“U.S. Coast Guard Eyes Expanded Operations in Western Pacific” –USNI

Coast Guard Cutter Stratton (WMSL-752) pulls into Lumut Naval Base for a scheduled port visit as part of Maritime Training Activity (MTA) Malaysia 2019. US Navy Photo

The US Naval Institute News Service has a story based on statements by Pacific Area Commander, Vice Adm. Linda Fagan regarding Coast Guard plans for future operations in Western Pacific.

Included is more information about what the Stratton will be doing.

“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.

Stratton Goes To 7th Fleet, Waesche Goes South, All Four Alameda NSCs Underway

The Coast Guard Cutter Stratton passes underneath San Francisco’s Bay Bridge as Stratton and the crew depart on a months-long deployment to the Western Pacific in support of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, June 12, 2019. Operating under the tactical control of the U.S. 7th Fleet commander, Stratton and crew are scheduled to engage in professional exchanges and capacity-building exercises with partner nations in the Western Pacific and to patrol and operate as directed. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Matthew S. Masaschi.

The following is a PACAREA press release 

ALAMEDA, Calif. – The Coast Guard Cutters Stratton and Waesche set sail Wednesday for months-long deployments to opposite ends of the Pacific. With their departure, all four of the national security cutters homeported in Alameda are currently on patrol.

The crew aboard the Waesche departed for a months-long deployment to the Eastern Pacific Ocean to conduct counterdrug operations. Earlier this year, Waesche returned to Alameda following a 95-day counterdrug patrol where the crew had two at-sea interdictions, seizing more than 6,300 pounds of cocaine.

Stratton deployed to the Western Pacific Ocean where the Alameda-based Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf has been since departing the Bay Area in January. Stratton will operate in support of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which oversees military operations in the Western Pacific.

Operating under the tactical control of U.S. 7th Fleet, Stratton is scheduled to engage in professional exchanges and capacity-building exercises with partner nations and to patrol and operate as directed.

“The Coast Guard’s deployment of resources to the Indo-Pacific directly supports the United States’ goal to strengthen maritime governance, safety, and security across the region, and we do that by working with, and learning from, our many partners and partner nations in the region,” said Vice Adm. Linda Fagan, commander, Coast Guard Pacific Area, who oversees the cutter.

“The United States is a Pacific nation, and the Coast Guard has been operating in the pacific for over 150 years. We have developed long-standing partnerships with nations in the region, and we share a strong commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific governed by a rules-based international system that promotes peace, security, prosperity, and the sovereignty of all nations.”

As both a federal law enforcement agency and an armed force, the Coast Guard is uniquely positioned to conduct defense operations in support of combatant commanders on all seven continents. The service routinely provides forces in joint military operations worldwide, including the deployment of cutters, boats, aircraft and deployable specialized forces.

“We are a military service, we are also a law enforcement organization, a regulatory agency, a first response agency, and a member of the intelligence community,” said Fagan. “We are at all times a military force and at all times a law enforcement force. This duality of our authorities provides an incredible degree of flexibility and access and authority. The Coast Guard’s distinct authorities and missions means that we provide a mix of expertise and capabilities that no other U.S. agency can.”

Coast Guard Island in Alameda is the homeport to four Coast Guard legend class national security cutters. NSCs are 418-feet long, 54-feet wide, and have a 4,600 long-ton displacement. They have a top speed in excess of 28 knots, a range of 12,000 nautical miles, endurance of up to 90 days and can hold a crew of up to 170. These multi-mission cutters and crew are capable of operating from the Bering Sea to the Eastern Pacific Ocean to the South China Sea.

National security cutters feature advanced command and control capabilities, aviation support facilities, stern cutter boat launch and increased endurance for long-range patrols enabling the crews to disrupt threats to national security further offshore.

The Coast Guard is scheduled to commission its seventh and eighth national security cutters, the Coast Guard Cutters Kimball and Midgett, in August. Both cutters will be homeported in Honolulu and enhance the Coast Guard’s presence throughout the Indo-Pacific region.

“Build a Great White Fleet For the 21st Century”–USNI Proceedings

The US Naval Institute Proceedings May 2018 edition has an article, “Build a Great White Fleet for the 21st Century,” that recommends greater Coast Guard funding to support Combatant Commanders. It is written by Captain David Ramassini, USCG. The accompanying bio states,

“Captain Ramassini is an Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran and cutterman who has served in the Pentagon as Coast Guard Liaison on the Joint Staff and also in the Office of Secretary of Defense. Captain Ramassini is slated to assume his fifth command as the plankowner commanding officer of the national security cutter Kimball (WMSL-756).”

Unfortunately the article is “members only.” If you are a regular reader of my blog, you probably should also be a US Naval Institute member, but for those who are not, I’ll try to summarize his argument, including some quotations. After reviewing the article, I’ll offer some thought on how, and where, we might provide some assistance to the Combatant Commanders.

The Article

Captain Ramassini contends improved maritime governance and suppressing transnational crime is in the US interest where ever it occurs.

“As the line between terrorist and criminal activities continues to blur, the transactional connections between a wide range of unlawful organizations is likely to cloud the distinction between law enforcement and military operations.”

The Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC) need afloat assets to aid in dealing with these problems.

Source: UNODC, responses to annual questionnaire and individual drug seizure database

The Coast Guard is uniquely qualified to leverage “vast authorities; capabilities; and interservice, interagency, intelligence community, and international partnerships” in support of Geographic Combatant Commanders (GCC).

There are not enough Coast Guard assets to do this now.

To provide additional assets funding for the fleet needs to be rebalanced, moving money from the Navy to the Coast Guard.

Rebalancing the national fleet composition would improve relationships and provide the United States and our partners advantages in a complex world filled with threats that go beyond the nation-state.

Recognizing the Coast Guard for the unique national, international, diplomatic, economic, and intelligence power that it is, the current administration has the opportunity to turn this tide and make the national fleet great again by directing a smart business decision. Specifically, prioritize Coast Guard cutter production to grow the fleet and provide a more cost-effective and adaptable instrument for the nation. A 21st-century Great White Fleet of Coast Guard cutters would begin a new era of sea power better suited to promote rule of law through cooperative partnership and distributed lethality, and allow the U.S. Navy to refocus its efforts on high-intensity conflict. It is time to rethink international engagement using the Coast Guard—an armed force at all times, but a more cooperative power known for its olive-branches-over-arrows approach.

Coast Guard national security, offshore patrol, and fast response cutters could serve as powerful instruments for GCCs. They are large enough to operate globally, yet small enough to gain access and foster cooperative partnerships. In addition, these more affordable naval assets could be produced more expediently than Navy surface combatants to build a credible national fleet. The goal of a 355-ship Navy needs to be expanded to a 400+ ship national fleet with utility across civil and military disciplines and a better return on investment.

It is time to change the costly Navy-centric approach toward peace and security and focus on restoring the underpinnings of rule of law to regain the trust and confidence of partner nations. The Coast Guard is capable of more finely tuned and less costly persistent presence. It is an affordable, accountable, and reliable instrument of national power well equipped to execute international engagement. Bolstering white hull numbers within the national fleet by doubling the number of cutters could provide a 21st century advantage to the United States and our international partners in this ever-evolving global environment.

Captain Ramassini suggests that large cutters could be upgraded so that they can fill the frigate role.

One approach worth examining is up-arming the Coast Guard’s fleet with a vertical-launch system (Mk-41 VLS) and SeaRAM close-in weapon system to provide increased warfare interoperability. Imagine a forward-deployed “international security cutter” capable of operating with a carrier strike group and/or surface action group and assuming a role historically filled by a Navy frigate.

Commentary

There are currently six Unified Combatant Commands. Two, NORTHCOM and SOUTHCOM already have substantial Coast Guard assets available, although SOUTHCOM could use more. CENTCOM has the six WPBs of PATFORSWASIA. Three Unified Combatant Commands, PACOM, EUCOM, and AFRICOM, have no regular Coast Guard representation.

EUCOM (European Command) probably has far less need for a US Coast Guard presence, since they already have several sophisticated coast guard organizations among allied nations.

PACOM probably could use more Coast Guard assets for capacity building and suppression of Illegal, Unregulated, and Unreported (IUU) fishing in the Western Pacific. Seventh Fleet has already asked for more Coast Guard presence to confront Chinese white hulls.

Africa has a serious problem with Maritime crime and could use training, capacity building, and more international inter-agency cooperation. The Coast Guard has sent ships to the area intermittently, but the area has been largely neglected. China is making serious inroads in Africa. We need a presence, but gray hulls are not what we need. The six boats of Patrol Force South West Asia (PATFORSWA) could help address the problem in East Africa, but that would require some sharing by CENTCOM. There is an unrealized opportunity to do a lot of good in West Africa, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea where piracy, kidnapping, IUU fishing, and other marine crimes are common.

Gulf of Guinea, from Wikipedia

To maintain a single large cutter off the West coast of Africa or in the Western Pacific would require three ships in rotation, assuming they are homeported in the US. Larger ships are more difficult to homeport in foreign ports, smaller vessels are likely more feasible.

It appears more likely we could replicate the six boat PATFORSWA organization with similar organizations in East Africa and the Western Pacific. There are several ports in each area that might be worth considering.

Obviously we would not send more now overage 110s, we would be sending Webber class WPCs. This would require extending the current program beyond the 58 in the program of record. There is already discussion about six additional WPCs to replace the six 110s assigned to CENTCOM. Adding six for AFRICOM and six for PACOM would extend the current program by two or three years. The shipbuilding costs for 12 more WPCs are on the order of $700M spread over two or three years, not much more than a single NSC. Basic personnel requirements for 12 vessels with a crew of 24 are 288 crew members. Rotational crews and supporting personnel would probably push this up to about 500, a notable increase for the Coast Guard, but “small change” in the defense budget. The PATFORSWA costs are paid for from the DOD budget, so I would expect a similar arrangement for similar squadrons assigned to AFRICOM and PACOM.

Perhaps at some point. we should also consider a similar forward deployed squadron for SOUTHCOM.