“Coast Guard Pursuing Ambitious ‘Tech Revolution’” –NationalDefenseMagazine

National Defense Magazine is reporting the Coast Guard is planning major upgrades to its connectivity.

Improvements are planned for both routine reporting and staff work and for Command and Control,

“The Coast Guard was slated to transition to Microsoft Office 365 this spring to increase email reliability. Plans also include making internet speeds 50 times faster this year and improving ship connectivity over the next three years, Schultz noted.”

Plus there will be additional Cyber expertise.

“President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2021 budget request calls for adding 179 cyber personnel to the Coast Guard’s existing force, Schultz noted. The service currently has about 360 cyber personnel, and about 50 or 60 are coming on board this year.”


However, the Coast Guard isn’t just looking to play defense, he noted. It wants to conduct its own cyber attacks against adversaries.

Presumably all this will include better connectivity in the polar regions. The Healey was reportedly out of contact for long periods during her last trip to the Arctic.

Recently sections of the Rescue 21 system were down for prolonged periods in Alaska. We don’t want that to happen.

Phone based Data Link?

A Beechcraft AT-6B Wolverine experimental aircraft flies over White Sands Missile Range, N.M., July 31, 2017. Aircraft like the AT-6B and Embraer A-29 Super Tocano provide close-air support to U.S. allies and partners and can also be outfitted with commercial off-the-shelf command and control units like the Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network, or AERONet, increasing their combat effectiveness. (U.S. Air Force photo by Ethan D. Wagner)

AirForceMag.com has an article about the purchase of four light attack aircraft that contains an intriguing little side note:

AEROnet is a fledgling air-to-air and air-to-ground radio system that would let the U.S. and foreign militaries share video, voice, and chat communications as well as command and control via tablets, smartphones, and mobile apps for less than $500,000.

Secure communications between Coast Guard units and other armed services, particularly in the case of a rapidly developing terrorist attack, has been one of my regular concerns. This goes back to an exercise I planned and supervised some time ago. We had two Air Force aircraft included in a counter terrorism exercise, but when they got on scene we could not effectively identify the target for them.

This system might be useful both within the Coast Guard and between the Coast Guard and other services. This lead me to look for more information “AERONet prototype could provide combat insight to allies.”

“The Airborne Extensible Relay Over-Horizon Network, or AERONet, digitally links friendly forces, providing them with their own location, the location of other friendly forces and real-time enemy movement updates. It will be showcased to partner nations at the Bold Quest exercise in Finland this month. AERONet is a version of systems already used by law enforcement to patrol borders and track and combat smugglers. First responders use similar systems while fighting wildfires in the mountain states.”

There is more here, “AEROnet Gets an Audience.”

Lt. Gen. Arnold W. Bunch, military deputy, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, dons the Airborne Extensible Relay Over-the-Horizon Network concept combat tactical vest with the help of Steve Brown from the Tactical Data Network Laboratory at Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass., Sept. 26, during Bunch’s tour of the Command, Control, Communications, Intelligence and Networks division. The Air Force Life Cycle Management Center’s Aerial Network Division at Hanscom will bring AERONet to production, after the Air Force Research Laboratory prototyped the system. It is designed to support U.S. and partner nation operations as a tactical data network, as outlined by the Chief Staff of the Air Force Gen. David L. Goldfein. (U.S. Air Force photo by Todd Maki)

“U.S. Navy, Air Force, Army conduct first real world test of Advanced Battle Management System” in NorthCom –Navy Recognition

Coast Guardsmen secure communications equipment to a line to bring it aboard USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) in the Gulf of Mexico Dec. 16, 2019. The Navy used that equipment during the first demonstration of the Advanced Battle Management System, operators across the Air Force, Army, Navy and industry tested multiple real-time data sharing tools and technology in a homeland defense-based scenario enacted by U.S. Northern Command and enabled by Air Force senior leaders at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., Dec. 16-18 (Picture source: U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt. Karissa Rodriguez)

There is good news and there is bad news.

NavyRecognition reports on an Homeland Defense exercise run by NorthCom using an Advanced Battle Management System.

A three-day-long exercise of the Advanced Battle Management System (ABMS) tested technology being developed to enable the military’s developing concept called Joint All-Domain Command and Control (JADC2). When fully realized, senior leaders say JADC2 will be the backbone of operations and deterrence, allowing U.S. forces from all services as well as allies to orchestrate military operations across all domains, such as sea, land, air, space and cyber operations. The technology under development via ABMS enables this concept by simultaneously receiving, fusing and acting upon a vast array of data and information from each of these domains – all in an instant. The Air Force expects to receive around $185 million this fiscal year for this effort and intends to bolster these resources over the next five years, underscoring both its importance and potential.

It looks like this exercise was viewed primarily a counter to the possibility of a cruise missile attack. but interestingly it included an Army HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System) unit equipped with a mobile surface to surface missile launcher. I presume in light of the nature of the exercise they would have been shooting at a maritime surface target.

The problem with this exercise is that other than delivering a piece of equipment as depicted in the photo above, it appears the Coast Guard played no part in the exercise. If there is a maritime surface threat to the United States, what is the most likely agent to detect it–the USCG. US Navy presence along the US Coast is extremely limited. Significant armed US Navy surface warships are based in the US in only five major port complexes, Pearl Harbor, Puget Sound, San Diego, Mayport, and Chesapeake Bay. Other than training and transit, they spend almost no time underway in US waters.

This looks like an attempt allow a coordinated response to an attack on the US using all available assets. The fact that this is, to say the least, difficult has lead me to believe the Coast Guard should be independently capable of responding to unconventional maritime threats. Even a common operational picture will not guarantee success. Defense assets are not always based within range for timely action. Most Air Force and Army pilots have no training in recognizing various ships types, so even if they arrive on scene, with appropriate ordnance, they may not know which ships is hostile. Giving Coast Guard units laser designators to identify the target and even point to where the target should be struck, might help. In any case, the Coast Guard needs to be included in access to any “Advanced Battle Management System” “Joint All Domain Command and Control” that is expected to defend the US.

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.