Hearing: “Review of Recent GAO Reports on Icebreaker Acquisition and the Need for a National Maritime Strategy”

Note: Apparently as a result of the Government Shutdown, links to the House of Representative’s Website that have been included in this are no longer available and once you get their error message you will no longer be able to back arrow to this site. You will have to reload. Hopefully these link will be reestablished some time in the future, so I have left them in. I have been unable to relocate some of the quotations below to provide more specific citations so I am going to go ahead and publish without them.  

Again, I have to apologize for being late in analysis of a Congressional hearing. In this case it is the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure’s Subcommittee on the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation, “Review of Recent GAO Reports on Icebreaker Acquisition and the Need for a National Maritime Strategy” that took place on 29 November, 2018.

The video actually begins at minute 21.

Witnesses were:

  • Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition & Chief Acquisition Officer, United States Coast Guard  | Written Testimony
  • Rear Admiral Mark H. “Buz” Buzby, USN, Ret., Administrator, Maritime Administration  | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office  | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Andrew Von Ah, Director of Physical Infrastructure Issues, Government Accountability Office  | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service  | Written Testimony

Subcommittee members present included:

All five Representatives won reelection, so it is probable we will see them on the Subcommittee next year. Representative Garamendi was clearly excited and optimistic about the becoming chair of the House Sub-Committee. He strongly reports Coast Guard recapitalization. He also expressed a desire to see Rep. Brian Mast return as ranking member.

The two topics were essentially unrelated. We have revisited the topic of the Polar Security Cutter/Heavy Polar Icebreaker numerous times.

GAO is still contending there are Scheduling and Technological risks. They don’t seem to recognize the steps that have been taken to minimize these risks and that the largest scheduling risk is in delaying the start of the project once the detail design is substantially complete. There is real urgency in the need to replace Polar Star and they don’t seem to recognize that. Yes, the Coast Guard might have done a better job, if we had started this project about a decade earlier, and we might have done that if they had not continued to insist we had to keep our AC&I (now PC&I) budget to about $1.1B, but we can no longer afford more delay to achieve a drawn out, risk free, acquisition process.

Mr. O’Rourke once again made the case for block buy vs a contract with options, contrasting the way the Coast Guard has contracted for vessels while the Navy has successfully used Block Buy and Multi-Year contracting for vessels much more complicated than those being procured by the Coast Guard.

The need for a National Maritime Strategy reflected a realization that the US ability to transport military reinforcements to a theater of conflict in American ships with American crews seems to be in jeopardy. We discussed this problem and what the Coast Guard could do about it here.

Rather than reference the exchange on the video above as I have done before, I will just highlight parts of the two source documents, the “Summary of Subject Matter” (a six page pdf) and Congressional Research Service Naval Expert, Ronald O’Rourke’s prepared statement.

Regarding the Polar Security Cutter (Heavy Polar Icebreaker or HPIB), from the summary of subject matter

The Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate is conducting a tailored technical readiness assessment to update the HPIB cost estimate with an estimated completion of June 30, 2019.

The Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate will update the program schedule within three months of the Detail Design and Construction contract award and before awarding construction, as appropriate, with an estimated completion date of September 30, 2019.

The Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate is conducting a tailored technical readiness assessment to analyze and determine schedule risks with an estimated completion of June 30, 2019.

Since presumably much of this work would be done by civilian acquisitions specialist, it is likely the work is falling behind because of the government shut down

Shift in Security Environment; New National Defense Strategy

A Maritime Strategy has not been issued. If it had it would likely need an update given that both the Administration and Geopolitical situation have changed.

Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study 2018 (MCRS-18)

 DOD states that it started the study, which it refers to as the Mobility Capabilities and Requirements Study 2018 (MCRS-18), on March 8, 2018, and that it is scheduled for completion in the fall of 2018…A September 25, 2017, press report about MCRS-18 states that “Since the early 1990s, Pentagon mobility studies have consistently identified a requirement for about 20 million square feet of roll-on/roll-off capacity to quickly transport material in support of a contingency.” Mobility studies conducted from the 1990s until recently, however, were all done in the post-Cold War era, when U.S. military force planning focused to a large degree on potential crises and conflicts against regional military powers such as Iran and North Korea. Given the recent shift from the post-Cold War era to the new era of renewed great power competition and the resulting formal shift in U.S. military force planning toward a primary emphasis on potential challenges posed by China and Russia, it is not clear that MCRS-18 will leave the figure of 20 million square feet of roll-on/roll-off capacity unchanged. A change in this figure could have implications for the content of a new national maritime strategy.

We have seen no indication of movement on these documents.

Potential Shortfall of Navy Escorts and Possible Impacts on Mariners

 GAO notes MARAD’s September 2017 estimate of a potential shortage of U.S.-citizen mariners available to crew U.S.-owned reserve sealift ships during a crisis or conflict. The challenge of finding adequate numbers of appropriately trained mariners to crew DOD sealift ships in time of crisis or conflict is a longstanding issue, dating back at least to 1990, when mariners in their 50s, 60s, and 70s (and one aged 81), some brought out of retirement, were reportedly needed to help fill out the crews of DOD sealift ships that were activated for Operation Desert Shield (the initial phase of the U.S. reaction to Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait). Problems in filling out ship crews reportedly contributed to delays in activating some RRF sealift ships to participate in the operation.  A potential shortage of U.S.-citizen mariners for manning DOD sealift ships in wartime has been a recurring matter of concern since then.

“Was I to die this moment, ‘Want of Frigates’ would be found stamped on my heart.”, Lord Nelson to Earl Spencer, 9 August 1798

Section 1072 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 (H.R. 2810/P.L. 11591 of December 12, 2017) requires the Navy to submit a report on its plans for defending combat logistics and strategic mobility forces—meaning Navy underway replenishment ships, RRF sealift ships, and MSC surge sealift ships—against potential wartime threats. The report is to include, among other things, a “description of the combat logistics and strategic mobility forces capacity, including additional combat logistics and strategic mobility forces, that may be required due to losses from attacks,” an “assessment of the ability and availability of United States naval forces to defend combat logistics and strategic mobility forces from the threats,” and a “description of specific capability gaps or risk areas in the ability or availability of United States naval forces to defend combat logistics and strategic mobility forces from the threats….”

This was brought sharply into focus in a surprisingly frank article in Defense News, dated October 10, 2018, “‘You’re On Your Own’: US Sealift Can’t Count on Navy Escorts in the Next Big War,”

My earlier post talks about what the Coast Guard could do to mitigate this shortfall, but the most significant step would be to bring back the Coast Guard ASW mission. Equipping eleven NSCs and 25 OPCs with ASW systems could make a huge difference.

 

“Coast Guard Awards Production For 10th and 11th National Security Cutters” –CG-9

NSC 5 James on builders trials in the Gulf of Mexico March 30, 2015.

The Acquisitions Directorate (CG-9) reports award of production contracts for the tenth and eleventh National Security Cutter. While some of the cost was already covered in procurement of long lead time items. The price looks good.

The Coast Guard awarded a fixed-price contract option to Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. of Pascagoula, Mississippi, today for the production of the 10th and 11th national security cutters (NSCs). The option exercised is valued at approximately $930 million.

The 10th and 11th NSCs will be built at Huntington Ingalls Industries’ shipyard in Pascagoula.

Six NSCs are currently in service. Coast Guard cutters Hamilton and James are stationed in Charleston, South Carolina, and Coast Guard cutters Bertholf, Waesche, Stratton and Munro are stationed in Alameda, California. The seventh NSC, Kimball, will be commissioned in January 2019 in its Honolulu, Hawaii, homeport. Midgett, the eighth cutter, is planned for a 2019 delivery; it will be the second NSC stationed in Honolulu. The ninth cutter, Stone, is slated for delivery in fiscal year 2021.

Paying More Attention to the Western Pacific

Fijian navy Sub-Lt. Opeti Enesi looks out from an Air Station Barbers Point HC-130 Hercules over the Fijian Islands, Dec. 8, 2018. The Hercules aircrew was providing support for a Fijian navy patrol boat during law enforcement operations. (U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew West/Released)

Was pleasantly surprised to see that the Coast Guard seems to be paying more attention to the Western Pacific, where the US has a huge part of its Exclusive Economic Zone. (More than the entire Atlantic and Gulf coasts.) Additionally it is an area where Illegal Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing threatens to destabilize local economies, and where our frenemy China is attempting a neo-colonialism that could turn smaller Pacific nations into vassal states.

The cutter Munro visited Fiji and the Solomon Islands on its first operational patrol. A shiprider agreement was concluded on Nov. 12 during the visit to Suva, Fiji, and a Fijian naval officer flew aboard a Barber’s Point C-130 coordinating operations with a Fijian patrol boat.

This is after the USCGC Oliver F. Berry (WPC-1124) completed a mission to conduct operations in the Republic of the Marshall Islands, 2,200 miles from her homeport over the last summer.

“Building the Fleets of the Future: Coast Guard and NOAA Fleet Recapitalization”–Senate Hearing

Congress is back in session. It is likely the current Congress will attempt to complete the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Budget before the new Congress is seated in January.

On October 11, 2018, the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard held a public hearing entitled,  “The Future of the Fleets: Coast Guard and NOAA Ship Recapitalization.” I feel I have been remiss in not talking about this earlier, but the topics are still in question and it appears all the major players in the sub-committee will be returning next year, although committee assignments may change. Despite the name of the hearing, the NOAA representative was unable to attend, so the entire hearing was about Coast Guard programs.

Unfortunately the hearing video was not posted on YouTube so I was unable to post it here. The Commerce Committee website with the video of the hearing, list of witnesses, and links to the prepared statements is here.

I’d like to call attention to the Congressional Research Service’s evaluation of the Coast Guard’s shipbuilding programs in the form of Mr. Ronald O’Rourke’s prepared testimony for the hearing. It is relatively short at 21 pages, and covers the Waterways Commerce Cutter (Inland tenders) and Polar Security Cutter (Heavy Polar Icebreaker) as well as the National Security Cutter (NSC), Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC), and Fast Response Cutter (FRC) programs.

As he has done frequently in the past, he makes the case for procuring cutters using Block Buy or Multi-Year Procurement as the Navy has done in some of its most successful Program. I have a hard time understanding why the Coast Guard has not taken advantage of this option. We had an opportunity to do it with the NSC, another with the FRC. Now we have the option of using Block Buy for the Polar Security Cutter (heavy polar icebreaker) and Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC). The recent Coast Guard Authorization Bill includes authorization to use Block Buy.

Conducting the hearing were:

The video does not actually begin until about time 9:30

Senator Baldwin pushes “Made in America Shipbuilding Act” advocating that components as well as the ships themselves be made in America.

20:30 Admiral Haycock’s prepared statement begins.

26:00 GAO Ms. Marie Mak Director, Contracting and National Security Acquisitions, Government Accountability Office began her prepared statement.

Mrs Mak of GAO is again saying we have not made a good business case for the new icebreaker and that our planning is short term. Pointed to the Navy 30 year shipbuilding plan as a good example of long term planning.

29:30 Mr. Ronald O’Rourke Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service began his prepared statement

An illustration of how useful long term planning can be is found in this quote from Mr. O’Rourke’s written submission, p.3:

“As one example of how…Congress has exercised its constitutional power to set funding levels and determine the composition of federal spending, during the period FY2008-FY2015, when the Navy’s shipbuilding account averaged about $14.7 billion per year in then-year dollars, there was recurring discussion about the challenge of increasing the account to the substantially higher annual funding levels that would soon be needed to begin implementing the Navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plan. Projections were prepared by CBO showing the decline in the size of the Navy that would occur over time if funding levels in the shipbuilding account did not increase substantially from the average level of about $14.7 billion per year. Congress, after assessing the situation, increased the shipbuilding account to $18.7 billion in FY2016, $21.2 billion in FY2017, $23.8 billion in FY2018, and $24.2 billion in FY2019. These increasing funding levels occurred even though the Budget Control Act, as amended, remained in operation during those years. At the most recent figure of $24.2 billion, the Navy’s shipbuilding account is now 74% greater in then-year dollars than it was as recently as FY2010.”

Mr. O’Rourke pointed out that using Multi-Year contracting to procure the Offshore Patrol Cutters could save us $1B, enough to pay for the Polar Security Cutter (PSC or Polar Icebreaker) or the entire Waterways Commerce Cutter program.

He discussed increasing rate of OPC procurement.

He noted that there had been a reduction in the estimated cost of the Polar Icebreaker from an initial estimate of $1B to a projected cost of $2.1B for three ships. From pages three and four of his prepared statement.

Coast Guard’s Non-Use of Multiyear Contracting

In connection with my work on ship acquisition, I maintain the CRS report on multiyear procurement (MYP) and block buy contracting. In both that report and in testimony I have given to other committees in recent years on Coast Guard ship acquisition, I have noted the stark contrast between the Navy— which uses multiyear contracting (in the form of MYP or block buy contracting) extensively to reduce its ship- and aircraft-procurement costs by billions of dollars—and the Coast Guard, which to date has never used multiyear contracting in one of its ship or aircraft acquisition programs.

The Navy in recent years, with congressional approval, has used multiyear contracting for, among other things, all three of its year-to-year shipbuilding programs—the Virginia-class attack submarine program, the DDG-51 destroyer program, and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program. The Navy has been using multiyear contracting for the Virginia-class and DDG-51 programs more or less continuously since the 1990s. Savings from the use of MYP recently have, among other things, helped Congress and the Navy to convert a nine-ship buy of DDG-51 class destroyers in FY2013-FY2017 into a 10-ship buy, and a nine ship buy of Virginia-class attack submarines in FY2014-FY2018 into a 10-ship buy. The Navy is also now using block buy contracting in the John Lewis (TAO-205) class oiler program, and is considering or anticipating using them for procuring LPD-17 Flight II amphibious ships, FFG(X) frigates, and Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines. The Navy’s use or prospective use of multiyear contracting for its year-to-year shipbuilding programs is arguably now almost more of a rule than an exception in Navy shipbuilding. For Congress, granting approval for using multiyear contracting involves certain tradeoffs, particularly in connection with retaining year-to-year control of funding. In the case of Navy shipbuilding, Congress has repeatedly accepted these tradeoffs.

In contrast with Navy practice, the Coast Guard often uses contracts with options in its ship-procurement programs. Contracts with options can be referred to as multiple-year contracts, but they are not multiyear contracts. Instead, contracts with options operate more like annual contracts, and they cannot achieve the kinds of savings that are possible with multiyear contracts. Like the other military services, the Coast Guard has statutory authority to use MYP contracting and can be granted authority by Congress to use block buy contracting.

Questioning began time 33:00 I will try to summarize some of the discussion, but this is in no way complete.

Senator Sullivan

33:30 questioned how the CG could meet increasing challenges with nearly 14,000 fewer major cutter OP Hours.

RAdm Haycock says new assets are more capable. (He might have noted that FRCs are more capable than Island class and can conduct some missions previously conducted only by major cutters.) He did favorably compare FRCs with existing 110s in Alaska, but perhaps missed an opportunity to push for more assets and/or higher rate of construction.

37:30 Senator Sullivan push to use shipyard in Ketchikan.

Senator Baldwin

42:30 Why are we using predominately foreign made outboards rather than Mercury or Evinrude which are made Wisconsin?

Ans. We want to use American made products, but we also employ competition. We could create a demand signal that is not sustainable. Builders choose components, but must comply with Buy American requirements.

49:30 Senator Sullivan:

Suggestion that perhaps we could lease.

Ans. Design time has decreased as has price due to Navy assistance and use of parent design. Ship and power plant can be smaller than previously thought without loss of capability. Icebreaker will be based on Parent design. Cooperation with the Canadians. This has shortened time line and cost has come down. There are still some risks.

59:30 We have looked exhaustively at foreign designs. Our missions are very different. Our design will be based on yet unbuilt Canadian design (CCGS Diefenbaker).

1:01:30 Baldwin:

Great Lakes Icebreaker–not enough resources, push to build a Great Lakes Icebreaker at least as capable as Mackinaw, some funding provided for design of a Great Lakes icebreaker, what are we doing?

We are looking at requirements. 140s are going through service life extension.

1:04:40 More on made in American requirements.

Ans. Sometime foreign made components can be problematic over lifecycle. 

1:07:00 Senator Wicker

The Senator pushing for 12th NSCs.

NSCs are having a profound impact as we push border south

1:09:00 Polar Security Cutter, what about the fact funding is not included in House budget?

Ans. Will impact scheduling and the interest of the industrial base.

1:12:00 Senator Blumenthal

Concern about opioids, what additional assets do we need?

Talked about Unmanned Air Systems but really did not specifically address opioids intel which I would assume has more to do with importation by merchant ships through our ports.

1:15:00 CG museum. Committed to location at New London.

1:16:30 Admissions at the CG Academy–concern about possible discrimination

1:17:30 Senator Baldwin

1:18:00 More on “Made in America” components

1:20:00 Specifically referenced need to buy propulsion pods for Polar Security Cutter from Scandinavia.

1:21:30 Timeline for Inland tenders? Possibility of using parent craft?

Our needs are different. Have to have more people because of our missions, we need more range, mixed gender birthing. Probably nine months to complete analysis and a year before we start to contract. In service 2023. We are moving as fast as we can.

(Was pleased to note that RAdm Haycock made a strong witness and appeared both competent and cooperative.)

 

 

“White House Recognizes Superior Drug Interdiction Efforts” –Nov. 1, 2018, Office of National Drug Control Policy

NSC 5 James on builders trials in the Gulf of Mexico March 30, 2015.

Two Coast Guard units were recently recognized by the Office of National Drug Control Policy for exceptional performance

  • US Coast Guard Cutter James (WMSL 754) is receiving the award in the Detection & Monitoring category for their unprecedented 11 days of tactical control while JIATF South was shutdown for Hurricane IRMA.
  • S. Coast Guard Helicopter Interdiction Tactical Squadron Aviation Detachment 17-22 is recognized for their Maritime Interdiction & Apprehension successes during a 79-day shipboard deployment.

That USCGC James could take over tactical control of Join Interagency Task Force South for eleven days is truly remarkable.

 

“Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress” –Congressional Research Service


Mr. O’Rourke has been busy (as usual). Also on 26 Oct. 2018, the Congressional Research Service also Issued an updated version of his study of Coast Guard Cutter procurement programs, specifically for National Security Cutters (NSC), Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPC), and Fast Response Cutters (FRC). Again I have reproduced the summary here. I do think it is strange that we are still talking about initial testing of the NSCs more than ten years after the first of these was commissioned (see page 14).

The Coast Guard’s acquisition program of record (POR) calls for procuring 8 National Security Cutters (NSCs), 25 Offshore Patrol Cutters (OPCs), and 58 Fast Response Cutters (FRCs) as replacements for 90 aging Coast Guard high-endurance cutters, medium-endurance cutters, and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests a total of $705 million in acquisition funding for the NSC, OPC, and FRC programs.

NSCs are the Coast Guard’s largest and most capable general-purpose cutters; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 12 aged Hamilton-class high-endurance cutters. NSCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $682 million per ship. Although the Coast Guard’s POR calls for procuring a total of 8 NSCs to replace the 12 Hamilton-class cutters, Congress through FY2018 has funded 11 NSCs, including two (the 10th and 11th) in FY2018. Six NSCs are now in service, and the seventh, eighth, and ninth are scheduled for delivery in 2018, 2019, and 2020, respectively. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $65 million in acquisition funding for the NSC program; this request does not include additional funding for a 12th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 29 aged medium-endurance cutters. Coast Guard officials describe the OPC program as the service’s top acquisition priority. OPCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $391 million per ship. On September 15, 2016, the Coast Guard announced that it was awarding a contract with options for building up to nine ships in the class to Eastern Shipbuilding Group of Panama City, FL. The first OPC was funded in FY2018 and is to be delivered in 2021. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $400 million in acquisition funding for the OPC program for the construction of the second OPC (which is scheduled for delivery in 2022) and procurement of long leadtime materials (LLTM) for the third OPC (which is scheduled for delivery in 2023).

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs; they are intended to replace the Coast Guard’s 49 aging Island-class patrol boats. FRCs have an estimated average procurement cost of about $58 million per boat. A total of 50 have been funded through FY2018. The 28th was commissioned into service on July 25, 2018. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2019 budget requests $240 million in acquisition funding for the procurement of four more FRCs.

The NSC, OPC, and FRC programs pose several issues for Congress, including the following: 

  • whether to fully or partially fund the acquisition of a 12th NSC in FY2019;
  • whether to fund the acquisition of four FRCs in FY2019, as requested, or some other number, such as six, which is the maximum number that has been acquired in some prior fiscal years;
  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;
  • the procurement rate for the OPC program;
  • the impact of Hurricane Michael on Eastern Shipbuilding of Panama City, FL, the shipyard that is to build the first nine OPCs;
  • planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCs, and FRCs; and
  • initial testing of the NSC.

Congress’s decisions on these programs could substantially affect Coast Guard capabilities and funding requirements, and the U.S. shipbuilding industrial base. .

You Can’t Get There From Here

An Allied convoy heads eastward across the Atlantic, bound for Casablanca, in November 1942. U.S. Navy (photo 80-G-474788), Post-Work: User:W.wolny – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 520948.

In planning for the possibility of a major war in Europe or Asia, the US is finding it has a number of problems with Logistics. 90% of the weight of supplies and equipment have to go by sea, but,
  • We have too few ships
  • The ships we have are old
  • These old ships are in many cases steam powered
  • These ships may not have been maintained as well as they should have been
  • We have too few mariners to man the ships
  • Too few of the mariners we do have know how to run steam ships
  • Most of our mariners have no concept of how to contend with a wartime environment
  • and, oh by the way the Navy does not have ships to protect the few ships we have as they make their way through contested waters.

After outlining the problem, I’ll talk about how the Coast Guard might mitigate the problem.

Recent Reports:

DefenseNews in a post, “The US Army is preparing to fight in Europe, but can it even get there?” reports,

The U.S. sealift capacity — the ships that would ultimately be used to transport Army equipment from the states to Europe or Asia — is orders of magnitude smaller than it was during World War II. Combine that with the fact that the commercial shipbuilding industry in the U.S. is all but gone, and the U.S. can’t launch the kind of massive buildup of logistics ships it undertook during wartime decades ago.

Among the ships the country has for sealift and logistics forces, the Government Accountability Office has found a steady increase in mission-limiting equipment failures, which raises questions about how many might actually be available if the balloon goes up.

The ships the U.S. counts among its ready stock available for a large-scale contingency are 46 ships in the Ready Reserve Force, 15 ships in the Military Sealift Command surge force, and roughly 60 U.S.-flagged commercial ships in the Maritime Security Program available to the military in a crisis,

The 46 Ready Reserve Force ships, overseen by the Maritime Administration, are old and rapidly approaching the end of their hull life, as are many of the senior engineers who are still qualified and able to work on the aging steam propulsion plants.

DefenseNews commentary, “The US armed forces have a mobility problem,” reports,

“Our Merchant Marine fleet’s wartime role is to move weapons, ammunition, troops, equipment, fuel and supplies. Our current fleet — simply put — does not have the capacity to meet today’s requirements.

“We don’t have enough ships, and even if we did we don’t currently have the crews to sail them. We’re short at least 1,800 merchant mariners.

“The human capital shortage may be worse than the shortage in ships. A report by the Maritime Administration to Congress highlighted the problem. The report “estimates that 11,768 qualified mariners … are available to crew the Ready Reserve Force … the estimated demand for mariners [in an emergency] is 13,607.” ”

There is a Navy Times report, “Pentagon investigators slam military’s oversight of supply ships,” based on an IG report that looked at 20 ships we have in the MSC’s Prepositioning Program. It seems to indicate that some of these ships, already loaded with critical equipment, may not be ready to sail.

Perhaps most troubling of all, “‘You’re on your own,’ US sealift can’t count on US navy escorts in the next big war,” that reports

“The Navy has been candid enough with Military Sealift Command and me that they will probably not have enough ships to escort us. It’s: ‘You’re on your own; go fast, stay quiet,’” Buzby told Defense News in an interview earlier this year.

The head of U.S. Naval Forces Europe, Adm. James Foggo, tried to put a positive spin of the personnel shortage, “The tradition of the Merchant Marine is we go to sea no matter what, damn the torpedoes. Most of us believe that our people will not be dissuaded. But until they walk up the gangway, you never know.”

It does seem that the fleet obsolescence may be addressed, but the lack of personnel and escort ships remain.

A Modern Convoy:

I have real problems with the idea of independent sailing in the age of satellite reconnaissance, not only because the ships become easy pickings, but also because there would be no one to rescue the crews. This would certainly make mariners think twice before signing on. The answer is as old as naval warfare, convoy. Certainly we are not likely to ever see the likes of WWII convoys, with ships steaming only a few hundred yards apart. Ranges of both sensors and weapons have increased by an order of magnitude or more. We don’t want one sub to be able to simultaneously target several ships. A modern convoy would be spread over a much greater area, perhaps a moving grid 100 miles on a side. It might include escorting ships, but it would certainly include at least one escorting aircraft.

WHAT THE COAST GUARD CAN DO?:

“Convoy WS-12: A Vought SB2U Vindicator scout bomber from USS Ranger (CV-4) flies anti-submarine patrol over the convoy, while it was en route to Cape Town, South Africa, 27 November 1941. The convoy appears to be making a formation turn from column to line abreast. Two-stack transports in the first row are USS West Point (AP-23) — left –; USS Mount Vernon (AP-22) and (Coast Guard manned) USS Wakefield (AP-21). Heavy cruisers, on the right side of the first row and middle of the second, are USS Vincennes (CA-44) and USS Quincy (CA-39). Single-stack transports in the second row are (Coast Guard manned) USS Leonard Wood (AP-25) and (Coast Guard manned) USS Joseph T. Dickman (AP-26).”

A little Coast Guard History:

It might be worthwhile to look at what was done in the past. Before the start of WWII both the US Navy and Army had transports. The Navy transports were manned by regular Navy personnel. The Army transports were manned by civilians. During a large scale exercise before the war started, the civilian mariners refused to operate with darkened ships, considering it unsafe. This lead to the Coast Guard being assigned to crew these transports. Personnel were available because ten cutters had been lend leased to the British and their crews were available. These were the first of 351 Navy ships and craft manned by Coast Guard crews. While these included over 100 surface combatants, most of them convoy escorts, the rest were mostly transports and landing ships and craft. In addition the Coast Guard manned 288 Army vessels, mostly small inter-island freighters.

So what can we do now?

Encourage Coast Guard members to become credentialed mariners:

The first thing the Coast Guard might do is to encourage and facilitate the credentialing of personnel by the time they leave the service. The Coast Guard Cuttermen’s Association has provided guidance as to how coastguardsmen can become credentialed mariners, “”A Coasties Companion Guide to the Mariner Licensing Process” (PDF document).

A Navy program, Credentialing Opportunities On-line (COOL), in partnership with Military Sealift Command (MSC), provides training in a military to mariner program. that may be open, or if not already, could be opened, to the Coast Guard.

Money is the sincerest expression of appreciation, and if this is a national security issue, perhaps there should be a monetary incentive to obtain and maintain mariner’s credentials after a member separates from the service (Navy or Coast Guard). Apparently there is still on the books (46 U.S. Code 51701) provision for the Secretary of Transportation to set up a United States Maritime Service that could:

  1. Determine the number of individuals to be enrolled for training and reserve purposes in the Service:
  2. Fix the rates of pay and allowances of the individuals…
  3. Prescribe the course of study and the periods of training for the Service; and 
  4. Prescribe the uniform of the Service and the rules on providing and wearing the uniform. 

Add Reserve Units capable of manning US ships: 

The Coast Guard Reserve could be expanded to include crewmembers for these ships, either as augmentees or as complete crews. Some of the MSC ships currently have mixed crews of military and civilians. Presumably if the ship had an all military crew, it would be a commissioned ship, rather than an MSC ship.

Provide Rescue Ships: 

If we had a modern convoy, watched over by Maritime Patrol Aircraft, a Coast Guard cutter equipped with helicopter could act as rescue vessel. It would probably be positioned near the center of the convoy perhaps toward the rear. Its helicopter could remove the crew of a sinking ship and the cutter could provide damage control assistance.

Provide Administrative Escort:

The same ship that provides rescue and assistance might also serve as an administrative escort. The idea is to use the superior communications ability of the larger cutters including the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility (SCIF) on the National Security Cutters (and perhaps the Offshore Patrol Cutters) to route the convoy away from danger.

Bring Back the Coast Guard ASW program:

Perhaps it is time to revive the Coast Guard’s ASW capability. When the Soviet Union fell apart, the Coast Guard dismantled its ASW capability as no longer relevant, but things have changed. China appears increasingly aggressive and is building a modern fleet at an alarming rate. Russia is also resurgent with their submarines now patrolling at levels similar to those seen during the cold war, while our own Navy has been drastically reduced. It appears, in ten to twenty years we will face a naval challenge greater than pre-WWII Japan. I don’t really think the 20 planned FFGs are going to be enough. Providing suitable weapons and sensors for the eleven NSCs and 25 OPCs, augmented by Navy Reserve ASW helicopters, could make a huge difference in our ability to move supplies and equipment safely across the Oceans.