“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.

“Cooperative Maritime Law Enforcement and Overfishing in the South China Sea” –CIMSEC

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.

Earlier, I had a suggestion about how we might form an instrument of cooperative enforcement by forming a “Combined Maritime Security Task Force Pacific,” a law enforcement alliance rather than a military one.

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.

 

“Hellenic Coast Guard Testing Tethered Aerostat for FRONTEX Mission” –Naval News

Aerostat being tested by the Hellenic Coast Guard for FRONTEX.

Naval News reports that the Hellenic Coast Guard is doing something of a 28 day comparison test between land based and Aerostat based surveillance systems on the island of Samos.

Putting a radar at 1000 meters should provide a radar horizon of about 70 nautical miles and allow detection of a 50 foot high target at up to 79 miles.

Maritime Domain Awareness–Indian Style

Display of maritime traffic provided by AIS. Only vessels equipped with AIS are displayed, which excludes most fishing boats, pleasure craft, inland navigation and vessels less than 300 tons. Location: Dover Straits/English Channel. Author: fr:User:Pline

NavyRecognition provides some information on what India is doing to maintain Maritime Domain Awareness.

Since the 2008 terrorist attack on Mumbai, they have made a strong effort to monitor marine traffic. An earlier discussion and links to related topics here.

Capacity Building in North Africa

Photo: Maritime Enforcement Specialist 2nd Class Joe Kelly, a U.S. Coast Guardsman, demonstrates tactical combat casualty care during a training session at Phoenix Express on March 26, 2019.
ARIF PATANI/U.S. NAVY

Stars and Stripes reports on Exercise Phoenix Express 2019 and apparently the Coast Guard was there. It makes sense because this, like Exercise Obangame Express, was a law enforcement capacity building exercise sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). I have reproduced a Navy news release below.

——-

CASABLANCA, Morocco (NNS) — Exercise Phoenix Express 2019, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet (CNE-CNA/C6F), concluded with a closing ceremony held at the Royal Moroccan Naval Simulation and Training Center, April 6.

Phoenix Express is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness, information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities in order to enhance efforts to promote safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.

The complexity of today’s security environment and the interconnectedness of a global economy demand that we operate together to deter maritime threats,” said Rear Adm. Matthew Zirkle, Chief of Staff, U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet. “An effective global security strategy therefore must be collaborative in order to disrupt the flow of illicit trafficking and prevent the spread of violent extremism.”

This year’s exercise control group was hosted at the Royal Moroccan Naval Simulation and Training Center located in Casablanca, Morocco with training taking place throughout the Mediterranean Sea, to include territorial waters off the coast of northern African nations.

The at-sea portion of the exercise tested North African, European, and U.S. maritime forces abilities to respond to irregular migration and combat illicit trafficking. Additionally, forces participated in a port exercise (PORTEX), which incorporated Moroccan law enforcement into the scenario.

“Exercises like Phoenix Express are about working together to combat threats at-sea that impact safety and security ashore,” said Capt. Matthew Hawkins, U.S. exercise lead for Phoenix Express. “Our modern challenges are far too complex for any one nation to resolve and it is my hope that the scenarios practiced here and the addition of new training like the PORTEX are value added for all participants.”

“Many years after it started Phoenix Express has proven that regional cooperation is the best way to face maritime threats and issues,” said Royal Moroccan Navy Inspector General, Rear Admiral Mostapha El Alami. “AFRICOM and Naval Forces Africa (NAVAF) have spent a lot of time, effort, and energy to bring together most of the maritime states in the Mediterranean basin in order to enhance military cooperation between them and allow them to work as one team.”

“Exercise Phoenix Express is the most enduring event of all the Express-series exercises. It incorporates complex scenarios, which evolve year over year just as the maritime threats we all face continue to evolve,” said Zirkle. “It is my sincere hope that your navies were enriched by this immensely valuable opportunity to operate together.”

Nations who participated in Phoenix Express 2019 included Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Mauritania, Morocco, Netherlands, Spain, Tunisia, United Kingdom and the United States.

Phoenix Express, sponsored by AFRICOM and facilitated by U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa/U.S. 6th Fleet, is designed to improve regional cooperation, increase maritime domain awareness information-sharing practices, and operational capabilities to enhance efforts to achieve safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea.

 

 

“Northrop pitches optionally manned Firebird to monitor Australia’s coasts” –Defense News

As you may know, the Coast Guard is planning on procuring medium altitude, Long Range/Ultra Long Endurance (LR?ULE) Unmanned Air Systems to enhance Maritime Domain Awareness. I was surprised to find, there may be a contender I was not aware of, and it already has a US government customer, although who it is, is not clear at this time.

Defense News reports Northrop Grumman has proposed an optionally manned aircraft to meet an Australian  Border Force maritime surveillance requirement. The plane, the Firebird, is a product of Scaled Composites

“Firebird is a medium-altitude, long-endurance aircraft with a 30-hour endurance, with a nominal payload. Chappel said the aircraft has been tested with more than 24 different intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance payloads, which can be swapped in 30 minutes. The initial customer is the U.S. government.”

Scaled Composites is a part of Northrop Grumman now, but originally it was Burt Rutan’s  company. Rutan was known “for designing light, strong, unusual-looking, energy-efficient aircraft. He designed the record-breaking Voyager, which in 1986 was the first plane to fly around the world without stopping or refueling, and the sub-orbitalspaceplaneSpaceShipOne, which won the Ansari X-Prize in 2004 for becoming the first privately funded spacecraft to enter the realm of space twice within a two-week period. With his VariEze and Long-EZ designs, Rutan is responsible for helping popularize both the canard configuration and the use of moldless composite construction in the homebuilt aircraft industry.” Now Scaled Composites functions as Northrop Grumman’s Skunk Works.

Meanwhile the Navy is also procuring unmanned systems with a similar capability in the form of another Northrop Grumman system, the MQ-4C Triton, which is a high altitude system. Hopefully there will be a sharing of information, but inevitably Navy and Coast Guard interests differ. Still the systems might prove complementary.

USCG Navigation Center: Steering a steady course for safe, secure, efficient waterways–MarineLink

The above screenshot shows the display of the virtual aid to navigation established in partnership between the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the Mississippi River. The virtual aid is significant in that it allows mariners to see a hazard when it is not possible to place a floating aid to mark it. U.S. Coast Guard image.

Marine Link has a very interesting post on the Coast Guard’s Navigation Center. It discusses its role in management of aids-to-navigation, issuance of Notice to Mariners, interface with NOAA and the Army Corps of Engineers, maintenance of GPS including ground based differential GPS equipment, Automatic Information System (AIS) monitoring and quality control, long range tracking of US flag merchant ships, and maintenance of a Maritime Domain Awareness within 1000 miles of the US.

Japan Coast Guard expands Liquid-Robotics’ Wave Glider Fleet–NavyRecognition

We have discussed the Liquid Robotics Wave Glider before, as a way to improve Maritime Domain Awareness, noting it is being used by the Brits for fisheries monitoring and by Boeing in support of the US Navy.

Now NavyRecognition brings us a report that the Japanese are using it to monitor the environment providing real time information

Certainly better information about surface currents could help us in search planning.

Coast Guard Space Program

Photo: This photo shows the Norwegian student satellite NCUBE2 ready for shipment to the Netherlands for integration with the ESA student satellite SSETI-Express, photographer, Bjørn Pedersen, NTNU.

Acquisitions Directorate reports that the Coast Guard is planning to have two satellites launched to provide additional EPIRB detection capability primarily in the Arctic.

Coast Guard Preparing To Launch Its First Satellites

Dec. 14. 2017

Two small satellites, scheduled for launch in 2018, will provide the Coast Guard with the opportunity to test the effectiveness of satellite communications in supporting Arctic search and rescue missions.

These satellites, or “cubesats,” are capable of detecting transmissions from emergency position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs), which are carried on board vessels to broadcast their position if in distress. The Coast Guard will deploy the cubesats in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Science and Technology Directorate’s Polar Scout program, the Air Force Operationally Responsive Space Office, and the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

There is more in the linked article. The satellites are cubes only 10 cm (3.9″) on a side. It is impossible to have geostationary satellites over the poles so coverage will be intermittent.

 

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.