Building a 21st Century Infrastructure for America: Coast Guard Sea, Land, and Air Capabilities–House Subcommittee Hearing

 

The hearing recorded above was held 7 June. The original video was found here. That page also provides the chairman’s opening statement and links to the witnesses’ written statements that are also provided immediately below. The video does not actually start until time 4:30.

Below, you will find my outline of the highlights.

Witness List:

  • Vice Admiral Charles W. Ray, Deputy Commandant for Operations, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony
  • Vice Admiral Sandra L. Stosz, Deputy Commandant for Mission Support, United States Coast Guard | Written Testimony Ms. Marie A. Mak, Director, Acquisition Sourcing & Management Team, Government Accountability Office | Written Testimony
  • Mr. John Acton, Chairman, Coast Guard Affairs Committee, Navy League of the United States | Written Testimony

The GAO’s written testimony is particularly comprehensive. They report that new assets (NSCs and FRCs) are not meeting planned availability. There have been an unexpected number of engine replacements. In the case of the National Security cutters it appears to me the down time was predictable, a normal part of introducing new ships and availability should return to planned levels as more ships join the fleet. The known defect, that when operating in waters 74 degrees or warmer, the NSCs cannot maintain maximum speed has apparently not been corrected. Max speed must be reduced two to four knots to allow adequate cooling.

Planning Documents:  The Congressional Representatives repeatedly complained that they were not getting an unsensored statement of the Coast Guard’s needs. It appears the Coast Guard is not being allowed provide this information. Rather it appears the GAO is telling the Coast Guard how much they will be getting and told to submit a budget that fits the predetermined amounts. Reportedly the Unfunded priorities list will be provided by the end of June. They also asked for the 5 year and 20 year plan (1h04:30). Coast Guard representatives were repeatedly told the Coast Guard does not say what they really need, that information provided by the Coast Guard is inadequate for the sub-committee to make decisions (1h48m).

It appears that the GAO continues to ask the Coast Guard to plan procurements based on historically low AC&I appropriations that were adequate for a time because of the sporadic character of Coast Guard ship building. They acknowledge that the current budget is not realistic. (43:45)

The Coast Guard is now consistent in requesting $2B in the AC&I annually and a 5% annual increase in its operating budget and that we need 5,000 additional active duty billets and 1,100 addtional reservists. There was a statement from one of the Representatives to the effect, We need you to fight for yourselves (1h50:30). The representatives were informed that the 5 year, 20 year plans and unfunded will be delivered together (1:56)

My opinion: we need a regularly revised Fleet Mix Study. That in turn should feed directly into a 30 year ship and aircraft procurement plan

Webber Class WPCs: The Coast Guard is reportedly pushing WPCs operations down as far as the coast of South America. (50:00) This confirms my earlier speculation that these ships would be operated in what had been WMEC roles. Six cutters for CENTCOM The representative confirmed that they had approved procurement of six Webber class requested by CENTCOM. Apparently their approval was in the form of the Coast Guard reauthorization bill which has still not been made law. Adm. Ray stated that these would be in addition to the 58 currently planned (9:30) and it is not clear how or when they would be funded. Adm Stosz indicated it was not certain six Webber class would be the Coast Guard’s choice in how to fill this requirement and the question required more study. (1h11)(1h41m).

Shore Facilities: Reportedly there is a $1.6B shore construction backlog. $700M shore facilities maintenance backlog. Some infrastructure improvements that directly support new operational platforms.are being accomplished under the platform programs (55:00) The representatives asked, why we have asked for only $10M if the total shore facilities backlog is $2.3B?(1h35)

Icebreakers: The possibility of leasing the commercial icebreaker Aiviq is still being considered. (1h27) The owners have offered a plan for Ice trials and the Coast Guard has said it would be interested in observing. (1h29:50)

Great Lakes Icebreaker: Rep. Lewis brought up icebreaker for Great Lakes.Adm Ray says for now we will address with the existing fleet. (1h00:30) Priority is still Polar Ice Breakers.

eLoran: There seems to be considerable interest in eLoran to deal with GPS vulnerabilities. (1:22) The Navy League representative supported the need. The Re-Authorization Bill directs Secretary of Transportation to initiate E-Loran testing. There was a clear anticipation that the Coast Guard would support implementation.

Coast Guard Health Care: Looks like the Coast Guard heath care records system which reverted to paper now may be able to piggy back on the VA’s conversion to the DOD system. (1h25)/(1h32:30) There is currently a major gap in funding for medical care of CG retirees

A Better Armed Coast Guard: Not that the Representatives were specific, but there was a statement, “We want to weaponize you.” (5:55) I think I heard essentially a second time as well. I’m not sure what that means.

Rising Sea Levels: There was concern expressed regarding rising sea level and how they might impact shore facilities (1h12:20)

WMEC Service Life Extension: The Coast Guard was given money several years ago to plan a service life extension program for 270. The Congress has not seen or heard any result and they questioned, why delay? (1:09) See fig. 4 on page 17 of the GAO’s written testimony

Operating Expenses: Replacement ships are costing more.(26:25)(50:55). This is becoming problematic without an increase in operating budget.

Changing the way we buy ships: Included in the Reauthorization Bill are changes in the way the Coast Guard can fund its shipbuilding, putting us on par with the Navy (5:50)

Cyber: Budget includes 70 additional billets. (19:45)  What are we doing for the ports? (1h13:45)

Inland Tender Fleet: Budget includes $!M to investigate alternatives. (52:30) (1h19)

It is remarkable that there seemed to be no sentiment that the Coast Guard budget should be cut, while there was considerable evidence the Representatives believe the Coast Guard is underfunded.

Hearing: Coast Guard Requirements, Priorities, and Future Acquisition Plans (FY-2018)

 

May 18, the Commandant, Admiral Paul F. Zukunft, addressed the House Appropriations Homeland Security Subcommittee. The recorded testimony is above. It is fairly long (1h40m). The Commandant’s initial statement, following the introductions, begins at 8m40s and ends approximately minute 14.

The administration’s FY 2018 budget request was not available, but the Commandant was there to discuss future priorities, requirements, and programs. The Department Secretary, General Kelly, is expected to address the Subcommittee on May 24 at 3PM Eastern.

I will just mention a few of the items I thought significant.

Admiral Zukunft noted that Huntington Ingalls has begun cutting steel for NSC #9. Questioned about NSC#10, he said, if it were funded, the Coast Guard would of course use it, but that the Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC) is the Coast Guard’s #1 priority. His response, that another NSC would have an effect on long-range operating cost, seemed to suggest anticipated significantly lower operating costs for the OPC. Significantly, there has been no mention of reducing the OPC program by one ship to offset the addition of NSC #9. (There is already a strong push to build more NSCs, a bill to authorized a multi-year buy of three more.)

He contended that the Coast Guard has taken a harder hit, due to budget restrictions, than other armed services and would need 5% annual growth and at least $2B annually for Acquisitions, Construction, and Improvements (AC&I). Later he stated that this annual AC&I appropriation would included about $300M annually for shore facilities. He pointed to a need to restore 1100 Reserve Billets and add 5,000 active duty military billets while retaining current levels of Civilian staff.

Apparently the FY2918 budget will begin a program to replace 35 Inland tenders at an estimated cost of approximately $25M each ($875M total). (Even if, in the unlikely event, this program were funded in only five years, that would only average $175M/year, so it is not a big program, but one that should have begun at least a decade ago.)

Cyber security for ports was discussed. The Commandant sees the Coast Guard role as decimating best practices, rather than imposing regulation. We now have a cyber program of record–still very small, two CG Academy graduates going directly into the program. The fact that two billets is worth mentioning, is probably the best indication of how really small the program is. A much smaller pre-World War II Coast Guard probably had more people working on breaking German and Japanese codes. 

Marine Inspection was addressed. The Commandant noted the increased demand for Inspections because 6,000 tugs have been added to inspection program. He noted a need for more stringent oversight of 3rd party inspectors, who in some cases have not been as meticulous as they should have been. He also noted that the US flag merchant fleet, notably the MSC’s Afloat Prepositioning Fleet, will need replacement, which will also raise demand for marine inspectors.

The Commandant also voiced his support for the Jones Act. He noted, we only have three shipyards building Jones Act ships in the US, and their loss would be short-sighted.

There was much discussion about the Arctic and the Icebreaker Fleet. Looks like follow-on funding for icebreaker program (at least after the first) will have to come from CG AC&I rather than the Navy budget. This may be difficult, but it is the way it should be. The chair of committee expressed his reservations about attempting to fund such big-ticket items through the DHS budget. The Commandant stated that the Coast Guard is still considering the acquisition of the commercial Icebreaker Aiviq (but apparently they are doing it very slowly–the chairman of the committee seemed a bit irritated about this).

The committee members seemed to latch onto the idea that the USCG, rather than the Navy, would be responsible for enforcing US sovereignty in the Arctic (which by US definition includes the Aleutians), and seemed to be asking if the Coast Guard was prepared to fight the Russians and/or Chinese in the Arctic. The Commandant suggested instead, that our role was to provide presence in the pre-conflict phase in order assert US sovereignty. He acknowledged that the National Security Cutters are only armed defensively and are not suitable for conventional naval warfare against an enemy combatant.

The Commandant acknowledged that, at some point it may be desirable to arm Polar Icebreakers, meaning they should be built with space, weight, and power reservations for additional weapons.

(I am all for keeping open the option of arming our icebreakers, so that they can defend themselves and do their part, if there is a conflict in a polar region, but there did not seem to be recognition among the Congression Representatives, that an Arctic conflict is most likely to be determined by submarines and aircraft. The icebreakers’ role is likely to be primarily logistical.)

The Commandant apparently does expect that there may be disagreements with regard to the extent of the US authority over certain areas of the Arctic.

In discussing the need for land based Unmanned Air Systems, there was a curious note at minute 40 about go-fast boats going south. Where are they going?

Alien Migrant Interdiction (AMIO). We have gone for seven weeks without a single Cuban Migrant being interdicted. This is because of the end of Wet Foot/Dry Foot Policy. This has allowed reallocation of resources to drug interdiction South of Cuba and human trafficking from the Bahamas

A Congressional Representative, from Texas pointed out there is no CG presence on the Rio Grande River, in spite of it being an international waterway. There was no mention of it, but perhaps he was thinking of the Falcon Lake incident in 2010 when an American was allegedly shot in the head by Mexican drug runners. Maybe something we should reconsider.

The Commandant promised the CG would have an unfunded priority list for FY2018.

Balance of Power, 2030

Found this graphic on the US Naval Institute Blog.

Considering that the US Navy is spread all over the globe, with responsibilities in the Atlantic as well the Pacific, while the Chinese Navy will be concentrated in the Western Pacific, far from American Naval bases with the exception of a small number of units in Guam, Japan, and possibly Singapore, the Chinese Navy is likely  to enjoy a considerable local advantage, particularly early in any conflict.

In peacetime, it takes three CONUS based ships to maintain one in the Western Pacific. That would improve in wartime, but the Chinese would always have an advantage. Not to mention Chinese land based air and missiles.

Is there anything the Coast Guard can do to mitigate the coming imbalance in the Western Pacific?

It could be worse if US vs both China and Russia.

“Too Small to Answer the Call”–USNI Proceedings

The May issue of US Naval Institute Proceedings is the Naval Review issue. It includes updates on the Coast Guard as well as the Navy and Marine corps that are behind the membership pay wall, but it also has an article, “Too Small to Answer the Call,” by Capt. David Ramassini, future CO of USCGC Kimball (WMSL-756) that is accessible to all, and I think is worth a read.

Basically he is advocating using the Coast Guard internationally to build capacity and counter threats of lawlessness and poor governance in trouble spots all around the world. Below is his recommended building program.

Build a New Great White Fleet

Enhancing regional security in partnership with willing nations requires a 21st-century Great White Fleet of forward deployable (or stationed) national security cutters (NSCs), offshore patrol cutters (OPCs), and fast response cutters (FRC). The mix of platforms and duration of presence would be tailored to the distinct geographies and vary based on the receptiveness of the host nation(s), problem sets to be addressed, and mutual goals of the combatant commands and partner nations. Building on a proven bilateral approach for counterdrug operations and EEZ enforcement, the Great White Fleet would leverage existing agreements—based on the extent to which partner governments are willing—to strengthen CTOC (counter transnational organized crime–chuck) and CT (counter terrorism–Chuck) across the JIME (Joint Interagency Multinational Environment–Chuck).

From an acquisition perspective, doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100) programs equates to the projected cost of one Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78)-class aircraft carrier (approximately $13 billion). Furthermore, procuring an additional seven NSCs over the nine planned would cost the equivalent of one Zumwalt (DDG-1000)-class guided-missile destroyer (approximately $4.2 billion). The NSC and OPC both offer more than three times the on-station time between provisioning than is afforded by a littoral combat ship (LCS).

Building more OPCs also could rapidly grow the National Fleet by leveraging commercial shipyards outside the mainstream industrial complex. These shipyards may be able to provide better value to the government during an economic downturn in the oil and offshore supply industry. Further leveraging this acquisition would continue to drive down the cost of the OPCs and provide an additional industrial base to build a 400-ship National Fleet of ships with far lower operating and maintenance costs than the LCS.

Redirecting proposed future LCS/frigate dollars (approximately $14 billion) to a Great White Fleet to modernize the U.S. National Fleet mix would provide a greater return on investment and more staying power abroad. For instance, building international security cutters—NSCs with Navy-typed/Navy-owned enhancements such as the SeaRAM antiship cruise missile—could offer combatant commanders a truly useful “frigate,” leveraging mature production lines that now operate at only 70 percent capacity. These estimates are for relative comparison and do not include the associated aviation, infrastructure, basing support agreements, and personnel plus-ups that are needed to provide a more credible and persistent presence across the JIME. But investing in a larger Coast Guard and the supporting infrastructure would return high dividends.

I’m not sure I agree, but it is worth considering. We should, however, keep in mind a sentiment expressed by friend Bill Wells that white paint is not bullet proof. We should not perpetuate the idea that only white painted ships can enforce laws, that is a uniquiely American concept and perpetuating it plays into the hands of the Chinese, who have more coast guard ships than any other country in the world.

Still I think there is merit to this concept. It seems to be working for PATFORSWA (Patrol Forces South West Asia). There has already been talk about a similar deployment to SE Asia. We might consider similar detachments of various sizes for West Africa, the Eastern Pacific, and the Marshall Islands.

The additional ships, 7 NSCs, and “doubling the size of both the OPC (from 25 to 50) and FRC (from approximately 50 to 100)” Is clearly arbitrary. There is very little the NSCs can do that the OPCs will not also be able to do cheaper, so I don’t see a need for more NSCs.

If we take on additional international roles it probably will not be done in one fell swoop. It will probably be done incrementally. Captain Ramassini is clearly looking at this as a near term possibility. Some movement in this direction is clearly possible, but it will take a radical change in the Administration, the Navy, and the Coast Guard for this to happen on the scale he envisions.

Meanwhile, if you look at the “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study,” the Coast Guard actually needs 9 NSCs, 57 OPCs, and 91 FRCs just to meet all of our statutory obligations. That is not far from his 16 NSCs, 50 OPCs, and 100 FRCs. The study and the “Great White Fleet” would both probide 66 large ships (NSCs and OPCs).

Actually the only way I see this happening is if there is a realization that keeping the USN constantly cycling through distant deployments may not be the best way to maintain readiness. That it wears out very expensive ships and drives people from the service, and that perhaps cutters can perform at least some of the presence missions.

Coast Guard’s National Security Role

The Coast Guard leadership has been hitting the Coast Guard’s National Security role pretty hard since the change of administration and the “skinny budget” scare.

Here is the Commandant’s latest pitch to “a roundtable of the Defense Writers Group, a nonprofit association of defense reporters.”

Like other service chiefs he is messaging that a continuing resolution would be a disaster.

“The good news is we are modernizing the fleet, but it’s that annual operating and maintenance account that you have to get very creative,” Zukunft said. “Where we’re seeing the most pain is we defer a lot of our shore maintenance; that backlog continues to grow.”
Zukunft said his greatest concern right now is to have budget certainty and not temporary funding measures; the current continuing resolution that funds the government runs through April 28.
“Maybe we’ll see a short extension of that, but if we don’t have an appropriation in 2017, I will have to shut down operations,” he said, adding that will affect readiness. “This is not the time to sideline any military service, including the Coast Guard, but that’s what a [continuing resolution] would do.”

 

To say we are in good shape in terms of modernization is at least optimistic, but perhaps the Commandant has some favorable indications from Congress. They do like things that add jobs. Still even if we start getting icebreakers the OPC is long overdue and I suspect that we may see the WMECs start failing at an ever increasing rate since we don’t expect full replacement of the fleet until about 2034. Building two a year is going to take too long.

Breaking Defense Interviews the Commandant

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) meets with then-Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Coast Guard Commandant Adm. Paul Zukunft (right) meets with then-Southern Command chief Gen. John Kelly, now Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security.

Breaking Defense’s Robbin Laird has an Interview with the Commandant and speculates on the prospects for the Coast Guard under the new administration and DHS selectee General John Kelly.

Trump, Kelly, & The Coast Guard: Exclusive Interview With Adm. Zukunft

Its a good one, and even the comments are worth reading. There is much of the same we have heard before. The Commandant has a clear and consistant message and agenda, but there is more detail about a possible role in the far Western Pacific.

“I have discussed with the CNO (Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson, the senior officer in the Navy) the concept that we would create a permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas,” Zukunft said. “This would allow us to expand our working relationship with Vietnam, the Philippines, and Japan. We can spearhead work with allies on freedom of navigation exercises as well.”

This is the first time I have seen the phrase “permanent USCG presence in the South China Sea and related areas.” Does that mean we will have a CG patrol squadron working out of Sinagpore or Okinawa (or Cam Ranh Bay), like the one in Bahrain? Or are we just looking at the Webber class WPCs we already know are going to Guam? (Must be more to it than that.) I do think we should put some OPCs in Guam, if only to patrol the EEZ in the Western Pacific.

Until recently we might have considered the possibility of basing in the Philippines, but that no longer looks like a possibility.

What ever you may think of the incoming administration, for the Coast Guard at least, it looks promising.

Thanks to Luke for bringing this to my attention. 

Webber Class WPC Endurance?

USCGC Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109)

USCGC Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109)

A question, what is the real endurance of the Webber Class WPCs? The figure I see quoted is five days. This was the contract minimum. This is the same as listed for the 87 foot WPBs. Is this correct? This becomes important when the vessel has to make a long transit to and from its patrol area, and if we are understating the endurance, we are selling the class short.

The Webber class vessels are 353 tons full load. Similar sized ships seem to have greater endurance. The Navy’s 387 ton full load Cyclone class PCs have a nominal ten day endurance. The 300 ton Australian Armidale class patrol vessels claim a normal endurance of 21 days and 42 days maximum.

The Webber class’s endurance is not constrained to five days by fuel. The 87 ft WPBs have a nominal endurance of five days but a range of only 900 miles. The Webber class have a range of 2950 nautical miles. Obviously you don’t want to run the ship down to zero fuel, but at ten knots, it would take 295 hours or over 12 days to go 2950 miles. Even at 14 knots, it would take almost nine days to go 2950 miles. Additionally, it is the nature of Coast Guard missions that cutters frequently loiter as low speed which potentially adds patrol time.

A recent news release caught my eye. It reported the results of a 19 day patrol by USCGC Kathleen Moore (WPC-1109). She almost certainly refueled at least once, but did she replenish three times?

We have had these little ships long enough that we should have a revised opinion of their endurance based on experience. Any feedback?