Why do the authors, two Navy LCdr. and a Marine Capt., think this? They contend:
Their destroyers are overworked.
The Navy is having a hard time keeping their ships maintained.
Cutters are less intimidating
and less expensive
If the Chinese start playing bumper boats with Destroyers, they might damage expensive equipment. “…if a ship from the Chinese Navy, Coast Guard, or maritime militia were to ram a U.S. vessel conducting a FONOP, the ensuing visuals, narratives, and potential loss of combat capability would be starkly different between a Navy gray hull and a Coast Guard white hull.”
They talk about using LCS as an alternative, but then denigrate the possibility,
The Navy has rightfully used littoral combat ships (LCSs) to conduct limited FONOPs in the South China Sea, somewhat relieving overworked destroyers like the USS John S. McCain. However, the smaller LCS’s myriad of problems, curtailed acquisition numbers, and early retirement of the first four hulls mean the Navy will soon have to lean even more heavily on larger and generally older ships. With only 10 to 14 cruisers and destroyers available to Seventh Fleet at any given time, the Navy can ill-afford to use these high-demand, low-density, Aegis ships for FONOPs.
This, in spite of the fact, that LCS have only recently begun making regular deployments to the Western Pacific and LCSs are being added to the fleet at a rate of four per year.
First, I have no problem with Cutters doing FONOPs when they are in the Western Pacific, but that should not be the only reason, they are there.
US Navy ships are not overworked. That is a fiction. Having looked at the “USNI News Fleet and Marine Tracker” over many years, I can say, Navy ships are typically deployed about one third of the time, and they are underway only about 25% of the time, far less than Coast Guard cutters. That is not to say the people are not overworked, by burdensome administrative and overly broad qualification requirements for their junior officers. The ships are behind in maintenance because of lack of support, not time underway. Ships don’t need to spend 75% of their time, tied up in maintenance, to remain effective.
In war time, well over half the navy should be underway and forward deployed. The fact that they cannot support a much smaller forward presence, of which much of the time is not underway, in peacetime, points to a serious deficit in the Navy’s support structure. Where are the repairs ships, the tenders, the floating dry docks that allow a navy to be truly expeditionary?
If the Navy does not want to use carriers, cruisers, or destroyers for FONOPs because they are afraid of having them damaged, there are other alternatives. They could use amphibs: LHAs, LHDs, LPDs, and LSDs. They could use Military Sealift Command ships. MSC ships are clearly not as intimidating as carriers, cruisers, and destroyers. Were they to be damaged “the ensuing visuals, narratives, and potential loss of combat capability would be starkly different…”
I would suggest using the new Navaho class tug and salvage ships. They are an excellent choice for playing bumper boats. They have strong steel hulls and are powerful enough to tow a nuclear-powered carrier. Their hulls are reinforced to allow hull to hull contact with other ships. Plus, they are a lot less expensive. Even less expensive than a Coast Guard cutter.
But really, using tugs or cutters to do FONOP kind of misses the point. The Chinese and the Russians are not upset because foreign ships are transiting waters they claim. They are upset because foreign warships are transiting the waters the claim. If we stop sending warships into the waters they claim, we are creating a defacto case that they have a right to such exclusion. That Coast Guard cutters may not be considered warships would weaken our case that, foreign warships in these waters is the norm.
Republic of Korea Coast Guard vessel #3006 in company with U.S. Coast Guard cutter USCGC Boutwell (WHEC-719) during the North Pacific Coast Guard Forum in August 2007. This forum was created to increase international maritime safety and security in the Northern Pacific Ocean and its borders. The Boutwell worked with the Korean coast guard while on their way to Yokosuka, Japan. The Japanese coast guard is one of the six nations involved in the forum.
CIMSEC brings us a discussion of the possibility of cooperative fisheries enforcement in the South China Sea to stop both overfishing and Illegal, Unregulated, Unreported (IUU) fishing and perhaps bring China into a more mutually beneficial relationship with her neighbors.
Probably before that could be fully realized, the various nations with competing claims to the waters of the South China Sea, need to take their claims to the UN’s International Tribunal. The more nations use it, the more pressure on China to participate. If, they do not present a cases before the international their claims will be weakened.
“The so-called Quad group of Indo-Pacific maritime democracies – Australia, India, Japan, and the United States – is a valuable grouping, although it is still under utilized in many ways. One of the most effective ways that these countries could work together to enhance maritime security in the Indo-Pacific would be through coordinating the work of their coast guard agencies.”
While India in particular, is adverse to committing to a military alliance, these nations share a commitment to a rules based international system.
Quadrilateral cooperation through the countries’ coast guards could provide an answer to this political problem. As principally law-enforcement agencies, coast guards can provide many practical benefits in building a stable and secure maritime domain, without the overtones of a military alliance.
Using ship-riders, this sort of cooperation could go beyond capacity building and uphold the norms of international behavior. It might lead to the kind of standing maritime security task force I advocated earlier. When coast guards are in conflict, having multiple coast guards on scene could insure that instead of a “he said, she said” situation, we could have a “he said, we say” situation that would show a united front against bullying.
Military.com reported on the possibility of a greater Coast Guard role in South East Asia and capacity building in Africa. It probably should be noted that the title, “Coast Guard Could Send Ship to Pacific to ‘Temper Chinese Influence’,”is a bit deceptive in that the Commandant’s remark about tempering Chinese Influence was in regard to Oceania, the islands of the Central and Western Pacific. The Commandant was quoted in the Seapower post, “In the Oceania region, there are places where helping them protect their interests, tempering that Chinese influence, is absolutely essential.”
Note on the author from the referenced post: “Michael Sinclair is an active duty Coast Guard officer with 20 years of service. In addition to eight years working as a judge advocate he has served as a patrol boat captain in the Arabian Gulf. He Is finishing a Masters of Law in National Security from Georgetown University and will soon be the Coast Guard’s legislative counsel. The views here are his own and do not reflect those of the Coast Guard or the Department of Homeland Security. For a more in-depth analysis on the prospects of a “Coast Guard” for space, read this draft of his forthcoming academic paper.”
“… America would be better served by consolidating all commercial launch-to-orbit-to-landing oversight and regulatory functions within the “prevention” arm of a new “Space Guard.”A Space Guard, initially conceived of by Cynthia McKinley in 2000 and later expounded on by James Bennett in 2011, should optimally mirror the organizational structure of the Coast Guard, which generally separates its mission functions into broad categories of “prevention” and “response.” Prevention authorities are essentially regulatory authorities and response authorities are best categorized as operational authorities.”
He sees a number of parallel missions
Regulation and facilitation of navigation
Derelict destruction –Space Debris Mitigation
Search and Rescue
Vessel Traffic Control
“In order to truly establish effective space governance, the U.S. government should more fully consider capabilities, capacity, and partnerships for search and rescue, and really, the full spectrum of space activity.The authority to act does not mean a whole lot if there is no capability to execute the action, or the capacity is not sufficient to prove meaningful. Specifically, in the space search and rescue context, this would likely mean some sort of (optimally international) rescue coordination center working with in-space assets that were themselves permanently stationed and in sufficient numbers so that they would be available to render assistance, as needed.”
He sees a “Space Guard” as less escalatory than a “Space Force”
“…such an agency operating under the idea that it is at its core, a humanitarian organization focused on rescue and protection of all space actors, may be sufficiently de-escalatory so as to help mitigate against a potential arms race in space—a source of concern dating back to the Soviet Union’s launch of Sputnik itself, and seemingly resurgent with the increasingly aggressive postures of both Russia and China within the domain.”
For all the parallels with the oceans, space is yet to evolve many of the mechanisms we have regulating activities a sea.
Much of the Coast Guard’s authority is dependent on international acceptance of the idea of territorial sea and EEZ. There is nothing comparable in space.
As traffic increases, who will allocate orbits to prevent collisions?
What will stop the equivalent of flags of convenience in space?
The concept of a “Space Guard” tied to the concept of a Coast Guard in space may seem innocuous to Americans, but to the Russians, a “Guards” unit is an elite military unit. Such an organization will need to be international if it is to be seen as impartial and benevolent.
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.
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.
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 May issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is the Naval Review issue. It includes updates on the Coast Guard as well as the Navy and Marine corps that are behind the membership pay wall, but it also has an article, “Too Small to Answer the Call,” by Capt. David Ramassini, future CO of USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) that is accessible to all, and I think is worth a read.
Basically he is advocating using the Coast Guard internationally to build capacity and counter threats of lawlessness and poor governance in trouble spots all around the world. Below is his recommended building program.
Build a New Great White Fleet
Enhancing regional security in partnership with willing nations requires a 21st-century Great White Fleet of forward deployable (or stationed) national security cutters (NSCs), offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), and fast response cutters (FRC). The mix of platforms and duration of presence would be tailored to the distinct geographies and vary based on the receptiveness of the host nation(s), problem sets to be addressed, and mutual goals of the combatant commands and partner nations. Building on a proven bilateral approach for counterdrug operations and EEZ enforcement, the Great White Fleet would leverage existing agreements—based on the extent to which partner governments are willing—to strengthen CTOC (counter transnational organized crime–chuck) and CT (counter terrorism–Chuck) across the JIME (Joint Interagency Multinational Environment–Chuck).
From an acquisition perspective, doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100) programs equates to the projected cost of one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)-class aircraft carrier (approximately $13 billion). Furthermore, procuring an additional seven NSCs over the nine planned would cost the equivalent of one Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer (approximately $4.2 billion). The NSC and OPC both offer more than three times the on-station time between provisioning than is afforded by a littoral combat ship (LCS).
Building more OPCs also could rapidly grow the National Fleet by leveraging commercial shipyards outside the mainstream industrial complex. These shipyards may be able to provide better value to the government during an economic downturn in the oil and offshore supply industry. Further leveraging this acquisition would continue to drive down the cost of the OPCs and provide an additional industrial base to build a 400-ship National Fleet of ships with far lower operating and maintenance costs than the LCS.
Redirecting proposed future LCS/frigate dollars (approximately $14 billion) to a Great White Fleet to modernize the U.S. National Fleet mix would provide a greater return on investment and more staying power abroad. For instance, building international security cutters—NSCs with Navy-typed/Navy-owned enhancements such as the SeaRAM antiship cruise missile—could offer combatant commanders a truly useful “frigate,” leveraging mature production lines that now operate at only 70 percent capacity. These estimates are for relative comparison and do not include the associated aviation, infrastructure, basing support agreements, and personnel plus-ups that are needed to provide a more credible and persistent presence across the JIME. But investing in a larger Coast Guard and the supporting infrastructure would return high dividends.
I’m not sure I agree, but it is worth considering. We should, however, keep in mind a sentiment expressed by friend Bill Wells that white paint is not bullet proof. We should not perpetuate the idea that only white painted ships can enforce laws, that is a uniquiely American concept and perpetuating it plays into the hands of the Chinese, who have more coast guard ships than any other country in the world.
Still I think there is merit to this concept. It seems to be working for PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces South West Asia). There has already been talk about a similar deployment to SE Asia. We might consider similar detachments of various sizes for West Africa, the Eastern Pacific, and the Marshall Islands.
The additional ships, 7 NSCs, and “doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100)” Is clearly arbitrary. There is very little the NSCs can do that the OPCs will not also be able to do cheaper, so I don’t see a need for more NSCs.
If we take on additional international roles it probably will not be done in one fell swoop. It will probably be done incrementally. Captain Ramassini is clearly looking at this as a near term possibility. Some movement in this direction is clearly possible, but it will take a radical change in the Administration, the Navy, and the Coast Guard for this to happen on the scale he envisions.
Meanwhile, if you look at the “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study,” the Coast Guard actually needs 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs just to meet all of our statutory obligations. That is not far from his 16 NSCs, 50 OPCs, and 100 FRCs. The study and the “Great White Fleet” would both probide 66 large ships (NSCs and OPCs).
Actually the only way I see this happening is if there is a realization that keeping the USN constantly cycling through distant deployments may not be the best way to maintain readiness. That it wears out very expensive ships and drives people from the service, and that perhaps cutters can perform at least some of the presence missions.