“The Coast Guard Should Helm SouthCom” –US Naval Institute Proceedings

Source: UNrefugees.com

The US Naval Institute has published a feature article by two USCG Lieutenant Commanders, Krystyn Pecora and Piero Pecora, suggesting that perhaps a Coast Guard flag Officer should command SouthCom.

This would certainly put the US military presence in Latin America in a different light, after a history of US meddling in Latin American internal affairs.

“Safety, stability, and economic prosperity in this region will help allay the continuing migration crisis, lay the groundwork for disaster-resilient communities, and prevent a Chinese foothold in the Western Hemisphere. The traditional DoD approach of building partner-nation military capabilities through training and access to U.S. equipment in trade for forward-deployed staging access will not suffice to achieve these goals. It will require a focus on building local civil, law enforcement, and military authorities capable of rooting out TCOs—a mission tailor-made for the Coast Guard. “

While being a Combatant Commander would certainly be a change from the Coast Guard’s normal supporting role, it might not be too much of a stretch. After all, we are not engaged in actual combat in Latin America. Generally Coast Guard forces make up most of SouthCom’s operational units,

and other Department of Homeland Security (DHS) assets make up much of the rest.

Coast Guard leadership in SouthCom is a natural fit. Coast Guard officers have led SouthCom’s J-3 directorate for nearly a decade, and its primary component command, Joint Interagency Task Force–South, for nearly three decades. SouthCom’s lines of effort—building relationships, countering threat networks, and enabling rapid response—all align with the Coast Guard’s statutory missions.

Looking at the humanitarian crisis that is driving the illegal immigration at the border, DHS might see DHS coordination of the US response, in the form of a Coast Guard SouthCom, as the best hope for a long term solution.

Alameda-based Coast Guard cutter and crew depart for Western Pacific patrol


Got a news release reporting the departure of Bertholf from Alameda California for a Patrol in the Western Pacific which I have quoted below. Normally I would leave reporting of ship deployments to other sites, but, I don’t think this is routine.

We have sent cutters into the Western Pacific (since Vietnam). Munro (WMSL-755) visited Fiji and the Solomon Islands in 2018 (Paying More Attention to the Western Pacific, Dec. 8, 2018). Waesche made the trip back in 2012 (Waesche Enroute to SE Asia Apr. 4, 2012).There could have been others, but I don’t think there were a lot more, but coming on the heels of Munro’s deployment this may be a trend.

There is also a video here. The Captain tells the crew, “We’re going to be doing a national security mission. When we get underway, we are going to be working for the United States Indo-Pacific Command, Combatant Commander. We’re going to be executing national security operation throughout the Pacific.”

What is the mission? Certainly they will be doing some capacity building, exercising with partner navies and coast guards. They will probably do some fisheries enforcement both, in the US EEZ and with shipriders to assist in the EEZs of friendly nations, certainly in Oceana and perhaps in SE Asia. We have a huge expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument wit  490,000 square statute miles or about 390,000 square nautical miles of Ocean to police (Huge New Marine Reserve, Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, Sep. 26, 2014). Plus there are the island nations of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands, and Palau joined with the U.S. in “Compacts of Free Association.”

There have been calls for more US Coast Guard presence in the Pacific from New Zealand and from the 7th Fleet. Some, including the previous Commandant see the US Coast Guard as a counter weight to China Coast Guard in the South China Sea.

Maybe Bertholf will stop in at Guam and check it out as a possible future base for Offshore Patrol Cutters. We already have indication three Webber class FRCs will replace the two 110s currently there.) Will they operate in the South China Sea? Will they do Freedom of Navigation Ops? Taking Vietnamese ship riders aboard and doing fisheries enforcement in the Vietnam EEZ inside the Chinese claimed Nine Dash Line, could get exciting. Guess we will have to wait and see.

Will they have a UAS aboard? And If we have no budget or continuing resolution to pay our people, how are we paying for fuel?

The News Release

On a gray and foggy morning, tears intermingled with rain as family members braved the elements to say goodbye to the 170 crewmembers of Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (WMSL-750), a 418-foot national security cutter, which departed Alameda, California, Sunday for a patrol in the Western Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard has an enduring role in the Indo-Pacific going back over 150 years. The service’s ongoing deployment of resources to the region directly supports U.S. foreign policy and national security objectives in the Indo-Pacific Strategy and the National Security Strategy.

“The United States is a Pacific nation,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander Coast Guard Pacific Area, who was present to see the cutter depart. “We have deep and long-standing ties with our partners in the region, and more importantly, we share a strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific, governed by a rules-based international system that promotes peace, security, prosperity and sovereignty of all nations.”

Bertholf will be operating in support of United States Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the region. As part of its planned operations, the cutter will engage in professional exchanges and capacity building with partner nations.

“Security abroad equals security at home,” said Fagan. “Enhancing our partners’ capabilities is a force multiplier in combating transnational criminal and terrorist organizations and deterring our adversaries.”

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to conduct defense operations in support of Combatant Commanders on all seven continents. The service routinely provides forces in joint military operations worldwide, including the deployment of cutters, boats, aircraft and deployable specialized forces.

“I’m excited to see Bertholf sail today to the Indo-Pacific region of operations,” said Fagan, who described the cutter as one of the most capable in the Coast Guard fleet.

“They will be serving alongside other DoD military forces, particularly the U.S. Navy, and I know they will contribute key capabilities to that mission set. This crew has worked incredibly hard to get ready for today’s sailing, and I can’t think of a better ship and crew to be sending to the Indo-Pacific.”

Commissioned in 2008, Bertholf is the first of the Coast Guard’s legend class national security cutters. These advanced ships are 418-feet long, 54-feet wide, and have a 4,600 long-ton displacement. They have a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 nautical miles, endurance of up to 90 days and can hold a crew of up to 170.

The cutter is named for Coast Guard legend Ellsworth P. Bertholf, who served as captain of the Revenue Cutter Bear during the famous Overland Relief Expedition, earning the Congressional Gold Medal. As the Coast Guard’s fourth commandant, Bertholf oversaw the transfer of the Coast Guard into the Department of the Navy during World War I and advocated for the successful postwar reconstitution of the service.

National security cutters feature advanced command and control capabilities, aviation support facilities, stern cutter boat launch and increased endurance for long-range patrols to disrupt threats to national security further offshore.

The Coast Guard is scheduled to commission its seventh national security cutter, the Coast Guard Cutter Kimball, in 2019. Kimball, along with the Midgett, which is currently under construction, will be homeported in Honolulu and will enhance the Coast Guard’s presence throughout the Indo-Pacific.

“The U.S. Coast Guard’s unique authorities, capabilities, and missions make us the maritime safety and security partner of choice for sea-going countries around the world,” said Capt. John Driscoll, Bertholf’s commanding officer. “Our increased presence throughout the Indo-Pacific will enhance regional stability and improve maritime governance and security.”

In an address to the families and crew before the cutter set sail, Driscoll emphasized how critical family support is to crew wellbeing and readiness.

“Support from our families, wherever they live, is vital to ensuring we are ready to sail and answer the demands of our nation,” Driscoll said. “We must ensure our families are ready to weather the storm at home. We operate in a dangerous and high-consequence environment, and your ability to focus on mission can become easily compromised if you are worried about family.”

Fagan acknowledged the current lapse in appropriations and government shutdown has added stress and feelings of uncertainty to the typical emotions that surround a cutter departure.

“I know it is hard for these crews to be leaving behind their dependents and spouses – it’s a thousand times more so when everyone is wondering when our next paycheck will be, and how they can support the family they are leaving behind,” Fagan said.

“There has been an incredible outpouring of support for the families here in the Alameda area, but the tension and the anxiety for the crew is real,” said Fagan. “We are standing by to help support those families who are left behind the same way that we are going to support the crew as they sail for the Western Pacific.”

A Conversation with Admiral Karl Schultz, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard–CSIS

CSIS and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) conduct an interview with Admiral Karl L. Schultz, the 26th Commandant of the United States Coast Guard, conducted 1 August, 2018.

Below I will attempt to outline the conversation, noting the topics and in some cases providing a comment.

The first question is about immigration. Coast Guard is the “away game.” minimizing the factors that push immigration to the US.

The Commandant does not expect a substantial increase in help from the Navy, because they are already heavily tasked, but would welcome any additional help.

06:30 Talk about Inland fleet. Congressional support is evident. $25M provided so far.

9:20 House Appropriations Committee decision to divert $750M from the icebreaker program to fund “the Wall” in their markup of the FY2019 budget bill. The Commandant is “guardedly optimistic”

11:30 Human capital readiness? Operating account has been flat and effectively we have lost 10% in purchasing power. Want to increase leadership training.

16:30 Support for combatant commanders.

18:00 Capacity building and partnering. Detachments working on host nation platforms.

21:00 Defense Force planning–Not going back to the MARDEZ model.

22:30 Situation in Venezuela/Preparation for dealing with mass migration.

24:30 Arctic forums–Need to project our sovereignty

29:00 UNCLOS

30:00 Maritime Domain Awareness (MDA)

32:30 Tracking cargo as an element of MDA

34:00 Cyber

36:15 High Latitude engagement/partnerships.

39:30 Perhaps the icebreaker should be the “Polar Security Cutter?”

40:00 International ice patrol, still an important mission.

41:00 CG role in response to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea. In discussion with Indo-Pacific Command. Will see more CG presence there.

44:00 Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC)–on track

46:30 Border issue — passed on that

48:00 Small satellites–we are looking at them

49:00 African Capacity building/cooperation. May send an MEC.

51:30 Tech modernization. Looking at it more holistically.

Other Coverage:

This interview prompted a couple of notable posts.

SeaPower’s coverage of the discussion is here. They focused on the growth of demands on the Coast Guard.

Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”

“Build a Great White Fleet For the 21st Century”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings May 2018 edition has an article, “Build a Great White Fleet for the 21st Century,” that recommends greater Coast Guard funding to support Combatant Commanders. It is written by Captain David Ramassini, USCG. The accompanying bio states,

“Captain Ramassini is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and cutterman who has served in the Pentagon as Coast Guard Liaison on the Joint Staff and also in the Office of Secretary of Defense. Captain Ramassini is slated to assume his fifth command as the plankowner commanding officer of the national security cutter Kimball (WMSL-756).”

Unfortunately the article is “members only.” If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably should also be a US Naval Institute member, but for those who are not, I’ll try to summarize his argument, including some quotations. After reviewing the article, I’ll offer some thought on how, and where, we might provide some assistance to the Combatant Commanders.

The Article

Captain Ramassini contends improved maritime governance and suppressing transnational crime is in the US interest where ever it occurs.

“As the line between terrorist and criminal activities continues to blur, the transactional connections between a wide range of unlawful organizations is likely to cloud the distinction between law enforcement and military operations.”

The Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC) need afloat assets to aid in dealing with these problems.

Source: UNODC, responses to annual questionnaire and individual drug seizure database

The Coast Guard is uniquely qualified to leverage “vast authorities; capabilities; and interservice, interagency, intelligence community, and international partnerships” in support of Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC).

There are not enough Coast Guard assets to do this now.

To provide additional assets funding for the fleet needs to be rebalanced, moving money from the Navy to the Coast Guard.

Rebalancing the national fleet composition would improve relationships and provide the United States and our partners advantages in a complex world filled with threats that go beyond the nation-state.

Recognizing the Coast Guard for the unique national, international, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence power that it is, the current administration has the opportunity to turn this tide and make the national fleet great again by directing a smart business decision. Specifically, prioritize Coast Guard cutter production to grow the fleet and provide a more cost-effective and adaptable instrument for the nation. A 21st-century Great White Fleet of Coast Guard cutters would begin a new era of sea power better suited to promote rule of law through cooperative partnership and distributed lethality, and allow the U.S. Navy to refocus its efforts on high-intensity conflict. It is time to rethink international engagement using the Coast Guard—an armed force at all times, but a more cooperative power known for its olive-branches-over-arrows approach.

Coast Guard national security, offshore patrol, and fast response cutters could serve as powerful instruments for GCCs. They are large enough to operate globally, yet small enough to gain access and foster cooperative partnerships. In addition, these more affordable naval assets could be produced more expediently than Navy surface combatants to build a credible national fleet. The goal of a 355-ship Navy needs to be expanded to a 400+ ship national fleet with utility across civil and military disciplines and a better return on investment.

It is time to change the costly Navy-centric approach toward peace and security and focus on restoring the underpinnings of rule of law to regain the trust and confidence of partner nations. The Coast Guard is capable of more finely tuned and less costly persistent presence. It is an affordable, accountable, and reliable instrument of national power well equipped to execute international engagement. Bolstering white hull numbers within the national fleet by doubling the number of cutters could provide a 21st century advantage to the United States and our international partners in this ever-evolving global environment.

Captain Ramassini suggests that large cutters could be upgraded so that they can fill the frigate role.

One approach worth examining is up-arming the Coast Guard’s fleet with a vertical-launch system (Mk-41 VLS) and SeaRAM close-in weapon system to provide increased warfare interoperability. Imagine a forward-deployed “international security cutter” capable of operating with a carrier strike group and/or surface action group and assuming a role historically filled by a Navy frigate.

Commentary

There are currently six Unified Combatant Commands. Two, NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM already have substantial Coast Guard assets available, although SOUTHCOM could use more. CENTCOM has the six WPBs of PATFORSWASIA. Three Unified Combatant Commands, PACOM, EUCOM, and AFRICOM, have no regular Coast Guard representation.

EUCOM (European Command) probably has far less need for a US Coast Guard presence, since they already have several sophisticated coast guard organizations among allied nations.

PACOM probably could use more Coast Guard assets for capacity building and suppression of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Western Pacific. Seventh Fleet has already asked for more Coast Guard presence to confront Chinese white hulls.

Africa has a serious problem with Maritime crime and could use training, capacity building, and more international inter-agency cooperation. The Coast Guard has sent ships to the area intermittently, but the area has been largely neglected. China is making serious inroads in Africa. We need a presence, but gray hulls are not what we need. The six boats of Patrol Force South West Asia (PATFORSWA) could help address the problem in East Africa, but that would require some sharing by CENTCOM. There is an unrealized opportunity to do a lot of good in West Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea where piracy, kidnapping, IUU fishing, and other marine crimes are common.

Gulf of Guinea, from Wikipedia

To maintain a single large cutter off the West coast of Africa or in the Western Pacific would require three ships in rotation, assuming they are homeported in the US. Larger ships are more difficult to homeport in foreign ports, smaller vessels are likely more feasible.

It appears more likely we could replicate the six boat PATFORSWA organization with similar organizations in East Africa and the Western Pacific. There are several ports in each area that might be worth considering.

Obviously we would not send more now overage 110s, we would be sending Webber class WPCs. This would require extending the current program beyond the 58 in the program of record. There is already discussion about six additional WPCs to replace the six 110s assigned to CENTCOM. Adding six for AFRICOM and six for PACOM would extend the current program by two or three years. The shipbuilding costs for 12 more WPCs are on the order of $700M spread over two or three years, not much more than a single NSC. Basic personnel requirements for 12 vessels with a crew of 24 are 288 crew members. Rotational crews and supporting personnel would probably push this up to about 500, a notable increase for the Coast Guard, but “small change” in the defense budget. The PATFORSWA costs are paid for from the DOD budget, so I would expect a similar arrangement for similar squadrons assigned to AFRICOM and PACOM.

Perhaps at some point. we should also consider a similar forward deployed squadron for SOUTHCOM.