U.S. Coast Guard: Priorities for the Future–CSIS/USNI

The video above records an recent event, a “Maritime Security dialogue” presented by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the United States Naval Institute (USNI) featuring Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, for a discussion on the “U.S. Coast Guard’s future priorities.”

Despite the title, don’t expect a recitation of Coast Guard priorities. Most of the material is familiar, but there were a few interesting comments, including some that might be surprising. A number of things the Commandant said here made news.

  • That the NSCs could be made into frigates.
  • That the Polar Icebreaker would cost less than $1B
  • His support of transgender CG personnel.

I’ll give a quick outline of what was talked about. At the end I will rant a bit about some of my pet peeves.

The Commandant’s prepared statement is relatively short beginning at time 2m45s and ending about 11m.

6m00 In our listing of missions, the Commandant said Defense Operations should be listed first. He noted that there are 20 ships chopped to Combatant Commanders including eleven  ships operating under SOUTHCOM.

Q&A begins at 11:00.

16m20s The Commandant noted there is a Chinese ship rider on a USCG cutter off Japan and that Coast Guard aircraft are flying out of Japan.

17m30s Boarder protection/drug interdiction

20m Called the OPCs “light frigates”

22m As for priorities the Commandant noted a need to invest in ISR and Cyber

23m Cyber threat.

24m Expect return to sea duty because of length of training.

26m30s “Demise of the cutterman”/Human Capital Plan–fewer moves–removed the stigma of geographic stability

29m25s Highest percentage of retention of all services–40% of enlisted and 50% of officers will still be in the service after 20 years

30m Law of the Sea. Extended continental shelf in the Arctic.

32m30s Need for presence in the Arctic.

36m ISR, 38m15s Firescout. An interesting side note was that the Commandant seemed to quash any possibility of using the MQ-8 Firescout. He noted when they deployed on a cutter 20 people came with the system.  He called it unoccupied but not unmanned.

40m Icebreakers

43m30s Comments on transgender members

45m15s Icebreakers–will drive the price down below $1B.

47m NSC as frigate–no conversations with the Navy about this. Performance of Hamilton.

49m50s Count the NSCs toward the 355 ship Navy.

50m30s Illegal migration and virulent infectious disease

53m35s CG training teams in the Philippines and Vietnam to provide competency to operate platforms to be provided by Japan. Two patrol boats going to Costa Rica. Other efforts to build capacity.

56m DHS is the right place for the CG.

The Commandant touched on a couple of my pet peeves, specifically

  • He called the OPCs “Light Frigates,” so why aren’t they designated that way? WMSM and WMSL are just wrong in too many ways.  Give our ships a designation our partners and politicians can understand. A WLB is a cutter and also a buoy tender. The OPC can be both a cutter and a light frigate. I have suggested WPF. Maybe WFF for the Bertholfs and WFL for the Offshore Patrol Cutters. If we want to be thought of as a military service, we need to start using designations that will be seen and understood as military.
  • He mentioned the possibility of including the Bertholfs in the 355 ship fleet total. Coast Guard combatants should be included when the country counts its fleet. No, the cutters are not aircraft carriers or destroyers, but the current fleet of about 275 ships includes about 70 ships that have no weapons larger than a .50 cal. These include eleven MCM ships and about 60 ships manned by civilian crews such as tugs, high speed transports, salvage ships, underway replenishment ships, and surveillance ships. Counting the Cutters as part of the National Fleet would raise  our profile as a military service. The Navy might not like it, but it does give a better idea of our actually available assets for wartime, which is the point of such a listing.

 

 

Hearing: Coast Guard Requirements, Priorities, and Future Acquisition Plans (FY-2018)

 

May 18, the Commandant, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, addressed the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. The recorded testimony is above. It is fairly long (1h40m). The Commandant’s initial statement, following the introductions, begins at 8m40s and ends approximately minute 14.

The administration’s FY 2018 budget request was not available, but the Commandant was there to discuss future priorities, requirements, and programs. The Department Secretary, General Kelly, is expected to address the Subcommittee on May 24 at 3PM Eastern.

I will just mention a few of the items I thought significant.

Admiral Zukunft noted that Huntington Ingalls has begun cutting steel for NSC #9. Questioned about NSC#10, he said, if it were funded, the Coast Guard would of course use it, but that the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is the Coast Guard’s #1 priority. His response, that another NSC would have an effect on long-range operating cost, seemed to suggest anticipated significantly lower operating costs for the OPC. Significantly, there has been no mention of reducing the OPC program by one ship to offset the addition of NSC #9. (There is already a strong push to build more NSCs, a bill to authorized a multi-year buy of three more.)

He contended that the Coast Guard has taken a harder hit, due to budget restrictions, than other armed services and would need 5% annual growth and at least $2B annually for Acquisitions, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I). Later he stated that this annual AC&I appropriation would included about $300M annually for shore facilities. He pointed to a need to restore 1100 Reserve Billets and add 5,000 active duty military billets while retaining current levels of Civilian staff.

Apparently the FY2918 budget will begin a program to replace 35 Inland tenders at an estimated cost of approximately $25M each ($875M total). (Even if, in the unlikely event, this program were funded in only five years, that would only average $175M/year, so it is not a big program, but one that should have begun at least a decade ago.)

Cyber security for ports was discussed. The Commandant sees the Coast Guard role as decimating best practices, rather than imposing regulation. We now have a cyber program of record–still very small, two CG Academy graduates going directly into the program. The fact that two billets is worth mentioning, is probably the best indication of how really small the program is. A much smaller pre-World War II Coast Guard probably had more people working on breaking German and Japanese codes. 

Marine Inspection was addressed. The Commandant noted the increased demand for Inspections because 6,000 tugs have been added to inspection program. He noted a need for more stringent oversight of 3rd party inspectors, who in some cases have not been as meticulous as they should have been. He also noted that the US flag merchant fleet, notably the MSC’s Afloat Prepositioning Fleet, will need replacement, which will also raise demand for marine inspectors.

The Commandant also voiced his support for the Jones Act. He noted, we only have three shipyards building Jones Act ships in the US, and their loss would be short-sighted.

There was much discussion about the Arctic and the Icebreaker Fleet. Looks like follow-on funding for icebreaker program (at least after the first) will have to come from CG AC&I rather than the Navy budget. This may be difficult, but it is the way it should be. The chair of committee expressed his reservations about attempting to fund such big-ticket items through the DHS budget. The Commandant stated that the Coast Guard is still considering the acquisition of the commercial Icebreaker Aiviq (but apparently they are doing it very slowly–the chairman of the committee seemed a bit irritated about this).

The committee members seemed to latch onto the idea that the USCG, rather than the Navy, would be responsible for enforcing US sovereignty in the Arctic (which by US definition includes the Aleutians), and seemed to be asking if the Coast Guard was prepared to fight the Russians and/or Chinese in the Arctic. The Commandant suggested instead, that our role was to provide presence in the pre-conflict phase in order assert US sovereignty. He acknowledged that the National Security Cutters are only armed defensively and are not suitable for conventional naval warfare against an enemy combatant.

The Commandant acknowledged that, at some point it may be desirable to arm Polar Icebreakers, meaning they should be built with space, weight, and power reservations for additional weapons.

(I am all for keeping open the option of arming our icebreakers, so that they can defend themselves and do their part, if there is a conflict in a polar region, but there did not seem to be recognition among the Congression Representatives, that an Arctic conflict is most likely to be determined by submarines and aircraft. The icebreakers’ role is likely to be primarily logistical.)

The Commandant apparently does expect that there may be disagreements with regard to the extent of the US authority over certain areas of the Arctic.

In discussing the need for land based Unmanned Air Systems, there was a curious note at minute 40 about go-fast boats going south. Where are they going?

Alien Migrant Interdiction (AMIO). We have gone for seven weeks without a single Cuban Migrant being interdicted. This is because of the end of Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy. This has allowed reallocation of resources to drug interdiction South of Cuba and human trafficking from the Bahamas

A Congressional Representative, from Texas pointed out there is no CG presence on the Rio Grande River, in spite of it being an international waterway. There was no mention of it, but perhaps he was thinking of the Falcon Lake incident in 2010 when an American was allegedly shot in the head by Mexican drug runners. Maybe something we should reconsider.

The Commandant promised the CG would have an unfunded priority list for FY2018.

Fallout from the Philippines vs China SCS Case on US EEZ

Pacifci Marine Reserve
Photo Credit: Marine Conservatory Institute, Click to enlarge.

gCaptain reports,

“Largely overlooked in the tribunal’s July 12 decision was a strict interpretation of which dry land is entitled to a 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone—the surrounding ocean where a nation has sole rights to fish, drill for oil, and search for minerals.”

“The United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea doesn’t allow nations to declare exclusive economic zones around “rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own.” What that’s meant has never been clear. Many countries, including the U.S. and Japan, have claimed exclusive economic zones around tiny atolls and outcroppings of rock.”

“The tribunal concluded that having people live on an island doesn’t prove habitability if food and water comes from elsewhere.”

The result could mean large stocks of fish in the Pacific including at least parts of the newly expanded Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument could loose the protection of US regulation  This could have long term implications for the US fossil fuel industry as well as the future of Offshore Thermal Energy Conversion.

Argentine Coast Guard Sinks Chinese Fishing Vessel

This Video does not appear to show the sinking of the fishing vessel. Speckles on the hull of the F/V seen at time 0:20 and 0:50 may be bullet holes. The video does appear to show the participants.  

We have reports (here and here) that the Argentine Coast Guard (Prefectura Naval Argentina (PNA)) fired on and sank a Chinese fishing vessel (F/V), the Lu Yan Yuan Yu 010, believed to have been fishing illegally, after the F/V failed to stop after shots were fired across its bow and it allegedly attempted to ram the Coast Guard vessel. The crew reportedly was rescued, without fatalities, four by the Argentine vessel and the rest of the crew by another Chinese F/V.

ArgentineCutter

Photo by Diegoventu: PNA Doctor Manuel Mantilla (GC-24), a sistership of the Argentine vessel involved.

The PNA vessel seen in the video, Prefecto Durbes (GC-28) is one of five offshore patrol vessels (OPVs) built in Spain for Argentina. The Mexican Navy also has six similar vessels with larger flight decks and more powerful engines. In size they slot between the Reliance Class and the Bear Class, being 67 meters (220 feet) overall. Unlike the Reliance class, they have a hangar for their version of the H-65.

In addition to machine guns, these ships are reportedly armed with a Bofors 40mm/70, but looking at the video, the location where the gun was mounted (on the platform forward of the bridge and one deck above the foc’sle) is vacant. This suggest that the damage was probably done by .50 cal. machine guns. We know from our Vietnam experience that .50 cal. can sink fishing vessels, but the ranges are very short. Looking at the video the ships appeared to be no more than 300 yards apart.

It is a bit surprising no casualties were reported, although the reports say no fatalities, they do not say no injuries so that is still a possibility. Did the crew of the OPV order the Chinese crew to abandon before sinking the F/V, or did they perhaps tell them where they were not going to shoot so that the crew could assemble safely? It does not sound like it. We have only this statement from an Argentine representative that after actions by the Chinese vessel,  “…the order was given to fire on different sections of the vessel, damaging it,” It is unlikely, but not impossible, the crew helped the ship sink to destroy any evidence of wrong doing.

Indonesia Attempts to use Big Data to Manage Fisheries

The Jakarta Post reports that the Indonesian government will attempt to use the Automatic Identification System (AIS) to manage their fisheries.

They plan to exploit an open source system called “Global Fishing Watch,” a partnership between SkyTruth, Oceana and Google. There are certainly limitations on the data available from this system. AIS can be turned off or spoofed, but the Global Fishing Watch website has some answers for these limitation, and careful tracking can to some extent mitigate the problems.

More here (pdf).

CG/Navy/Islander Partnership in the Western Pacific

USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1)

U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Edwardo Proano

Generally I feel the CG and the US in general is not paying enough attention to the US EEZ in the Western Pacific and to the island nations there, that we have a continuing relationship with. It is good to see some efforts to maintain good governance in these areas. Published below is a Navy news release. As you read it you note that maritime law enforcement efforts in this are a still very thin. Use of an MSC T-AKE for support of CG LEDETs is a welcomed innovation. Still the high sides of a T-AKE can not be the best for boat ops. Would love to see the T-AKE used as mother ship for WPBs or WPCs.

Story Number: NNS151026-13 Release Date: 10/26/2015 3:17:00 PM, By Grady Fontana, Military Sealift Command Far East

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) — Military Sealift Command’s (MSC) dry cargo and ammunition ship USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1) arrived at Tarawa, Republic of Kiribati, Oct. 24, as part of its continuing support of Exercise KOA MOANA (KM) 15-3.

Exercise KM 15-3 is a four-month international exercise allowing participants from the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to work with host nation participants from various countries in the Pacific Island Nations of Oceania.

The first portion of the exercise was in Tahiti, followed by a leg in Fiji, where Marines conducted theater security cooperation (TSC) activities with host nation partners.

After Tarawa, the Lewis and Clark, which is also part of Maritime Prepositioning Ships Squadron (MPSRON) 2, will carry her personnel and cargo to Vanuatu for more TSC events, then finish off the exercise in Timor Leste in November. The Lewis and Clark is scheduled to return to its homeport in early December.

While training in Tarawa, the Marines will conduct military-to-law enforcement activities with local police. Members of the Navy and Coast Guard will participate in Oceanic Maritime Security Initiative (OMSI) operations, as they did in Fiji, in support of maritime law enforcement operations along with partners from the Police Maritime Unit Tarawa.

“While the Marines are training on the island with the host nation military or law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Coast Guard has taken this opportunity to use USNS Lewis and Clark, which is the platform for KOA MOANA 15-3, to conduct OMSI patrols with the nations these TSCs have been scheduled,” said Navy Capt. Paul D. Hugill, commodore, MPSRON-2.

OMSI is a Secretary of Defense program aimed to diminish transnational illegal activity on the high seas in the Pacific Island Nations of Oceania’s exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and enhance regional security and interoperability with partner nations.

The Coast Guard is responsible for patrolling the waters around the numerous islands associated with the U.S. throughout the region. Each of these islands has territorial waters stretching out to 12 miles from shore. Beyond that, stretching out 200 nautical miles are EEZs, an area defined by international law that allows each nation exclusive rights to the exploration and use of marine resources.

During the OMSI portion of KM 15-3, law enforcement agents from the Police Maritime Unit Tarawa, and Navy and Coast Guard personnel, will ride the Lewis and Clark and intercept and board commercial fishing vessels operating inside the Kiribati EEZ. The combined team will be looking for potential violations.

According to Taraa Teekea, vessel monitor system officer for Police Maritime Unit Tarawa, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has a significant negative effect on Kiribati’s economy.

Outside of KOA MOANA, the Police Maritime Unit Tarawa conducts their own operations about six to eight times a year. Their missions are typically 10 days at-sea, with boarding an average of 30 suspected fishing boats during each operation.

“We are looking for those who are conducting illegal fishing,” said Teekea. “Some of the common violations are invalid fishing license, no license to transit through our EEZ, over-fishing certain types of fish, and vessels with no [EEZ] entry and exit reports.”

The OMSI memorandum of understanding between the Department of Defense (DoD), the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration helps to deter and prevent various threats to maritime security and transnational crime, encourage mutually beneficial partnerships with Pacific Island Nations, promote interoperability, enhance maritime domain awareness and improve economic stability throughout Oceania.

The program leverages DoD assets transiting the region to increase the Coast Guard’s maritime domain awareness, ultimately supporting maritime law enforcement operations in Oceania.

According to USCG Lt. Lisa M. Hatland, OMSI liaison, U.S. Coast Guard District 14 out of Honolulu and on board the Lewis and Clark for KM 15-3, since the Coast Guard doesn’t have all the assets it requires in order to patrol this region as often as they would like or to enact all the bilateral ship rider’s agreements that they have with partner nations, the [memorandum of understanding] (MOU) with the Navy allows them to use naval vessels.

“Through OMSI, the Coast Guard exacts an MOU with the DoD in order to supplement Coast Guard cutter deployments with naval assets that are transiting across Oceania,” the lieutenant added. “The MOU allows us to put Coast Guard boarding teams on board DoD ships to conduct Coast Guard missions, and it also permits us to embark foreign maritime law enforcement agents so they can enforce laws in their own sovereign waters.”

Initiatives like OMSI help the U.S. to project a maritime law enforcement presence beyond what the U.S. Coast Guard can do alone.

KOA MOANA also serves as a test for the Lewis and Clark on how well cargo and ammunition ship platforms will perform in this type of mission. The exercise is the first time a dry cargo and ammunition ship is being used for a Coast Guard mission.

“The Lewis and Clark is performing well. During KOA MOANA, we’re doing everything that a [US combatant ship] can do with regards to command and control,” said Hugill. “The reasons the Lewis and Clark is a good platform are the abundance of space, the capabilities of the deck crew and the ability to carry out around the clock operations.”

Commander, Maritime Prepositioning Ship Squadron 2, currently embarked aboard USNS Lewis and Clark and operating in the Southern Eastern Pacific, maintains tactical control of the 10 ships that are forward deployed to Diego Garcia and carrying afloat prepositioned U.S. military cargo for the U.S. Marine Corps, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force. The squadron’s mission is to enable the force from the sea by providing swift and effective transportation of vital equipment and supplies for designated operations.

MSC operates approximately 115 non-combatant, civilian-crewed ships that replenish U.S. Navy ships, conduct specialized missions, strategically preposition combat cargo at-sea around the world and move military cargo and supplies used by deployed U.S. forces and coalition partners.

Exercise KOA MOANA 15-3 is a Marine Forces Pacific-sponsored exercise designed to enhance senior military leader engagements between allied and partner nations with a collective interest in military-to-military relations, and to discuss key aspects of military operations, capability development and interoperability.

Changing EEZs

PacificEEZ

Pacific Exclusive Economic Zones. David Butler/Globe staff, click on the chart to enlarge

An interesting discussion in the Boston Globe about how to deal with potential changes in the world’s Exclusive Economic Zones as rising sea levels change the shape of land areas, perhaps resulting in the complete disappearance of some sovereign nations.

One of the possibilities is that the EEZs may be frozen in their current configuration and become an asset of the population, even after the land becomes uninhabitable or disappears completely, and that this asset may be sold, traded, or leased away. We know territorial sovereignty can be sold, after all, the US benefited from the Louisiana Purchase and Seward’s Folly (Alaska).

A Chinese Corporation has been attempting to build a new port complex on “reclaimed” land in Sri Lanka. “Located next to the Colombo Port, the US$1.4 billion project will add about 233 hectares of reclaimed land to the capital and house luxury office buildings, apartment blocks, a golf course, a water sport area, medical facilities, education institutions, hotels, a theme park and marinas.” The project is on hold right now, but if it goes forward, the Chinese firm would be granted  20 hectares (49.4 acres) on an outright basis and 88 hectares (244.6 acres) on a 99-year lease.

This is not a transfer of sovereignty, and  Sri Lanka is not in any danger of disappearing, but it does indicate the scope of China’s interest in the area and, located right off the Southern tip of India,  it is sure to feed into India’s fears of being surrounded by a Chinese “string of pearls.”

Potentially more serious is the decision of the government of the Maldives, “The law passed by the Parliament will now allow absolute foreign ownership of land in Maldives if the investment is above USD 1 billion. The caveat to the law is that 70% of the land has to be reclaimed from the sea.”

The Maldives, with an average elevation of 1.6 meters,  is one of those island nations that are in danger of being adversely effected by rising see levels. If anyone takes the Maldives up on their offer, it will probably be the Chinese, who have already shown a lot of interest in the Indian Ocean island nation. Again this is not a transfer of sovereignty, but it may be a harbinger of things to come

(Beside it really wanted everyone to see the chart of Pacific EEZs. A lot of that is US EEZ.)