“Check out these otherworldly photos from a Coast Guard cutter’s trip into the Arctic” –Navy Times Observation Post

Campbell alongside the Royal Danish Navy vessel. (Seaman Kate Kilroy/U.S. Coast Guard)

The Navy Times “Observation Post” has a series of great photos taken during USCGC Campbell’s two month deployment to waters off Canada and Greenland, most of it north of the Arctic circle. The photos feature operations with the Danish Offshore Patrol Vessel HDMS Knud Rasmussen.

Below my remarks is the Atlantic Area news release on the operation, and it is extremely well done.

Comparing the two ships:

The two ships make an interesting comparison. Knud Rasmussen is almost the same displacement as Campbell, but has a smaller crew (18) than the Webber class WPCs, while the Campbell has a crew of about 100. Campbell is 20 years older. Both have flight decks, but only Campbell has a hangar.

  • Knud Rasmussen is shorter (71.8 m (235 ft 7 in) vs 270 ft (82 m)),
  • but broader (14.6 m (47 ft 11 in) vs 38 ft (12 m)),
  • and a bit slower (17 vs 19.5 knots) on almost exactly the same horsepower (7,300 vs 7,000),
  • with much less range (3000 nmi vs 9,900).

The Danish ship is “designed to operate in difficult ice conditions mainly without icebreaker assistance” (Finnish-Swedish ice class, 1A Super) including “Summer/autumn operation in medium first-year ice, which may include old ice inclusions” (Polar Class PC 6). The Campbell is not ice rated.

The LCP, SAR2, is approaching offshore patrol vessel EJNAR MIKKELSEN a Knod Rasmussen class sister ship. (Photo: Johnny E. Balsved)

The Knud Rasmussen is equipped with three boats, one 10.8 meter (35.4 ft) launched from a stern ramp (photo above), one seven meter (23 ft), and a 4.8 meter (16 ft). The Campbell has two boats, a 26 ft (8 meter) “Over the Horizon Cutter Boat” and a 22 ft (6.7 meter) “Cutter Boat, Large.”

Both use the same Oto Melara 76 mm gun. Both have a pair of crew served 12.7mm .50 cal. machine guns. The Knud Rasmussen uses Denmark’s StanFlex system of containerized weapons. It has two StanFlex positions, one occupied by the 76mm gun, and a second one that could be used to provide a 6-cell Mk 48 Mod 3 launcher (location is not clear). Each cell could launch one RIM-7 Sea Sparrow or two Evolved Sea Sparrow missiles (ESSM) for a total of up to 12 missiles. The Danish vessel is also equipped to launch MU90 light weight torpedoes. This is normally considered an ASW torpedo, but there is no indication the Knud Rasmussen has a sonar. There are four StanFlex modules for Thales Underwater Systems TSM 2640 Salmon variable-depth active/passive sonar, but those are most likely to go on the four Thales class patrol frigates. The torpedo does have a minimum navigational depth of only three meters (10 ft).

united states coast guard

News Release

U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area
Contact: Coast Guard Atlantic Area Public Affairs
Phone: (757) 452-8336
After Hours: uscglantarea@gmail.com
Atlantic Area online newsroom

U.S. Coast Guard conducts joint Arctic operations, scientific research off Greenland

Argus Campbell smallboat and iceberg
Joint ops with the Danish navy Greenland's Premier Kim Kielsen aboard Campbell 

Editors’ note: To view more imagery or download please click images above and visit http://bit.ly/WMEC909Arctic

KITTERY, Maine — U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Campbell (WMEC 909) returned to homeport Tuesday, following a two-month deployment supporting joint Arctic operations off Greenland’s western coast.

Campbell’s crew contributed to joint exercises, research and development efforts, and critical diplomatic engagements while covering more than 11,500 miles (10,000 nautical miles).

“I am very proud of the efforts and adaptability of every one of Campbell’s crew who demonstrated the ability to operate and execute our mission aboard one of the finest Famous-class cutters in the fleet, said Capt. Thomas Crane, commanding officer of Campbell. “Their dedication to duty and commitment to the Coast Guard helps to affirm the United States as an Arctic nation. It is also a credit to the name Campbell and our five predecessors. In addition to notable narcotics seizures and being the command ship for the 1996 TWA 800 recovery, we are now the first 270-foot medium endurance cutter to earn the Arctic Service Medal.”

Campbell sailed with additional support, including an embarked MH-65 Dolphin helicopter and aviation detachment consisting of two pilots and four aircrew, including a rescue swimmer. In all, eight shipriders augmented the 100 person crew during the patrol, assisting in operations, providing health services, and documenting the journey.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to be a part of this historic mission and am glad our crew’s experiences will be shared with family, friends, and future generations,” said Crane. “Going to sea is challenging and requires personal sacrifices both from our crew and loved ones left onshore. Still, the camaraderie, teamwork, and pride of our crew are the reasons I go to sea. Campbell is a great ship with a great crew able to execute missions of strategic national significance amid a global pandemic.”

In early August, Campbell departed Kittery for Nuuk, Greenland, to participate in joint search and rescue exercise operations with French and Royal Danish naval assets.

“This effort strengthens international partnerships and provides a foundation for standard operations in the rapidly developing Arctic maritime environment,” said Vice Adm. Steven Poulin, commander U.S. Coast Guard Atlantic Area. “As interest and maritime traffic in the area increases, the importance of the U.S. Coast Guard’s interoperability with allied partners becomes more critical to ensuring we protect national and shared security interests. Exercising our unique blend of polar operational capability, regulatory authority, and international leadership across the full spectrum of maritime governance is vital to the future of the Arctic.”

The Kingdom of Denmark defense force’s Joint Arctic Command Search and Rescue Exercise ARGUS included 13 simulated coastal and open-ocean scenarios, evaluating processes and interoperability through communications testing, vessel towing evolutions, rescue boat training, and helicopter sea and land operations.

Campbell’s crew employed its embarked Dolphin crew extensively, conducting joint evolutions and professional maritime exchanges with the Royal Danish navy vessels HDMS Knud Rasmussen and HDMS Triton. They also applied NATO procedures to test interoperability with regard to ship controlled approaches, launch, recovery, and hoisting. The crews conducted joint U.S.-Danish surface and air operations in Eternity Fjord and Disko Bay, Greenland, the most active iceberg-producing area globally.

Professional exchanges with HDMS Knud Rasmussen provide an opportunity to gain valuable navigation knowledge along Greenland’s coastline and fjord system. Campbell patrolled the Labrador Sea waters, Davis Strait, and the Baffin Bay, navigating Greenland’s largely uncharted western coast, including ice-laden bays and fjords, often using rudimentary sounding data as electronic charts are unavailable for the area. Throughout the patrol, Campbell safely completed over 200 helicopter evolutions, including 16 joint evolutions with the Danish navy.

In support of the National Oceanic Atmospheric Association, International Ice Patrol, and Coast Guard Research and Development Center, Campbell’s crew conducted testing of specialized equipment and resources in the Arctic environment. They deployed oceanographic research buoys across Baffin Bay, the Labrador Sea, and the North Atlantic to measure ocean currents and wave heights that influence iceberg drift and deterioration.

“This valuable data can provide a better understanding of the lifecycle of icebergs that impact transatlantic shipping lanes,” said Mike Hicks, of the International Ice Patrol.

IIP also analyzed 317 synthetic aperture radar and multi-spectral images from satellites to monitor iceberg danger during Campbell’s operations. This effort, led by IIP’s Lt. Don Rudnickas, denotes the first time in history, novel, scalable, and tailored iceberg warning products were produced with only satellite observations, depicting iceberg danger at higher granularity using oceanographic models to provide forecasted iceberg positions.

“This input significantly shapes the future of iceberg warning products in the North Atlantic and expands the capability of IIP to provide direct, tailorable support to vessels operating independently; an ability beyond the IIP’s statutory mission, but one that is likely to become highly desired with increasing Arctic operations,” said Hicks.

Mr. Matthew Lees was the RDC Demonstrations Liaison and coordinated technology evaluations for the patrol. These included:
– An Iridium Certus Terminal which helped provide internet access for the crew to maintain communications with Atlantic Area;
– Two different enhanced night vision goggle devices improved law enforcement and flight operations, even integrated into ship’s display screens;
– A Long Range Acoustic Device, also known as an LRAD, was evaluated for enhanced communications with vessels at longer distances;
– A handheld Glare Helios Green Laser tested for similar stand-off hailing capabilities.

The crew also learned essential lessons using a FiFish Remotely Operated Vehicle in cold weather to conduct underwater inspections.

“As cruise ship and commercial vessel traffic increases through the Northwest Passage, Campbell’s recent patrol highlights our commitment to ensuring the safety and security of U.S. citizens,” said Rear Adm. Thomas Allan, commander Coast Guard 1st District. “This was also a fantastic demonstration of how we work with our partners as we seek to respect sovereignty, maximize the use of our assets, and promote environmental stewardship.”

They facilitated multiple key diplomatic engagement opportunities throughout their Arctic deployment. Campbell’s crew welcomed aboard Danish Maj. Gen. Kim Joergensen, commander of Joint Arctic Command, and Mr. Sung Choi, U.S. consul in Nuuk. Campbell’s diplomatic work was underscored by the opportunity to host Greenland’s Premier, Mr. Kim Kielsen, signifying the importance of international cooperation for the region.

“Campbell’s efforts continue the United States’ strong relationship with Greenland, furthering a positive foundation for how the Coast Guard will interact and operate in the region,” said Poulin. “As an Arctic nation, cooperation and understanding of the dynamic and ever-changing Arctic operating environment is vital. The U.S. Coast Guard is the primary polar and Arctic surface operator of the U.S. military. The Coast Guard is committed to working collaboratively with like-minded partners through exercises like ARGUS strengthening global maritime security, regional stability, and economic prosperity.”

“Coast Guard Sails Medium Cutter North of Arctic Circle as Nanook Exercise Kicks Off” –USNI

The US Naval Institute News reports that

“The Coast Guard for the first time in years sent one of its medium-endurance cutters to the Atlantic Ocean north of the Arctic Circle, as the sea service joins the U.S. and Canadian navies for a yearly maritime exercise.”

This is Operation NANOOK-TUUGAALIK 2020, the maritime portion of Operation NANOOK. In past years, when the Coast Guard participated, we usually sent a buoy tender. I don’t believe it has ever happened before, but this year the US Navy is sending a destroyer. According to Naval Technology,

“Participating assets include USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) guided-missile destroyer, the Royal Canadian Navy ships HMCS Glace Bay, HMCS Ville de Quebec, and MV Asterix; DDG 116, US Helicopter Maritime Strike (HSM) 46.2, the US Coast Guard cutter USCGC Tahoma, French Navy coastal patrol vessel FS Fulmar, and the Royal Danish Navy frigate HDMS Triton.” (Photos below–Chuck)

The Navy seems to be particularly concerned about doing small boat ops in the Arctic environment.

“We’ve really heavily relied on partners, including the Coast Guard, who have recent experience operating there,” he said.

Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer USS Thomas Hudner (DDG 116) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Brian G. Reynolds/Released)

Canadian frigate HMCS Ville de Quebec

Danish frigate HDMS Triton F358 in Reykjavik – Iceland (2016). Photo credit: CJ Sayer via Wikipedia

Royal Canadian Navy supply ship MV Asterix (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jimmie Crockett/Released)

Canadian navy Kingston-class maritime coastal defense vessel HMCS Glace Bay (MM 701) (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Rafael Martie/Released)

FS FULMAR P740. Description: Owned by French Navy and crewed by Gendarmarie. Built as fishing vessel ‘Jonathan’1991 at Boulogne,re-built 1996/97 at Lorient for French Navy as patrol boat, LOA 39M; beam 8.5M; draught 4.7M. Displmt:680 tons full load. Note French Coastguard (AEM) stripes on bow. Vessel based on St.Pierre et Miquelon,off S.West coast Newfoundland.Photo credit © tabarly

USCGC Tahoma (WMEC-908)

“Why NATO Needs a Standing Maritime Group in the Arctic” –CIMSEC

NoCGV Svalbard (W303), an icebreaker and offshore patrol vessel of the Norwegian Coast Guard (Kystvakten).

A recent CIMSEC article makes a case for a standing NATO group in the Arctic.

“…NATO needs to improve its capability and capacity to operate on the Arctic front. In order to deter the Russian threat and safeguard maritime security, sustained presence in the region is needed. To this end, NATO should create a new standing maritime group dedicated to the Arctic and separate from the maritime groups focused elsewhere.


“Instead of relying exclusively on frigates and destroyers from NATO navies to form the new group, NATO should look to its coast guards as well, recognizing that many of these forces field ships that are optimized for Arctic operations.”

The post also sees a standing NATO Group as a counter to Chinese militarization of the Arctic as well,

“How China might move to militarize the Arctic is anyone’s guess, but its 2018 white paper on the Arctic, as summarized by Lieutenant Commander Rachel Gosnell, USN, clearly states China’s interests in the region, and it has plans to protect them. While much of the paper touts adherence to international law, the world has very little reason to believe China will do so. One example of how China could move to militarize the Arctic is on the back of its seemingly benign fishing fleet. China has stated it has inherent rights to the fish migrating to the Arctic because of its large population. And where China’s fishing fleet goes, militarization will soon follow, as has been demonstrated already by Chinese fishing “militias.””

My take:

While I earlier I suggested something similar for the Western Pacific, a “Combined Maritime Security Task Force Pacific,” a maritime law enforcement alliance between Asian nations and other interested parties (probably including the US, Australia, France, and New Zealand) to ensure a rules based maritime environment in the Western Pacific, the situation in the Arctic is very different. 

A picture taken on November 16, 2011 from a South Korean helicopter shows Chinese boats banded together with ropes, chased by a coastguard helicopter and rubber boats packed with commandoes, after alleged illegal fishing in South Korean waters in the Yellow Sea.
Credit: Dong-A-Ilbo

In the Western Pacific, multi-unit cooperation is desirable to push back against Chinese bullying of her neighbors. Huge numbers of fishing vessels including many that are Chinese maritime militia, backed by Chinese Coast Guard vessels, can overwhelm and intimidate individual enforcement vessels. They have even been known to be violent. Having numerous international witnesses on scene can counter the Chinese narrative. So far we are not seeing huge Chinese fishing fleets in the Arctic.

Certainly we can benefit from international cooperation and coordination in the Arctic, for now at least, a wide ranging dispersal of assets, rather than concentration seems more appropriate.

A Combined Interagency Task Force (or maybe two), modeled on our Joint Interagency Task Force (JIATF) but including staff from other Arctic nations rather than a grouping of ships, might be a better near term solution. (In considering a “Freedom of Navigation Operation” through the Northern Sea Route, former USCG Commandant, Admiral Zukunft, even suggested formation of a JIATF–Arctic based on an augmented JTF Alaska.)  Missions potentially include SAR, Environmental Protection, and Fisheries Protection. Those concerns, have been to some extent addressed by the Arctic Coast Guard Forum. For now at least, Russia shares those interests. 

The limits:

In the CIMSEC article, there is discussion about the possibility of “Freedom of Navigation Operations” through the Northern Sea Route. Canada is likely to side with Russia on this question, because they consider the North West Passage Canadian internal waters.

Communications in the far North are still difficult. Recently the Commandant noted the difficulty of maintaining communications with USCGC Healy.

Western nations’ access to the Arctic is limited to widely separated Pacific and Atlantic Approaches. Inevitably we have to see the Arctic as two separate theaters. The Arctic Ocean that we approach from the Atlantic and the Arctic Ocean approached from the Pacific.

While Russia actually has naval bases in the Arctic, Western nations generally do not. The only exceptions are Sortland Norway where the Norwegian Coast Guard has their headquarters and Northern base, and Nanisivik, where Canada has converted a former mining site to a refueling station near the Eastern Entrance to the North West Passage.

The US has no Navy bases in Alaska. On the Atlantic side, the US Navy has no surface vessels based north of the Virginia Capes. The US Coast Guard has no ice-capable vessels larger than large buoy tenders (WLBs) based on the Atlantic side. Basing for future USCG medium icebreakers has not be made public. 

Canada is building eight Harry DeWolf class ice-strengthened “Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships,” six for the Navy and two for their Coast Guard.

Canada has no true naval bases in the Arctic, though their bases are further north than those of the US. Denmark patrols Greenland waters from Naval Base Frederikshavn on the Jutland peninsula. Sweden and Finland extend above the Arctic circle, but they have no coast line on the Arctic Ocean. Iceland is just below the Arctic Circle.

What we can do: 

A comprehensive common NATO operational picture of the Arctic and its approaches is desirable and doable. There are probably economies possible in maintaining air surveillance over the Arctic access points.

Icelandic Coast Guard Cutter Thor. Photo credit: Claus Ableiter

What is in place?:

We have the Arctic Coast Guard Forum.

Denmark has a Joint Arctic Command for the defense of Greenland and the Faroe Islands Area.

Canada has a Joint Task Force (North) and exercises annually under the name Operation Nanook. The US Coast Guard has participated in Operation Nanook at least three times.

Pacific Area Coast Guard, Third Fleet, and Canada’s Maritime Forces Pacific have been in discussion, but it does not appear that the Arctic was high on their agenda.

What we lack:

Seems a good next step would be a standing staff, to maintain maritime domain awareness of activities in the Arctic, and coordinate cooperative international monitoring efforts.

Do we include the Russian? Good question, but they may currently have the best information about what is going on in the Arctic.