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

 

 

Narco-Subs–Covert Shores

Fiberglass four-man craft is typical of recent LPVs. Seized by Steadfast in the Eastern Pacific. Source: Dvids

The website “Covert Shores” has a couple of posts that purportedly show the latest fashion in drug smuggling vessels, here and here. Some great photos.

Might also find this interesting, “Narco Sub 101”

Covert Shores has been added to my “Recommended Blogs” list.

“The Pentagon is poised to send the LCS to thwart narcos”–DefenseNews

USS Freedom (LCS-1)

DefenseNews is reporting,

“The military is poised to decide whether it will use the littoral combat ship to stop illegal drug shipments from South and Central America to the United States.

“The move, amid pressure from lawmakers and the military command covering the Southern Hemisphere, would signal a new intensity in combating the importing of illegal drugs amid a tidal wave of opioid deaths in the U.S. It would also mean a program that has seen near-constant churn as the Navy has struggled to integrate the ship into the fleet may see more changes ― if it does have to gear up for a new mission.

There are some surprising remarks by a retired Navy Captain, reflecting what many of us believe.

“…Ultimately, if the Congress was serious about combating drugs in SOUTHCOM, he said, it should adequately fund the Coast Guard.

“What they oughta do is take a few billion from the Defense Department’s budget and give it to the Coast Guard,” Hoffman said.

“Operating Navy ships is expensive, and, at that cost, it may not be practical to send gray hulls,” he said, adding that the Coast Guard can do the job cheaper and better.

This may also reflects a desire among many in the Navy to avoid this mission.

As a side note, I would observe that the frequent assertion that the Navy is being run ragged bears some examination as to why. It does not seem to be because the ships are underway that much. The US Naval Institute News service provides a weekly “Fleet and Marine Tracker.” You can see the most recent here. Among other things it provides a number of ships in the fleet and number of ships underway. Generally the number underway is only a little over one quarter of the fleet total, and it almost never exceeds one third.

Note, I am not saying the crews are not overworked, I am just saying, it is not because they are underway too much of the time. As I recall my days afloat, we got a lot done while underway, away from the inport distractions.

Patrol Craft Drug Interdiction in the Eastern Pacific

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

CoastGuardNews reports a drug interdiction incident that occurred in the Eastern Pacific on April 7. I don’t usually talk about individual drug busts, but this was a bit unusual.

The vessel involved wasn’t a cutter, it was a Navy Cyclone class patrol craft, the USS Zephyr (PC-8). Using Navy vessels for drug interdiction has become rare, but that was not what I think makes this significant, it is that the vessel was essentially the same size as the Webber class WPCs (387 tons full load for the Zephyr, after it was lengthened, and 353 tons for the Webber class).

If the Navy can run a PC from Florida to the Eastern Pacific transit zones, so can the Coast Guard.

We don’t have enough large cutters to exploit all the intel we have on the target rich transit zone. Perhaps we could use Webber class.

We have 18 of the class in 7th District, with six each homeported in Miami, Key West, and San Juan.

This suggest that we could keep at least three Webber class in the Eastern Pacific transit zone by rotating one from each port