What is an Ideal Coast Guard Military Readiness Mission? We Provide the Truck and Driver, Navy Provides the Load

A US Marine Corps Logistics Vehicle System Replacement truck carrying a standard shipping container with a Navy logistics vessel in the background. The Navy is now working on a project to develop a containerized electronic warfare and electronic intelligence system that will work on various naval, air, and ground platforms. USMC / Lance Cpl. Shawn Valosin

The US Coast Guard has had a long history of participation in almost every armed conflict the US Navy has engaged in. But there has always been a tension between peacetime economy and effectiveness and readiness for war.

Some military systems are essential for our peacetime missions, like minimal deck guns or muti-mode radars, we would probably have them, even if we had no wartime missions.

Some military equipment we would be unlikely to have, if we had no military missions, can enhance performance of peacetime missions, like data links and electronic warfare systems. These systems are welcome.

Then there are systems that would enhance our wartime effectiveness that have little or no utility in peacetime. If they require significant training and maintenance time, they can adversely effective peacetime economy and effectiveness. There is an argument to be made that these still offer good return on investment compared with making a similar investment in DOD assets, but diverting DHS assets to support DOD missions can be a hard sell.

Ideally, we would want Coast Guard assets to do their peacetime missions without having to think about wartime missions until mobilization, but when needed, DOD would quickly and easily add capabilities and trained operating personnel.

That is not always possible, but in some cases we might be able to come close to that.

The Danes showed how to make modular naval weapon and sensor systems with their SanFlex system. Now we regularly see announcement of some new modular system. Here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and  here.

TRAPS containerized active/passive towed array from GeoSpectrum Technologies.

Towed sonars can be containerized, here, here, and here.

I even proposed a containerized weapon system.

What I think we need, after determining the most appropriate mission set for Coast Guard units is a determination of what:

  • must be permanently installed and operated by Coast Guard personnel at all times,
  • what can be quickly installed and operated in the event of a crisis, and
  • what can be added in the form of modular equipment maintained by the Navy and to be operated by Navy Reserve personnel upon mobilization.

A primary example of the latter would be an ASW helicopter. Unmanned systems also look like likely candidates for systems that could be quickly added to Coast Guard vessels.

Unmanned mine hunting and destruction equipment might be based on Coast Guard buoy tenders to allow them to look for mines in US waters, including those around Alaska, Hawaii, Guam and Saipan. In fact the Navy is making some extra LCS Mine CounterMeasures (MCM) for ships of opportunity.

If the Navy wanted Coast Guard cutters to augment Navy ASW forces, a likely mission if we have a war with China, they could become useful units by the addition of a modular version of the Navy’s towed array sonar systems and assignment of experienced ASW personnel and an MH-60R aviation detachment. We would need to have identified where we would store torpedoes, sonobuoys, and other support equipment, but those spaces could have other uses in peacetime.

“Navy: Mine Countermeasures Mission Packages to Be Available for Vessels of Opportunity” –SeaPower/Coast Guard Connection?

USNS Hershel “Woody” Williams launches a Knightfish unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) while at anchor in the Chesapeake Bay, Sept. 14, 2019. Photo: US Navy

The Navy League’s on line magazine, Seapower, reports,

“Capt. Mike Egan, branch head for mine warfare in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, speaking May 24 in Monterey, California, at the 2022 International Mine Warfare Technology Symposium of the Mine Warfare Association, said the MCM mission package is on track to achieve initial operational capability in the fall of 2022 and the Navy plans to procure a total of 24 packages.

“The Navy plans to equip 15 Independence-class littoral combat ships with the MCM mission package, which will leave an additional nine mission packages for use elsewhere.”

USN mine countermeasures ships are being decommissioned. Soon these mission packages will be the only US naval mine clearance assets. If a US port is mined, how will the mines be cleared?

Currently all Independence class LCS are based in San Diego. With the decision to shed all but six of the Freedom class LCS, none of which will be MCM capable, it is likely at least some Independence class will be based on the East Coast, presumably at Jacksonville. Aside from these 15 LCS mounted systems, it also appears the Navy will mount one on each of the five Lewis-B. Puller-class “Expeditionary Sea Bases” (ESB). That still leaves four MCM mission packages unclaimed.

LCSs based in San Diego and Jacksonville are still a long way from many US ports. In addition to transit time, the LCSs may be deployed or may not be available on short notice. The ESBs are all expected to be forward deployed, with one probably being assigned to each Geographic Combatant Commanders with the exception of Northern Command, e.g. Africa Command, Central Command, European Command, Indo-Pacific Command, and Southern Command, so they are unlikely to be available.

These four packages could provide mine clearance for US ports. One East Coast (perhaps Norfolk area), one West Coast (Seattle?), one Hawaii (Pearl?), and one in Alaska (Anchorage?) might be a logical distribution.

We know the disasterous effect of even short term port closures. Time is critical. The mission packages should be able to be deployed by air to the port(s) of interest. Some elements of the packages could certainly operate from shore. In many cases Coast Guard bases and air stations would be logical locations for temporary relocation of Navy assets. It is not unlikely Coast Guard fixed wing aircraft might be tasked with providing the air lift.

Some elements of the mission package, like the Unmanned Underwater Vehicles are still likely to require operation from floating units. Buoy Tenders would likely be able to fill this role. It might be worthwhile exercising this option, perhaps at RIMPAC.

Mine Countermeasures Modular Mission Packages for Cutters

Types of Naval mine.A-underwater,B-bottom,SS-Submarine. 1-Drifting mine,2-Drifting mine,3-Moored Mine,4-Moored Mine(short wire),5-Bottom Mines,6-Torpedo mine/CAPTOR mine,7-Rising mine–by Los688

Earlier I suggested that LCS Modules, manned my Navy Reservists, might provide a mechanism that could cut mobilization time for Cutters from months to weeks. I also noted, 

There are very few Navy mine counter measures assets in the US and those we have are not spread out geographically. If there were to be a peacetime mining incident in US waters, it might be possible to airlift an MCM module to the nearest cutter to allow the problem to be dealt with more quickly.

The US Naval Institute News Service has provided access to the “Littoral Combat Ship Mission Package Annual Report, and there is a note included that addresses this possibility. Nine Mine Countermeasures Mission Packages (MCM MP) are to be provided “for use on other Vessels of Opportunity (V OOs) to meet the warfighting capability requirements and account for MCM maintenance cycles.”

If there is a mining incident at a US port, the air and, in some cases, the unmanned surface vessel portion of the package could be operated from shore. Those portions that might need to operate from a ship could possibly be operated from buoy tenders or other cutters, not just the large patrol cutters.

We probably ought to be exercising this once the MCM MPs become available.

 

Elbit’s Unmanned Surface Vessel for ASW and MCM

DefenseNews reports the Israeli company Elbit has been working on developing an unmanned surface vessel system, and they have gone beyond simply patrolling the surface and employing remotely controlled machine guns.  They are attempting to use it for Anti-Submarine Warfare and mine countermeasures.

In a separate post, Navy recognition reports that this system has successfully test launched a light weight torpedo.

Seagull_torpedo_trial_1

If you compare the vessel in the video and the one in the photo above, it is apparent that the equipment has been changed and that the craft probably could not carry both the sonar sensor and the light weight torpedoes, but it is possible multiple units might operate in groups.

Using small vessels for ASW and MCM has a long history, although not always particularly successful. As ASW assets they do offer the advantage that they are too small to be good targets for a submarine’s torpedoes. On the other hand their ability to support sensors and weapons is severely limited, and the crews’ limited ability to deal with adverse weather has always been problematic. Making them unmanned will at least help with that.

Thanks to Jim for suggesting the topic.

Common (Unmanned Unit) Control System

It now seems obvious that Unmanned Systems (air and possibly surface and subsurface) will play a part in the Coast Guard’s future, but the service has been, perhaps understandably hesitant to commit to any particular system.

Because of the variety of proprietary systems, integrating the control systems into the organization of the controlling unit, particularly ships and aircraft, and then integrating the resulting information into a common operating picture has been problematic.

Eaglespeak reports, it looks like DOD, through the Office of Naval Research, is moving in the direction of a platform agnostic software application that will permit common hardware to control different unmanned system.

This might permit Coast Guard units which commonly control small unmanned aicraft (sUAS) to be quickly adapted to

  • Control a much more capable UAS.
  • Hunt for mines using unmanned surface (USV) or subsurface (UUV) systems.
  • Control optionally manned surface craft to search for smugglers or enhance asset protection.
  • Control UUVs towing acoustic arrays, searching for submarines.
  • Direct a USV equipped with AIS, lights, and signals into position to serve as a temporary aid-to-navigation.