U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.

  • That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
  • That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
  • His support of transgender CG personnel.

I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.

The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.

6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven  ships operating under SOUTHCOM.

Q&A begins at 11:00.

16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.

17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction

20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”

22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber

23m Cyber threat.

24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.

26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability

29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years

30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.

36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system.  He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.

40m Icebreakers

43m30s Comments on transgender members

45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.

47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.

49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.

50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease

53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.

56m DHS is the right place for the CG.

The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically

  • He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways.  Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
  • He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise  our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.

 

 

Balance of Power, 2030

Found this graphic on the US Naval Institute Blog.

Considering that the US Navy is spread all over the globe, with responsibilities in the Atlantic as well the Pacific, while the Chinese Navy will be concentrated in the Western Pacific, far from American Naval bases with the exception of a small number of units in Guam, Japan, and possibly Singapore, the Chinese Navy is likely  to enjoy a considerable local advantage, particularly early in any conflict.

In peacetime, it takes three CONUS based ships to maintain one in the Western Pacific. That would improve in wartime, but the Chinese would always have an advantage. Not to mention Chinese land based air and missiles.

Is there anything the Coast Guard can do to mitigate the coming imbalance in the Western Pacific?

It could be worse if US vs both China and Russia.

The Era of Coast Guards in the Asia-Pacific is Upon Us–Rand Corp

The Rand Corporation has issued an interesting post regarding the increased use and aggressiveness of Asian Coast Guards. It is based on a study of the Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Philippine Coast Guards. The full text of the study is here. in pdf format.

The growth of these four Coast Guards has been remarkable. According to the report, between 2010 and 2016 the China Coast Guard vessel tonnage has increased 73%, the Japan Coast Guard increased 50%, the Vietnamese CG by 73%, and the Philippine CG by 100%.

The growth is largely driven by China’s pushiness using its newly formed Coast Guard, but it is also because of Japan’s new willingness to provide security assistance, at least in the form of Coast Guard vessels, to nations who, like them, must confront Chinese aggressiveness.

There also seems to have been a tacit acceptance of the idea that gray hulls should not mix it up with white hulls. This has played into the hands of the Chinese who have by far the largest fleet of white hulls in the world. In fact there are really only two kinds of vessels, private and government, and when fishing vessels act under government orders they are defacto government vessels

The full report has some figures I had not seen before.

Despite the fact that its missions apparently do not include Aids to Navigation, China’s CG is by far the largest:

“China’s investment has yielded a total fleet size of around 215 vessels, of which 105 are considered large (more than one-thousand-tons displacement) and 110 small (less than one thousand tons). In terms of total tonnage, China boasts the largest coast guard in the world at roughly 190,000 tons, enjoying substantial quantitative overmatch over its Asian competitors.” (The CCG reportedly has 17,000 members.)

Japan Coast Guard had a head start, it has grown less but still has more ships than the USCG.

In terms of fleet size, the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence estimates that Japan has approximately fifty-three large and twenty-five small vessels in operation. The largest vessels in the JCG fleet include two PLH-class vessels with a displacement of 6,500 tons (9,000 tons fully loaded) and two Mizuho-class vessels of 5,200 tons. For comparison, the largest and most capable destroyers in the JMSDF, the Kongo-class vessels, displace approximately 9,500 tons. Most of the medium-to-high-endurance JCG vessels are equipped with deck-mounted autocannon that range in caliber from 20 to 40 mm, and most JCG officers carry light firearms for self-defense. Notably, the PLH-class cutters are only equipped with two Oerlikon 35–40 mm autocannon and two M61 Vulcan 20 mm six-barrel Gatling-style guns, compared with the 76 mm cannon on China’s largest cutter, Haijing 3901.

In terms of aviation assets, the JCG has by far the largest fleet in Asia, second only to the U.S. Coast Guard in the world, boasting twenty-six fixed-wing aircraft and forty-eight helicopters. Finally, the JCG has roughly 13,500 personnel, second most among coast guards in Asia.

Vietnam has also recently formed a Coast Guard.

The VCG has approximately fifty vessels: five large (the largest displaces 2,500 tons) and forty-five small. Soon after the Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HYSY 981) incident in 2014, Vietnamese prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced the allocation of U.S.$540 million to build thirty-two new coast guard ships and hundreds of aluminum fishing vessels that can withstand ramming better. With the delivery of two five-hundred-ton TT400TP-class patrol vessels in January 2016 and the addition of six one-thousand-ton patrol craft pledged from Japan, Vietnam will boast the largest coast guard fleet in Southeast Asia. Most VCG vessels have light-caliber deck-mounted autocannon or machine guns (ranging in size from 14.5 to 23 mm) or both, and most crewmembers carry light firearms for self-defense. The VCG has three fixed-wing CASA C-212 Aviocar patrol aircraft. The VCG has approximately 5,500 total personnel.

The Philippine Coast Guard:

The PCG maintains a small fleet of eight medium-endurance patrol craft, mounted with 50 mm autocannon; four buoy tenders; and roughly thirty-two small patrol vessels. Japan’s announcement that it plans to sell eight medium endurance cutters to the Philippines will mean an almost doubling of the PCG medium-endurance-cutter fleet. The PCG has only two operational aircraft— one fixed wing and one helicopter—but it is slated to receive two helicopters from France within the next few years. Finally, there are roughly 9,000 personnel in the PCG, with plans to expand to 13,500 by 2020.

A final note: 

It is not clear what type of displacement the study used. I try to consistently use full load, but Asian nations tend to try to minimize displacement and frequently report only light displacement.

The total displacement of the US Coast Guard’s ships is also going up, but it is not because of more ships, it is because the ships are larger. The total full load displacement for the program of record, 8 NSCs (36,000 tons), 25 OPCs (about 100,000 tons), and 58 FRCs (21,170 tons) is about 157,170 tons. The NSCs are 50% larger than the 378s. The OPCs are a third larger than the 378s and four times the size of the 210s. The FRCs are three times the size of the 110s they replace.

It might be assumed that a Country’s Coast Guard’s size should be related to the size of the country’s EEZ. It doesn’t seem to have worked that way. The size of the EEZs for the countries is

China: 877,019 km2 (plus disputed claims for 3,000,000 km)

Japan: 4,479,388 km2

Philippines:  2,263,816 km2

Vietnam: 748,875 km2

USA: 11,351,000 km2

 

Breaking Defense Interviews the Commandant

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) meets with then-Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) meets with then-Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Breaking Defense’s Robbin Laird has an Interview with the Commandant and speculates on the prospects for the Coast Guard under the new administration and DHS selectee General John Kelly.

Trump, Kelly, & The Coast Guard: Exclusive Interview With Adm. Zukunft

Its a good one, and even the comments are worth reading. There is much of the same we have heard before. The Commandant has a clear and consistant message and agenda, but there is more detail about a possible role in the far Western Pacific.

“I have discussed with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, the senior officer in the Navy) the concept that we would create a permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas,” Zukunft said. “This would allow us to expand our working relationship with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. We can spearhead work with allies on freedom of navigation exercises as well.”

This is the first time I have seen the phrase “permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas.” Does that mean we will have a CG patrol squadron working out of Sinagpore or Okinawa (or Cam Ranh Bay), like the one in Bahrain? Or are we just looking at the Webber class WPCs we already know are going to Guam? (Must be more to it than that.) I do think we should put some OPCs in Guam, if only to patrol the EEZ in the Western Pacific.

Until recently we might have considered the possibility of basing in the Philippines, but that no longer looks like a possibility.

What ever you may think of the incoming administration, for the Coast Guard at least, it looks promising.

Thanks to Luke for bringing this to my attention. 

Philippines/China to form Joint Coast Guard Committee

BRP Tubbataha during its delivery to the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine CG PAO photo

BRP Tubbataha during its delivery to the Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine CG PAO photo

The Diplomat is reporting, that China and the Philippines will be forming a Joint Coast Guard Committee on Maritime Cooperation,

“Substance-wise, according to the joint statement released by both sides, the coast guards “had a friendly exchange of views” on the establishment of the JCGC, getting down to the specifics of the entity including its organizational structure, terms of reference, and operational procedures, as well as potential areas of collaboration such as marine environmental protection, maritime search and rescue, combating maritime crimes including drug trafficking, and, most interestingly, “capacity-building in related areas.” Following these discussions, both sides aim to hold a second organizational meeting as well as the inaugural meeting of the JCGC in February 2017.”

China Seizes US Unmanned Underwater Vehicle

lbs-glidersystem

A U.S. Navy glider similar to one seized by Chinese forces. US Navy Photooceanglider

The US Naval Institute News Service is reporting,

“A U.S. Navy unmanned buoyancy glider was taken by Chinese forces in international waters earlier this week, two defense officials confirmed to USNI News on Friday.

“The glider was operating with U.S. Military Sealift Command ship USNS Bowditch (T-AGS-62) about 50 miles off of Subic Bay in the Philippines when a People’s Liberation Army Navy ship took the glider both defense officials said.”

Perhaps this will prompt some rethink on the Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vehicle, or ACTUV. Maybe a self destruct option is in order.