How the Coast Guard and Navy Could Plan to Mobilize the Cutter Force in a Major Conflict

The Coast Guard has a rich military history, but we should recognize that, while we may be an “armed service,” we are not prepared for war.

We took the opportunity presented by the apparent end of the Cold War in the early ’90s to cut cost and overhead by removing recently installed  anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and Harpoon launching equipment from the 378s and eliminating entire Sonar Tech (ST) rating.

Unfortunately, the holiday from worrying about a possible major conflict is over. China is challenging us, and Russia is resurgent. While it appears the Coast Guard has planned to provide some resources to address contingencies, it also appear we have no real direction as to what the Coast Guard will do if we have a major conflict. Certainly the new major cutters, the NSCs and OPCs, could be turned into credible escort vessels, but it would take months and their crews would need to be trained.

The development of modular systems for the Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) may provide a mechanism for rapidly upgrading our ships while Navy Reserves might provide the personnel and expertise to cut mobilization time from months to weeks.

The Navy currently has over 100,000 reservists, either Selected Reservists or Individual Ready Reservist, subject to recall. A number of them have expertise not resident in the Coast Guard, but useful upon mobilization. At one time these reservists might have gone to man Navy reserve frigates, but there are currently no navy combatants in reserve. As the number of LCSs increase the number of reservists with experience operating and maintaining the mission modules will increase. In addition all LCSs have two complete crews, so in wartime when they will presumably stop rotating crews, they will have an excess of active duty crews training in the mission module systems.

The primary mission modules planned for the LCSs are Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Anti-Surface Warfare (SuW), and Mine Counter-Measures (MCM). It would not take much to make cutters capable of accepting all or parts of these mission modules, perhaps an OPC “B” class and during overhauls.

There is a very real possibility of inter-service synergy here.

A mission package of equipment, aircraft, sensors, and personnel could be loaded aboard for exercises, providing training for both the Navy and Coast Guard personnel.

The acoustic sensors from the ASW module might be deployed on a cutter bound for a drug interdiction mission in the Eastern Pacific, to help locate drug running semi-submersibles or if they are out there, submarines.

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.

SNA Symposium, Virtual Tour

airbus ds trs 4D SNA 217

If you were unable to attend the Surface Navy Association Symposium, but would like to see what you missed, NavyRecognition offers a series of videos. They include a number of systems that have been discussed here including, smart projectiles for the 57mm, unmanned surface vehicles, the LRASM Long Range Anti-Ship Missile, SeaRAM as a replacement for Phalanx, TRAPS Towed Reelable Active Passive Sonar, MK20 Mod 1 Electro-Optical Sensor System (EOSS), TRS-3D Baseline D multi-mode radar (MMR) ordered for the ninth NSC.

If you want to look primarily at the frigate proposals as well as the proposed weapons modules for the LCS which might also be applicable to the icebreaker, there is this composite video. 

Incidentally why was there no mention of this symposium on the National Cuttermen Association Chapter, Surface Navy Association website?

Coast Guard Cutter Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress–Nov. 30, 2017

OPC “Placemat”

The Congressional Research Service has issued an updated report on Coast Guard Cutter procurement by Specialist in Naval Affair, Ronald O’Rourke. It is available in pdf format here or you can read it on the US Naval Institute site here.

Quoting from the Report,

Summary

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 cutters and patrol craft. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2018 budget requests a total of $794 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 have an estimated average procurement cost of about $695 million per ship. The first six are now in service (the sixth was commissioned into service on April 1, 2017). The seventh, eighth, and ninth are under construction; the seventh and eighth are scheduled for delivery in 2018 and 2019, respectively. As part of its action on the Coast Guard’s FY2017 budget, Congress provided $95 million for procurement of long lead time materials (LLTM) for a 10th NSC. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2018 budget requests $54 million in acquisition funding for the NSC program; this request does not include additional funding for a 10th NSC.

OPCs are to be smaller, less expensive, and in some respects less capable than NSCs. They have an estimated average procurement cost of about $421 million per ship. The first OPC is to be funded in FY2018 and delivered in 2021. 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 Coast Guard’s proposed FY2018 budget requests $500 million in acquisition funding for the OCP program for the construction of the first OPC, procurement of LLTM for the second OPC, and certain other program costs.

FRCs are considerably smaller and less expensive than OPCs. They have an estimated average procurement cost of about $65 million per boat. A total of 44 have been funded through FY2017. The 24 th was commissioned into service on October 31, 2017. The Coast Guard’s proposed FY2018 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 10th NSC in FY2018;

  • whether to fund the acquisition of four FRCs in FY2018, 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 FRCs;

  • whether to use annual or multiyear contracting for procuring OPCs;

  • the procurement rate for the OPC program;

  • planned procurement quantities for NSCs, OPCS, and FRCs;

  • the cost, design, and acquisition strategy for the OPC; 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.

Interview with Commandant

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Federal News Radio has an interview with the Commandant. There is a short written summary here or you can listen to it on their page or above. Some interesting developments with regard to drug interdiction in the Eastern Pacific. Sea story about actual employment of a sea based Unmanned Air System.

Interestingly he again refers to Russia arming Icebreakers so I think perhaps we may see some movement to arm or at least make provision for arming our new icebreakers.

LCS Progress, Coast Guard Implications

USS Independence (LCS-2)

USNI reports that the Navy is pushing harder than ever on getting the LCS mission modules operational. In wartime these systems would likely be used to upgrade cutters. Some of these systems might be applicable to Coast Guard’s NSCs and OPCs, including particularly UAS and ASuW systems, even in peace time, so they bear watching.

There is an interesting note that, “…Freedom also conducted its first Coast Guard helicopter landing on the flight deck earlier this year and hopes to do more interoperability testing with the Coast Guard going forward.” This suggest the Navy is at least thinking about sending LCS to assist the Coast Guard in its drug interdiction efforts.

 

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.

 

 

Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities, Part II, 25 July, 2017

The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation hearing recorded above is a follow-on to one already discussed. The video does not actually begin until minute 10:40. It is basically done in two parts as indicated below.

Panel I

Panel II

  • Rear Admiral Michael J. Haycock, Assistant Commandant for Acquisition and Chief Acquisition Officer, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director of Acquisition and Sourcing Management, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Rear Admiral Richard D. West (Navy Ret.), Chair, Committee on Polar Icebreaker Assessment, National Academy of Sciences | Written Testimony
  • Mr. Ronald O’Rourke, Specialist in Naval Affairs, Congressional Research Service | Written Testimony

Elsewhere the Coast Guard reported on the Commandant’s testimony, but what we really need to listen to is what the Congressional Sub-Committee members are telling us. They seem to love and respect the Coast Guard (you may have noticed Congress keeps giving us more than we ask for), but they are not pleased with the planning documents they are getting from the Coast Guard. I would particularly recommend you watch the opening comments of Representatives Hunter (10:40 to 13:30), Garamendi (to 17:00), and DeFazio (to 21:20). It will probably make you mad. You should be mad. We have to identify the problem and fix it.

If you want only a taste, here is a short version: 

So what is discussed?:

  • 27:00 Great Lakes icebreakers, line item for design of a Great Lakes Icebreaker is being budgeted but no plan for buying one.
  • 29:30 Five Year plan “reflects Fiscal guidance.” That is, we are being told, we have to fit our budget request into predetermined ceilings, so it is less than we really need.
  • 35:00 We are asking DOD to fund six FRCs CENTCOM has requested to replace the 110s currently assigned.
  • 37:00 Graph comparing AC&I funding as requested, authorized, and funded.
  • 39:00 Twenty year plan which was due to Congress at the end of June has not been submitted to Department.
  • 44:00 DOD does not see icebreakers as a National Defense resource. Navy will not pay for the first icebreakers.
  • 54:00 Strong support for icebreakers among the representatives.
  • 57:30 Question on icebreaker lease. Ice trials issue still on the table.
  • 1h02:00 Discussion of Cyber.
  • 1h09 Why not a block buy on the first ship?
  • 1h18m Commandant’s testimony ended
  • 1h34m.Particularly watch Ronald O’Rourke’s testimony, he suggests accelerating the OPC program may be an alternative to WMEC life extension program.
  • 1h43m Sub-Committee liked getting the fleet mix study, but that was several years ago.
  • Block Buy Report due in Dec.
  • Expected cost of heavy icebreaker has dropped about $200M.
  • 2h07m again, “no military requirement for an icebreaker.” Representatives feel that question should be studied.
  • 2h15m if we wait a number of years between the first and second WAGB contract results in loss of expertise and additional cost.

The discussion was dominated by three topics,

  • Coast Guard long term planning,
  • block buys for the OPC and Icebreakers,
  • whether we should build three or four heavy icebreakers.

Three or four heavy icebreakers: The proposal to build four heavy icebreakers rather than three came from a study by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. It is largely based on the reasonable assumption that heavy icebreaker #4 will cost less than medium icebreaker #1, as a result of the learning curve savings on heavy icebreakers and first of class costs for the medium icebreakers. I have not read the study but they don’t seem to have addressed the question, of the need for a total of six icebreakers found in the high altitude study. Assuming we build four of a single class of icebreakers, should we then start on a new class of two medium icebreakers with its attendant start-up costs or should we go ahead and build six heavies?

Block Buys for OPC and Icebreakers: The Congress has authorized the Coast Guard to use “Block Buy” funding for its shipbuilding programs. The Coast Guard seems hesitant to even ask to do this. In the case of the OPC, it might save us more than $1B. We could have (and I believe should have) asked to use multi-year procurement for the second phase of the Webber class WPC buy, but we did not.

The National Academy of Sciences study recommends we use block buy procurement for four icebreakers. The current contract for the OPCs is a contract for the first with options for eight more to be funded through FY2023. Until the options are executed we have the option of seeking a block buy contract for future construction.

Block buys commit Congress to fully fund all vessels included in a program to the extent of the contract. If they back out there are penalties incurred. From the Coast Guard’s point of view it would seem a commitment from Congress would be a good thing.

Because of that commitment, shipyards are likely more willing to invest in productivity improvements, resulting in lower costs.

The Commandant’s remarks on the Icebreaker seem to indicate we will wait until we finish and evaluate operations of the first new Polar Icebreaker before seeking funding for a second. If that happens not only will we miss the potential savings of the a block buy, we will also lose the experience the shipyard gained building the first. Long delays between the first few NSCs was largely why we did not see a significant price drop after the first ship.

Coast Guard long term planning: Our current program of record is a continuation of the “Deep Water” program which originated in 2002 and updated in 2005 following 9/11. A fleet mix study (apparently completed in 2009) confirmed that the Program of Record, if executed, would be an improvement of the fleet as it existed in 2007, but it also showed that it fell well short of meeting all the Coast Guard’s statutory requirements with many missions at risk. Additionally the fleet mix study assumed 230 days away from homeport for both the NSCs and the OPC using the “Crew Rotation Concept.”

We still have a very long way to go before we can achieve the Program of Record. There has been no meaningful test of the “Crew Rotation Concept” in spite of the fact that virtually every test of rotating multiple crews among multiple ships has proven problematic and has failed to realize the claimed benefits. Aircraft are also not achieving utilization hours planned. The OPCs, if constructed as currently planned, will not be completed until 2034.

In short our planning is out of date and the current planning seems to be limited to answering the question, “What will fit in the predetermined, but inadequate budget?”

If five-year plan is subject to “fiscal guidance” then why would the 20 year plan not also be subject to “fiscal guidance.” If we are to provide a true picture of what we need we need to change what we are doing.

What do we need to do?:

  • We need to know what we need.
  • We need to know the consequences of not getting what we need.
  • We need to be able to communicate both what we need and the consequences of inadequate funding to the Congress and Administration.

As noted in the introduction to the executive summary of the Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Analysis.

To support its role as Systems Integrator (SI), the Coast Guard (CG) needs to establish and continually update a strategic plan for the acquisition, operation, and sustainment of capabilities necessary in achieving organizational goals. Key to this strategic plan is a repeatable, comprehensive process that identifies alternative capabilities and Fleet mix solutions that will meet future mission requirements in an efficient, effective, and affordable manner.

This should not be a one time thing. We need to do this regularly as a repetitive process that is improved over time. We also really need to look at alternatives, not just already chosen solutions.

Once we know where we want to go we can come up with a 20 year (or better yet a 30 year) plan, beginning with what are we going to lose.

It might be best if the long-term plan did not include cost figures. Then we don’t have to comply with preconceptions of cost limits. Identify generic platform types with the capabilities we need.

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Copies of Acquisition and Operation of Polar Icebreakers: Fulfilling the Nation’s Needs are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at www.nap.edu