The National Fleet Plan–Redux

US Coast Guard cutter Munro transits the Taiwan Strait with US Navy destroyer USS Kidd in August. US Navy

A recent discussion with frequent contributor Peter Ong, lead to Peter pointing to “The National Fleet Plan.

It was an important publication for the Coast Guard and its interface with the Navy. It portended the FRCs in Guam and WMECs in Pensacola. Among other things, it listed equipment to be included in cutter classes, much of it supplied by the Navy (p.24). I did a post on it.

Trouble is, while much of the information is probably still accurate, it was published in August 2015. Maybe it is time for new edition.

“Nordic Countries’ Response To Nord Stream Sabotage” –Naval News

File:Major russian gas pipelines to europe.png Created: 15 November 2009 Prepared by Samuel Bailey (

Naval News reports on the Nordic response to the apparent sabotage of the Nord Stream pipeline. Coast guards are involved.

This raises the question of who protects undersea infrastructure? I don’t think there has been a lot of interest in or discussion of this question in the US. Certainly the USCG has a role.

“In Forbes: An Irked Senator Roger Wicker Goes “On Record” Over The Coast Guard” –Next Navy

Coast Guard Cutter Hamilton leads the way for cutters Robert Goldman and Charles Moulthrope as they depart Puerto Rico April 1. National security cutter Hamilton is escorting the two fast response cutters (FRCs) across the Atlantic to Rota, Spain. From there, the FRCs will continue to their homeport of Manama, Bahrain. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Sydney Phoenix.

Next Navy comments on why despite great support in Congress, the Coast Guard is still not getting full funding.

There are other reasons, but it is hard for our friends to advocate for full funding when essentially, we don’t know what full funding is.

The current “Program of Record” dates from 2004. The last Fleet Mix Analysis, which essentially only served to show, “Yes, we really do need the Program of Record and a lot more,” was done in 2011.

Much has changed.

  • We are using the Webber class WPCs in ways not imagined in 2011.
  • We still don’t have the land based UAS that were included in the Program of Record.
  • Improved sensors and platforms, including unmanned air, surface, and subsurface are now available.
  • The Coast Guard’s aviation fleet, both fixed wing and rotary are not what was envisioned in the Program of Record.
  • The Navy’s own Maritime Domain Awareness capabilities have changed. Presumably they will share with the Coast Guard.
  • Illegal Unregulated Unreported fishing has emerged as a national security threat.
  • The Chinese have been using their Coast Guard to intimidate our friends and allies.
  • Combatant Commanders are constantly seeking Coast Guard assistance in Capacity Building in their AORs.

In spite of these substantial changes, we have not changed our Program of Record in 17 years.

By contrast the US Navy publishes a new Fleet Plan almost annually.

Congress has repeatedly directed the Coast Guard to complete a new Fleet Mix Analysis, but they have yet to see anything beyond the one ten year old study. I don’t know who is to blame for this. Is it the Coast Guard, the Department, or the Administration(s)?

The Congress is apparently not satisfied with the frequency of Navy updates.

I think they are going to have to demand the Coast Guard present a regular report bypassing the Department.

There is no way we should go more than four years between rigorous analysis of our needs. It is essential for risk analysis by all concerned parties, the Coast Guard, the Department, the Administration, and the Congress.

Proceeding without analysis is just whistling in the dark.

“Cutting Coast Guard funds threatens our security, at home and in the Pacific” –The Hill

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf (left) moves in formation with Philippine coast guard vessels Batangas (center) and Kalanggaman during an exercise on May 14. U.S. Coast Guard/Chief Petty Officer John Masson

The Hill argues for increased Coast Guard presence in the Pacific including greater interaction with the nations of the Western Pacific.

After explaining why China is a greater threat than Germany, Japan, or the Soviet Union ever were, the author, Seth Cropsey, explains:

“The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) is uniquely situated to act as a bridge between U.S. combat forces and their allied counterparts precisely because of its dual political-legal role. Its engagement in answering grey zone challenges is also a helpful encouragement to the maritime services’ cooperation that allows each service to perfect its unique skills.”

He argues for the 12th NSC.

“As it stands, the Coast Guard’s long-range cutters have been cut from ten in the Pacific to only six (actually we still have six NSCs and two WHECs–Chuck). If Congress does not fund the 12th National Security Cutter, it will undermine the Coast Guard’s mission in the Western Pacific and weaken U.S. security.”

Most importantly, as we have done several times here, he calls for a reevaluation of the services needs and recurrent long term planning.

Even more broadly, U.S. policymakers – within the Coast Guard, the Armed Forces, and the Pentagon – must consider the Coast Guard’s strategic role. The USCG has not produced a fleet plan, termed the “Fleet Mix Analysis,” since 2004. Even in 2008 and 2012, when it revisited the document, it concluded that its fleet could only meet three-fifths of its missions. In 2004, Chinese fighter aircraft seldom conducted night operations, North Korea had not yet tested a nuclear weapon, and the U.S. had toppled Iraq’s Saddam Hussein just a year before; Hamas was a small but noted Palestinian terrorist organization, while al-Qaeda in Iraq was still consolidating power.

After 16 years, any service’s missions and equipment must change as it adapts to new threats; the same is true for the Coast Guard. A robust force review is in order, potentially modeled off the Navy’s 30-year plan which will generate a new fleet capable of meeting the demands of great-power competition, especially in the Asia-Pacific.

What Frustrates Me? –an Apparent Lack of Transparent Long Term Planning

A reader recently asked me, “What frustrates you, Chuck? … what is the one or two key areas that you think the USCG needs?  A new ship design, up-arming, or missiles?”
My answer, actually it is the apparent failure to plan.

Rant to Follow

Maybe there is a plan, but if there is, it has not been shared with the Congress or the public. Consequently there has been no opportunity to build support for the plan.

Despite direction from Congress to provide a 25 year shipbuilding plan, none has been provided. Is the hold up in the Coast Guard or the Department? Who knows.

Our shipbuilding “Program of Record” (POR) was last baselined in 2005, as part of the defuncted “Deepwater” program. It was based not on need, but on expected funding.

An examination of need was made, in the form of an “Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Study.” A report was completed in 2009. It was reevaluated in 2011, resulting in lower requirements that still indicated that we needed assets far in excess of the program of record. Results were not made public until 2012.
There has been no reexamination of our needs since then, in spite of the fact that the Fleet Mix Study was based on an assumption of the use of the “Crew Rotation Concept” on the National Security Cutter and Offshore Patrol Cutter. It also anticipated deployment of shore based Unmanned Air Systems (UAS), large vertical take off ship based UAS, and networking that would provide a common tactical picture. So far, no land based UAS, only a much smaller less capable ship based UAS, and no real common tactical picture. The only pleasant surprise has been the utility of the Webber class cutters.
I have a half assed Operations Research background. It pains me to see that we are apparently not using the planning tools that are available.
When we present a well considered and fact based plan, the Congress has been responsive. They have supported the program of record, and are funding icebreakers in response to the High Latitude Study.
  • We sorely need an updated Offshore and Aviation Fleet Mix Plan.
  • From this and consideration of other needs we need to develop a 30 year Shipbuilding and Aviation Procurement Plan.
  • We need to update these planning tools on a regular basis. We can expect that they will get better with each iteration.
Normally the leadership changes every four years. It is reasonable that we have a planning cycle that follows this pattern. We can give the new Commandant and his staff a year to work with his predecessor’s planning products before initiating a new cycle. A year in he should initiate a new Fleet Mix Plan. Using it and other inputs, a new 30 year Shipbuilding and Aviation Procurement Plan should be completed well before the new Commandant is selected. 
Only tangentially related, but a budget document we seldom see, is the Coast Guard’s unfunded priority list. Almost three years ago, I did one of my own. Not much has changed.
Thanks to Peter for kicking off this line of thought.