Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities–House Subcommittee Hearing

 

The hearing recorded above was held 7 June. The original video was found here. That page also provides the chairman’s opening statement and links to the witnesses’ written statements that are also provided immediately below. The video does not actually start until time 4:30.

Below, you will find my outline of the highlights.

Witness List:

  • Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director, Acquisition Sourcing & Management Team, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. John Acton, Chairman, Coast Guard Affairs Committee, Navy League of the United States | Written Testimony

The GAO’s written testimony is particularly comprehensive. They report that new assets (NSCs and FRCs) are not meeting planned availability. There have been an unexpected number of engine replacements. In the case of the National Security cutters it appears to me the down time was predictable, a normal part of introducing new ships and availability should return to planned levels as more ships join the fleet. The known defect, that when operating in waters 74 degrees or warmer, the NSCs cannot maintain maximum speed has apparently not been corrected. Max speed must be reduced two to four knots to allow adequate cooling.

Planning Documents:  The Congressional Representatives repeatedly complained that they were not getting an unsensored statement of the Coast Guard’s needs. It appears the Coast Guard is not being allowed provide this information. Rather it appears the GAO is telling the Coast Guard how much they will be getting and told to submit a budget that fits the predetermined amounts. Reportedly the Unfunded priorities list will be provided by the end of June. They also asked for the 5 year and 20 year plan (1h04:30). Coast Guard representatives were repeatedly told the Coast Guard does not say what they really need, that information provided by the Coast Guard is inadequate for the sub-committee to make decisions (1h48m).

It appears that the GAO continues to ask the Coast Guard to plan procurements based on historically low AC&I appropriations that were adequate for a time because of the sporadic character of Coast Guard ship building. They acknowledge that the current budget is not realistic. (43:45)

The Coast Guard is now consistent in requesting $2B in the AC&I annually and a 5% annual increase in its operating budget and that we need 5,000 additional active duty billets and 1,100 addtional reservists. There was a statement from one of the Representatives to the effect, We need you to fight for yourselves (1h50:30). The representatives were informed that the 5 year, 20 year plans and unfunded will be delivered together (1:56)

My opinion: we need a regularly revised Fleet Mix Study. That in turn should feed directly into a 30 year ship and aircraft procurement plan

Webber Class WPCs: The Coast Guard is reportedly pushing WPCs operations down as far as the coast of South America. (50:00) This confirms my earlier speculation that these ships would be operated in what had been WMEC roles. Six cutters for CENTCOM The representative confirmed that they had approved procurement of six Webber class requested by CENTCOM. Apparently their approval was in the form of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill which has still not been made law. Adm. Ray stated that these would be in addition to the 58 currently planned (9:30) and it is not clear how or when they would be funded. Adm Stosz indicated it was not certain six Webber class would be the Coast Guard’s choice in how to fill this requirement and the question required more study. (1h11)(1h41m).

Shore Facilities: Reportedly there is a $1.6B shore construction backlog. $700M shore facilities maintenance backlog. Some infrastructure improvements that directly support new operational platforms.are being accomplished under the platform programs (55:00) The representatives asked, why we have asked for only $10M if the total shore facilities backlog is $2.3B?(1h35)

Icebreakers: The possibility of leasing the commercial icebreaker Aiviq is still being considered. (1h27) The owners have offered a plan for Ice trials and the Coast Guard has said it would be interested in observing. (1h29:50)

Great Lakes Icebreaker: Rep. Lewis brought up icebreaker for Great Lakes.Adm Ray says for now we will address with the existing fleet. (1h00:30) Priority is still Polar Ice Breakers.

eLoran: There seems to be considerable interest in eLoran to deal with GPS vulnerabilities. (1:22) The Navy League representative supported the need. The Re-Authorization Bill directs Secretary of Transportation to initiate E-Loran testing. There was a clear anticipation that the Coast Guard would support implementation.

Coast Guard Health Care: Looks like the Coast Guard heath care records system which reverted to paper now may be able to piggy back on the VA’s conversion to the DOD system. (1h25)/(1h32:30) There is currently a major gap in funding for medical care of CG retirees

A Better Armed Coast Guard: Not that the Representatives were specific, but there was a statement, “We want to weaponize you.” (5:55) I think I heard essentially a second time as well. I’m not sure what that means.

Rising Sea Levels: There was concern expressed regarding rising sea level and how they might impact shore facilities (1h12:20)

WMEC Service Life Extension: The Coast Guard was given money several years ago to plan a service life extension program for 270. The Congress has not seen or heard any result and they questioned, why delay? (1:09) See fig. 4 on page 17 of the GAO’s written testimony

Operating Expenses: Replacement ships are costing more.(26:25)(50:55). This is becoming problematic without an increase in operating budget.

Changing the way we buy ships: Included in the Reauthorization Bill are changes in the way the Coast Guard can fund its shipbuilding, putting us on par with the Navy (5:50)

Cyber: Budget includes 70 additional billets. (19:45)  What are we doing for the ports? (1h13:45)

Inland Tender Fleet: Budget includes $!M to investigate alternatives. (52:30) (1h19)

It is remarkable that there seemed to be no sentiment that the Coast Guard budget should be cut, while there was considerable evidence the Representatives believe the Coast Guard is underfunded.

Helo Moves

An MH-60T Jayhawk helicopter taxis on the runway at Air Station Traverse City, Michigan, April 13, 2017. Jayhawks are replacing the current helicopters the air station operates to provide improved search and rescue coverage in the area. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Air Station Traverse City)

A bit of reshuffling of air assets as SeaWaves reports CGAS Traverse City receives the first of three MH-60Ts that will replace the four MH-65 previously deployed there.

One of the H-65s has already been transferred to CGAS Atlantic City. Two will go to the Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron in Jacksonville, Florida. One will be transferred to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, Alabama, to support a fleet-wide training initiative associated with a modernization effort.

Finland Builds an LNG Powered Icebreaker.

FinnishLNGicebreaker

For more photos see http://gcaptain.com/photos-worlds-first-lng-powered-icebreaker-polaris/

ARCTECH has completed the World’s first LNG powered (dual fuel capable, low sulfur diesel or LNG) icebreaker, NB501 Polaris, for the Finnish Transport Agency, and it is currently in sea trials.

The vessel will be able to move continuously through about 1.6 meter thick level ice, to break a 25 meter wide channel in 1.2 meter thick ice at speed of 6 knots, as well as to reach 9…11 knots of average assistance speed in the demanding icebreaking conditions in the Baltic Sea. In open water the service speed will be 16 knots.

Reportedly “It will also be able to perform oil spill response operations, emergency towing and rescue operations.”

Its dimensions are 110x24x8 meters or 361x79x26 feet. Its propulsion comes from three azimuthing propulsors totaling 19kW or about 25,500 HP. Specs here (pdf).

Crew requirements are tiny at 16.

With a 30 day endurance, it does not have the range the Coast Guard needs for Polar Operations, but with 180% more horsepower than the Mackinaw, it would make a great Great Lakes icebreaker. The US certainly has a lot of LNG. Would be good for the environment too. (Of course it would have to be built in the US, but using a foreign design is not a problem for the Coast Guard.)

Thanks to Lee for bringing this to my attention. 

Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress–Updated

POLAR SEA and POLAR STAR side by side in McMurdo Sound, Antarctica

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided a copy of the Dec. 14, 2015 Congressional Research Service report, “Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress,” by Naval Ronald O’Rourke.

This updates a series of earlier reports.

It is quite clear from the report that even if things go as planned, which I doubt it will, we will have a period of two to six years when we will have only one medium icebreaker and no heavy icebreakers.

If we do as currently planned, we will not see a new icebreaker until at least 2024.

We have looked at alternatives that might carry us through until the US can truly recapitalize its current fleet.

We can renovate Polar Sea. Clearly Congress is running out of patience waiting for a decision about what to do with this ship. We ought to ask for the funds to renovate it one way or the other.

We can lease one or two of these excess icebreakers. We could put one in the Great Lakes to satisfy those interests and it could in worst case exit the Great Lakes and go to the assistance of a polar icebreaker or break into resupply Thule airbase in Greenland.

Both of these are relatively low cost options. They deserve serious consideration.

Domestic Icebreaker Innovation

Zurich, Switzerland headquartered, ABB Group reports they “will provide the power, automation and turbocharging capabilities for the most advanced port icebreaker ever built.”

The Russian built ship’s configuration is unusual, described as “a totally new concept especially developed for heavy harbour ice conditions with extensive thick brash ice.” It has four 3 MegaWatt Azipod units with two in the stern and two at the bow.

Sounds like this configuration might permit the ship to be used as an oblique icebreaker, allowing it to clear a channel wider than the ship’s beam.

Tups, who seems to be our resident icebreaker expert, brought this to my attention. He feels this type of icebreaker may be appropriate for the Great Lakes. He notes that the new Russian icebreaker is “slightly bigger than USCGC Mackinaw…about 50 ft longer, 10 ft wider, 5 ft deeper and about twice as powerful.”

Michigan Senators Push for Another Great Lakes Icebreaker

EdisonChouestOffshoreAHTSicebreaker

MarineLog reports that both Senators from Michigan have requested “Robust” funding for a “Heavy Icebreaker” for the Great Lakes.

OK they called the Mackinaw a heavy icebreaker, and we know it really is not, so something less may work.

Looking at the excess Shell icebreakers we talked about earlier, it appears the already built icebreaker Aiviq, with a beam of 80 feet, is a little too large to squeeze through the St. Lawrence Seaway, but if Tups was right, and this is the icebreaking vessel Shell had under construction at Edison Chouest, its beam, 22 meters (72.2 feet) is less than the 78 foot  maximum for the Seaway. Maybe something could be worked out.

This is a lot larger and more powerful than USCGC Mackinaw.

Ship Name: LA SHIP 304
Shiptype: Anchor Handling Tug Supply
LR/IMO No.: 9788368
Gross tonnage: 6,000
Year of Build: 2017
Flag: United States Of America
Status: Keel Laid (status changed 2014-11-17)
Operator: Galliano Marine Service LLC
Shipbuilder: LaShip LLC
Length Overall: 94.600 m
Breadth Moulded: 22.000 m
Depth: 11.800 m
Machinery overview: 4 diesel electric oil engines driving, connected to 2 electric motors reduction geared to screw shafts driving 2 Azimuth electric drive units. Total Power: Mcr 20,240kW (27,520hp), Csr 17,204kW (23,392hp)
Prime mover detail: Design: Caterpillar, Engine Builder: Caterpillar Inc – USA, 4 x C280-16, 4 Stroke, Single Acting, Vee, 16 Cy. 280 x 300, Mcr: 5,060 kW (6,880 hp) at 900 rpm

Being somewhat cynical, if this was more than a political gesture, I would have thought they would have gotten signatures from Senators from other states that border the Great Lakes.