You Can’t Get There From Here

An Allied convoy heads eastward across the Atlantic, bound for Casablanca, in November 1942. U.S. Navy (photo 80-G-474788), Post-Work: User:W.wolny – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 520948.

In planning for the possibility of a major war in Europe or Asia, the US is finding it has a number of problems with Logistics. 90% of the weight of supplies and equipment have to go by sea, but,
  • We have too few ships
  • The ships we have are old
  • These old ships are in many cases steam powered
  • These ships may not have been maintained as well as they should have been
  • We have too few mariners to man the ships
  • Too few of the mariners we do have know how to run steam ships
  • Most of our mariners have no concept of how to contend with a wartime environment
  • and, oh by the way the Navy does not have ships to protect the few ships we have as they make their way through contested waters.

After outlining the problem, I’ll talk about how the Coast Guard might mitigate the problem.

Recent Reports:

DefenseNews in a post, “The US Army is preparing to fight in Europe, but can it even get there?” reports,

The U.S. sealift capacity — the ships that would ultimately be used to transport Army equipment from the states to Europe or Asia — is orders of magnitude smaller than it was during World War II. Combine that with the fact that the commercial shipbuilding industry in the U.S. is all but gone, and the U.S. can’t launch the kind of massive buildup of logistics ships it undertook during wartime decades ago.

Among the ships the country has for sealift and logistics forces, the Government Accountability Office has found a steady increase in mission-limiting equipment failures, which raises questions about how many might actually be available if the balloon goes up.

The ships the U.S. counts among its ready stock available for a large-scale contingency are 46 ships in the Ready Reserve Force, 15 ships in the Military Sealift Command surge force, and roughly 60 U.S.-flagged commercial ships in the Maritime Security Program available to the military in a crisis,

The 46 Ready Reserve Force ships, overseen by the Maritime Administration, are old and rapidly approaching the end of their hull life, as are many of the senior engineers who are still qualified and able to work on the aging steam propulsion plants.

DefenseNews commentary, “The US armed forces have a mobility problem,” reports,

“Our Merchant Marine fleet’s wartime role is to move weapons, ammunition, troops, equipment, fuel and supplies. Our current fleet — simply put — does not have the capacity to meet today’s requirements.

“We don’t have enough ships, and even if we did we don’t currently have the crews to sail them. We’re short at least 1,800 merchant mariners.

“The human capital shortage may be worse than the shortage in ships. A report by the Maritime Administration to Congress highlighted the problem. The report “estimates that 11,768 qualified mariners … are available to crew the Ready Reserve Force … the estimated demand for mariners [in an emergency] is 13,607.” ”

There is a Navy Times report, “Pentagon investigators slam military’s oversight of supply ships,” based on an IG report that looked at 20 ships we have in the MSC’s Prepositioning Program. It seems to indicate that some of these ships, already loaded with critical equipment, may not be ready to sail.

Perhaps most troubling of all, “‘You’re on your own,’ US sealift can’t count on US navy escorts in the next big war,” that reports

“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us. It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” Buzby told Defense News in an interview earlier this year.

The head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Adm. James Foggo, tried to put a positive spin of the personnel shortage, “The tradition of the Merchant Marine is we go to sea no matter what, damn the torpedoes. Most of us believe that our people will not be dissuaded. But until they walk up the gangway, you never know.”

It does seem that the fleet obsolescence may be addressed, but the lack of personnel and escort ships remain.

A Modern Convoy:

I have real problems with the idea of independent sailing in the age of satellite reconnaissance, not only because the ships become easy pickings, but also because there would be no one to rescue the crews. This would certainly make mariners think twice before signing on. The answer is as old as naval warfare, convoy. Certainly we are not likely to ever see the likes of WWII convoys, with ships steaming only a few hundred yards apart. Ranges of both sensors and weapons have increased by an order of magnitude or more. We don’t want one sub to be able to simultaneously target several ships. A modern convoy would be spread over a much greater area, perhaps a moving grid 100 miles on a side. It might include escorting ships, but it would certainly include at least one escorting aircraft.

WHAT THE COAST GUARD CAN DO?:

“Convoy WS-12: A Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber from USS Ranger (CV-4) flies anti-submarine patrol over the convoy, while it was en route to Cape Town, South Africa, 27 November 1941. The convoy appears to be making a formation turn from column to line abreast. Two-stack transports in the first row are USS West Point (AP-23) — left –; USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) and (Coast Guard manned) USS Wakefield (AP-21). Heavy cruisers, on the right side of the first row and middle of the second, are USS Vincennes (CA-44) and USS Quincy (CA-39). Single-stack transports in the second row are (Coast Guard manned) USS Leonard Wood (AP-25) and (Coast Guard manned) USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26).”

A little Coast Guard History:

It might be worthwhile to look at what was done in the past. Before the start of WWII both the US Navy and Army had transports. The Navy transports were manned by regular Navy personnel. The Army transports were manned by civilians. During a large scale exercise before the war started, the civilian mariners refused to operate with darkened ships, considering it unsafe. This lead to the Coast Guard being assigned to crew these transports. Personnel were available because ten cutters had been lend leased to the British and their crews were available. These were the first of 351 Navy ships and craft manned by Coast Guard crews. While these included over 100 surface combatants, most of them convoy escorts, the rest were mostly transports and landing ships and craft. In addition the Coast Guard manned 288 Army vessels, mostly small inter-island freighters.

So what can we do now?

Encourage Coast Guard members to become credentialed mariners:

The first thing the Coast Guard might do is to encourage and facilitate the credentialing of personnel by the time they leave the service. The Coast Guard Cuttermen’s Association has provided guidance as to how coastguardsmen can become credentialed mariners, “”A Coasties Companion Guide to the Mariner Licensing Process” (PDF document).

A Navy program, Credentialing Opportunities On-line (COOL), in partnership with Military Sealift Command (MSC), provides training in a military to mariner program. that may be open, or if not already, could be opened, to the Coast Guard.

Money is the sincerest expression of appreciation, and if this is a national security issue, perhaps there should be a monetary incentive to obtain and maintain mariner’s credentials after a member separates from the service (Navy or Coast Guard). Apparently there is still on the books (46 U.S. Code 51701) provision for the Secretary of Transportation to set up a United States Maritime Service that could:

  1. Determine the number of individuals to be enrolled for training and reserve purposes in the Service:
  2. Fix the rates of pay and allowances of the individuals…
  3. Prescribe the course of study and the periods of training for the Service; and 
  4. Prescribe the uniform of the Service and the rules on providing and wearing the uniform. 

Add Reserve Units capable of manning US ships: 

The Coast Guard Reserve could be expanded to include crewmembers for these ships, either as augmentees or as complete crews. Some of the MSC ships currently have mixed crews of military and civilians. Presumably if the ship had an all military crew, it would be a commissioned ship, rather than an MSC ship.

Provide Rescue Ships: 

If we had a modern convoy, watched over by Maritime Patrol Aircraft, a Coast Guard cutter equipped with helicopter could act as rescue vessel. It would probably be positioned near the center of the convoy perhaps toward the rear. Its helicopter could remove the crew of a sinking ship and the cutter could provide damage control assistance.

Provide Administrative Escort:

The same ship that provides rescue and assistance might also serve as an administrative escort. The idea is to use the superior communications ability of the larger cutters including the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) on the National Security Cutters (and perhaps the Offshore Patrol Cutters) to route the convoy away from danger.

Bring Back the Coast Guard ASW program:

Perhaps it is time to revive the Coast Guard’s ASW capability. When the Soviet Union fell apart, the Coast Guard dismantled its ASW capability as no longer relevant, but things have changed. China appears increasingly aggressive and is building a modern fleet at an alarming rate. Russia is also resurgent with their submarines now patrolling at levels similar to those seen during the cold war, while our own Navy has been drastically reduced. It appears, in ten to twenty years we will face a naval challenge greater than pre-WWII Japan. I don’t really think the 20 planned FFGs are going to be enough. Providing suitable weapons and sensors for the eleven NSCs and 25 OPCs, augmented by Navy Reserve ASW helicopters, could make a huge difference in our ability to move supplies and equipment safely across the Oceans.

 

 

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.”

From the LCS Mission Modules, What We Might Want, What We Might Need

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided access to the second “Annual Report to Congress for the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) Mission Module Program.” Some of these systems should be of interest to the Coast Guard, either as regular equipment for peacetime law enforcement and counterterrorism missions, for temporary use, as in the case of a naval mining incident, or as wartime add-ons if the Coast Guard is mobilized for a major conflict.

Keep in mind, the procurement cost of these systems would presumably come out the Navy budget.

Mine Countermeasures Mission Package

The Mine Countermeasures (MCM) Mission Packages (MP) has already been addressed. 24 are planned including nine to be built for “Vessels of Opportunity.” These nine extra packages probably meet any peacetime augmentation requirement and provide a reserve for mobilization. Testing is expected to continue through FY 2022. Production is expected to continue well into the future as less than half the packages will have been delivered by FY2023.

ASW Mission Packages for NSCs and OPCs

An earlier post discussed the possibility of using mission modules and Navy reservist to augment large cutters. In a protracted conflict against a near peer naval power like Russia or China, our large patrol ships are most probably going to be needed to perform open ocean ASW escort duties.

Only ten ASW Mission Packages are planned. Initial Operational Capability (IOC) is expected in FY 2019, but testing will continue through 2020. The Multi-Function Array is already a fielded system. Deliveries are expected to begin in FY2021 at a rate of two systems per year. If that rate is continued, the ten planned systems will be complete in 2025.

At an estimated cost of less than $20M the ASW Mission Package is the least expensive of the three types of Mission Packages. Adding this system as a mobilization capability or perhaps even as a peacetime capability to 35 or more large cutters would provide a higher return on investment than just about any other Naval program.

It might even help us locate semi-submersibles.

Vertical launch Hellfire

As I have noted before, the Coast Guard has a potential need to be capable of countering terrorist efforts to use a wide spectrum of vessels to make an attack. These craft range between small, fast, highly maneuverable boats on one extreme, to large ocean going vessels at the other. Our ability to counter these threats must be widely available, quickly effective, and have both a probability of success approaching 100% and do so with minimal danger to innocents who may be in the vicinity. Guns do not meet these criteria.

Hellfire missile have the potential to meet these criteria, at least against the lower half of the threat spectrum, and, using more than one round, might have a degree of success even against the largest vessels.

Apparently the SSMM Longbow Hellfire testing is going well, with 20 out of 24 successful engagements, and there’s a software fix for the root cause of the 4 failures.

ATLANTIC OCEAN—A Longbow Hellfire Missile is fired from Littoral Combat Ship USS Detroit (LCS 7) on Feb. 28, 2017 as part of a structural test firing of the Surface to Surface Missile Module (SSMM). The test marked the first vertical missile launched from an LCS and the first launch of a missile from the SSMM from an LCS. (Photo by U.S. Navy)

A recent US Naval Institute News Service report quoted LCS Mission Modules Program Manager Capt. Ted Zobel “all of our mission packages…are finishing up development, proceeding into test, and then from test into production and ultimately deployment.”

“…surface-to-surface missile module (SSMM) will add a Longbow Hellfire missile to increase the lethality of the LCS. Testing begins this month on USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) and will move to USS Detroit (LCS-7) over the summer. Testing should wrap up by December, Zobel said, with Detroit planning to bring the SSMM with it on its maiden deployment about a year from now. Written testimony from the Navy at a March 6 House Armed Services Committee hearing states that IOC is planned for Fiscal Year 2019.”

The Surface to Surface Mission Module (SSMM) planned for the Littoral Combat Ship, seen above, can store and launch up to 24 missiles. 24 missiles would weigh about 2,500 pounds. As a very rough estimate, Its foot print appears to be about 9×12 feet (late note–a little photo analysis suggest the three mission module positions on each LCS are about 15-16′ square), probably not too large for an NSC, OPC, or icebreaker, but probably too large for the Webber class WPCs where I really think we really need the capability. They are after all, much more likely to be in the right place, at the right time. For them we probably need a smaller system.

In the video above, beginning at time 2m58s there is a model of a 12 meter unmanned surface vessel mounting a four tube Hellfire vertical launch system. Knowing that the Hellfire is only 7 inches in diameter and 64 inches long, it appears this installation would have a footprint of no more than 6×8 feet and probably would be no more than seven feet high. It seems likely we could find a place for one or two of these on each Webber class and at least one when we build the replacements for the 87 footers.

I have often seen missiles compared unfavorably to guns, based on the cost of the projectiles, but cost of providing a system like Hellfire pales in comparison to the cost of a medium caliber gun, its ammunition allowance, and the maintenance, training, and technicians required to keep it operational. Compared to the guns we have used in the past:

  • Maximum range of almost 9,000 yards is less than the maximum range of the 5″/38, 76mm, or 57mm, but it is very near the effective range of these medium caliber weapons. This range is likely more than enough to remain outside the effective range of improvised weapons installations that might be used in a terrorist attack.
  • Effective range is more than three times greater than that of the 25mm Mk38 mod2/3
  • Warhead appears to be more effective than even the 5″ rounds.
  • Every round will likely be a hit.
  • Those hits will come very quickly.
  • It may be possible to accurately target specific vulnerable areas on the target.
  • They require only minimal training and maintenance compared to medium caliber guns.
  • If the target is within range, its only real disadvantage is the limited number of rounds.

While I have never seen it claimed official, I have seen reports that Hellfire can be used against slower aircraft such as helicopters and UAVs.

 These small missiles could allow our patrol vessels to hit like much bigger vessels.

30 mm Mk46 Gun Mission Module (GMM)

Gun Mission Module by Northrop Grumman

The “Gun Mission Module” (GMM) could be one way to arm the icebreakers relatively quickly when needed, while allowing the option of removing the weapons before going to Antarctica if desired.

Production of these units is quickly running its course, and if we want to use these on the icebreakers, it may be desirable to have our needs added to the production schedule before the production is shut down. The last two are expected to be delivered in FY2020.

How important this is will depend on the Coast Guard’s intentions and the alternatives.

Setting up the installations in the same format as found on the LCSs means improvements or alternative systems developed to LCS systems could be easily incorporated in the icebreakers as well.

On the other hand, the included 30mm Mk46 gun weapon system is not limited to the LCSs. It is or will be mounted on the three Zumwalt DDG-1000 class destroyers, 13 San Antonio (LPD-17) class, and probably 13 LX(R)/LPD-17 Flight II class still to be built, about 58 mounts in addition to the 20 planned for the LCSs.

It doesn’t look like it would be too difficult to remove or re-install just the gun mount (seen below) if that would meet our needs. It would of course require a dedicated space, permanent installation of supporting equipment, and a way to seal the opening for the mount long term when the mount is removed.

Although it is not as effective as the Mk46 mount, because of the smaller 25 mm gun currently used, the Mk38 Mod2/3 is also an alternative, and has the advantage of already being in the use with the Coast Guard. It is even more widely used, “As of 2016, 307 MK 38 MOD 2 systems have been delivered. There are 50 MK 38 MOD 3s on contract. The total POR (program of record–Chuck) is for 517 systems.”

Still the 25mm gun is markedly inferior to the 30mm in that its effective range is considerably less and the individual projectiles are far less potent. The Mk46 mount also has many more rounds on the mount compared to the Mk38 mod2/3. Upgrading the Mk38s to mount 30mm guns would address much of the current inferiority.

The inferiority of the Mk38 would also be much less of a concern if the Icebreaker had an additional, more powerful anti-surface weapon system, like the Hellfire Surface to Surface Missile Module or Anti-Surface Cruise Missiles. These might be useful if it is ever necessary to provide Naval Surface Fire Support (NSFS) in the Arctic or Antarctic.

“Not Your Mother’s Coast Guard: How the Service Can Come into Its Own Against 21st Century Threats”–Modern War Institute at West Point

MSRT anti-terrorism training

The Modern War Institute at West Point has an excellent exploration of what the new National Security Strategy could mean to the Coast Guard, written by Cdr. Kevin Duffy, USCG. It says everything I had hoped to say about this new direction and more.

“With the release of the 2017 National Security Strategy, however, the Coast Guard has been presented with an opportunity to maximize its value to a government that appears to be taking a different view on which activities and capabilities should be emphasized in the national security realm.

“…As the NSS indicates that such activities in support of its homeland and border security goals will receive “advanced technology [and] the employment of additional personnel,” smart adjustments by the Coast Guard could well bolster the case for force expansion and increased interagency support in order to continue and expand its efforts.

“…Under this same homeland umbrella, the NSS likewise stresses the importance of transportation security and domestic resilience—both areas in which the Coast Guard can embrace leadership roles.”

“…In terms of domestic resilience, the Coast Guard has expansive disaster response and incident command capabilities and responsibilities for maritime incidents, and would be a natural leader in working with industry and state and local partners to enhance capabilities in the NSS’s identified areas of risk management, planning, preparedness, and information sharing.

“… The fact that this NSS explicitly acknowledges the links between terrorist networks and criminal, drug, and “other irregular threats” should not go unnoticed: it gives the Coast Guard the opportunity to emphasize its unique capabilities, partnerships, and successes in this realm. References to threats and operations “below the level of conventional military conflict” or “below the threshold of military conflict” appear four times in this strategy. If that’s a niche that the government now wants to emphasize, the Coast Guard needs to be in the vanguard of associated efforts.

“…Specifically, the idea of a squadron of Coast Guard patrol boats dedicated to operations in Central America has been favored by Coast Guard leadership in recent years. Perhaps the initiatives that this NSS envisions as being necessary to disrupt criminal networks (and, by extension, illicit actors including terrorists) will provide the needed justification to make it a reality.

“…There has perhaps never been a better opportunity for the Coast Guard to assert itself in terms of its national security roles, whether in protecting the nation’s borders or operating in the cyber realm, in protecting maritime infrastructure or safeguarding the domestic energy sector, in leading the effort to make ports resilient or disrupting criminal and terrorist networks throughout the Western Hemisphere. With this in mind, the service should intelligently respond to the 2017 NSS by reforming and articulating the impact of current efforts and refocusing or innovating in areas that it did not previously emphasize. In this way, the Coast Guard can usher in an era of more robust and effective operations in the national security sphere, making the most of its unique nature in order to protect the country on a host of important fronts.

I have picked out on a small part of this post. Please take a look.

It seems, after a rocky start, the Coast Guard has gotten the President’s attention, and I don’t think he will listen blindly to GAO’s preconceptions of the Coast Guard’s place in the National Security apparatus. It truly may be time to take the Homeland Security missions seriously. 

Marine Protector class WPB replacement? Its Time!

33 meter Damen designed patrol boat

Bairdmaritime brings us news of a new patrol boat being built for a private security company that is protecting Nigeria’s offshore oil industry. Looks like a possible replacement for the 87 foot Marine Protector class WPBs. Yes it is bigger, but all our vessels have gotten bigger. It is also faster, but the crew is no larger, although more accommodations are provided.

Is it too early to start looking at a replacement class? Actually we may already be a year or two late starting the process.  

Our 73 Marine Protector class 87 foot WPBs were commissioned over an eleven year period from 1998 to 2009. If we want to replace them when they reach 25 years old, the first new cutters should be commissioned in 2023. If it were possible, it could fit well into our shipbuilding program since it appears likely the last of the programmed 58 Webber class will be funded in FY2020 and the first of the new class could be funded in FY2021.

Additionally we probably would want to start with an initial low rate production until the bugs have been worked out, and we get DHS approval to enter full-rate production. At that point, we should enter into a Multi-year Procurement. We don’t want to get into a situation where we have to rush a crash program to replace overage vessels.

Unfortunately it looks like we are once again “behind the power curve.” It takes us ten years to procure a large ship. Maybe we can move a little faster on these smaller vessels, but if you look at the way we are doing ship contracts,

  • there will be a year for market research/requests for information
  • a year of competition to select three preliminary designs
  • a year to refine and select from among the preliminary designs
  • a year to complete the winner’s detail design
  • at least two years construction before the first ship is commissioned.

That is six years, meaning we needed to start the contracting process in 2018, but there is nothing in the FY2018 budget that would move us toward a WPB procurement.

Even before the procurement process begins, we really need to look at what characteristics the new WPBs should have. I think the documentation is still called ROC and POE, for Required Operational Characteristics and Projected Operating Environment.

Surely we would want a better ship’s boat (the same 26 foot over the horizon boat used on the Webber class) and probably more speed and greater range.

Is it going to be just a SAR and LE asset, or will we consider Ports, Waterways, and Coastal Security (PWCS) and our newly remembered Defense Readiness missions?

If so, I would suggest that they provide at least one Mk38 mod3 mount with provision for mounting a second Mk38 mod3, a guided weapon (which might be on the Mk38 mount) to deal with small, fast, highly maneuverable threats, and weight and space for a pair of tubes for light weight torpedoes to deal with the largest terrorist threats and . We might also consider a pilot house armored against small arms, like that on the Nigerian boats.

We ought to be able to get all that in a boat less than half the displacement of a Webber class, eg, about the same size as the Island class 110s.