Coast Guard Commander Craig Allen talks about challenges with national security cutter connectivity.

HMAS Success (AOR-304) refuelling probe goes in for a hook-up with the US Coast Guard Cutter USCGC Waesche (WMSL-751) as the Royal Australian Navy Auxilliary Oiler Replenishment Ship conducts a dual RAS (Replenishment at Sea) off the coast of Hawaii during the Sea Phase of Exercise RIMPAC 2014, 19 July 2014. (RAN Photo by Leading Seaman Brenton Freind RAN)

The 8 Aug. 2019 US Naval Institute podcast features Cdr. Craig Allen, currently XO of USCGC Waesche discussing the topic of his winning USNI Coast Guard Essay contest.

Despite the title, connectivity on other Coast Guard platforms was also discussed.

The discussion on cutter connectivity doesn’t actually start until about time 10:05. Earlier in the podcast they talk about the Midshipmen and Cadets Essay Contest (deadline 31 Oct. 2019).

He mentions specifically difficult to share UAS data and images. Even so it sounds like the most significant difficulty is that operational data is crowding out administrative data that now can no longer be done offline. 

Sounds like there are three paths that might be pursued that might ease the situation.

First of course is to increase band width, but if that were easy I presume it would have already been done.

There was not discussion of tactical data links, like Link 16, but this is one way to a common shared tactical picture. Reportedly Link16 “supports the exchange of text messages, imagery data and provides two channels of digital voice (2.4 kbit/s and/or 16 kbit/s in any combination).” I am pretty sure the NSC has Link 16, but most Coast Guard units including Webber class, aircraft, and District and Area Commands do not. Moving the tactical information to data links could free bandwidth for administrative tasks. In addition if we ever want our district and area commands to be able to call on DOD assets to respond to a terrorist attack, having access to data link could make it a lot easier.

Third, it sounds like we may have shot ourselves in the foot by eliminating previously acceptable ways to handle administrative matters. Sounds like we are forcing operational units to make it easy for administrative support units, instead of the other way around, as it should be. The extreme measures he describes as required to get the job done should be an embarrassment to the Coast Guard. The administrative system worked before internet. It can work without it. There are ways around these problems.

USCGC Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) arrives in American Samoa on patrol

The crew of USCGC Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) prepare to moor at the port of Pago Pago, American Samoa, Aug. 3, 2019. They will conduct a joint fisheries patrol with NOAA Fisheries and American Samoa Marine Police members. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Chief Petty Officer Sara Muir/Released)

Below is a press release from District 14 (Hawaii). It suggest two things.

  • They are paying more attention to the threat of illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing in the Pacific, and
  • They are exploring the limits of recently arrived Webber class “Fast Response Cutters” (FRC).

The Joseph Gerczak is based in Honolulu. The distance from Honolulu to Pago Pago by air is 2259 nautical miles (4184 km). That is less than the nominal 2500 currently being reported as the range for the class and less than the 2950 miles that was claimed for the class earlier, but that appears to leave little in the way of reserve. The nine day transit referred to also exceeds the nominal five day endurance of the FRCs.

The news release also indicates that the USCGC Walnut (WLB-205) is also in the area, so the Walnut may have escorted the FRC and may have refueled and replenished it underway as was done when Walnut provided underway replenishment for Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) for a 2200 mile transit to the Marshall Islands.

I would welcome any comments about how the operation was actually done. But could an FRC make the trip unrefueled? As I recall the 2950 nmi range claim was based on a speed of 14 knots. Transiting at a lower speed should increase range. How fast did they go? Nine full days, 216 hours would have averaged about 10.5 knots. Still nine days may have meant a short day at the start and another short day on arrival so it may have been closer to eight 24 hour days or about 192 hours total that would equal an average speed of a little under 12 knots. In any case it is likely the transit could have been made unrefueled with a reasonable reserve. Even if that were the case, CCGD14 probably kept Walnut close in case they ran into trouble. They are pushing the envelope.

America Samoa location. Author: TUBS

The news release (more pictures here):

—-

PAGO PAGO, American Samoa — The Coast Guard Cutter Joseph Gerczak (WPC 1126) arrived in the Port of Pago Pago, Saturday.

The crew is participating in Operation Aiga to conduct fisheries law enforcement and strengthen partnerships in American Samoa and Samoa throughout August.

“It was a good transit, the longest we’ve conducted yet, nine days at sea and we’re proving the capabilities of these new cutters to operate over the horizon throughout the remote Pacific,” said Lt. James Provost, commanding officer of Joseph Gerczak. “This is the first time a Fast Response Cutter has come to Pago Pago. We’re looking forward to hosting our partners and the public during tours Monday from 1 to 3 p.m. here at the port.”

The U.S. Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to enforce U.S. federal laws and regulations in the territorial waters of American Samoa. Worldwide, tuna is a $7 billion dollar annual industry and roughly 70 percent of that tuna comes from the Western and Central Pacific. These pelagic fish migrate and it is essential the U.S. and its partners protect the resource from illegal, unregulated, and unreported fishing. Estimates place the value of IUU fishing around $616 million annually.

“After this port call, we will be working with NOAA fisheries and the American Samoa Marine Police to enforce fisheries regulations in the region while on patrol. Oceania countries adhering to the rule of law deserve and even playing field. Presence, partnerships, and regular enforcement can deter IUU fishing and safeguard these critical fish stocks,” said Provost.

The Coast Guard Cutter Walnut (WLB 205) crew will also be conducting a fisheries mission with shipriders from Samoa aboard to enforce sovereign laws in their EEZ and deter IUU fishing. This effort is being undertaken in coordination with Australia and New Zealand as Samoa transitions their organic patrol assets, upgrading their fleet. Both cutter crews will also respond to any emergent search and rescue needs in the area and seek out opportunities to work with partner nation assets.

The Coast Guard exercises 11 bilateral shiprider agreements with Pacific Island Forum nations to help ensure regional security and maritime sovereignty.

“The U.S. is committed to supporting our allies and neighbors in the Pacific, which is essential to a free and open Indo-Pacific.”

The Joseph Gerczak is a 154-foot Sentinel-Class Fast Response Cutter homeported in Honolulu. It is one of the newest patrol boats in the fleet, replacing the aging 110-foot Island-Class patrol boats serving the nation admirably since the late 1980s. Three Fast Response Cutters will be homeported in Honolulu, the third arriving in August. Three will also be stationed in Guam and are to begin arriving there in 2020.

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.

Webber Class for the Navy?

The US Naval Institute News Service has a short post that discusses LCS funding, but there is also something there about the possibility of the Navy buying Webber class Fast Response Cutters as well.

“Meanwhile, the HASC approved a requirement for the Navy to study the prospect of buying a version of the Coast Guard’s Fast Response Cutter, submitted by Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.). chair of the tactical air and land forces subcommittee.

“The idea is for the Navy to consider basing these smaller patrol vessels in Bahrain where they would operate in the littoral waters of the Persian Gulf. The U.S. Coast Guard is already planning to base four fast response cutters in Bahrain, to replace the aging Island-class patrol boats the service currently has patrolling the Persian Gulf.”

Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, Updated May 22, 2019

Offshore Patrol Cutter future USCGC ArgusThe Congressional Research Service has once again updated their look at Coast Guard Cutter procurement.

I have quoted the summary below and will comment on some of the questions.

The Coast Guard’s program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests a total of $657 million in procurement funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $670 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2019 has funded 11 NSCs, including the 10th and 11th in FY2018. Six NSCs have been commissioned into service. The seventh was delivered to the Coast Guard on September 19, 2018, and the eighth was delivered on April 30, 2019. The ninth through 11th are under construction; the ninth is scheduled for delivery in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $60 million in procurement funding for the NSC program; this request does not include funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $421 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard awarded a contract with options for building up to nine OPCs to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The second OPC and long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third were funded in FY2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $457 million in procurement funding for the third OPC, LLTM for the fourth and fifth, and other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 56 have been funded through FY2019, including six in FY2019. Four of the 56 are to be used by the Coast Guard in the Persian Gulf and are not counted against the Coast Guard’s 58-ship POR for the program, which relates to domestic operations. Excluding these four, a total of 52 FRCs for domestic operations have been funded through FY2019. The 32nd FRC was commissioned into service on May 1, 2019. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2020 budget requests $140 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of two more FRCs for domestic operations.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  •     whether to provide funding in FY2020 for the procurement of a 12th NSC;
  •  whether to fund the procurement in FY2020 of two FRCs, as requested by the Coast Guard, or some higher number, such as four or six;
  •  whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
  •  the annual procurement rate for the OPC program;
  •  the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs; and
  •     the planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs.

Bertholf Class National Security Cutters (NSCs):

If there is going to be a 12th NSC, it almost certainly has to be funded this year. Future years will see the Polar Security Cutters and OPCs further crowding the budget. Frankly I see little to choose between the NSC and OPC for peacetime missions, but the replacement of the legacy fleet is becoming urgent and the price of the NSCs has decreased as funding became more regular, so a 12th might be reasonable. If we had started the OPC program earlier, it might have offered a lower cost alternative to additional NSCs, but we will not be ready to start multi-ship procurements of the OPCs until FY2021 and then only at the rate of two per year if we follow current planning.

Argus Class Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs):

There is probably good reason to accelerate the OPC program beyond the two per year currently planned to begin in FY2021. If we maintain that rate, the last 210 foot WMEC will not be replaced until 2028, the last 270 not until 2034. I expect we may see some catastrophic failures that will result in either sidelining ships or unacceptably high repair costs, before the program of record is complete.

The Coast Guard should plan on expediting testing of the first OPC so that production could move from the current contract with options to a true Multi-Year contract as soon as the design has proven successful.

We probably will need more than 25 OPCs. The Coast Guard has operated more than 40 cutters of more than 1,000 tons for decades. It seems likely we are going to need more than 36 total NSCs and OPCs. (See the discussion about the Fleet Mix Study below.)

Webber Class Fast Response Cutters (FRCs):

We are nearing the end of the Webber class program with 52 of the 58 program of record vessels, plus four additional vessels for Patrol Forces South West Asia (PATFORSWA), already funded. Buying only two for FY2020 raises the unit costs of these vessels. Congress has consistently increased purchases to four or even six per year when only two have been requested. Adding the final two additional FRCs intended to replace the 110s assigned to PATFORSWA would bring the total buy to four. That would leave only four to be purchased in FY2021 which could wrap up the funding. The question is, will Congress stop the program at the 64 vessels total when there may be justification for more?

Impact of Hurricane Michael: 

The Coast Guard budget is not the place to provide disaster relief for businesses. Maybe they have insurance. Maybe the state or Federal Government wants to provide aid, but renegotiating the contract for OPCs is not the way to do it. No way should it come out of the Coast Guard budget.

If on the other had we do renegotiate the contract, it is not to late to make it a “Block Buy.”

One solution might be for the contract to be converted to a block buy, using purchase amounts no more than current contract with options. That would assure the contractor and its creditor that they would have a steady stream of work. The contract might even have options for production of additional ships at rates higher than two per year.

We Need a New Fleet Mix Study:

The number of OPCs and FRCs actually required to fulfill Coast Guard statutory missions was examined in a fleet mix study (see pages 19 and 20 of the report) that found that the Program of Record (8 NSCs, 25 OPCs, and 58 FRCs) fell far short of the number of vessels required to meet all statutory requirements. Phase One of the study (2009) found that the total “objective” requirement was 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs. Phase Two found that only 49 OPCs would be required but found the same requirements for NSCs and FRCs (see page 22).

The problem is that the analysis is getting pretty old and its assumptions were wrong. The Coast Guard will have at least 11 NSCs. The FRCs appear to be more capable than anticipated. Perhaps most importantly, the study assumed the NSCs and OPCs would use the “Crew Rotation Concept,” resulting in an unrealistic expectation for days away from homeport. From my point of view, the study failed to even consider the requirement to be able to forcibly stop a medium to large size ship being used as a terrorist weapon. None of our ships are capable of doing that reliably, and even our ability to stop small fast highly maneuverable ships under terrorist control is far from assured, even if the objective fleet were available.

The Procurement, Construction, and Improvements FY2020 budget request is about $1.2B. Adding NSC #12 and a pair of FRCs using the costs in the CRS report ($670M/NSC plus 2x$58M/FRC) which are probably high for the current marginal costs, would still leave the PC&I budget under the $2B/year the Coast Guard has been saying they need and about $250M less than the FY2019 PC&I budget.

For the Future:

While we are thinking about cutters, with the FRC program coming to an end, it is not too early to think about the 87 foot WPB replacement. I think there might be a  window to fund them after the third Polar Security Cutter if we have our requirements figured out. That means preliminary contracts such as conceptual designs have to be done during the same period we are building PSCs, e.g. FY2022 and earlier. .

To avoid always being constantly behind the power curve, as we have been for the last two decades, we really need a 30 year shipbuilding plan. The Navy does one every year. There is no reason the Coast Guard should not be able to do one as well. The Congress has been asking for a 25 year plan for years now, but so far no product.

Thanks to Grant for bringing this to my attention. 

“Coast Guard Needs Congress for Budget Bailout” –National Defense

US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

National Defense reports that the Administration’s 2020 budget request makes deep cuts in the Coast Guard budget compared to recent years, but that there is a good chance Congress will make up at least some of the difference.

You can see a brief summary of the budget submission here.

We have Congress plus up the Coast Guard’s budget in the past, particularly in terms of increasing numbers of Webber class cutters funded. The 2020 budget includes only two. This is likely to be increased to four or even six.

Congress has also added three Bertholf class NSC to the program of record and there have been suggestions that a 12th is needed to fully replace the 378 foot WHECs. If we are to get a 12th NSC, it almost has to happen in FY2020 before we OPC construction goes to two per year and before we need to fund Polar Security Cutters 2-6.

The Commandant has been talking about maintenance backlogs recently. Unfortunately maintenance does not have the highly visible job creation impact of new construction, although the dollar for dollar impact may be as great. It seldom makes the evening news, so this may be a harder sell.

 

FY2019 Budget


US Capital West Side, by Martin Falbisoner

With a bit of help from a friend, the actual FY2019 budget documents were located:  “The Joint Explanation” and “The Conference Report.”

I found the Joint Explanation easiest to wade through. The Budget breakdown is found on pages 65 to 69 of the 612 page pdf.

Note in some cases I have rounded to the nearest $0.1M


Our total Coast Guard FY2019 budget is $12,015,921,000. This is $91,803,000 less than last year, but $577,720,000 more than the budget request.

The Operations and Support allocation is $7,808.2M. That is $434.9M more than last year (a 5.6% increase), and $215.1M more than requested.

I have provided information on the PC&I budget below including a complete list of line items that I was unable to provide before.

PROCUREMENT, CONSTRUCTION, AND IMPROVEMENTS (PC&I) $2,248.26M

Vessels and Boats

  • Survey and design:                      5.5M
  • In service vessel sustainment:   63.25M
  • National Security Cutter:              72.6M (Follow up on ships already funded)
  • Offshore Patrol Cutter:                  400M (Second of class + LLTM for third)
  • Fast Response Cutter: 340M (Six Webber class including two for PATFORSWA)
  • Cutter boats                                       5M
  • Polar Security Cutter:                     675M (First of class + LLTM for second)
  • Waterways Commerce Cutter:           5M
  • Polar sustainment:                            15M (Polar Star Service Life Extension)

—-Vessels Subtotal:  $1,581.35M

Aircraft

  • HC-144 Conversion/Sustainment:         17M
  • HC-27J Conversion/Sustainment:         80M
  • HC-1330J Conversion/Sustainment:   105M
  • HH-65 Conversion/Sustainment:           28M
  • MH-60 Conversion/Sustainment:         120M
  • Small Unmanned Aircraft:                        6M

—Aircraft Subtotal:  $356M

Other Acquisition Programs:

  • Other Equipment and System:                                               3.5M
  • Program Oversight and Managemen:                                    20M
  • C4ISR                                                                                    23.3M
  • CG-Logistics Information Management System (CG-LIMS):   9.2M

—Other Acquisitions Programs Subtotal:   $56M

Shore Facilities and Aids to Navigation:

  • Major Construction; Housing; ATON; and Survey and Design: 74.51M
  • Major Acquisition Systems Infrastructure:                                 175.4M
  • Minor Shore                                                                                      5M

—Shore Facilities and Aids to Navigation Subtotal:  $254.91M

The PC&I total, $2,248.26M, was $446.48M less than FY2018, but it was $361.51M above the budget request.

R&D was cut by almost a third. This is probably a place to spend more not less.

Reserve Training disappeared as a separate line item, so I can’t tell what happened there.

Also included in the new budget is $5M for the National Coast Guard Museum

Incidentally, the total amount appropriated for the polar security program includes $359.6M (FY2018 and prior) + $675M (FY2019), or $1,034.6M, of which $20M is for Long Lead Time Material for the second ship, and the remainder is for the first ship and other program-related expenses.

With Operations and Support up more than 5% over 2018 and Procurement Construction &Improvement (PC&I) over $2B for the second year in a row, this is the kind of budget we can live with. It just needs to keep happening.