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.

 

 

Breaking Defense Interviews the Commandant

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) meets with then-Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) meets with then-Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Breaking Defense’s Robbin Laird has an Interview with the Commandant and speculates on the prospects for the Coast Guard under the new administration and DHS selectee General John Kelly.

Trump, Kelly, & The Coast Guard: Exclusive Interview With Adm. Zukunft

Its a good one, and even the comments are worth reading. There is much of the same we have heard before. The Commandant has a clear and consistant message and agenda, but there is more detail about a possible role in the far Western Pacific.

“I have discussed with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, the senior officer in the Navy) the concept that we would create a permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas,” Zukunft said. “This would allow us to expand our working relationship with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. We can spearhead work with allies on freedom of navigation exercises as well.”

This is the first time I have seen the phrase “permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas.” Does that mean we will have a CG patrol squadron working out of Sinagpore or Okinawa (or Cam Ranh Bay), like the one in Bahrain? Or are we just looking at the Webber class WPCs we already know are going to Guam? (Must be more to it than that.) I do think we should put some OPCs in Guam, if only to patrol the EEZ in the Western Pacific.

Until recently we might have considered the possibility of basing in the Philippines, but that no longer looks like a possibility.

What ever you may think of the incoming administration, for the Coast Guard at least, it looks promising.

Thanks to Luke for bringing this to my attention. 

Brookings Institute–A conversation with Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard Admiral Paul F. Zukunft

Another video, this one almost an hour.

Commandant’s Strategic Intent, Mid-Term Report

Coast Guard Capt. Douglas Nash, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Sation Sacramento, salutes a Coast Guard C-27J pilot during a change of watch ceremony at Air Station Sacramento's hanger in McClellan Park, Thursday, July 1, 2016. The ceremony marked the final day that an HC-130 Hercules crew stood the watch at Air Station Sacramento and introduced the newest aircraft. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Loumania Stewart

Procurement of 14 C-27J aircraft was one of the achievements sited. C-27Js replace C-130s at CGAS Sacramento. 

The Commandant has issued a mid-term update on his earlier published “Strategic Intent, 2015-2019” (pdf). The new document is available in pdf format. You can find it here: “United States Coast Guard Commandant’s Strategic Intent, 2015-2019, Mid-Term Report.”

It is relatively short and readable at 21 pages. The recurring themes of the Commandant’s administration are all there, starting with TOC (transnational organized crime) and its deleterious effect on Western Hemisphere governance and prosperity. It does read a little like an Officer Evaluation Report input.

There is nothing particularly surprising here, but even for me, the enumeration of the scope the Coast Guard’s authorities, responsibilities, and international contacts is still mind boggling.

I am not going to try to summarize the report, but there were a few things that struck me.

The Commandant mentions service life extension programs for the seagoing buoy tenders (already begun), the 47 foot MLBs, and the 87 foot WPBs (in the future), but there is no mention of what we will do about the inland tender fleet. There will also be a life extension program for helicopters before they are finally replaced.

“Extend the service life of our rotary wing assets and align with DOD’s Future Vertical Lift initiative.”

There is mention of a program I was not aware of, the “Defense Threat Reduction Agency National Coast Watch System project.” The Defense Threat Reduction Agency attempts to track and reduce the WMD threat. It is not really clear what our role is here. We know about the container inspection programs in foreign ports. Is that it, or is there more to this? (that can be discussed at an unclassified level.)

French Navy Using Satellites for Maritime Domain Awareness Including CG Missions

Navy Recognition is reporting a contract between the French Navy and a consortium of Airbus Defence and Space and Telespazio France that would provide “user-friendly” 24 hour a day access to satellite derived  optical and radar imaging and AIS (Automatic Identification System) data to each maritime zone command.

Airbus Defence and Space and Telespazio France will be utilising a unique combination of satellites for the Trimaran 2 service, which supplements the range of resources already implemented by the French Navy and form an integral part of its operations concept. This contract, which runs from 2016 to 2020, will improve the effectiveness of the Navy’s missions on the world’s oceans: whether combating trafficking, preventing illegal immigration, performing search and rescue operations at sea, detecting pollution and toxic discharges, or monitoring protected maritime areas. (emphasis applied–Chuck)

France has a huge Exclusive Economic Zone, second only to that of the US and very nearly as large, but its Navy, which also does Coast Guard functions, is smaller than the US Coast Guard.

Apparently the same contractors are providing similar data to the Australian Border Force and the European Maritime Safety Agency (EMSA).

Sensor Hosting Autonomous Remote Craft (SHARC)

These little Unmanned Surface Vehicles (USVs) may be one way to enhance our Maritime Domain Awareness. They have already traveled a million nautical miles.

NavyRecognition has the story.

I could see a line of these in the Eastern Pacific, used to detect drug smuggling semi-submersibles.

Perhaps we will also see them used to cue Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessels.(ACTUV) or maritime patrol aircraft to the presence of submarines. It might not be too expensive to provide a line of them covering an entire trans oceanic route.

There will almost certainly be a war time role for launching these or something similar. Maybe a role for our buoy tenders.

Good News–and Bad, from the Western Pacific

A great New York Times article , “Palau vs the Poachers,” looking at Palau’s attempts to police their waters as a microcosm of the problems created by poaching and overfishing.

I’ll repeat my oft stated contention that we do not spend nearly enough time in the Western Pacific where the US has a huge chunk of Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). There is a new Marine Reserve to protect. Plus we have an obligation to help former US territories that are now independent island nations struggling to effectively protect their own fisheries.

The work of “SkyTruth” and Google in crowd sourcing fisheries intelligence recounted here is encouraging, but there is simply to little enforcement. There were a couple of paragraphs that particularly stood out to me.

The oceans belong to everyone and no one, and the general perception is that they are too big to need protection. We also tend to think of fish as an ever-regenerating crop, there forever for our taking. But roughly 90 percent of the world’s ocean stocks are depleted or overexploited; one study predicts that by 2050, the sea could contain more plastic waste than fish. Though most governments have neither the inclination nor the resources to patrol the oceans, Palau is trying a different approach, and whether it succeeds or fails may have consequences for the entire planet.

In the span of one human lifetime, humankind has become brutally adept at plundering the seas. In the late 1940s, the annual global catch was roughly 16.5 million tons; now, after decades of innovation, this number is about 94 million tons. ‘‘That’s equivalent in weight of the entire human population at the turn of the 20th century, removed from the sea each and every year,’’ Paul Greenberg, an author of books about fish and seafood, told me.