“White House Recognizes Superior Drug Interdiction Efforts” –Nov. 1, 2018, Office of National Drug Control Policy

NSC 5 James on builders trials in the Gulf of Mexico March 30, 2015.

Two Coast Guard units were recently recognized by the Office of National Drug Control Policy for exceptional performance

  • US Coast Guard Cutter James (WMSL 754) is receiving the award in the Detection & Monitoring category for their unprecedented 11 days of tactical control while JIATF South was shutdown for Hurricane IRMA.
  • S. Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron Aviation Detachment 17-22 is recognized for their Maritime Interdiction & Apprehension successes during a 79-day shipboard deployment.

That USCGC James could take over tactical control of Join Interagency Task Force South for eleven days is truly remarkable.

 

Will We Start Seeing LCS in SOUTHCOM?

USS Independence (LCS-2)

Are we going to see any Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) joining the Coast Guard in interdicting drugs? They seem to be saying yes, but the level of effort, and when it will start, is still not clear. In April DefenseNews reported, “The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos.,” but then the first line said they were “poised to decide,” which is not really the same thing.

The report indicated that four ships would deploy in 2019 (“The Navy has been piecing together a strategy to get at least four ships back down to SOUTHCOM to perform counter-drug ops.), and that 24 LCS deployments are planned between 2019 and 2024.

August 22 we had another DefenseNews report, “Newly reorganized littoral combat ship program faces its first big test in 2019,” that reported , “Four littoral combat ships are on track to be available to deploy in 2019,” but it is still unknown when that will be, for how long, and even what kind of deployment.

SOUTHCOM and others are pushing for additional assets from the Navy, but it is unclear what, if any, additional support he will be given.

Both articles had the same quote from Secretary of Defense Mattis,

“Is it primarily law enforcement? Do they need to have people with badges, which would mean Coast Guard cutters were going to have to shift and go to the Department of Homeland Security? Or is it LCSs, because of the nature of an evolving threat?” Mattis said. “We don’t have the answer yet, sir, but we’re working it.”
I find that statement a bit troubling. It looks like SecDef does not know how the ships are used. There certainly seems to be no urgency. So when will we see them? Given the current lack of commitment, probably not until mid to late 2019 at best, and even then we are unlikely to see all four committed to SOUTHCOM. The Navy will probably want to send at least one to IndoPacific Command (INDOPACOM) and one to Central Command (CENTCOM).
Ships expected to be deployed in 2019 are two of the trimaran Independence class,
USS Montgomery (LCS-8) and USS Gabrielle Giffords (LCS-10), both based in San Diego, and two mono-hull Freedom-class, USS Detroit (LCS-7) and USS Little Rock (LCS-9), both based in Mayport. One of these, USS Detroit is now expected to deploy with Naval Strike Missile installed. I can’t believe they have accelerated integration of this anti-ship cruise missile so that they could go chase drug runner. Detroit is likely to go to INDOPACOM, although it might pass through SOTHCOM AOR in transit.
There are potentially a couple of interesting things to watch if they do deploy.
  • How long can they deploy given their apparent strong dependence on contractor support and the short cruising range of particularly the mono-hull Freedom class? Hopefully deployment will be more than a photo-op.
  • If they bring an MQ-8 Fire Scout, particularly the larger “C” model which the Coast Guard has not had a chance to try, it will be interesting to see how useful it is for a Coast Guard mission.

MQ-8C Fire Scout Ground Turns and Telemetry Testing onboard USS Montgomery (LCS 8)

Photo: MQ-8C seen in the hangar of USS Montgomery (LCS-8)

 

Narco Vessel Update/Houthi Navy–Covert Shores

Covert Shores has a pair of recent posts that may be of interest.

LPV (Low Profile vessel) intercepted by Stratton (WMSL-752) in Eastern Pacific, Aug. 27, 2018. It had three outboard motors. Ref dvidshub.net

First there is a series of recent pictures of narcotics smuggling vessels seized by El Salvador and cutters Seneca and Stratton.

Attack on the Saudi Frigate Al Madinah (702), 30th Jan 2017

Also there is a brief review of the naval activity and capabilities of the Houthi Insurgency in Yemen.

Observations on the Smuggling Vessels:

What is striking about the photos of the smuggling vessels is how similar they are, and how different from many of the preceding craft. They are not identical, so they are not being made on an industrial scale, but they are all of a common concept. The post calls them narcosubs, but they don’t have the extensive effort to minimize observability that earlier narcosubs had, and they don’t run decks awash. They have made some attempt at stealth, but the attempts to cool their exhaust to minimize Infrared signature are gone, along with the inboard diesel engines replaced by multiple outboards. They have more freeboard, and are probably a great deal faster. Looks like they have combined features from go-fasts, Very Slender Vessels, Low Profile Vessels, and semi-submersibles.

An early narcosub. REUTERS/Jaime Saldarriaga

 

 

SOUTHCOM Mothership?

HOS Mystique, 250 foot Multi-Purpose Support Vessel being chartered by the Navy for SOUTHCOM

Marine Link is reporting that the Navy has awarded a $7.4M charter to Hornbeck Offshore with the work expected to be completed 14 June 2019.

“The DOD says the multi-mission support vessel will be chartered to provide proof of concept for a single vessel to meet various training, exercise, experimentation, and operational mission support requirements.”

I am going to speculate that the intent is to support the operation of Cyclone class patrol craft in the Eastern Pacific transit zone. Perhaps Webber class WPCs as well?

Cyclone-class patrol coastal USS Zephyr (PC 8) crew conducts ship-to-ship firefighting to extinguish a fire aboard a low-profile go-fast vessel suspected of smuggling in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean April 7, 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Barney

“NarcoSub 08-2018”–Covert Shores

Rear-cockpit ‘hybrid narco-sub’ had been intercepted by the USCG cutter Mohawk on 3rd July 2018. Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Brandon Murray, USCG

Covert Shores provides the latest in a series, looking at the craft used by drug smugglers in recent interdictions, with particular emphasis on the emergence of hybrid, high-speed, cockpit aft, outboard powered craft.

Not exactly the typical low profile self propelled semi-submersible, but definitely low observable if they are not making a visible wake. Maybe their tactic is a combination of sprint and drift?

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.”

The Webber class WMECs

Since the Coast Guard chose to base six Webber class in each of three different ports (18 total in Miami, Key West, and San Juan), it has seemed apparent that the Webber class were more than “fast response cutters,” sitting in port waiting for an alarm to ring sending them rushing off to a SAR case. It seemed likely these little ships, more than twice as large as the Island class 110 foot WPBs, would be used for offshore patrols much like an MEC.

This is perhaps colored by my recollection of WMECs (and even WHECs) that had no helicopter facilities. There were at one time 165, 143, and even 125 foot WMECs.

Coast Guard Compass brings us confirmation of the offshore capability of these vessels. USCGC Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) has completed a mission to conduct operations in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, 2,200 miles from her homeport. She conducted fisheries enforcement and capacity building, and laid the foundations for future missions to the Central Pacific.

Coast Guard cutter crews visit and work in the exclusive economic zone of partner nations throughout the year to help exercise bilateral agreements protecting sovereignty and resources in the Pacific. The ability of the FRCs to patrol this region increases the number of Coast Guard assets capable of operating in the area. About 66 percent of the world’s tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific according to the National Fisheries Institute and fisheries are the primary economic driver in the Pacific, especially for small Pacific Island Nations. Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing results in losses of more than an estimated 21 to 46 percent of catch representing a $1.5 billion revenue loss in the region according to the Marine Resource Assessment Group. This loss can have a direct effect on peace, governance and a continued American presence as transnational crime may supplant traditional fishing to fill voids created by economic declines. This threat is why a robust multilateral enforcement presence is crucial.

This is an area that has been seldom patrolled in the past. China is interested in replacing American influence with their own. It is an area we should not ignore. (see also)

Republic of the Marshall Island. Illustration by TUBS from Wikipedia

Beyond our obligation to other Pacific Island nations, 29.3% of the US EEZ is around Pacific islands beyond Alaska and Hawaii,  including the Pacific Remote Islands Marine Monument which is larger than the entire Atlantic coast EEZ.

The eight day transit to and from the Marshall Islands was facilitated by USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) which transferred 8,000 gallons of fuel during two underway replenishments.

CCGD14 was in deed thinking outside the box, but maybe it will lead to other things. Webber class are already doing drug enforcement missions far South into the Caribbean. It appears, with a little support from larger vessels, the 18 District Seven Webber class ought to be able to continuously provide three FRCs in the Eastern Pacific.

Incidentally I am not suggesting a designation change. The WPC designation for the Webber class is the only one we have done since the start of the “Deepwater” program that makes any sense