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.
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.