Coast Guard Commander Craig Allen talks about challenges with national security cutter connectivity.

HMAS Success (AOR-304) refuelling probe goes in for a hook-up with the US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Waesche (WMSL-751) as the Royal Australian Navy Auxilliary Oiler Replenishment Ship conducts a dual RAS (Replenishment at Sea) off the coast of Hawaii during the Sea Phase of Exercise RIMPAC 2014, 19 July 2014. (RAN Photo by Leading Seaman Brenton Freind RAN)

The 8 Aug. 2019 US Naval Institute podcast features Cdr. Craig Allen, currently XO of USCGC Waesche discussing the topic of his winning USNI Coast Guard Essay contest.

Despite the title, connectivity on other Coast Guard platforms was also discussed.

The discussion on cutter connectivity doesn’t actually start until about time 10:05. Earlier in the podcast they talk about the Midshipmen and Cadets Essay Contest (deadline 31 Oct. 2019).

He mentions specifically difficult to share UAS data and images. Even so it sounds like the most significant difficulty is that operational data is crowding out administrative data that now can no longer be done offline. 

Sounds like there are three paths that might be pursued that might ease the situation.

First of course is to increase band width, but if that were easy I presume it would have already been done.

There was not discussion of tactical data links, like Link 16, but this is one way to a common shared tactical picture. Reportedly Link16 “supports the exchange of text messages, imagery data and provides two channels of digital voice (2.4 kbit/s and/or 16 kbit/s in any combination).” I am pretty sure the NSC has Link 16, but most Coast Guard units including Webber class, aircraft, and District and Area Commands do not. Moving the tactical information to data links could free bandwidth for administrative tasks. In addition if we ever want our district and area commands to be able to call on DOD assets to respond to a terrorist attack, having access to data link could make it a lot easier.

Third, it sounds like we may have shot ourselves in the foot by eliminating previously acceptable ways to handle administrative matters. Sounds like we are forcing operational units to make it easy for administrative support units, instead of the other way around, as it should be. The extreme measures he describes as required to get the job done should be an embarrassment to the Coast Guard. The administrative system worked before internet. It can work without it. There are ways around these problems.

“Connectivity Maketh the Cutter” –USNI

In the August 2019 issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings, their annual “Coast Guard focused” issue, you will find the three prize winning Coast Guard themed essays. First prize went to Cdr. Craig Allen, USCG. The essay contrasts the promise of Networked assets, that was a major feature of the Deepwater Program and still being touted, with the disappointing reality he sees in the actual implementation.

Put bluntly, in the past several years cutter connectivity has climbed in urgency from concern to crisis. The negative impact of poor connectivity on current mission execution already is cause for alarm, but the more important concern is the constraint it will place on the Coast Guard’s ability to shape future operations.

The whole essay is well worth the read.

The common operational picture promised is no where to be found.

As I have been pointing out since at least 2011 (also here), there is no reason our units should not have Link 16. The Navy puts it on helicopters, and I believe on the 85 foot MkVI patrol boat, so it would certainly fit on Coast Guard patrol boats, fixed wing aircraft, and our helicopters. It would improve interoperability not only with other Coast Guard units but also other US armed forces and Allies. It is a proven, widely used system. Link 16 would be very useful if we ever do become part of the US Fleet’s distributed lethality or if we need to call in Navy assets to assist the Coast Guard.

NAIS for Command and Control/”The USCG RDC & Electronic Aids To Navigation”–Marine Link

Marine Link has an excellent overview of the increasingly useful Nationwide Automated Identification System (NAIS) and the R&D Center’s role in its development.

As for the Coast Guard’s own use of the system, we have this press release from FLIR.

WILSONVILLE, Ore., October 16, 2018 – FLIR Systems, Inc. (NASDAQ: FLIR) announced today that it has been awarded a contract from the United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in support of the U.S. Coast Guard’s (USCG) Second Generation Automatic Identification System (AIS-2) program. The indefinite delivery indefinite quantity (IDIQ) contract has a ceiling value of $9.9 million to provide second generation Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders, associated peripherals, and spare parts for nearly 1,774 boats and 282 cutters in the USCG’s active fleet.

The government anticipates the purchase of vessel class-specific kits and spare parts to equip all USCG vessels with AIS-2 over the next five years.

“We are pleased to provide AIS hardware and software technology to support the US Coast Guard’s mission,” said Jim Cannon, President and CEO at FLIR.  “Our technology will provide enhanced levels of secure communication and coordination between Coast Guard boats, cutters, and shore stations (emphasis applied–Chuck). This award further extends our technology partnership with the Coast Guard, providing next-generation communication capabilities to complement their Raymarine SINS-2 navigation systems.”

I was a little surprised to see reference to secure communications in conjunction with AIS because I don’t associate those two things, but it is apparent we are finding new uses for the system, including as a blue force locator.

It looks like we will be putting these systems on even our smallest boats. Ran across a study that may provide an indication (Note this is apparently a Russian URL) of where we are going with this.