to maintain maritime domain awareness of activities in the Arctic, and coordinate cooperative international monitoring efforts.

Do we include the Russian? Good question, but they may currently have the best information about what is going on in the Arctic.

“Davie to become Canada’s third National Shipbuilding Strategy strategic partner” –Marine Log

To no one’s surprise MarineLog reports that Davie Shipbuilding, Lauzon, Quebec, Canada’s largest shipyard, has been selected as the third shipyard partner in Canada’s “National Shipbuilding Strategy” and will build six icebreakers for the Canadian Coast Guard.

Canada’s New Icebreaker, John G. Diefenbaker

Canadian Polar Icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker

Some information from Canadian ship design agency VARD, on the planned Canadian polar icebreaker John G. Diefenbaker. The project is long delayed and construction has not yet begun.

There is much more detail in the VARD brochure and Wikipedia entry linked above, but a few significant data points.

  • Displacement, full load: 23,500 tons
  • Length overall: 150.1 m 492’-6”
  • Length waterline: 137.6 m 451’-5”
  • Breadth moulded 28.0 m 91’-10”
  • Design draft: 10.5 m 34’-6”
  • Generators: 39,600 kW 53,100 hp
  • Propulsion: two 11 MW (14,751 hp) wing shafts and a 12 MW (16,092 hp) azimuth thruster. total 34 MW (45,595 hp),
  • Speed: 18 knots ice free, 3.0 kn, 2.5m ice 
  • Range:  26,000 NM @ 12 kn ice free 
  • 1,800 NM @ 3.0 kn 2.2 m of ice
  • 60 core crew + 40 program personnel
  • Endurance  270 days

For comparison these are figures for the planned Polar Security Cutter. Projected delivery dates, 2024, 2025, 2027.

  • Displacement, Full Load: 22,900 tons
  • Length: 460 ft (140 meters)
  • Beam: 88 ft (26.8 meters)
  • HP: 45,200
  • Accommodations: 186
  • Endurance: 90 days

In many ways the designs are remarkably close. Looks like the Canadian breaker will be slightly larger than the PSC, but will have a much smaller crew.

Presumably there will be no provision for armament since the Canadian Coast Guard does not arm its vessels.

The Diefenbaker’s very long endurance is a bit of a surprise, in view of Canada’s lack of a requirement to go to Antarctica, a feature that has driven the design of the PSC.

Propulsion power is almost identical, a bit over 45,000 HP, and both designs include three propellers, but the way it is done is different. While the PSC has a conventional shaft on the centerline and rotatable drive units to port and starboard, the Canadian design has a single rotating drive unit on the centerline and conventional shaft driven props port and starboard. This may provide the PSC with a redundancy advantage in that it might allow steerage even if one unit is damaged. On the other hand the single Canadian unit may be less likely to be damaged because of its position.

“Great Lakes-St. Lawrence Shipping: We need Icebreakers” –MarineLink

Launch of USCGC Mackinaw (WLBB-30) on April 2, 2005. Photo by Peter J. Markham.

Marine Link reports that,

“The Great Lakes-St. Lawrence shipping industry is calling for at least five new icebreakers to be part of the (Canadian–Chuck) federal government’s recent announcement of $15.7 billion for Canadian Coast Guard fleet renewal.”

This appeal was addressed to the Canadian government, but we can expect to hear continued appeals for more USCG icebreakers on the lakes as well.

“Canadian and U.S. Coast Guard crews worked tirelessly during the Great Lakes spring break-out, but were hampered by the age and condition of the fleets at their disposal. Two U.S. Coast Guard icebreakers were out of service in March and a Canadian icebreaker assigned to Lake Superior was only able to operate at 60 per cent of capability and was idled in April due to mechanical issues.”

Congressmen from states bordering the Great Lakes have been asking for more icebreakers for years. There was $5M in the FY2019 budget to start work on procurement of a Great Lakes icebreaker at least as capable as USCGC Mackinaw.

There is an indication that the system may be expanded and the navigation season extended,

That economic contribution is only set to increase as ports and their customers invest in increasing the capacity of the waterway as well as looking at options like lengthening the navigation season of the St. Lawrence Seaway.

There might be an opportunity here to combine the program to provide medium polar icebreakers with a new icebreaker for the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes icebreaker might serve as a prototype for the medium polar icebreaker.

“Canadian coast guard welcomes first ‘new’ icebreaker” –Workboat

The Canadian coast guard icebreaker Captain Molly Kool was welcomed to its new homeport of St. John’s, Newfoundland, May 30, 2019. Shipspotting.com photo

Workboat is reporting that the Canadian Coast Guard has taken procession of the 307.4’x59’ Captain Molly Kool, the first of three refurbished icebreaking anchor handling vessels that will fill in, as older Canadian Coast Guard vessels are taken out of service for major overhauls. We talked about these vessels earlier.

It does appear the Canadian Coast Guard has become an election issue and is starting to get some attention. As noted only last week, 18 more vessels are on the way.

 

“Canada to build 18 more Coast Guard vessels” –Marine Log

Arctic Offshore Patrol Ship (Royal Canadian Navy photo)

MarineLog is reporting that Canada is planning to build 18 additional ships for the Canadian Coast Guard including two additional Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships (AOPS, a type previously built for the Royal Canadian Navy).

They will also add a third shipyard to the national shipbuilding strategy.

The cost may appear out of line. The total for the 18 ships, C$15.7 billion (about US$11.7 billion) averages US$650M per ship. That is more than the average cost of the contract with options for three USCG Polar Security Cutters ($1.9B for three ships or $633M on average), but the price is not final and it appears it may include extended support.

The C$15.7 billion funding for the 18 large ships in represents early estimates of project budgets including construction, logistics and support, contingency, project management and infrastructure costs. The costs of each ship will be announced following contract negotiations.

Still there is likely to be some criticism.

There is also mention of an intention to also build some smaller vessels,

The Government of Canada will also proceed through a competitive process with the design of a new class of smaller ships, the new Mid-Shore Multi-Mission Ship, which would complement the work of the large fleet in shallow areas and deliver mid-shore science activities.

All in all, good news for the Canadian Coast Guard and an investment in ship building in Canada, assuming it actually happens. Like the US Coast Guard, they have had their problems. 

Vard explores concepts for Canadian Coast Guard future fleet

MarineLog reports,

“Vancouver, B.C., based Vard Marine, Inc. reports that the Canadian Coast Guard has awarded it an engineering services contract to explore concepts for the Coast Guard’s future fleet renewal program.

“…The work is intended to explore requirements for multiple future fleet ship types and could stretch over several years.

Vard was of course a designer of the Offshore Patrol Cutter.

More on China in the Arctic

Video: Russian nuclear powered icebreaker NS 50 Let Pobedy (Russian: 50 лет Победы), translated as 50 Years of Victory or Fiftieth Anniversary of Victory. The new Chinese Nuclear icebreaker will be similar in size.  

Some recent writings on China’s increasing interest in the Arctic caught my eye.

First there is this piece, “Opinion: China Is Joining the Rush for Arctic Riches.” by former NATO Supreme Allied Commander James Stavridis noting China’s apparent high level interest in the Arctic and its increasing military, political and economic alignment with Russia.

A wide ranging article from the Canadian Naval Review looks at “China’s Arctic Policy and its Potential Impact on Canada’s Arctic Security.” The author sees the roots of the Chinese policies in the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) quest for legitimacy. As a result China has asserted “rights in respect of scientific research, navigation, overflight, fishing, laying of submarine cables and pipelines, … and rights to resource exploration and exploitation in the Area,” The author also suggests the Chinese see the Northern Sea Route as a way to avoid the US Navy’s potential blockage of the Straits of Malacca, but I cannot see that as a possibility, given the US possession of the Eastern half of the Bering Strait.

Lastly, some details about the new Chinese icebreaker have been reported by NavyRecognition. It is going to be very large.

“Next, came the official announcement that China intends to build a nuclear icebreaker. It will be 152 meters in length, 30 meters wide, and will displace 30,000 tons.”