The Other Prize Winning USNI Coast Guard Essays

At least for a little while, the three prize winning US Naval Institute Coast Guard Essays are available on line, and they are available whether you are a member or not. 

I did a separate post on the First prize winner earlier. The other two are linked below.

    “Rethink Coast Guard Priorities”—2nd Prize, By Lt Noah Miller, USCG
    “Guard the African Coast”—3rd Prize, By LCdr Stuart J. Ambrose, USCGR
Both are thoughtful efforts, well worth the read.
Lt Miller makes the case for devoting more assets to fisheries enforcement even at the expense of decreased drug enforcement. I think he has a point, particularly in regard to the Central and Western Pacific.
“The Western and Central Pacific region is extremely remote, so it is difficult to detect potential incursions and even more difficult to respond in a timely manner. However, tuna fisheries are present in these waters, and they are among the most valuable pelagic fisheries in the world.”
LCdr Ambrose tells us why the Coast Guard should be engaged in Africa.

USCGC Robert Ward (WPC-1130) Makes First Eastern Pacific Transit Zone Drug Bust by an FRC

A Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward crew member inspects and prepares to test suspected contraband seized from a suspected drug smuggling boat in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean, July 16, 2019. Commissioned March 2, 2019, Robert Ward’s interdiction marks the first drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific Ocean by a Fast Response Cutter. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

A recent press release suggests that we will be seeing new, different, smaller ships engaged in drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific drug transit zone. This could be precedence for a new kind of operation. I will only quote a part of it.

SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The crew of the Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast (WMEC-632) is scheduled to offload more than 26,000 pounds of seized cocaine in San Diego Friday.

The cocaine, worth an estimated $350 million, was seized in international waters of the Eastern Pacific Ocean. The contraband represents six suspected drug smuggling vessel interdictions and the recovery of floating cocaine bales by the crews of two Coast Guard cutters off the coasts of Mexico, Central and South America between late June and mid-July.

Six of the interdictions were carried out by the Steadfast’s crew, one of the Coast Guard’s oldest cutters commissioned in 1968. One interdiction was by the crew of one of the service’s newest ships, the Coast Guard Cutter Robert Ward (WPC-1130) commissioned in March, and is not only the cutter’s first drug bust, but the first drug bust by a Coast Guard Sentinel-class fast response cutter in the Eastern Pacific Ocean. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

We have had a problem having enough ships on scene to take advantage of all the intel available. I have long suggested that the FRCs might be used in the Eastern Pacific, possibly with a supporting vessel. The Navy used one of their Cyclone class PCs for drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific in 2018, confirming that the use of these smaller vessels was probably viable.

I had really expected Atlantic Area to do this first, since they have so many Webber class in the Seventh District (19, soon to be 20 FRCs), and they got them first (since 2012). Still the Eastern Pacific Transit Zone is a Pacific Area show, perhaps that is why it is PACAREA, using the Robert Ward, only the second West Coast CONUS FRC, commissioned little over four months ago, that took the initiative.

It looks like the Steadfast may have provided some support to the Robert Ward. This might have been facilitated by the fact that Steadfast is also a PACAREA asset.

Hopefully, if there were no unanticipated problems, this will be the start of a pattern of successful FRC deployments to the transit zone. To take full advantage of the concept, we really need Atlantic Area participation. They have far more assets and are actually closer to the transit zone. Excluding FRCs in the 14th and 17th Districts (Hawaii and the Western Pacific and Alaska) PACAREA has only four WPCs. They could maintain perhaps one FRC in the Transit Area continuously, while LANTAREA could maintain at least three and probably more.

Something we really should look at is, what is limiting the endurance of the vessels to five days? For a vessel of this size, it should be more like ten days. Feedback on the post linked above, suggest they are limited by “their very small dry-stores and refrigerator units, and the crew’s laundry.” Perhaps a ShipAlt is in order.

“Schultz: Coast Guard Expanding Western Pacific Operations” –USNI

USCGC Bertholf (WMSL-750) crew members observe the stars from Bertholf’s flight deck as the cutter and crew patrol the South China Sea on April 21, 2019. US Coast Guard Photo

The US Naval Institute News Service is reporting,

KUALA LUMPUR – The U.S. Coast Guard will increase its presence and deployments to Asia – particularly around Oceania and U.S. Pacific territories – and test out a new operational deployment concept in the region, service head Adm. Karl Schultz told reporters on Thursday.

We have been seeing this happening. The Coast Guard has begun spending more time in and around the Western Pacific, particularly around US Western Pacific territories and Oceania.

The reference to use of a buoy tender as a mothership to support patrol craft operations looks like a test to see how useful the proposed basing of three Webber class cutters in Guam might be.

The Commandant suggested that the tender might partner with Australian, New Zealand, or Japanese vessels as well. He promised,

““In the face of coercive and antagonistic behavior, the United States Coast Guard offers transparent engagement and partnership,…”

There is no reason this should not work, hopefully it will lead to similar multi-unit operations in the Eastern Pacific drug transit areas where the Webber class could augment larger cutters.

“Narco Subs Lineage 2016-2018” –Covert Shores

Covert Shores brings us an update on what the well equipped drug smuggler is using these days, tracing the evolution of the Very Slender Vessel (VSV).

The post has lots of photos of past captures and traces apparent families of designs.

I do think his supposition that the bow planes are to keep the bow down may be incorrect. Given the angle of incidence with which they are mounted, it appears to me they are intended to keep the bow from burying itself in a wave and having the boat swamped. (See VSV family2 in the family tree diagram)

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