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.”

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

 

 

News Conference–San Diego, 25 Jan.

Following is a news release quoted in its entirety. 

———–

Media Advisory: U.S., Canadian officials to address emerging threat from drug traffickers (photos available)

united states coast guard

News Release

January 23, 2018

U.S. Coast Guard 11th District PA Detachment San Diego
Contact: Coast Guard PA Detachment San Diego
Office: (619) 278-7025
After Hours: (619) 252-1304
PA Detachment San Diego online newsroom

Media Advisory: U.S., Canadian officials to address emerging threat from drug traffickers (photos available) 

Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast boarding team members intercept a suspected Low Profile Vessel with approximately 3,203 pounds of cocaine onboard in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Nov. 30, 2017. LPVs are designed to be low profile and colored to blend in with the ocean, making them difficult for law enforcement to detect. U.S. Coast Guard photo. Coast Guard Cutter Steadfast boarding team members intercept a suspected Low Profile Vessel with approximately 3,203 pounds of cocaine onboard in the Eastern Pacific Ocean, Nov. 30, 2017. Steadfast was patrolling the waterways supporting the Joint Interagency Task Force –South with the primary mission of detecting and interdicting illegal drug traffickers. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

To view and download photos, please click the above thumbnails

WHAT: U.S. forces and international partners continue to see new smuggling tactics by transnational organized crime networks in the eastern Pacific Ocean including vessels specifically constructed for purposes of smuggling narcotics and other illicit contraband.

WHO: Senior officials from the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Southern Command and the Canadian Armed Forces will be available to discuss the tactics of transnational crime networks and international efforts to combat the threat posed by these criminal organizations. These senior officials include:

  • U.S. Coast Guard Vice Adm. Fred Midgette, commander, Pacific Area
  • Royal Canadian Navy Rear Adm. Art McDonald, commander, Maritime Forces Pacific 
  • Mr. Adam Braverman, U.S. Attorney, Southern District California
  • U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Daniel B. Hendrickson, director, Network Engagement Team, U.S. Southern Command

WHEN: Jan. 25, 2018, at 9:30 a.m. Attending media is requested to arrive by 8:30 a.m. to gain access to the facility. Government-Issued ID and media credentials are required. To RSVP, please contact Public Affairs Detachment San Diego at 619-252-1304.

WHERE: B-Street Pier (Cruise Ship Terminal) in San Diego, 1140 N. Harbor Drive, San Diego, CA 92101.

WHY: On the heels of a record year of drug interdiction, the U.S. Coast Guard and its international partners are seeing historic drug flow from cocaine producing countries in South America coupled with new tactics and varying smuggling routes. Gangs vying over drug smuggling routes and influence have led to epidemic murder rates in Central America. The Centers for Disease Control reported another rise in drug overdose deaths in the U.S. with more than 64,000 people reportedly killed by drug overdose in 2017. Of those, over 10,000 were killed by cocaine overdose, an approximately 35 percent rise from 2016.

HOW: Transnational organized crime networks smuggle more than 97 percent of cocaine bound for the U.S. and Canada via some kind of illicit maritime conveyance in the first stage of movement from the source zone. The drugs are smuggled in large quantities from source countries in South America to transshipment points in Central America and southern Mexico. The cocaine is then broken down into smaller loads for secondary and tertiary transits to smuggle across the U.S. Southern Border.

U.S. and international forces have seen the emergence of a variety smuggling vessels specially designed and constructed by transnational organized crime groups like self-propelled semisubmersibles and, more recently, low profile go fast vessels, which are a variant design from traditional go fast vessels. These smuggling vessels are designed to elude authorities using a low profile radar signature, camouflage and, in the case of low profile go fast vessels, speed. These vessels also carry massive quantities of illicit cargo. For example, an SPSS can carry up to 16,000 pounds of cocaine. A network of international and interagency partners constantly patrol the approximately six million square mile drug transit zone used by smugglers using aircraft and vessels. 

Narcosubmarines: Nexus of Terrorism and Drug Trafficking?–CIMSEC


There is decent post on CIMSEC looking at the possibility of terrorists using the vehicles developed by drug smugglers to carry out an attack. The author also does a pretty good job of explaining why smugglers might be unlikely to cooperate. There is also a worthwhile bibliography associated with the post that appears to have been an academic treatise.

Acoustic Systems from Our Canadian Friends

TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.

We talked about the possibility of using TRAPS earlier. I had an email discussion with a GeoSpectrum Technologies representative, Geoff Lebans. He tells me the Canadian Navy will test TRAPS from a Kingston class ship in March. 

The Kingston class are a little smaller and slower than the 210 foot WMECs, but they have regularly assisted the Coast Guard in drug interdiction.

Would love to see how effective this system might be in detecting semi-submersibles.

The Coast Guard has expressed an interest in having unmanned systems providing networked sensors and GeoSpectrum makes a much smaller towed acoustic directional sensor that they believe would work with the Liquid Robotics™ Wave Glider™ and other small autonomous vehicles. Frankly, I could see the drug cartels putting a bounty on recovery of unmanned surface vessels and their sensors. Still the Navy might also be interested in this sort of network for ASW and they could probably fund the program out of loose change they might find in the sofa. Forth Fleet would probably more than happy to test it in the Eastern Pacific and cutters could probably deploy them.

Hopefully the Canadians will send their TARPS equipped ship down to the Eastern Pacific transit zones. If they do not, it might make a good Coast Guard R&D project to mount one on the back of a WMEC and use it to help define competitive contract requirements.

An acoustic system like this should be good for detection of something like a semi-submersible out to at least the first convergence zone, well beyond the visual and radar horizon. Mounted in a container they could be placed on WMECs bound for the Eastern Pacific and then transferred to the OPCs as they replace the MECs.

 

HMCS Nanaimo, a Royal Canadian Navy maritime coastal defense vessel operating in support of Operation Martillo