“Let the Coast Guard Helm Alaskan Command’s Maritime Component” –USNI

PACOM Area of Responsibilty

Two officers, one Army and one Air Force, both with experience in Alaska Command, find that the organization of naval support for the Command is problematic and suggest that making CCGD17 the Naval Component Commander is the solution.

In 2014, the subunified Alaskan Command was reassigned from Pacific Command to NorthCom. Alaskan Command owns the joint force activities in the land and air domains over Alaska and the Arctic and coordinates with Naval Forces Northern Command (NavNorth)—based some 4,500 miles from Alaska—for maritime joint operations. The Alaskan Command commander also is responsible to North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for the Alaskan region’s air defense and identification zone (ADIZ), which extends to the North Pole and along the eastern border of Russia. Currently, the maritime warning responsibilities in the Arctic are held at NORAD headquarters in Colorado, and maritime domain awareness responsibilities are retained with the NavNorth Commander in Norfolk, Virginia.

With three different chains of command, none of which own surface vessels around the waters of Alaska, Alaskan Command’s ability to conduct homeland defense is at risk because of a cumbersome command-and-control structure beset with the challenges of distance and limited expertise in operating in the Arctic. There is a more effective command-and-control structure to protect the homeland in the Arctic: establishing the U.S. Coast Guard as the Joint Force Maritime Component Commander of Alaskan Command.

This is recognition of a problem we looked at before, and my conclusion was that Alaska should be reassigned to PACOM. Short of that there is another alternative I will get to below, and they do seem to have a good workable proposal for a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North)

There has been almost no cooperation between the Navy and Alaska Command. That may be starting to change. In May the Navy conducted Exercise Northern Edge 2019. The Navy talked about this a relearning how to operate in the Arctic, but as far as I can tell, they never got into the Arctic. Apparently the Carrier Strike Group stayed in the Gulf of Alaska, but at least they did work with the Air Force in Alaska.

Admittedly the US Navy has limited capability in the Arctic.

“…the Navy’s minimal involvement in the region is for good reason: the Navy has limited Arctic capability, apart from submarines and patrol aircraft. Essentially, there are no current requirements levied on the U.S. Navy necessitating an Arctic presence.”

That also might be changing. It is not unlikely that the Navy will return in at least some fashion to Adak as it has in Iceland..

“Last year, the Navy indicated it would like to begin flying submarine-hunting P-8 Poseidon aircraft from Adak Island hundreds of miles off the Alaskan coast in the Aleutian island chain, which would put US aircraft at the westernmost airfield that can handle passenger aircraft in the United States.”

Joint Force Maritime Component Commander

To be the Naval Component Commander you have to be ready for high end conflicts as well as the more routine requirements. Submarines and Maritime Patrol Aircraft are critical assets for success in any major conflict in the Arctic. They are also forces the Coast Guard is not ready to command.

US Navy Fleet Organization

Surely that Maritime Component Commander should be Third Fleet. Additionally, as I noted earlier, It makes no sense to divide the Bering Sea and the Chukchi Sea between 3rd Fleet and 7th Fleet. Third Fleet should assume responsibility for all of PACOM’s Arctic waters including the entire Bering Sea and the Aleutians. (7th Fleet already has more than enough to do in the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.)

Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North):

Meanwhile it would make sense for the Coast Guard to participate in formation of a Joint Inter-Agency Task Force (North) for the purpose of Disaster Relief/Humanitarian Assistance, response to major SAR cases, and dealing with possible Russian, or even Chinese, Gray Zone operations in the Arctic.

“Nobody Asked Me, But . . . Rename the Coast Guard Districts”–USNI

The US Naval Institute has a short article by Cdr. Jim Hotchkiss (USCG Reserve). Unfortunately it is behind the paywall for those of you who are not members, but in short he points out that the current district number designations can be traced back to WWII and a desire to correspond to Naval District designations. Now that that is no longer a consideration, why not use more descriptive geographic designations?

His proposal is captured in the diagram above.

Certainly Cdr. Hotchkiss has a point. I only have a couple of comments. It would ease the transition if we continue to use the term “District” rather than the less specific term, “Command,” which he uses above, e.g., “Coast Guard District Northeast” rather than “Coast Guard Northeast Command.”

The actually choice of names would justify some additional thought, but I will suggest alternatives for three of the Districts.

  • For the current 7th District–CG District Southeast
  • For the current 8th District–CG District Gulf and Inland
  • For the current 11th District–CG District Southwest

China Coast Guard Changes Departments

Photo from http://defence-blog.com/news/photos-charge-of-the-10000-ton-china-coast-guard-cutter.html
As predicted earlier, the China Coast Guard has been moved into their equivalent of DOD.
DefenseWorld reports that,
“The China Coast Guard will be absorbed into the country’s Central Military Commission (CMC), effective July 1, after the transfer of command from the State Oceanic Administration, local media reports.”
“The coast guard will reportedly be integrated into the PLA Navy as an auxiliary branch.”
“People’s Daily revealed that the Coast guard ships would be armed with more powerful small diameter cannons instead of water cannon. Under the leadership of the CMC, ship crews could also be authorized to carry fire arms.”
An earlier Bloomberg report stated
“The latest change makes the fleet part of the People’s Armed Police, or PAP, a domestic paramilitary force also directly under Xi’s command in December.”
It was only a little over five years ago that the China Coast Guard was formed from four independent agents. We have already seen it becoming better armed. They are operating former Chinese frigates. They are building much bigger cutters, and cutters based on Chinese Navy frigates and corvettes.
The China Coast Guard has proven its value, and it looks like President Xi has recognized its potential and wants to take more direct control.

 

Government Reorganization–Effects on Coast Guard

PENSACOLA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 20, 2004)–Coast Guard cutter CYPRESS, a 225-foot buoy tender homeported in Mobile, Ala., underway near Pensacola Beach. CYPRESS was deployed in part of the Coast Guards efforts to repair aids to navigation damaged or dragged off station by Hurricane Ivan. USCG photo by PA3 John Edwards

“We trained hard, but it seemed that every time we were beginning
to form up into teams, we would be reorganized. I was to learn later
in life that we tend to meet any new situation by reorganizing;
and a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress
while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralization.” attributed, probably erroneously to Gaius Petronius Arbiter, Roman Satirist (c.27-66 AD)

BryMar-Consulting has provided a link to the administration’s proposal for reorganizing the government. The Coast Guard is mentioned twice, once in regard to transferring Aids to Navigation responsibility to DOT and once with regard to duplication between the Coast Guard and CBP’s marine unit.

“In addition, transferring current U.S. Coast Guard responsibilities for permitting alterations to bridges and aids to coastal navigation to DOT would better align those functions with similar functions already carried out by DOT’s.” (p.73)

(Once again the multi-mission nature of CG AtoN assets is not recognized.)

“DHS Air & Maritime Programs

“This proposal would identify efficiencies and budgetary savings to be achieved by eliminating unnecessary duplication between U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Coast Guard air and maritime programs. This could include facility consolidation, standardized data, enhanced domain awareness and coordination, and common future capability requirements. “(p. 123)

GAO seems to like CBP. We may be in for a fight on this.

There is a good possibility this proposal will go nowhere. It will require Congressional action. Still we need to stay heads up.

 

“Army Corps of Engineers May Lose Its Domestic Missions”–Defense One

Defense One reports under a proposed government reorganization, our frequent partner, the Army Corps of Engineers, may have their domestic roles reassigned to other departments.

“…the Corps’ commercial navigation functions would move to [the Department of Transportation], whose mission already includes Federal responsibility for all other modes of transportation. All other activities, including flood and storm damage reduction, aquatic ecosystem restoration, hydropower, regulatory, and other activities, would move to [the Department of the Interior].”

This is a major rethink of the Federal bureaucracy. No mention of moving the Coast Guard again, but once these things start, you can never be sure where they will end. Will they want to put our AtoN mission under DOT?

 

“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.